One is never too old to learn a Life Lesson as the guy in this story is lucky enough to find out.
He had no idea why he felt compelled to do it, but he decided to do it anyway. As he explained to Lynn, “I just feel like it’s something I need to do.”
She shook her head and looked him straight in the eye, “Well, do what you think you have to do, but as far as I’m concerned I think it’s a dumb idea. Nothing good can come of it.”
“I just I want to talk to each of them. One last time.”
“I don’t know.” He paused. Even though he’d been thinking about it off and on for over a year, he still hadn’t come up with a good idea, which probably should have told him something right then and there. “Maybe get some kind of closure, something like that.”
Her laugh was somewhat derisive, “Closure? You’re over seventy years old. What difference does it make now? Sounds like a bunch of crap to me.” She thought for a moment and then asked, “When was the last time you talked to any of them? Is there something going on here you haven’t told me about?”
He could tell she was trying to understand and not get angry. He appreciated that in her. “No, it’s nothing like that. I haven’t talked to any of them for years.” He paused, wanting to keep things calm before adding, “I’m not even sure I know how to get a hold of them.” He took a deep breath and tried to control his ever increasing heart rate. The doctor had warned him about too much stress but he was bringing this on himself. “Look, I could just forget about. I’ve even pretended that I could go on without doing it, but…” He shrugged and gave her what could be construed as a pleading look, a look she would hate, “I just feel I have to do it. Can you please just try to understand?” He knew he probably sounded needy and pathetic. Maybe he was.
She gave him a grim smile. “I’ll tell you what. You do what you have to do. Ok? I wouldn’t ever consider doing it myself, but if you want to do it, fine, go ahead.” She could see him visibly relax. “Just don’t come crying to me if it all blows up in your face.”
The plan was to contact the three women he’d been closest to at various stages in his life. There was Karen, his old high school girlfriend, who he had heard still lived somewhere in the city. There was his first ex-wife, Laura, the mother of his three kids, from whom he’d been divorced for over forty years. Finally, there was his second ex-wife, Katie, whom he’d been married to the longest and from whom he’d been divorced for eighteen years. He was in his early seventies, still in relatively good health, but you never knew. One could say he was sort of cleaning house or putting things in order, and maybe that’s what it was. He actually did feel that he needed some closure, no matter how crazy it may seem to others, like Lynn, the woman he’d been with for fifteen years and with whom he planned to spend the rest of his life.
“Just do what you have to do,” she said once more with a finality signifying that, for her at least, the discussion was over. “Just don’t say I didn’t tell you so if things don’t work out the way you want. Or expect,” she added.
“Ok, thanks, “I really appreciate your understanding,” he said, meaning it.
“Don’t thank me, pal, it’s your funeral.” She gave him a look, which he saw as a cross between sympathy and pity, like ‘how can this guy be such an idiot’ and then changed the subject. “Now, how about if we go for a walk? I could use a little fresh air.”
It took him over a month to get everything in place. He decided to try to meet each of them all in one day. His old high school girlfriend for lunch, his first wife for an early happy hour, and his second wife for dinner. He figured that if he met with them all in one day he could do a better job of handling the emotions he figured would arise rather than spreading things out over who knew how many days. Amazingly, it was not that hard to find each of them. He used social media and the internet and was able to contact them all. A friend of his managed a supper club a couple of miles from where he and Lynn lived and agreed to reserve a table for him that day for as long as he needed it.
“You sure you really want to do this?” His friend had asked when he had explained his idea. “Lynn’s a great woman. If I were you I wouldn’t do anything to piss her off. Or jeopardize your relationship.” He shook his head, before adding, “Sounds insane to me.”
“Yeah, I know it sounds insane. Everyone is telling me that, but I feel like I need to do this, so let’s set it up.” God, I’m sounding like a broken record, he thought to himself, and not for the last time, it turned out. But that bit his friend had said about jeopardizing his relationship with Lynn, well that was something to think about. In the long run, if he were smarter, he’d have thought about it more right then. But for some people, it takes a sledgehammer to the head a few times before they finally get the bigger picture. He, apparently, was one of those people.
So they picked a date and planned out the times for each of the meetings and that was that. He then called each of the three women and arranged when they would get together.
“It’s amazing how it’s all working out,” he told Lynn later, wanting to keep her in the loop.
She raised a hand up, like stop. “You know, I know you think you need to do this, but, really, I still think it stupid. You’re nuts to attempt it.”
“Well, it’s just something I have to do.”
“Yeah, I get that,” she said derisively. “I just don’t think you know what you’re getting into.”
“I know you think that,” he said. “But…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…You just have to do it.” She turned on her heel and walked away, shaking her head. He thought he heard her mumble, “Why do I even bother to put up with this crap?”
“But we’re good. Right?” He called to her back.
To which she turned quickly toward him with a tight expression, “Well, I’m good, buddy. I’m not all that sure about you.”
They’d been together for over fifteen years and she was only a couple of years younger than him. Their relationship was strong even though they were very different people. There was a great deal of respect for each other even though he got the distinct feeling that she was losing some of that for him with this new adventure of his. He told himself that this was just a little bump in the road. Something he felt he had to get past. From his point of view she appeared Ok with it, just not all that excited about it. This was just one of those things that occasionally came up in relationships, he told himself. She was easily strong enough not to be hurt by what he was doing, just not all that fired up that he was doing it. He could definitely understand that. If the tables were turned he’d feel exactly how she felt, even more so, probably. But he truly believed that their relationship was strong enough to get through this or he wouldn’t have considered doing it. As he had said to her, one of those things that he felt he had to do. The fact that it could be considered a self-centered act that may even hurt her feelings didn’t enter into his thinking at all. He just went ahead, blind to the potential affect it could have on his relationship with her.
Finding each of the women had been difficult but not impossible. First there was Karen, or Karrie, as she went by, his old high school girl friend. He ran into multiple roadblocks until he mentioned what he was planning on doing to his younger brother who (even though he was also among the growing number of those who thought the entire idea was nuts) gave him a line through Facebook.
“I’m in contact with Tim, who’s in contact with Sue, who’s in contact with Ellen. I’m pretty sure she might be in contact with Karrie, since they were in theater together and all.” He paused and looked at his older brother. “I still think you’re crazy to do this.”
“Yeah, I get it,” he replied, “You and everyone else I’ve talked to about this.”
“Maybe you should listen to them.” He looked closely at his brother before asking, “So…How’s Lynn feel about all this?”
“She says she fine with it.”
“And you believe her?
“Because maybe she’s just really hoping you’ll see for yourself that not only is it a dumb thing to do, but that it just might hurt her feelings. And that you come to your senses on your own without her having to tell you.”
“Naw, I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”
His brother just shook his head, becoming, like his friend the manager of the supper club, another person who couldn’t understand why he didn’t see the potential for a disaster when it came to the impact this all could have on his relationship with Lynn. He just blindly stumbled ahead, oblivious to it all.
“It’s just something I need to do,” he said finally, thinking he should just have the saying tattooed on his forehead, he was saying it so much, and missing, instead, the point that others were making.
He was eventually able to contact Karrie and she agreed to meet with him but not before she spent more than a few minutes questioning him on what he wanted to talk about.
“I really don’t get it,” she had said, after he explained that he just wanted to touch base with her and see how things were going. “It’s been what fifty, sixty years since we had anything to do with each other. You never even bothered to go to any of our class reunions.”
When she put it that way, it did sound kind of nuts. “I just thought it would be…” he paused, what did he think it would be? Quickly he went on, “Nice, you know. Nice to touch base.” He said, knowing he was starting to repeat himself. Knowing he was starting to sound odd and possibly even more than a little strange. He pictured what she must probably be thinking. It wasn’t pretty. He heard her sigh deeply, and he prepared himself for her to say No but, of all things, she surprised him by agreeing.
On the line, her voice was formal, “Well, whatever, but I’m not sure I’m going to have a lot of time for this, though. Just a quick lunch, you say?”
Well, he had said lunch. She had added the quick part, but at least she had agreed. That was something. He heart rate had gone up and he was suddenly very nervous. This was really going to happen. “Yes,” he said quickly, “Just a quick lunch. Thanks so much.” He was going to add ‘It’ll be good to see you’, but she said a speedy goodbye and hung up without him getting a word in. He clicked off and stared into space, wondering what he had gotten himself into.
