The Ultimate Takeaway
We were sitting awkwardly on a park bench that overlooked the shimmering lake in a silence that had been going on since 3:57. It was 4:02–yes, I was keeping track of the time. It was a dry, hot summer afternoon and I was so bored. But it was an uncomfortable boredom. I hadn’t seen him in a really long time. But apparently he had seen me. He always sees me. He told me that he sees me everywhere he goes.
“So you wanna go in the lake?” He asked.
“Can’t you get parasites from that?” I retorted.
“Amoeba or something. I saw it on TV once at an airport in South Carolina.”
“Why were you in South Carolina?”
“It was a couple of years ago when I took that trip to Myrtle Beach with my sister.” There was another uncomfortable pause.
I never should’ve mentioned that it was with my sister. I only talked about my sister when necessary, especially with him. Eventually, I knew she would have had to come up but I didn’t want to rush it. But I just had to slip…
“You mean Ariel?” He asked as if there were any other possibility.
“No, I was talking about the imaginary sister I made up when I was five.” I said sarcastically.
He smirked at my sassy tone with a sense of familiarity, “I mean, obviously. I just didn’t know why you were talking about her as if I didn’t know her. Why didn’t you just say her name?”
“That’s a weird question.” I retorted defensively.
“No reason. But why didn’t you?”
I didn’t say her name because I couldn’t stand to hear the sound of it. Besides, I wanted to emphasize the point that she was my sister. I hoped that maybe it would sink in if I put her in that context one more time.
I knew I shouldn’t have brought her up right away. It made me feel the weight of the ring in the dauntingly plain envelope sitting on my lap. That was too painful. It was stupid. I wish I could take it back. I bit my tongue in my mouth but then realized that was almost as stupid as talking about my sister right now. It wouldn’t unsay what I just said. It would just make my tongue pulsate.
But it was time to point out the “elephant in the room,” as my sister would say as if she invented the phrase.
“So why did you bring me all the way to the park just for me to give the wedding ring back?” I didn’t think the trip to the park was necessary.
“I don’t know.” He knew and so did I.
“I could’ve just shipped it in the mail, you know. It wouldn’t have been a big deal or anything.”
Yes, it was clearly a big deal. Was he stupid? It would always be a big deal. A monstrously enormous deal. Throwing your wedding band in an envelope and shipping it off to your sister’s apartment wasn’t something the average woman my age did every day. Actually, it was probably something most women would never have to do at my age or any age, as a matter of fact.
He wasn’t answering me.
“Did she ask you to make me give it back?” I asked.
“No.” He shook his head.
“Then why?” I persisted.
“Because it was my grandmother’s and I promised her I’d keep it in the family.” He looked down at his shoes.
I knew he was lying to me. If she hadn’t insisted, then why else would he have gone to all this trouble and put me through such torture? Besides, Ariel had done this to me several times before. Taking what I had was her favorite hobby since we were small children. I never understood it but that’s just the way things always played out.
Where we were then is where he took me on our first date. We sat on this bench. Actually I’m not sure if it was this particular bench or the one next to it, but I guess he remembered. So I had to ask the question.
“Did you take me here because you still don’t know if you want to leave me or not?”
“I don’t think so.” His tongue slightly stumbled over the words.
“Convincing.” I replied with a hint of sarcasm.
“Do you want me to take you back?” He played it coy– something you don’t do with your ex-wife.
“No.” I was pretty sure I meant it too.
We were caught at a crossroads and we both knew it. I knew he wasn’t sure if he wanted me to stay or not. But for the sake of keeping what little dignity I had left intact, I could never do that. I wondered why he wasn’t upfront about it. He was the one who invited me here in the first place. He knew all too well that this was where we had our first date.
“Why my sister?” I wanted to know.
He leaned on the arm of the bench impatiently and sighed, “Look, I thought you said you didn’t want to make a bigger deal–”
“You were the one who made such an occasion out of it.” I was glad to cut him off.
“I don’t know, okay?” He said, defensively. “Things just happen sometimes.”
He seemed uncertain of all the answers I wanted him to give to me. Besides, things like this didn’t just happen. Nothing happened here. It was suburban, middle-of-nowhere Wyoming. There were no cheating scandals. Even journalists struggled to find anything to write about in the local newspaper. It was a simple town and we were people who stuck to the basics. It’s not as if we were growing apart toward the end of our marriage either. Our lives got so complicated all of a sudden.
“Are we a lot alike, me and my sister?” I inquired.
“Not really.” He still refused to make eye contact.
I knew there were some similarities. There had to be. We both had some of the same features, but I believe that was as far as the family resemblance went. Our personalities clashed terribly. I was more passive and would never run off with my sister’s husband. On the other hand, she was more aggressive and would run off with her sister’s husband. She did. We were two very different people, but apparently we were both his type.
