This story was written and published elsewhere in April 2011. I thought I'd finally test the waters here at SOL. Thanks again to Rehnquist for his feedback on my initial drafts; as he not only told me, but proved with his suggestions, "there's no such thing as good writing, just good editing!"
Nicole sat alone in a small conference room, several floors up in an edge-of-downtown office building. Spread out on the table in front of her were the divorce papers her husband, Tom, was asking her to sign. After much negotiation through their lawyers, he'd agreed to meet with her, here. She waited for him to arrive, rehearsing once more the speech she hoped would cause him to reconsider.
Her heart, already pounding, nearly thundered when Tom entered the room. She had not been this physically close to him for some time. Even when exchanging the kids for visitations, Tom had kept his distance.
Nervously, she smiled and started to rise; but Tom put his hand out, gesturing for her to stay seated. He took a chair opposite to her and slowly sank into it. He looked at her, sighed, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Tom," she said, "thanks for meeting with me. I have a lot to say. I ... I wrote it down, to be sure that I..."
She reached into her purse and drew out an envelope. She'd handwritten his name on it, in flowing script. With shaking hands, she began to open it.
"Nicole ... stop."
She looked up. Tom was reaching for an unmarked envelope on the table. Her hopes rose, as if borne on a sudden gust of warm wind. Was her fantasy going to come true?
He wrote his own letter. He's going to forgive me. He's going to tear up all these other papers and take me home.
Then the wind died, and Nicole's hopes fell back to earth. It was too much to expect, she realized, that Tom would have something so wonderful to say to her; besides, even if he did, it wouldn't be right that he go first. Hands still shaking, she resumed the surprisingly difficult task of extricating her letter from the envelope.
"Nicole, please ... stop."
This time, Nicole felt a different sort of gust. A cold chill. Something in Tom's voice...
And what's in that envelope he's holding?
"Nicole," he said slowly, "I agree to meet you here. So I have. Now I'm going to leave."
No ... NO! What...
While Nicole struggled to formulate some kind of protest, Tom put his envelope on the table and pushed it towards her.
"Whatever you wanted to say to me ... well, read this first."
Nicole stared at it, afraid to touch it. Meanwhile, Tom rose from his chair.
"It's ... well, you'll see," he said, before turning towards the door.
Tentatively, she reached for the envelope. As she did, Tom left the room. Once again, Nicole was alone.
She unsealed the envelope and looked inside. It seemed to contain a single sheet of paper. Hands shaking even worse now, she removed the document with great difficulty, unfolded it, and studied it.
Printed on the page, on the left-hand side, were five statements, each numbered. In columns, to the right of the first four statements, were the words "TRUE" and "FALSE." It was a quiz. A "true or false" quiz.
She wondered if there was any meaning in that.
Is this my chance—my last chance—to prove myself true, and win him back?
Nicole picked up the pen and considered the first statement.
"1. I never forgot your birthday or our wedding anniversary."
The statement puzzled her. She'd never accused Tom of forgetting those dates. What was his point?
She read the statement again. Still puzzled, she put the quiz down on the table. Something began to tug at her mind; something familiar.
Table ... I was sitting at a table ... important dates, missed...
Then she remembered.
She was sitting at a table with her neighbor, Sheila. They were having coffee in Sheila's kitchen. Eventually, the conversation turned to family matters.
"Bob is driving me crazy," Sheila said. "Did I tell you, he forgot about our wedding anniversary again? He does that almost every year. He's not much better with Valentine's Day, or my birthday ... always remembers Mothers' Day, though! Never misses taking his mother out to brunch, makes reservations weeks in advance..."
"Easy for you to laugh, Nicole. You've got it all there in Tom. If only Bob were more like him."
"Well, it's not all..." Nicole stopped herself and took a large sip from her cup.
"Not all what?"
"I guess..." Nicole stopped herself again and looked out the window, towards her house.
Sheila leaned towards her, eyebrows raised. "C'mon, don't let me be the only sad, whiny bitch here!"
Nicole could see that she needed some cheering up-or at least, some assurance that she wasn't as alone as she felt.