Getting a hold of his first ex-wife was easy. She was in the phone book. Laura Linley Ericksson. The name she went by now which was, after three marriages all ending in divorce, the name she had been born with.
“Well, what the hell do you want?” she spit out, picking up on the third ring. She obviously had caller ID.
When he explained his reason for calling she was silent for a few moments. It gave him a chance to reconsider what was now looking like an insane (yes, to piggy-back the word his friend and a few others had used) undertaking. However, she surprised him by agreeing to meet, but for an entirely different reason than for what he’d had in mind. “It will give me a chance to talk with you about Jenny.”
Jenny was the youngest of the three daughters they’d had together. The one who had been in and out of various treatment facilities since she had been fifteen. The one who even now, at forty-one, unfortuately was still having issues. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “I didn’t know.”
“Well of course you wouldn’t, you never even talk to her.”
Which wasn’t true. He tried to stay in touch with his youngest daughter, she just didn’t want to talk to him. He bit his tongue instead of saying ‘Well whose fault is that?’ Better to save it for when they got together, if even then. In an instant he saw how the whole conversation could potentially go with his ex-wife reaming him out but one more time in a long, long line of reamings. Well, the hell with it, he thought. This whole thing was his idea. He’d just take the good (if there was to be any) with the bad (which it looked like there was going to be a lot of). “Sounds good to me,” he said, trying for an upbeat and friendly tone. He gave her the time and date to which she eagerly agreed. Making him wonder after he’d rung off whether he was ready for what might lay in store.
Katie, his second ex-wife’s phone number he still had. Even though they had been divorced for eighteen years, he could still remember it. It was just one of those things, like remembering the name of the cat his family had when he was a kid, or the name of his best friend when he was seven: it was just stuck in his brain. It took him several attempts to get through, though, her phone going to her voicemail over and over again. In fact, it took nearly a week before she finally picked up with a sleepy, “Well, hello, stranger. It’s been a long time.” Again, caller ID no doubt.
She was right, it had been a long time. After the divorce he’d never had an occasion to talk to her. This was the first time in all those years. But the conversation went pretty well all things considered. They quickly caught up. It turned out she was remarried and happily living with her husband, Larry, a soon to be retired chiropractor, in a northwest suburb. “Sure, I think I could make it down there,” she had replied to his idea.”I’ve can do some shopping at the Mall.” Which was the Ridgedale Mall, just fifteen minutes from where they were going to meet.
“Ok, great,” he said. “I’ll see you then.” And that was that.
He glanced at the calendar. It read November 14. In about a month, on Wednesday, December 13, he’d be meeting these three women who had been major influences on his life. Each of them in their own way. Was he looking forward to reliving the past? Not really. But he was looking forward to seeing how it went meeting with each of them. Each of whom he’d spent time with and loved in unique, but decidedly different ways. But the fact of the matter was that each of those relationships had ended badly. Why was he even considering doing this? Maybe, like everyone had said, he really was insane. Well, the time to figure it out was only a month away. By the end of that day he’d know whether it had been a good idea or not. If he really had thought about it, he would have realized the answer was there all along.
He and Lynn were busy in the month leading up to December 13th. It was the holiday time of year. He put up the outdoor Christmas lights which he now called Holiday lights just to be religiously correct. They shared a Thanksgiving meal with Lynn’s mother and her husband and all the rest of her siblings and nieces and nephews. He called his daughters to wish them all a happy day, getting through to only one, Stephanie, the one he was closest to, who lived in Madison with her husband, Steve, a physics professor at the University there. Then there was the push toward Christmas with shopping to do, baking to be done and plans to be made. He and Lynn were old hands at this, sharing the responsibilities as much as they could. Lynn tended to excel at all the indoor stuff way more than he did, the baking especially, so he found himself more or less trying to stay out of the way and interfere as little as possible, feeling a little guilty. It snowed off and on starting the week before Thanksgiving so he was able to shovel the driveway and walkway, making him feel a little more useful. They had learned, over the years, to divide up some tasks and share others and in the end it worked for them and that was the important thing.
If Lynn was concerned about him meeting the three women she didn’t mention it. And really, when he thought about it, why should she? She had her own life to lead. She had her relationships with her three boys and their families, her mom, her two sisters and brother and their families, and her circle of close friends. She had a small business making handmade pincushions and eyeglass cases that she sold on her internet site. She had an inquiring mind and was never bored. She loved to read. She had a full, rewarding and satisfying life. Which is what she focused on, along with all the other preparations for the holidays. She was happy, slightly rushed, but involved with each day, never taking a moment to dwell on him and his ‘crazy obsession’ as she sometimes put it. And he just left it that way, deciding that he knew how she felt (that he was nuts, insane, crazy, an idiot, etc.) and so he just left it alone.
The night of December 12 he built a fire in the fireplace and they relaxed watching a Christmas Special on their local PBS channel. She was in her comfortable chair and he in his usual place on the couch. It was pledge week and during one of the breaks she said to him, “So tomorrow’s the big day.” She was crocheting some flowers for a pincushion she was making.
“Yep, it is,” he responded. Not sure what else to say.
“So you’re still going through with it?”
“Yeah, I am,” he said, wondering where she was going with this.
She looked at him, eye brows raised as she looked over the top of her reading glasses. She shook her head. “I really wish you could explain to me why you feel compelled to do this. I still honestly don’t understand.”
He thought for a moment. “Have you ever wanted to touch base with any of the guys you used to go out with? You know, just to see how they are doing? See what they did with their lives?”
“No. Not at all. Remember when Ronny, that guy I dated in high school, tried to contact me through Facebook?” He nodded. “Do you remember what I did about that?”
“Yeah, you did nothing. You just ignored him.”
“Exactly. I ignored him.” She put her crocheting down and looked directly at him. “What good could have come from it? We were just kids back then. We went out, we broke up and moved on with our lives.”
“Didn’t you tell me he wanted to marry you?”
“Yes, I did tell you that and yes, he did want to marry me, but I was sixteen. It was a little weird and, frankly, kind of creepy.”
“Don’t you ever wonder about what happened to him?”
“I heard once that he still lived in the area and that he worked for a car dealership. That’s all I know, and that’s all I need to know. I have no need or desire to see him. The past is past.”
He thought about it for a minute. She had married young and had her kids early in the marriage. She and her husband had drifted apart starting almost from the beginning. They divorced as soon as the kids were out of the house and on their own. He knew she had no desire to have any kind of a relationship with her ex. “I understand your position, I really do. I just…”
“I know. You feel that you have to do this.” She said, quoting him word for word.
“I don’t want you to get angry.”
“I’m not angry,” she said, standing up and heading into the kitchen. “I’m just perplexed. Why anyone would want to do this…I just don’t get it.”
He wished he could give her a reasonable answer. He, himself, wasn’t all that clear as to why he wanted to do it. He listened as she turned on the faucet and poured herself a glass of water before coming back in and sitting down. They had only two table lamps on. A couple of pillar candles on the mantle were giving off a vanilla scent. The fire was burning nicely in the fireplace it’s flames flickering and lighting up the cozy space. They had their Christmas (holiday) tree up and it’s lights were on, too, which added to the peaceful atmosphere in the room.
He wanted her to know she didn’t have to worry. He wasn’t trying ‘reconnect’ with any of these women, he just wanted to talk to them, see how they were with their lives and that was it. “I’m only doing this once,” he finally said. “One time, one meeting and that’s it. Done and done,” he added, voicing a phase they often used between them to signify the completion of a task.
She gave him a quick smile, but then added, “Well, I only have one thing to say, and then I’m not saying anything anymore.”
“What’s that?” he asked, curious.
“It’s your funeral, buddy. Don’t come crying to me if it blows up in your face.”
“I appreciate your understanding,” he said, relaxing a bit, hoping his voice conveyed the sincerity he truly felt. He was also hoping she really did understand. He thought about what his brother and others had said. Was he hurting her feelings? He honestly couldn’t tell. “I really do,” he added and got up to throw another log on the fire. She returned to her crocheting and focused her attention back to television. A well known travel host was spending Christmas Eve in Austria in a quaint little village in the mountains with his wife and two kids. “Looks kind of nice over there, doesn’t it?” he asked, sitting back down. “Like a scene right out of a Christmas card.”
She turned her head toward him, shaking it ever so slightly. “You know, don’t you, that you’re way too much of a romantic. ” She pointed toward the screen where the family was out in the snowy forest cutting down a tree to use in their Christmas celebration. “Life isn’t really like that.”