Then he said after an extremely drawn out pause, “Actually, there are some things you do that are alike.”
“What?” I was startled at the sound of his voice.
“You and your sister. You decorate your houses the same way.”
He looked at me– not just glanced, but really looked me in the eyes– for the first time in the whole conversation. He said this to me as if it were a compliment, something he really enjoyed the thought of and he wanted me to like it too. What a strange thing to say: We decorate our houses the same way…
“How?” I was disgusted yet somewhat intrigued.
“I don’t know. It’s just our house looked the same as ours does now,” he realized his pronouns weren’t making sense. “I mean, ‘ours’ as in me and Ariel’s and the first time I said ‘our’– without the ‘s’– I meant you and me.”
“Yeah. I knew what you meant. It’s not that confusing.” I rolled my eyes. Now I was the one who would do anything not to look him in the eyes.
“You remember our house? Our kitchen had that calendar hanging on the wall right near the microwave with all the pictures of those pretty gardens and landscapes, all from Wyoming. Do you remember that?” He asked me, suddenly sentimental.
“What kind of question is that?” I shut him down. Honestly, I preferred the silence now.
Wow. I was so Wyoming that I had a calendar hanging in my kitchen with the landscapes of Wyoming. I still had that stupid calendar hanging on the wall at that point. It made me nauseous. I just wanted to go home, rip it off wall, tear up that plain, worn out calendar into the tiniest pieces, throw it in the garbage, take out the trash just to get those “beautiful landscapes of Wyoming” out of my house, and never see it again. My whole home felt so infected. Infected by something as boring as a freaking calendar.
I couldn’t sit there for much longer. It was useless at this point. I didn’t even want to stay in the state anymore.
My hometown had been my whole life. I grew up here, I worked here, I got married here, and then my life was shattered here. That was when I knew I couldn’t remain inside the little bubble that was plain old Wyoming. Before the divorce, I thrived in this little illusion of simplicity but then I got myself all tangled up after witnessing my husband’s infidelity.
That moment was when it all changed for me. On that wooden park bench, I realized that I had to get out. I needed to start fresh. That night I would go home and do some research on where I should go because the plot twist in my life had arrived. I couldn’t wait around to watch the aftermath of the murder of everything I was unfold at the scene of the crime.
“This gum tastes like rubber.” He was always an awful icebreaker.
“You’re seriously chewing gum right now?” I raised my eyebrows at him.
“It’s a bad habit, I know,” he chuckled a little bit.
He looked down over the arm of the bench and spit his gum out on the ground, a few feet away from the big sign that the town had put up prohibiting litter. Of course, he saw the sign and he knew he shouldn’t have done it– especially because there was a trash can right next to the bench. He also knew that he shouldn’t be making small talk with me now of all times and I was trying to figure out a way to just give him the ring and leave without being rude– even though I wasn’t the one who should have been making a special effort to be on her best behavior. And he definitely knew he shouldn’t have married his ex-wife’s sister only a month after he signed the divorce papers, but I think he liked knowing all of this– as sick as it sounds.
The world was so much different for me and it all shifted in a flash. Even when I was married, in my joyful oblivion, I must have known that life wasn’t going to be the same forever, but I never thought it would be quite like things actually wound up. Since my little sphere had spun out of my control, the epiphany that I needed to make some changes of my own in order to come to terms with this was somewhat of a relief.
I looked down at his chewed up piece of gum lying two feet away from the “don’t litter” sign and two inches away from the garbage. It was the usual faded mint green and a microscopic bit of saliva formed a bubble in between his teeth marks.
“Aren’t you gonna throw that in the garbage?” I asked him, grossed out at the sight of it practically baking on the charcoal pavement.
“Eh,” he shrugged.
This newfound internal revelation didn’t mean that all of my deep-seated resentment of him or my sister was gone. I still despised him for being the little boy who always wanted to do everything the teacher told him not to. And I was certainly never going to forgive Ariel for being the obnoxious kid in Kindergarten who wanted to snatch every crayon I had in my hand away from me, just so I couldn’t draw. But I was going to be the little girl who packed up her suitcase with her pajamas and her teddy bear, much too ready to tell the world that she was running away from home. So I finally gave myself permission to leave because I had more than a right to do so. All the same, every last trace of pain that I wanted to leave behind remained inside.
“Well, I hope she enjoys it just as much as I did.” I placed the ring in the center of his palm.
I stood up and looked ahead of me, fighting the strong urge to glance back at him. I walked away, in the direction of the blinding sunlight, and never turned around. That was the last time I saw him, but I know he still sees me everywhere.