It had been fifteen years since they said I do, and sometimes, just when Geena thought everything was going well and that they were going to make it, really make it, something would happen that would cause her to doubt. Mostly, though, she thought they were doing all right—paying bills and grocery shopping and going to work and putting kids to bed as life made its slow march across their faces, leaving faint lines of crow’s feet around their eyes and worry lines between their brows.
The day her marriage ended was not particularly ominous. The sun rose, bright and hot, and traversed the summer sky methodically, as it had every day before, baking the pavement and sending waves of heat up from the Alabama asphalt. The boys were out of school and spent their days bickering and playing games and wrestling like bear cubs from sunup to sundown. She loved having them home, but sometimes, it was difficult.
Like on this day, when she told her husband that they needed to talk. The boys were complaining of the heat, but as soon as they jumped in the pool the arguing commenced, causing her to step outside the back door innumerable times to tell them to hush, that the whole neighborhood didn’t need to hear them.
On this day, of all days, she and Max needed privacy. So she ordered the kids out of the pool, left them in charge of a babysitter, and went to a nearby restaurant to talk things out. She had a vague notion that if they were among strangers, they might be able to control the seething piles of emotion that lay just under the surface of their words.
It wasn’t true, of course. The emotions spilled over the tops of their words and came tumbling out of their eyes until they were sitting in the car, sobbing and trying to make sense of everything. It wasn’t that either one of them wanted to get divorced, it was just that nothing seemed to be working. Even therapy couldn’t provide them with the healing words that they needed. It only served to highlight their differences and dichotomies until neither one could look at them anymore without feeling deep despair.
It was there, then, in the car on that hot summer’s day, that Max and Geena decided to throw in the towel.
When Max was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer just four weeks later, however, the process of divorcing came to a stop even before it could even get started. Everything changed, and the next six months were an agony of watching the man she thought she’d grow old with slowly crumble apart and die.
“You’re beautiful to me,” he breathed faintly one day toward the end, as she sat by his bedside and gave him sips of ice water. The morphine pump chugged nearby, its steady release of medication alleviating but never completely resolving his pain. He was thin then, a mere shadow of the hearty man he had been before, and his body beneath the sheet moved spasmodically. “I just want you to know that.”
“Okay, Max,” she said in what she hoped was a reassuring tone. “I hear you.”
“No,” he said, turning his head to fix her with his bright green eyes. “I mean it. I love you. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work.”
“But we have, haven’t we?” she said in consternation. “I mean, here we are.”
“Are we, though?” he sighed and closed his eyes and the conversation was over. Geena bent her head to her chest and wept. Though they were here, occupying the spaces around one another, they were not together. And they hadn’t been for a long time.