He chuckled. He really did understand, after all these years together, what she was getting at. She was definitely the realist in the relationship. “Well, one can always hope,” he joked.
“Yeah, one can, but you know what they say?”
“Hope is highly overrated.”
“Maybe the world needs more people like that guy and me,” he said, pointing at the TV, still joking with her.
She laughed. “Maybe, but just don’t go getting your hopes up,” she said, circling back. “Tomorrow may not turn out the way you plan.”
“I don’t really have a plan.”
“Go with the flow, that’s me,” he grinned at her.
She rolled her eyes. “Even if the flow takes you right down the drain?”
“Well…” he had no answer to that one.
“Look, let’s just watch the rest of the show, Ok? I’m kind of enjoying it.”
That’s what he liked so much about her. Well, loved, really. She could see things very clearly. She was confident in her beliefs, yet she was also extremely open-minded. They could talk about anything. He was lucky she had chosen to stay together with him for all these years. He got up and went over to where she was sitting and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “I love you,” he said.
She looked past him, watching the screen, “Yeah, I love you, too,” she said, just the tiniest bit annoyed.”Now, please, I really want to watch the rest of this.” Her crochet needles clicked together as she continued working. He went back to the couch and sat down. His eyes drifted from the show and he found himself staring into the fire, enjoying how its warmth enhanced the snug feeling of their cozy room. And, really, that should have been more than enough for him. Except tomorrow was December 14th. Tomorrow he was going to face his past in the form of his old high school girlfriend, his first wife and his second wife. When he really thought about it, he had to wonder what the hell he’d been thinking about, getting together with all of them. Was he as clueless as everyone thought he was? Oh, well, how bad could it really be? The fact was he would find out tomorrow. It would be there soon enough.
December 13th dawned clear and cold. He and Lynn did some housework and then went to the grocery store for their weekly shopping trip. Around noon he dressed in clean jeans, a black pullover cotton sweater and his work boots. He checked himself in the mirror. He was bald, having lost his hair rapidly some years ago during his sixties. He didn’t mind it. His beard was almost all gray and he kept it neat and trimmed. He kept his weight under control and his only health issue was that fact that he was nearly blind in his right eye due to macular degeneration. But he could still see fine. See well enough to drive, anyway.
“I’m all set,” he said, coming into the living room where Lynn was working on a hand embroidered eyeglass case. “You going to be Ok while I’m gone?” he smiled, testing the waters a little.
Her eyes stayed focused on her work. “Yep, I’ll be fine. Ethan’s coming over a little later.” Ethan was her oldest son. The son who owned his own carpet installation business. The son who was an avid reader and the son who stopped by often to talk with his mom about books they were reading and current events.
“Great.” He paused waiting for her to say something. But she just kept working on the hand stitching around the edge of the eyeglass case. “Well, I’m off, then.”
She raised her eyes up over her reading glasses and looked at him. “You’re really going through with this?”
“Yeah, I am.”
He could hear her sigh, resigned. “Well, drive careful, then.”
“Don’t miss me too much,” he said and chuckled. Something he always said when he was going to leave her for any length of time.
She gave him the thinnest of smiles, like she accepted but not fully appreciated his attempt at humor. “I’ll be fine.” Then she went back to her work.
He looked at her and a feeling of affection flooded over him. Why I am I doing this he again thought to himself? Maybe everyone is right. Maybe nothing good can come of this. And, more importantly, why am I putting Lynn, this lady I love so much through all of this? But he had no answer. As they say, the die was cast, and the wheels were already in motion.
He turned and headed for the door. Just then the phone rang and Lynn answered it. By the conversation he could tell it was Ethan calling. “Yeah,” she said,” He’s on his way out now so come over whenever you want.” She paused, listening.”Ok, see you in ten minutes.” Another pause, then, “Yeah, it will be good to see you too.”
He walked out into the cold and started his car letting it warm up. The temperature was around twenty degrees. Clouds had rolled in and snowflakes were starting to fall. He watched them blow across the hood for a few minutes and then backed out of the driveway and drove the two miles to the supper club. His friend greeted him as he walked in and led him to a corner table by the window overlooking the lake. The supper club had only been open a few months but already business was brisk. His friend has spent six months in the first part of the year remodeling the place and it looked fantastic: wooden floors and comfortable, padded chairs surrounding tables covered with linen tablecloths. Upstairs was the supper club portion where the dining was peaceful and casual. Downstairs was a brew pub where the atmosphere was more relaxed and noisy. He and Lynn had eaten in both levels and preferred the upstairs, which was where he now sat. They both liked that the club had a nice view overlooking the lake, the long, narrow lake that gave the town they lived in its name, Long Lake.
He had just sat down and was checking his watch when he noticed a movement by the front door. A well dressed woman in an elegant looking calf-length red wool coat had just walked in. She removed a black beret and a pair of black gloves and greeted his friend, the manager, with a smile. He talked to her for a moment and then pointed in his direction. He watched with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation and then had to catch himself as his heart rate went up and the bottom dropped out of his stomach. The woman started walking toward him. It was Karrie. He took a deep breath and stood up. She put out her hand as she got to the table.
“It’s nice to see you, again,” she said with a smile showing perfect teeth that almost gleamed. “It’s been a long time.” She was polite and poised. “I didn’t recognize you with your beard. Your friend pointed you out.” She indicated back toward the front door.
He stood and attempted to force his nervousness aside as he shook her hand. He tried his best to smile back as pulled out a chair for her. “Please, sit down.” A waiter came and poured them each a glass of water, dropped off their menus and left. He was grateful for a the interruption. His mind was racing, and he felt his heart rate ratcheted up another notch. “And thanks so much for coming,” he added. He hadn’t expected this at all. His old girl friend, Karrie, it turned out, had become a well known local stage actress who went by the name Carrie Iverson. He now recognized her from the occasional photo he’d seen in the variety section of the newspaper. He was in over his head. He felt perspiration bead up on his forehead, and a stream of sweat roll down his back. Whatever he had imagined this meeting would be like, it all went out the window. Whatever confidence he thought he had was gone. His hand actually shook as he reached for a glass of water. Karrie watched him with a bemused expression on her face, like she knew what he’d just figured out. For his part, he was speechless as he tried to collect himself, a bad state to be in since he had invited her to lunch to talk. She was gracious enough to sense his discomfort and spoke first.
“What have you been up to all these years?” she asked, comfortable with herself and smiling. In control. Also, kind of letting him off the hook.”I have to say, I really don’t remember much about those years back in high school. But I do remember your mom. She was a great lady. I really liked her.” She sat back and took a sip out of her water glass.
His thoughts were scattered. Karrie remembered more about his mom than she did of him. What had he gotten himself into? An image of Lynn flashed into brain. She’d be sitting home with Ethan right now, talking and relaxing, having a pleasant conversation, perhaps about the books they were reading. He suddenly missed her. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. Tried to focus. He had to say something. He grasped at the first straw that popped into his mind.
“My mom passed away in 2011,” he said. “And, yes, she always enjoyed you, Karrie. Thought the world of you, in fact.”
She smiled, and he thought that maybe she was the type of woman who enjoyed the fact that people paid attention to her. Well, of course, he thought to himself, she was an actor for Pete’s sake. She wouldn’t be on the stage if there wasn’t some kind of kick or energy or what have you from having the instant gratification of people’s applause.
“And how about you?” She asked, still smiling, being polite. “How are things with you?”
She had an ease about her that he admired. A confidence. She wore her age well. She was trim in statue and dressed with an understated elegance that he quickly realized was probably her normal, casual attire. She had on a burgundy silk looking blouse and tailored dark green slacks that looked to be soft wool. Around her neck she worn a thin gold necklace with the letter ‘C’ hanging in the middle. Her blond hair was cut short and was lightly frosted. Her finger nails were painted deep red. She was dressed for lunch but also for the season and, he guessed, because she knew she would be noticed, being out in public like she was.
Their waiter came back and did the subtlest of a double take when he looked at Karrie, suddenly realizing who she was. They ordered, the garden salad for her and the wild-rice soup of the day for him. The interruption gave him a few moments to think. To answer her question he decided to give her the abbreviated version of his life. He told her about finishing college at the University of Minnesota and his degree in Environment Science. He told her about the job he’d had for most of his working years at General Mills as a quality control engineer. He told her about his first marriage and his three girls. He told her about his divorce and subsequent second marriage and divorce. He told her about being laid off from General Mills and how he’d moved out west of Minneapolis to start all over again. And he told her how he had met Lynn when he started working at a local garden center. All the while he talked, he noticed that she was politely listening, asking the occasional question and seeming to take an interest in what he was saying. Of course, she was a professional actor, so it may all have been a ploy, but he sensed she was actually, if not overly happy to be at lunch with him, at least not unhappy to be there.
