December 14, 2004
A story too short to keep, by Sherry M Stewart
“She left me for Santa Fe.” Those were his exact words. I muffled my impulse to giggle. Recollections of leaving my own marriage because a replacement was on her way seemed much more severe, but in truth, as strange and entertaining as this story may be in the tellling, when you leave for any reason, it begins to feel like death has come. The unfamiliarly of all the newness eventually begins to become the new life, but in the process, you are strewn about; Legs here, a hand there, a missing head, somehow, you have to pull yourself literally back together again.
“Santa Fe snagged me a time or two,” I found myself saying. It seemed the right thing to say, and it was true anyway. Seems a man might not be so distraught if he thought his wife had been snatched up by another place, instead of another man. As if a place had cast a magic spell, luring her to explore the land and it’s people.
Yes, I should have said that, and “ it had nothing to do with you.” Women like to protect. We are socialized that way. We don’t want people running around feeling rejected. People always leave for the wrong reasons anyway, just as they usually marry for the wrong reasons. They stay for the wrong reasons, it all makes a perfect kind of sense.
While I’m speculating here, I’d say that if people married for the right reasons, maybe they’d leave for the right reasons, but in the end, someone always gets left..so what difference does it all make?
Life is a stream, you have to keep moving, and you can’t get snagged on something in your past, and live, no , that is a snag that will hinder you and everyone you chance to meet. You can’t afford to get snagged in your past. When you do, your life is doomed to stagnation, and being stagnant is no more fun than being left, it is just a rut you can’t get out of until you’re booted. Thank God for boots!
“Will you have dinner with me,” he asked. He was a nice man. I said I would. Who was this woman who left her husband for Santa Fe? I was curious, and he needed friend.
I drove out to his island home. A nice place with a view of water and mountains. We sat on a sofa and looked at his picture albums. There were blank spaces, and picture post cards mostly, of trips that had been taken. Only memories of departure left behind. The empty spaces spoke volumes.
“I took her pictures out. I got tired of looking at her.” There was one recliner in the room, and an indentation on the floor where another had been.
“We bought two of them," he said, His voice was solemn.
I wanted to reassure him that things were easier to get than to get rid of.
A woman’s touch was everywhere , including this large vulnerable man, whose words spilled, like small bombs exploding from his mouth. “ I might just sell this place and move into an apartment.”
He was tall, lean, had broad shoulders, and long capable arms. They seemed empty, too.
Very gentle, men are one way or the other, too gentle to trust after their hearts are broken, or too insensitive, act tough, can’t even heed the call for simple acts of courteousness. They get these ideas in their heads and they begin rooting there. Ideas about all women being the same. Sure. Sure. Women do it too. I guess it's a protection mechanism. But ultimately these don't protect us. .
“You see, one day I came home from work, brown boxes were stacked up there in the hallway by her room where she stayed most of the time.”
I could see them there in my imagination just as surely as if they were stacked there.
“ I asked her what the boxes were for, and she said she was cleaning things out. I knew the truck would come the next day.”
“Ten years ago she went to Santa Fe alone. I couldn’t go. She was gone for a week, and had a wonderful time. I guess it got into her blood or something. Then three years ago, she began drinking, lost a lot of weight. She said she had to leave, or die. I didn’t want her to die.”
He asked if I would read a letter from her. I took the letter into my hands, feeling unsure, as though I was peering into another woman’s heart, full of secrets. I felt a sense of intrusion, as well as an intimacy with a woman whose presence was everywhere in this house with a woman's touch. You always hear that," a woman’s touch," but I had never been so aware of a woman’s touch as I was here, now. Unexpectedly, I found remnants of a woman, and one broken man.
“I have been telling people that she died! That is what it is like for me, just like she is dead. She told me she has made a friend there in these 3 months that have gone by, and that they help one another with their gardens. They took a trip to Mexico together. They are just friends.”
I imagine this couple in Mexico laughing, holding hands, vendors selling palm matts, and masks, jewelry. Children playing on the beach, balmy nights, marimbas fill the air, and senses with romance. He had managed to convince him self they were just friends, confirmation was being sought through me as I read the letter.
I wonder if he noticed what was being said in my careful avoidance of his eyes after I read the letter? I lay it aside and went out to where the blue hydrangeas grew, a diversion I was happy for. I clipped some and brought them inside. I looked for a vase. Arranging them now, I saw how he carefully watched my movements. I am sure he was seeing a ghost. The memory of and desire for a life that was all he knew, and now, was gone. He might have been thinking I could be her replacement. He wanted to reach someone, I felt awkward. I only wanted to be his friend.
I wasn’t large enough to be a band aide for this large heartache. I had learned the hard way that I didn’t want to be a band aide for anyone. A man has a broken heart and he seeks solace, they think that if this empty space of yearning just gets filled, everything will be ok. That’s not the way it works. You begin with a man like that, and several years later, you wake up, realizing this relationship has been defined from the first day. You are the replacement, and nothing more. It never changes, this kind of relationship where the empty heart has to fill itself.
A vulnerable man is a thing of beauty to a woman. In vulnerability she sees his strength, openness, courage, things a man doesn’t show when all is well. It is easy to open to this condition in a man, and to be the tender balm. It is like watching a flower open, a lovely, and dangerous flower," forced", into bloom.