She stood in the hallway staring wordlessly at the suitcases, the laptop case, his briefcase. Piled up where she hadn't seen them when she walked in. She walked back into the den and looked at the man sitting in the shadows.
"You are insane, Lyle. You are walking out on me and our two sons ... because of one fight! One stupid mistake I made while I was drunk a few hours ago. I didn't have sex with anyone. I didn't betray you. You are certifiable."
When he didn't answer she started toward him and again he held his hand up as if he were giving a stop sign. She halted. She wondered if he really might have had a breakdown. This man was not her husband, not the man she had lived with for eight years. No one could change so drastically in a few hours. He had never been like this before, never. And the worst of it was, there really wasn't anything to explain it. Nothing – much – had happened at the party.
She backed up but didn't sit down.
"Can you tell me why? Can't you at least do that?"
"I had a moment of clarity."
She heard the words but couldn't fit them into any kind of sense.
"A moment of clarity? Why do you do that, Lyle? I know you think you're smarter than I am, than anybody in my family, anybody around here. But why can't you avoid rubbing our noses in the fact that we're morons compared to you. Put it in words I can understand."
The figure cloaked in shadow shifted his position, put his head forward slightly and seemed to rest it on his joined fists.
"I'm sorry Diane. I really am. I don't mean to do that. It's just that's the way professors of English Literature think and talk. It's not that hard to explain, actually. We, all of us, walk around never really seeing what our whole lives are all about.
"We're blinded by all the minutiae of our existences – waking up and brushing our teeth and going to work and paying bills and what's on TV tonight and the kids having colds and wondering if we're getting fat or if our husbands or wives are looking at other people. We never step back and get a picture of where our lives are. Except, once in a rare while."
He stopped and she stayed silent, hoping he would go on.
"I had a moment of clarity earlier tonight."
"You keep saying that, but what does it mean? What did you see?'
Even though she could not see his face clearly she knew he'd focused his glance laser-like on her face. She felt the force of his gaze on her skin.
"I saw our life, Diane. I saw what we are, what we were, and what we've become. It had nothing to do – or very little – with what happened at the party. You're right, to walk out because of one fight, one mistake, one incident, would be crazy. That's not why I'm leaving.
"I'm leaving because I realized our marriage was a mistake, that I love you but you don't love me, that I have never and probably never will satisfy you sexually the way you need to be satisfied, that you're a good woman deep down and you will never leave me because you honor your promises, and that we're too young to screw up each other's lives for the next 40 or 50 years. That's why I'm leaving when we finish our conversation...
About three hours earlier:
I pulled into my driveway at 9:30 p.m. My cell phone remained silent. It had been silent since I left Rivers Trailer Park south of Palatka at 8 p.m.; left my wife and about 75 of her close and extended family members and friends drinking and dancing at a monthly party that had been a tradition for almost the entire 8 years of our marriage.
We lived in Jacksonville, a million person Northeast Florida urban center about an hour and a half north of Palatka.
The house was dark except for the automatic yard light with an electric eye sensor that illuminated the front driveway as I walked up the front walkway, or rather limped. It had been a raucous evening and I was feeling a lot older than my chronological age of 34; more like 74. But I only had to lug a six pack of Michelob Lights into the house so I made it.
I flipped the kitchen lights on and sat down at the table where we actually ate most of our meals instead of the little dining nook, which was where we were supposed to eat. I screwed the top off one Michelob and took a long swig of the deliciously cold drink and let it slide down my throat. Then another. All the while waiting for the first ring tone from my cell phone.
Nothing. I looked at the pictures that five-year-old Billy had drawn at school in crayon magnetized to the front door of the fridge and a photo of seven-year-old David catching his first pass at a Pop Warner Peewee Football game.
I felt a little catch in my throat and I consciously fought to avoid tearing up as I looked at David's dark-haired young body caught in the act of his first athletic triumph. He looked like his mother, with her dark hair and lithe frame. Both the boys had their mother's dark hair instead of my sandy blonde and both boys had their mother's light brown eyes instead of my blue ice chips.
I fought down the lump in my throat. They and their mother, had been my world. Until a few hours ago. I was about to lose them all and it was like standing on railroad track in the dark of night watching an oncoming train and being frozen to the track.
I took another swallow and rested my head for a moment against the dark grained wood of the table. I finished off the bottle and made myself get up from the table. Sooner or later the phone would ring, and then eventually the front door would open and I had things to do before that happened.
I walked up to the second floor and the bedroom that Diane and I had shared for five years since we had moved in to this fairly expensive Mandarin neighborhood. We moved there because it had pretty good schools. I taught an introductory English literature class at Jacksonville University, a small private liberal arts college across town, but I liked the Mandarin neighborhood better for the boys than the area around JU so I put up with the hour-long daily commute.
I opened the closet door and in the back found the two suitcases Diane and I had used for our last cruise two years ago to the Bahamas. Then I started opening the drawers and taking out as much of my underwear as I could find. I took a week's worth of slacks, shirts and suit coats out. I had to remember to pack a razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, a few medications, all the things I'd need for a trip away from home.
I leaned over the dresser and felt the urge to vomit. I fought it back. Only this trip was never going to end. It was an exile from everything I loved, or had loved, and I was never going to come back.
If I let myself think about it too much I knew I'd freeze up. So I very methodically went about packing up everything I'd need to start life over as a single man after eight years of marriage.
I found my laptop and a briefcase with work I'd need for the college. I ferried everything down to the hallway that led to the dining room to the left of the front door. They wouldn't' be seen by anyone walking into the house unless they actually walked into the dining room.
When I had gotten everything I could think of, I took the Michelob Six-pack with five beers left in it and went into the den. The front door opened to a hallway which led to the right and then to the den. I sat down in the easy chair at the far end of the den and placed the Michelobs on a glass coffee table in front of me.
There was a floor lamp behind the easy chair and I left it off. There was a light in the hallway that anyone walking in would flick on. I stood on a chair and loosened the light bulb in the center of the den so that it wouldn't come on when you hit the light switch at the entrance to the den.
With everything prepared I leaned back in the easy chair in the darkness of what had been my home and opened the second Michelob and began to take careful sips. About 11 p.m. the cell phone rang the first time. The fliptop Nokia screen lit up in the darkness and I recognized Diane's cell phone number. I didn't answer it. About three minutes later it beeped that I had a message waiting. I didn't retrieve it.
Five minutes after that it rang again, and then in another three minutes, and another five and ten and then five. Diane called and her father, Richard, and her older brother Dave and her younger sister Kelly and then Diane again.
If there had been any humor left in the world, the parade of phone numbers would have struck me as funny. But funny had died a few hours ago and I didn't think I'd find anything funny again for a long time, if ever. The house phone rang, and the cell phone and then the house phone. I just finished the second Michelob and started on the third.
Time crawled by and like the traitor it was, refused to run backwards so that the day that destroyed my life would unwind and give me a second chance. But even as I expressed that common human wish, I knew inside that what had happened had been coming for longer than one day and I'd have to unwind time back at least eight years to undo the damage, and that wasn't going to happen.
It was a cool November, but not bad. The RV park and cabins near Lake Como south of Palatka, were usually almost deserted this time of year. So it was a good place for Richard Carter and his clan and friends to hold their monthly dance/get together/parties in a quiet place where no one would complain about noise or call the cops and people could relax.
Carter and his wife Ricki had raised a brood of nine boys and girls, eight still surviving and when all the kids got together along with other family members like uncles and aunts and friends, there was usually a crowd of a hundred or more adults.
.... There is more of this story ...