“How about you?” He asked, “It appears as if everything has gone well for you. More than well,” he smiled, “You’re actually famous.” He was trying to add some levity to the situation. He felt formal and stiff. Kind of stupid to be honest, and, again, an image of Lynn flashed before his eyes, like telling him ‘I told you so’. He shook his head slightly. “It must be nice.”
Again she smiled. “It is. Things have turned out better than I could have ever expected.”
“You pretty much started acting in high school, right?” He was trying to get comfortable. Trying to get the conversation to feel more natural. It was hard, but Karrie was helping out by actually being quite nice. Almost like she was feeling the tiniest bit sorry for him.
“Yes, I did. Remember the Little Theater?” The theater in the school where plays, band concerts and other assemblies were held.
He nodded. “You were in ‘Oklahoma’, right?” He remembered every play and musical she had ever been in. In fact, he still had his old high school year book. Over the years, he’d pretty much memorized it. Karrie had not really been a standout actor back then, but she had been very good. He remembered her working hard preparing for her performances. Who would have known she would have gone on to have such a successful career?
She laughed and toyed with her water glass. “Like every other high school in the country.”
She had a way about her. A comfortableness, if that was the right word. The longer they were together, the easier it was becoming to talk with her.
“I remember you were going to go to college up in St. Cloud. You said that they had a pretty good theater department up there. Is that where you ended up?” He and Karrie broke up the summer after they had graduated. She had told him she wanted to move on with her life and go to college and not be tied down. At the time it had broken his heart. He sighed inwardly. Apparently their relationship, which had been so intense and important to him, had been barely a small blip on her emotional radar.
“Yes, I went there for two years and then transferred back down here to the University of Minnesota. I got involved in some college productions.” She stopped, remembering. “It was fun.” She smiled. “That’s where I met my husband.”
“He was in acting as well?”
“Yes. His name was Tom Iverson.” She looked at him. “He became pretty well known before he died.”
A light bulb went on in his brain. Of course he had heard the name. Tom Iverson had been one of those wild guys who seemed to be bigger than life and was often in the news. This was back in the early seventies. He was involved with the Guthrie and The Children’s Company, both well known and well respected theaters in the area. He was killed in the late seventies in a late night crash when his motorcycle had spun out of control on a dark road while racing around the curving roads of Lake Minnetonka. Ironically, the accident had occurred just about five miles from where they were now sitting.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, and tried to think of something else to say. In his mind he had often wondered, over the years, what it would have been like if he and Karrie had gotten married. Obviously that would have never happened and he was now starting to see that his reasoning for getting together with these women, in this case with Karrie, was probably going to be somewhat painful. The reality of life was smashing into his romantic dreams, with reality coming out the winner in a big way. “How long were you together?” He asked, finally coming up with something to say.
“We were together a few years, then got married and then he died a few years after that. So, maybe five years total.”
“No kids, I take it?”
“Kids were never going to be happening with me. I seem to recall you and I might have talked about that.”
He was stunned. They had, in fact, talked about it. The memory suddenly came back to him. It had been just a month or so before they had broken up. She was probably at the time laying the groundwork for breaking it off with him. “Yeah, I do remember that.” He paused, “Maybe that ‘s one of the reasons we broke up.” He ventured an observation, unsure of whether or not he wanted the answer. But he was here now and talking to her. Wasn’t this part of what he wanted? To find out where her head was at concerning what she thought about, if anything, when she thought back all those years ago to when they were together and dating.
“Maybe…I don’t know. Could be. Like I said, I really don’t remember much about back then.”
Well, there you go, he thought to himself. Point taken. She had moved on with her life, which, really, was the healthiest thing to do. She really didn’t think much or even remember much about those long ago years when they were in high school. The fact was, back then they’d just been kids. Young and inexperienced. Their lives had just been beginning and they were just starting out. Both of them had each lived a lifetime of experiences since then. In fact, as they continued to chat, more comfortably now that the ice had been broken, it made a lot of sense. He was definitely the odd ball. The odd man out. The one who remembered those years like they were only yesterday. The truth was, like Karrie had said, it had been a long, long time ago. He must have been crazy to assume she would have memories and feelings from way back then. He relaxed and took a sip of water. Karrie was a nice, well spoken and interesting person. She had done well with her life. She was happy and well adjusted. And he was happy for her. He also knew that his questions had been answered. She had gotten on with her life. He should, too. The years that he remembered with her were only the dimmest of a distant memory of hers. He didn’t need to look any further than that.
Lunch arrived and they began eating. “This is a lovely setting.” Karrie said, slowly taking a small bite of her salad and carefully chewing. She pointed out the window. The lake had a few clam-shell ice houses on it, smoke drifting up from their chimneys. “Do you like it out here?” Across the ice the wind was blowing as snow swirled nearly obscuring the far shoreline a half a mile away. From their vantage point looking down from the hill the supper club was on, it looked unbelievably pretty, like a romantic scene on a Christmas card. He thought again of Lynn.
The town they lived in had a population of just under two thousand people. The street they lived on was so quiet that often hours would go by before any cars would pass. “I love it out here. Lynn, the lady I’m with, has lived here almost her entire life.” He paused and smiled at Karrie. “I was lucky to find her.”
“What’s she like?”
He spent more than a few minutes telling her about Lynn and how they’d met, about what a great mother she was to her children and how talented she was.
“She sounds like a really nice person.” Karrie said. “You sound very happy with her.”
“I am. Until I met her I felt something was always missing in other of my relationships.” He paused, thinking. “But I really did try hard to make them work.”
“You’re talking about your two ex-wives’?”
“Yeah. But with both of them the term ‘growing a part’ really did apply. If, in both cases, we tried to make it work out, it didn’t. Probably was never going to.” He sighed and looked out over the lake and then took a sip of his soup. He suddenly felt he could should tell her about what his plan was. “I’m meeting each them later today. You know, just to talk. Kind of like we’re doing.”
Her response was interesting. “What’s Lynn think about that?” Interesting in that she cared about what Lynn would think, a person she had only heard of just today, and knew nothing about.
“She’s fine with it. Why?”
“Well, it’s not something I would be comfortable with, if I were in her shoes.”
There it was again. This questioning of what he was doing and the impact it might have on Lynn. Others, in their own way, had said pretty much the same thing. In the back of his mind he wondered if maybe Karrie was right. She immediately had grasped the significance of what he was doing and how it might affect things between he and Lynn. It dawned on him there was probably more than an element of truth to what she said. Everyone else was saying the same thing. However, instead of getting into a discussion about Lynn with Karrie he tried to put the matter to rest.
“It seems she’s Ok with it,” he finally said and looked out the window again, wondering if, in fact, that was really true. That Lynn was truly Ok with it. He was getting an inkling of a suspicion that maybe she wasn’t and he had been too blind to see it. He sighed inwardly and started to get a nervous feeling. Losing Lynn was the last thing he wanted. This whole thing was getting complicated.
“Any dessert for you folks?” The waiter interrupted his thoughts. He looked at Karrie with a question and a raised eyebrow.
“No, I’m good.” She glanced at her watch. “Anyway, I should probably getting going.” And then looked at him with what looked a little like pity. “Plus, you’ve got a big afternoon ahead of you.”
He told the waiter to please bring them the bill and then said to Karrie, wishing he hadn’t brought up meeting with his ex’s, “Well, anyway, it’s been really good to see you again.” He wondered what she would say.
“Yes, it’s been nice to see you, too.” She looked at him and smiled. “I didn’t know what to expect when you called, but this has been…” She let the words trail off, thinking and then added, “Interesting. Yes, I guess that ‘s what it’s been. Interesting.” She smiled again. “But I really should apologize, I’m just not one for remembering and reliving the past.”
He got the feeling that she was being truthful, but also kind. She wasn’t running away from their luncheon but, nevertheless, seemed more than a little happy to be leaving.
The waiter brought the bill and he paid for it. She took a final sip of water and they both stood up. He helped her on with her coat and they walked to the front door. The supper club was over half full and he noticed more than a few people watching as Karrie walked by. Before she left she turned to him and smiled one more time. She put out her hand and he shook it. “Take care of yourself,” she said, and patted his hand with her other one. “And take care of that lady of yours. She sounds like you have someone very special.”