"You know, maybe from the outside everything looks great over there," Nicole said slowly, nodding towards the window, "but if you ... well, what's it they say? 'Appearances can be deceiving?'"
Intrigued, Sheila refilled Nicole's cup and stared expectantly at her.
"It's like ... well, last weekend, Tom was home, I asked him to change some light bulbs. Night rolls around, I turn on the lights ... nothing. He'd forgotten. Glued to the couch, watching sports all day. I know he gets tired from work, I didn't say anything, but I just felt like..."
"Honey, I know," Sheila said, putting her hand on Nicole's. "And don't get me started on dishes."
"Dishes!" Nicole exclaimed. "If Tom would just wipe his plate off and put it in the sink, instead of piling the cruddy things up on the countertop..."
"Yeah," Sheila replied, "and get this. After I've washed the dishes, put the kids to sleep, I crawl into bed, just wanting to read for a few minutes before I conk out-and Bob jumps in, smirking, wants to ... you know, get friendly."
Nicole huffed in sympathy. "Been there, done that. The old 'grab my boob' thing. Like that's supposed to instantly get me wet—"
Embarrassed at her sauciness, Nicole covered her mouth and looked down at her cup. Sheila, not offended, just laughed. Then Nicole cracked up, too.
The gripe-fest continued. For a while, Nicole thought of her contributions as just a show of camaraderie and a bit of harmless fun. But as the gripes—including hers—got more and more serious, there was no more laughter.
Later, when Tom came home and did something that rubbed Nicole the wrong way, she pouted about it more than she might have done before.
As the scene faded back into Nicole's memory, she looked again at the first statement on the quiz.
"I never forgot your birthday or our wedding anniversary."
Tom couldn't have known about the conversation with Sheila. That couldn't have been his point. So why had that memory come to her, just now?
Because that was the beginning of all this, wasn't it? Not exactly, I guess ... the things I said to Sheila, the things I huffed about later, they'd been going on for some time already. It was just the first time I admitted to someone else—hmm, before I even admitted to myself—that I was unhappy in any way. After that, I indulged that unhappy feeling every time I thought I had a reason, didn't I?
In the counseling that Nicole had started recently, she'd talked a lot with her therapist, Dr. Silver, about stress. Stress from juggling the two kids, a part-time job, her ailing parents, and her husband. Dr. Silver had asked her how she'd managed it.
Not well. I would stew over things about Tom, not realizing how hot and pressurized the magma was getting. When I finally would say something to him, it was never constructive; just an eruption.
Tom wasn't participating in the counseling. No, he didn't want anything to do with Nicole these days. But before things got—well, to where they were now—he admitted that he hadn't been the perfect husband. If she was trying to give him a wake-up call, he said, he'd gotten the message.
But it wasn't a wake-up call. It was a good-night call. Good-night to our marriage. I told him it was too late. That I didn't love him anymore.
Tom had been good about remembering important dates, though. For a moment, the statement on the quiz again seemed trivial. Yet, given Nicole's situation, there had to be more to it, right?
Never forgot my birthday ... never forgot ... me?
Never forgot our wedding anniversary ... never forgot ... us?
Like her, Tom had been forced to juggle. He had the same kids, of course. He too had a spouse-a spouse who, with increasingly frequency, was blowing up at him. He didn't have ailing parents, but he had a full-time job. It made ceaseless demands upon his attention and energy.
But he drew boundaries, as best he could. He made mistakes, forgot a lot of little things, mishandled even a few important things ... but he never forgot me, never forgot us.
I should have let the small stuff go. And I should have put more effort into improving the important things. Instead, I just let it all fester, equally.
All that time I was thinking about him, I'd really forgotten about him. All the things I liked about him. Loved about him.
And I forgot about us. It became all about me.
Bringing the pen to the level of the first statement on the quiz, Nicole traced to the right and circled the word "true."
"2. You turned down Italy."
Wow, Nicole thought. The Italy thing. What did that have to do with their present situation? It had been, what, five years ago? No, four maybe?
.... There is more of this story ...