It’s a strange thing about how love works, I think. I think you always have to rise up to it. Things happen that aren’t according to your plans or your fairytale dreams or your plans, and if you don’t rise up to it, and do the right thing, I think you give something away. Or it dies.
How old would I have been? It wasn’t that long ago. The kids were into middle school grades, fifteen and thirteen and eleven, I guess. Two years apart, like we’d planned, two boys and a girl. I had just started driving over to Devil’s Lake a couple days a week, taking some classes. I was thinking of doing some kind of lab tech work, some program I’d seen. The kids were old enough then I could do it. I don’t even know how it happened. We didn’t seem to have any time in those days, always felt like we were going or coming. I wasn’t complaining or anything, it’s just that we didn’t have any slow time together.
And there we were in the middle of all of that and — what’s that old saying? — in the middle of being so busy, life happened. It just caught me off guard. I remember that day, it was cold and gray like this one. We had just finished dinner. Sam, the young one, was doing the dishes. Jack and Diane were doing their homework. I went down the hall and John was sitting there on the bed. I was surprised to find him in there, and in that quick second I thought, ‘I don’t know when I’ll have another chance, I’ll just tell him now.” So I did. Not a lot of details, just, ‘I was feeling this way so I checked, and I’m pretty sure.’ I didn’t say, “Let’s do this,” or “Let’s not,” or anything. I don’t know what I expected him to say or do. He didn’t really say anything. I used to think back on that time and thought, ‘Maybe something big was going on with him. And I didn’t ask. He had a very downcast look on his face, which is how I was feeling, low in the pit of my stomach, and maybe that’s just why I blurted it out. But what if something was going on with him?
He didn’t say anything, just sat there, nodded. Looked up at me for a minute. Then I think I said, “We can’t, right?” Not too many words. That’s what I thought at the time. We had too many things going, we were too far along in our lives. I had been thinking about it so much before I told him, thinking I was too old, what about the risks? I think I had talked myself out of it.
Later that night, I was shooing the kids off to bed, and he came into the kitchen and put his arms around me, sweet as ever. Didn’t say anything, just gave me a long hug. And that was it.
We never talked about it again. Later I realized I had wanted him to bring it up. I think I even wanted him to say, “Wait a minute.” Fight for it. Say, “Maybe we should do this. We can do this.” I think you have to say ‘yes’ to these things that happen to you. You have to say you can do anything. You have to try.
I can’t blame it all on him. I didn’t say anything either. I didn’t bring it up again. A few weeks later I said to myself, ‘Well, that’s that.’ I drove down to Grand Forks, alone. I never told anyone. I came back that night, made dinner like always. Didn’t say, “Well, I didn’t go to class today, because …” Nothing. Just, “Hi kids, how was your day?” Just like every day. As if it was all normal.
A few days later I was getting the kids off to bed again and I bumped into him in the kitchen and he reached out and got hold of me and pulled me to him again, just as he had a few weeks before. That’s when I realized how angry I was. That’s what I realize that I blamed him, for just leaving this, for betraying us. Mad at myself too. We had let ourselves down. That hug felt like a fake. Something was gone.
I don’t think we ever get over that sense of betrayal. We betrayed ourselves. We didn’t live up to it. And we lost something by that. We gave something away. He’s still the sweet guy he was. Sometimes people criticize him for not being more ambitious, not doing more with himself, but at least he’s a decent guy, always. He’s encouraged me. After I finished that term at Devil’s Lake I stopped going back. Went to work at the C-store instead. And then here. He’s always supported me, always tried to cheer me up when things were hard. But once, when I started going to school at Devil’s Lake, it felt like I was doing it for our family, for all of us. I was contributing to this bigger thing. Now I feel like I contribute money to the household, but it doesn’t feel like something we’re really doing together. I can’t explain this very well. Sometimes it feels like we’re roommates. But I’ve lost that feeling of working together for something bigger, the way our love used to feel. I think you get one chance and if you don’t live up to it, it just goes away from you.