Well, this was it. This was their goodbye and he couldn’t think of anything to say. He just smiled back at her and then an old theater adage popping into his mind, “Well, break a leg.”
She grimaced, somewhat embarrassed for him, and said, “We don’t really say that anymore.” She patted his arm one more time and then left, the cold winter air blowing snow in through the door before it slammed shut. She was gone. He knew it would be the last time he’d ever see her or contact her. The meeting was over. They never reminisced about the things he had remembered so strongly: the movies they’d gone to, the hockey games they’d attended, the drives around the lakes in Minneapolis, listening to early sixties rock and roll and singing together, parking late at night and losing track of time, hurrying home to just beat curfew. They’d talked of none of that. If anything, he’d learned that she had moved on with her life and that he was just a distant memory to her. It was time he did the same. Like Lynn had said, the past was past.
He looked at his watch. They had talked for nearly two hours. His first ex-wife, Laura Linley Ericksson, would be there in less than fifteen minutes. He went back to his table. His manager friend came over. “So how’d that go?” he asked. “That was Carrie Iverson, right?”
He filled his friend in on the conversation, finishing it off by saying that that Karrie had more or less suggested that he had a really good thing going with Lynn. “It was almost like she was coaching me to be careful and not do anything to screw up the relationship.”
His friend patted him on the back, and said, “Sound like sage advice from a smart woman. I’d listen to her if I were you.”
He was about to answer in the affirmative when he happened to look toward the front entryway. A woman had come in stomping snow off her boots, swearing and making a commotion. She was wearing a puffy ankle length tan winter coat. She had on a red knit hat, red gloves and a red scarf. She scanned the room and saw him and headed toward him, brushing snow off as she wove her way through the tables. His manager friend gave him a look, raised his eyebrows and hurried off leaving him to it. His first wife was on the way and she wasn’t smiling.
He stood up just as she reached the table. “Hi,” he said, trying to be friendly. “Thanks…” He was going to say ‘thanks for coming’, but she cut him off.
“God, what a drive out here. The roads are a mess. I could use a drink.” She glanced around as she sat down, looking for someone to serve her.
“I could go to the bar and get you something.”
She shook her head, no. “Naw, I’ve been sober for seven months. I’ll get some sparkling cider instead.” He sat down. Fortunately the waiter showed up just then with water for each of them, their menus and then quietly stood waiting for their drink orders. “You aren’t drinking?” she asked. “I recall you used to like to indulge.”
God, what a whirl-wind, he was thinking to himself. The last time he’d spent any time with her was forty years ago when they had met with her attorney to sign their divorce papers. He’d talked to her on the phone off and on during the intervening years, mainly having to do with issues with their kids, and seen her in person less than a handle full of times. He took a deep breath and mentally fastened his seatbelt. She always had been a force to be reckoned with.
“No, I have been sober for twenty six years,” he said. “I’ll just have some sparkling cider too.” He was just going to indicate this to the waiter, but she beat him to it.
“Two sparklers for us.” She commanded and then turned her attention to the menu. The waiter gave him a look, like ‘good luck’, and hurried away.
“How have you been?” he asked, wanting to be congenial. “It’s been awhile.”
“Shh, just a second,” she responded, holding up her hand, “Let me see what they’ve got here.”
Laura was five years younger than him. She wore her hair short and had dyed it silver, not what you’d imagine from a woman in her late sixties, but Laura Linley Ericksson never did things like everyone else. She marched to her own drummer and liked to think of herself as one of a kind.
After the divorce they had shared the custody of their three daughters. Laura began to devote herself fulltime to establishing herself as an artist, a painter. Over the years she had become successful in her own right as her style moved from the watercolor botanicals of her early years to the more abstract, large colorful paintings she did now. Her work had made her very well know in both the local and national art scene. He looked at her as a self-made woman and he knew she prided herself on her ability to carve out a niche for herself in the competitive world of art.
“I saw that you had a show down at the Weisman Gallery,” he commented, hoping it would put her in a good mood.
“Yeah, it’s going well. I’ve sold some stuff.” She put down the menu, and motioned to the waiter as he was carrying a tray to a nearby table. “I need something to eat,” she said to him, “I’m starving.”
“Fine. Anything you want.”
The waiter came over with their sparkling cider and took their food order: a tray of hummus and vegetables and a cheese plate. When he left she said, “So have you heard from the girls at all?”
“Nothing from Jenny. Steph and Libby and I talk pretty often.”
“Well, Jenny’s in treatment again at Adult Challenge downtown.” She looked hard at him. He often got the vibe from her that their youngest daughter’s trials with drug addiction were all his fault.
“So you’re in touch with her, then?”
“Sure. You know we’ve always been close.”
What he knew was that Laura would like to think they were close. But the reality was that his ex-wife tended to go her own way and that her children were never her highest priority. She could have written the book on ‘do your own thing’. He didn’t want to get into it with her, though. They’d argued about the proverbial ‘whose fault’ was it that their youngest daughter had turned out the way she had more times than he could count. Nothing was ever resolved. He wished that they each could assume a level of responsibility for Jenny’s behavior and come to terms with the reality that it was now up to Jenny, a forty-one year old adult, to start to take some responsibility for her own life, her own actions and the consequences of those actions. But Laura didn’t want to see it that way. She still wanted to assign blame to him. He had learned to accept this from her and how to let it roll off his back.
“How long will she be in treatment?” He loved all of his daughters each in their own way. Jenny, however, was closer in temperament to her mother. “Is she still doing her jewelry?” Jenny was a very talented silversmith. An artistic talent she got from her mother.
“Yeah. I got one of my galleries to give her a show.” She looked at him again. Challenging. For her, raising the kids was always a competition. Who could do the best for them? Stuff like that. She tried to do as much for Jenny as she could, which was good for Jenny, but she never passed up the chance to turn the knife in him a little like ‘see, I’m a better mother and you’re a worse father’. Like many of her attitudes and game playing, over the years he’d gotten used to it, but it was still tiring, if not a little hurtful. He decided to try to keep the conversation sociable and to not challenge her.
“That’s great. I’ll try and get over to see the show one of these days.”
“It ends the weekend after next, so you’d better hurry.”
“When does Jenny get out of treatment?”
“It’s a three week program. She’ll be out in eight days.”
“Next time, could you please let me know when something like this happens? I do care about her, you know.” It had always ticked him off that Laura tended to keep Jenny’s issues a secret from him and then lay it on him after the fact. Even though Laura and Jenny were close, it didn’t mean that he didn’t care. He did. It seemed that he always had to remind her of that fact. “I’d appreciate it.”
Laura just laughed derisively. “Yeah, I’m sure you would.”
His heart rate started going up and he began to feel adrenaline flooding through his veins. Fight or flight. It was right now, right at this time, that the conversation could go one of two ways. He could challenge her and they’d end up in a huge argument probably centering around who was the better parent. Or he could just let it go and try to keep things calm. The fact was that they were both Jenny’s parents. And they both cared for her. They both tried to do their best when it came to providing love and support to their daughter. Just because Laura and Jenny were close didn’t mean he didn’t want to be in his daughter’s life. He did, and he knew that Jenny knew that. After all, they did talk and they did see each other, just not as much as Jenny and her mother did. He decided to just let it go.
“So have you talked to Libby and Stephanie?” He asked, hoping she would accept him changing the subject. After all, she’d made her point about Jenny and how close the two of them were.
“Yeah. They’re both good,” she said, with a smirk. She really doesn’t want to let up, does she, he thought to himself. Fortunately, the waiter came with their food, providing a break. Laura started in on the hummus, dipping a carrot in and munching. He picked a slice of rye toast and chewed slowly, taking a sip of sparkling cider when he was done. He took a visual break and looked out over the lake and watched the snow blowing across the surface. A few guys were out there sitting on buckets, fishing through holes in the ice. It was a constant source of amazement to him that some die-hard ice fishermen would go out in any weather, even a snow storm like now. It was almost dark out and they’d set out glow rods in the snow providing a soft, ethereal light. The scene was actually pleasantly soothing to him. He took a deep breath, relaxing. God, he loved living out here. He and Lynn had a really good life. He looked forward to being with her until the end of their days. He felt himself calming down and turned back to Laura. She was watching him. “What about you? she asked. “How are things with you?” She apparently felt she had made whatever point she felt she needed to make.
“Things are really good.” He decided to circle back to the two of his kids who actually still made it a point to stay in contact with him. “I didn’t get through to Libby on Thanksgiving, but I left her a message. She called a few days later. She and Raja and the kids are doing fine, it sounds like.” Libby and her husband lived in Mankato. She worked in a bookstore and her husband taught a variety of English classes at one of the local high schools. He had published two volumes of poetry and was working on his first novel. Since he and Lynn liked to read so much, they got along wonderfully with Raja. “Stephanie and Steve are going to sell their home and down-size now that the kids are gone. They sound pretty excited about it.” He watched his ex as he talked. Her attention was starting to wane. Whenever a conversation shifted away from her she was usually less interested in what was being said and that was the case now. He decided to wrap it up. “So, all and all, they both sound good.”
“I’m going to cook dinner for Stephanie and Steve on Christmas Eve. See the grandkids, too.”
“That’s nice of you to do that.” He was trying to be pleasant. He and Laura had a history of brutal arguments over which parent would have the kids for holidays, especially when they were first divorced and the girls were young. Now those arguments were non-existent. The girls could make up their own minds. But when he and Laura were newly divorced, man, those holiday times had been tense. They couldn’t even have a civil conversation without it devolving into a yelling, screaming, verbal boxing match. Fighting about who would have the girls over the holidays was always a huge event. There were not only their kids to consider, but also each of their respective parents along with the power play that always existed between he and Laura. When he thought back to those times he did so with a sense of embarrassment. In retrospect things could really could have been handled differently. They could have shared more and compromised more. But it had taken a long time for that to happen. “I’m sure you all will have a good time,” he said, meaning it. He had long ago realized that the best thing to do was to do what was best for their kids. If the girls wanted to spend more time with their mom and her family, then fine, that’s what they’d do. If they wanted to be with him and his side of the family, that was great too. The girls, for their part, did a good job spending equal time with each family. It was as if they somehow just knew what was best action to take at any given time. Along the line they had learned to be quite diplomatic, providing a good lesson for both of their parents to learn. Still, the holidays for him were always a reminder that, when it came to a divorce and a split family, you just learned to make the best of things and move on as best you could. It was never easy.
“After you called I had a thought,” she was still picking at the veggies and hummus. “Do ever do any of your wood work?”
“I’ve sometimes thought about getting back into it, but, no. I sold all my tools along time ago.”
When they ‘d first been married back in the sixties they had embraced a more simpler lifestyle. They had found an old farmhouse to rent nestled between a woodlot and a cornfield outside of Decorah, Iowa. A number of other young people were living down there and he and Laura fit right in. He became proficient at making wooden utensils that they would sell at art and craft fairs around the area. Laura started making quilts and selling them, too. Shops in Decorah started to carry their work as well. He got a job working as a dishwasher in town at ‘The BeesKnees’ restaurant to supplement their income. The girls were all born down there. However, over the course of the six years they were in Iowa, things started to change between him and Laura. The long and the short of it was that they started growing apart. Which, when you thought about it, was bound to happen, since they’d married so young, she being eighteen and he twenty three. In the end, Laura missed living in Minneapolis. Missed her parents and her friends. Besides that, she wanted to get on with her life. As she had said to him back then, “I just don’t see myself scraping by nickel and diming myself to death for the rest of my life.” When he brought up how much he liked their lifestyle and living a simple, uncomplicated life she laughed and said, “Well, go ahead and do it, then. For me, I’m done. I’d like have some money for a change and not have to worry about never getting any new clothes and stuff like that.”
He hadn’t fought it too much. If she wasn’t happy there was no way he was going to make her happy. She had her mind set. They moved back to Minneapolis and got divorced. She lived with her parents and they helped out with the girls. He was able to find an apartment nearby so he could easily be with his daughters. He enrolled in school at the University of Minnesota and got his degree in Environmental Science, working a variety of jobs to pay his way. They did their best to raise the girls, and even though Jenny had issues, all in all he was not unhappy with how his daughters had turned out. “So, no, I don’t do any woodwork,” He smiled at the memory. “It was fun back then, though, wasn’t it?”
She looked at him like he was crazy. “Not at all. It was a lot of work. It seemed like all I did was take care of the girls while you fiddled around with your wooden spoons and went to work at the restaurant.”
“You had your quilting. You had friends down there.”
“I had three little kids to care for and a home to run. Making quilts was my only outlet. And I did that with toddlers running around all over the place.”
“Don’t you remember them playing out in my workshop. I took care of them a lot.” Which was true. They had done a pretty good job of sharing the responsibilities when it came to the kids. At least that’s the way he remembered it.
“I don’t remember it that way at all.” She stared at him. Then she took a breath and sighed. “I seem to recall us having this conversation about a million times before.”
She was right. He had started to slip back to the old ways. “Yeah, I’m sorry.” He took a sip of his water to give himself a moment to collect himself. “I know you did the best you could back then.” Which was true enough. He just didn’t want to fight about it again. They both could have done better at being a married couple. It had all happened forty years ago and was long over. Done and done, as he and Lynn would say. Time to move on.
They longer they talked, the more calm and at ease they both became. The stuff they were talking about was stuff they had talked about before. She had been married and divorced twice after they had split up. He’d been married one more time. They both had not been the most successful when it came to that part of their lives.
“Are you seeing anyone?” He asked, trying for some even ground.
“No. I’m happy doing my art work.” She finished off the last of the hummus with a piece of cucumber. “I’m pretty much done with sort of thing.”
He suddenly realized something. There was really nothing left to say. He’d touched base with her and they’d had a pretty civil conversation. Laura was who she was. They had been close years ago, but had drifted apart. And, as it turned out, for good reasons. They really were different people. She was who she was. Their divorce had been, after all was said and done, a good thing. They had moved on with their lives, the girls were doing fine, and even if Jenny had issues, she still had two parents who loved her. Things could have been worse. Instead they were pretty good.
He looked at his watch. It was nearly 5:00 pm. She saw him do it. “Got somewhere to go?”
He laughed. “Well, I’ve got a friend coming in about half an hour.”
“Who? Do I know him?”
“Well, you aren’t going to believe it. It’s not a him but a her. It’s Katie.”
She burst out laughing. “Your second wife?”
“Yeah, I’ve always been a glutton for punishment.”
She laughed some more, “Yeah, that’s the truth.” She stood up, “I should get going anyway. I’ve got a client to meet about a possible sale.” She began putting on her coat, getting ready to leave. He put down money to pay for their bill and got up to walk her to the door. On the way she surprised him by patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks for getting in touch. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was fine.” He had to admit that he agreed with her. All in all, it actually had been fine, just like she’d said.
He held the door open for her as she buttoned up her coat and put on her hat and scarf and gloves. The snow was still falling but there appeared to be in a bit of a lull. Night had fallen. Flurries were drifting through the parking light flood lights, but not at all that heavily. Maybe the storm was past. “Thanks again for coming,” he said, looking past her out to the parking lot. There was a lot of snow piled up by the plows. “Drive safely out there.”
But she was done talking. She gave him a quick wave and made her way through the snow to her car. He watched her until the cold set in. He was happy that being with Laura hadn’t disintegrated into a shouting match. Maybe they both really had moved on.
Shivering, he stepped inside and made his way back to his table where he sat down. A new waiter appeared. “Hi,” she said with a smile. “I’m Hallie. Can I get anything for you?”
“I’m fine for the moment,” he said. “I’m expecting someone.” She gave him a nod and left him alone. He looked outside. The storm had picked up again. The lights from the guys out ice fishing were nearly invisible in the blowing, swirling snow. What little he could see of the surface of the lake disappeared into a deep darkness making him thankful to be safe and warm inside. He thought of Lynn and smiled. He really should be with her right now. He was just starting to imagine being home and building a fire for them to snug in with when he happened to glance toward the front door. Katie was standing there looking around. He got up and waved. She waved back and walked toward him, smiling. She was as different from Laura as night and day.
“Hi there,” she said, still smiling, cheeks red from the cold. “Lots of snow out there.”
“I can tell,” he said, pointing toward the window. “How was the driving?” He pulled out a chair for her.
“Slippery. I almost spun out a couple of times.” She was wearing a dark blue quilted thigh-length jacket, a white stocking hat and thick, colorful mittens. She shook some remaining snow off of the jacket and hung it over the chair. She put her hat and mittens in its pocket and then sat down.
“Well, thanks for agreeing to see me.”
“Yeah, it’s been awhile, like what, twenty years?”
“Eighteen,” he said, as he sat back down. “I’d ask how you’ve been, but…” He made a point of looking at his watch, trying to make a little joke, “We’ve only got until this place closes.” He laughed a little, embarrassed, realizing suddenly how stupid he sounded.
Fortunately, she laughed too. “I’ll give you the edited version, then.” Katie was always congenial. Unlike Laura, who could get argumentative at the drop of a hat, Katie was usually good natured and pretty easy to get along with. “Where should I begin?” She smiled at him and then let her eyes drift to the window beside their table. She looked out, watching the snow drifting through the flood lights illuminating the back patio area. She Looked good. Healthy. Her shoulder length hair was pure white and she held it back from her face with a turquoise colored barrette. She was wearing a dark purple turtle neck sweater and blue jeans. Around her neck was a silver necklace with a small pendant that had a red stone in it. The last time he’d seen her she’d been in a serve depression and had been on the brink of being hospitalized primarily for her own safety. Back then she had issues with her family, specifically her parents, that she was trying to resolve. She’d spent years in counseling and therapy. One thing that came out was she decided he didn’t fit into her life anymore. They both agreed that it would be best to split up and they divorced shortly thereafter.
She brought her gaze back inside and began to fill him in on what she had been up to. After their divorce she had continued going through more years of counseling and had finally straightened her life around. She had met a man, gotten married and was now living in the prosperous suburb of Maple Grove. She looked and sounded happy and he told her so. “Thanks,” she said, “Larry and I are doing well.”
“Larry’s your husband?”
“Yes, I told you on the phone, remember?”
“Sorry, I forgot his name.” He paused, curious. “And your health?” Meaning mental health, but he didn’t want to push things, “How’s that?”
“Good,” she said, “I’ve gotten a lot of things worked out.” She paused and smoothed out a wrinkle on the table cloth. “It’s an ongoing thing, but I’m good. Larry helps.”
Halley stopped by with water and dropped off a couple of menus. “The specials tonight are range chicken casserole and broiled whitefish.” She smiled at each of them and scampered off. She was young and enthusiastic. He briefly wondered how her life would turn out. What would she be doing in fifty years? Would she be like him, sitting in a restaurant talking to people she used to know, trying to put the past to rest? He shook his head. Katie was starting to look over the menu.
“I’m glad to hear it,” He told her, meaning it. Katie was a nice person. The big problem between them was that whenever she slipped into her depression she started turning against him. Which he could have handled, but she also turned against his girls and his family: his mom and brother and sisters. It finally became too much to handle. She wasn’t happy with him and he started to be unhappy with her. They were unable to mend the rift between them and eventually they separated. She moved into an apartment close to where her older sister lived. Her sister started being a caregiver of sorts to her until she eventually got better. As she started learning ways to cope with her depression she decided she didn’t need him around. They agreed to a divorce and they each moved on with their lives. Eighteen years was a long time, but it didn’t take long to catch up. They always had an easy time talking. The things they had in common were all the years he had worked at General Mills and the times they had shared raising the kids. So there was a lot there. Where he and Laura had only been married eight years, he and Katie had been married twenty two. They had a lot of history together and they reminisced easily, talking about the past.
He had graduated from the University in the early seventies. Jobs were plentiful back then and he was fortunate to be hired right away. General Mills was located in the suburb of Golden Valley and he worked there for over twenty years, all of them having to do with quality control. He liked the company and he liked the variety of projects he was assigned to. One of his memorable ones was working on a cereal called ‘Fruit Brute’ which was the first project he ever was involved with. It was introduced in 1974 and discontinued in 1982 but it was a fun project nevertheless. In was through that work that he met Katie. She was working as a para-legal at a local law firm that General Mills used for legal counseling. She was the liaison between her firm and his company. They got to know each other, started dating and found that they got along well together. They were married in 1974. By then Laura had stepped away from the child rearing picture, so he and Katie raised the girls pretty much full time. They got them through grade school and high school and into college. They took them on yearly vacations and tried to provide as much stability as they could. Those years weren’t terrible and he remembered them fondly. Katie did her best to fill in as the mother of the family even though the girls continued to see Laura on rare occasions. He always felt that he and Katie did a good job giving the family security and structure. All children have issues with divorce, especially dealing with step-parents, and his girls were no different. He was happy that Libby and Stephanie had stable families. Jenny was another story, but he still felt that he and Katie had done the best they could.
He filled her in on how the girls were doing. He told her about Lynn and how they’d met. She was mildly interested in a polite way, and he realized as he was talking that she, too, had moved on with her life. A door closes, a door opens. Life goes on. He was starting to see this as a theme to the way the day was going.
Halley stopped back with a basket of rolls and took their orders. They each opted for the specials, Katie the chicken and he the whitefish.
“Well, thanks, again for coming out to meet with me,” he said. “It’s nice to see you looking so healthy.”
“You’re looking good, yourself. I almost didn’t recognize you without your hair.” She laughed.
He rubbed his hand over his bald head, “Yeah, started losing it over ten years ago. Grew the bead instead.” She smiled and took a sip of water. He had a thought. “Do you want any wine or anything?”
She shook her head. “No. I don’t do that anymore.”
Unfortunately, drinking had been a part of their lives when they had been together. She liked her wine, he liked his bourbon. It never got overly out of control and he confined his to the weekends, but it had still been there.
“Glad to hear it,” he was genuinely happy for her. “It’s been twenty six years for me.” He had quit a few years before they divorced.
She raised her water glass to him and gave a toast. “Here’s to sobriety.” He clinked her glass and they each took a sip. “How about your smoking?”
She was certainly covering all the bases. But he had asked to met her so he had to go with wherever the flow took him. “Not so good. I still can’t quit. Down to only one or two a day.”
“Well, you’ll get there.” Katie was always encouraging and generally positive. He had always enjoyed that about her. “I was able to quit. Finally, after trying many times.”
“That’s great to hear.” Like with both Karrie and Laura this initial conversation felt stilted to him. Not uncomfortable so much as formal and stiff. He decided to change course and ask something that he’d always wondered about. “Do you ever think about those years we were together?” She gave him a questioning look. “This may sound stupid, but I’ve occasionally wondered if you ever thought about those times back when we were married.”
“I do think about them sometimes, but really not all that often. Why?”
“Well, I think about them…” He stopped trying to frame the words to what he’d thought about so much. “I’m just wondering if those years were good for you. Or would you just as soon forget they ever happened.”
Katie laughed, “Boy, that sounds deep and dramatic.” He laughed then too, feeling some tension dissipating. “Well, to answer your question, I do sometimes think about those years. We had some good times. I remember the vacations with the girls the most. Probably going to Maine and staying for a week on the coast. Staying on Mackinac Island, too.” She paused, thinking, smiling, which made him feel good. For years he had felt guilty about their divorce. He sometimes wondered if he could have done more to salvage their marriage. But what was done was done. He sincerely believed things had worked out for the best. He was happier now than he’d ever been and Katie was obviously happy as well. She continued, “I liked when we took the kids on the train to Duluth, and I liked the time we went camping in the Black Hills.” She paused again before continuing. “So, yes, I’d say I have some pretty good memories, still, of those times when we were together.” Then added, “Now that you bring it up.”
“Any regrets?” he ventured to ask.
“I’m sorry the girls and I didn’t get along any better.” She answered right away without having to think long about it. Then she looked past him out to the window and beyond. He looked, too. The snow was blowing past the flood lights. Someone had decorated evergreen trees that surrounded the snow covered patio. The white lights twinkled. He thought it looked wonderfully peaceful. “But I tried to do my best,” she said. “That’s all I can say.”
“Yeah, I know you did. I know it was hard.” He looked at her and stifled a desire to touch her hand. “It was a challenging situation,” he said instead. “I’ve thought about it a lot. It was just difficult.” He sighed, meaning it. “There were issues with Laura. The girls challenged us on nearly everything we tried to do.”
“Remember when we tried to have everyone sit down to dinner?”
“Yeah, talk about tense.”
Ha and Katie had insisted that dinner was family time and that they would all sit down and share a meal together. The girls put up with it but they hated it. Many of those dinners were spent with he and Katie trying to engage them in a conversation, but to no avail.
“But, we tried,” She smiled at him.
He smiled back, “Yeah, we did.”
The girls all left home to go to various colleges. By that time Katie’s depression had gotten worse. She quit her job at the law firm and sought a variety of treatments, counseling strategies and medications. She withdrew and no matter what he tried to do he couldn’t help her. He had been at a loss. Eventually she became bitter towards him and the girls and even various members of his family. When she approached him about getting a divorce she had said, “It’s just not working for me. I’m not sure if it ever was.”
When the divorce was finalized he remembered that he talked to her on the phone one last time. “How are you feeling?” he had asked. He felt he had tried as hard as he could to keep the marriage together. It just wasn’t going to work.
“I’m doing a lot better,” Katie had said. “My shrink told me that I seem healthier and happier. Looks like getting out of our marriage was the best thing for me after all.”
At the time it had been hard to accept the failure of his second marriage. He’d let not only Katie down but himself as well. At least after the divorce Katie appeared to be happy and on the road to a better life. When he hung up that final time he figured that was it. He’d spend the rest of his life alone. And he did for a few years. Then he met Lynn and his life had changed for the best.
Hallie came and cleared their dishes. “Any dessert for you two?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” Katie said, looking out the window.”It looks like that snow is really picking up again so I should probably get going.” Just then her phone rang and she answered it, turning away from him. He could only hear snatches of the conversation. It sounded like someone she was very familiar with had called. She hung up, smiling.
“That was Larry,” she said. “He said that the snow isn’t showing signs of slowing down and the roads are a mess. He’s sending a cab for me.” She checked her watch. “It should be in about twenty minutes, about 7:30.”
“He sounds like a good guy. Like he really cares,” He said, thinking that he was glad Katie had found someone to make her happy. Someone who could show her how much he cared for her. “Do you want some coffee while you wait?”
“That would be nice.”
He waved the waiter over and they ordered. It was really quite a pleasant way to end their meal together. He was happy they had talked and he knew deep down that their marriage had failed for realistic reasons. She had gone on to find Larry, someone to be happy with. He had gone on to find Lynn, the person he’d spend the rest of his life with.
After a while his manager friend came over to the table and told Katie the cab was waiting for her. They got up together, she put on her jacket and then gave him briefest of hugs. They wove their way the past tables to the front door. He held it open for her. The cab was idling near the entrance. “Thanks for coming out to see me,” he said, “I appreciate it.”
“Good luck,” she said. “Take care of Lynn. She sounds like someone very special.”
She trudged through the snow and turned and waved as she got into the cab. He watched it drive off, tires spinning for traction. He closed the door and went back to his table taking his phone out on the way. He wanted to call Lynn and hear her voice. He wanted to see her and be with her. If anything, the three meetings had made him realize what a special person she was and how much he loved her. He punched in the number for their home and she picked up on the second ring.
“Are you still alive?” she asked, joking.
“Yeah, it’s all over.”
“All over? That sound dramatic. And final.”
“Yeah, I’m done. It’s out of my system.”
“You’re not going to do this again? See them again?”
He thought back about the way the afternoon had gone. Karrie, Laura and Katie. All so different. Such different conversations. Such different people. He was the constant factor. They had changed. Well, grown, really. They had each found a measure of happiness in their lives. And he had too. He had Lynn and they had their life together. And when it came down to the final accounting, that’s what was the most important thing to him.
“Never,” he said emphatically. “I just want to come home and be with you.”
“Sounds good to me.” She paused. “Maybe build us a fire?”
“I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
“Me either,” she said. “Hurry home.”
He settled up his bill, waved goodbye to his friend and went out into the night. Despite the snow, which he could see now was a full blown snowstorm, the parking lot was nearly full of cars. It was just ten days until Christmas Eve and the holiday season was in full swing. He’d noticed it in the supper club, people in good moods, conversations lively. He used the broom on the handle of his ice scrapper to clean the snow off while the car idled, warming up. Once it was clean he got inside and ran the windshield wipers to do a final clearing of the front window. He watched the snow swirl through the bright floodlights in the parking lot. Past the corner of the club, through the trees and blowing snow, he could just make out part of the lake. Long Lake. The name of the little town he and Lynn lived in. The place he had shared with her for fifteen years. The place where he had put down what was to be the final roots of his life. The place where he felt secure and at home. At peace.
He thought back over the last hours. He felt a measure of satisfaction with how things had gone. Karrie hadn’t remembered much, well nothing really, of their past together, but they’d had a nice visit. Laura was happy with her life and was looking at him with less anger than she had before and Katie was doing well, having moved on from the time when they were married. And maybe that was the message here, if there was one: moving on. Moving ahead with your life and not dwelling in the past. He could see it as a closing of a door or a symbolic wiping the slate clean kind of thing. He knew what Lynn would say. She’d say that you just keep moving ahead no matter what obstacles life tosses your way. Sage advice that he should embrace. The past is past and there’s no need to dwell on it. Which was true, he knew that now. He’d never see those three women again. There was no need. He’d learned what he needed to learn. It was simple really. Life went on. It was up to you to make the most of it. Any mistakes made or regrets you might have needed to be accepted. They were part of what made a person what they were today. The good and the bad, it all came together in one’s attempt to do the best one could and be the best possible person they could be. Now he needed to act on that awareness.
He thought of Lynn again. She’d be waiting for him to get home and build a fire for them. A fire to keep them warm on this stormy, wintery night. He put the car in gear and slowly made his way through the parking lot, head lights cutting a path through the storm. He turned onto the highway. There were only a few cars on the road. He slowly accelerated and the car slipped a little. He kept both hands on the wheel. There was no place he’d rather be than with Lynn. He took his time and drove with caution. He’d be home shortly. It would be good to get there.
When he turned onto their street there was a set of tire tracks and he followed them, spinning and swerving through the snow. In a few minutes he saw their home. The planter pots that he’d stuffed with spruce tips and decorated with tiny white lights shone brightly on either side of the front door. Inside, a soft glow shone through the windows. He turned into the driveway and plowed through at least eight inches of snow to get to the garage. He was thankful he’d left the door up. The gardens he and Lynn tended so carefully during the growing season were resting under that snow, waiting for spring’s time of rebirth. Lynn had left the back light on for him. He closed the garage door and glanced at his shovel knowing he’d be out again by seven the following morning shoveling the driveway, patios and sidewalks, a job he enjoyed. He fought his way to the back door and went inside.
“Is that you?” Lynn called out. She was in the living room. He imagined her sitting in her comfortable chair, probably working on one of her projects. He could almost hear his spot on the couch calling him.
“Yeah, it’s me.” he shrugged off his jacket and stomped the snow from his boots before taking them off and setting them on a small rug by the door.
“How’s the driving?” Lynn sounded good. Cheerful. He knew how much she cared for him. It was up to him now to put the past behind him and show her how much he truly cared for her. As he had realized today, life goes on. You do your best and make the most of your opportunities. Now was his time with Lynn. Now and for the rest of their lives. It was an opportunity he wasn’t going to waste.
“The roads are slippery. It’s still snowing out there. The temperature’s dropping too. How about if I get that fire going?”
He could picture Lynn smiling as she called back, “Sounds great. It’s a good night for it.”
He walked through the kitchen into their cozy, snug living room. Lynn had lit a few candles and had plugged in their holiday tree. She had a lamp on near her chair. The room felt serene and peaceful. Lynn stood and came to him and they embraced. He kissed her on the top of the head. “I really missed you, today,” he said and squeezed her tighter.
She hugged him back. “Me too.” She looked up at him. “You done with all of that nonsense?”
He looked her in the eyes. “I am. Forever.”
“That’s good,” she said, and hugged him more.
The other thing he learned today suddenly came to him: he was a fortunate man. A fortunate man indeed. He owed it to Lynn to be the best person for her that he could possibly be. To make her life better. Brighter. Their future together started right now.
“And that’s enough talk about me,” he said. “Let me get that fire going .Then you can fill me in on how things went for you today. I really want to know.”
He gave her a smile and she smiled back, like she knew exactly what he was getting at.
They talked long into the night. He lost track of the number of logs he put on the fire. Much later Lynn came and joined him on the couch and they wrapped up in a blanket. She put her head on his shoulder and they gazed into fireplace, enjoying their comfortable companionship and the warm glow of the embers. They decided to spend the night there. Just before they fell asleep it came to him that there was no place he’d rather be than right here with Lynn, the woman he loved more than anything. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow and a new day and the beginning of the rest of their life together.