Caroline is in my creative writing class at UC Berkeley, African Studies 159: Creative Writing. This story shows us a glimpse into an adult relationship, though filled with difficult decisions concerning the separation of life styles versus the love that will always be shared, reveals the maturity needed at a certain point in life. One cannot help but admire the escalation of difficulty of decisions adults must face when the world does not simply "revolve around me" anymore, but includes a whole variety of people, including family and children. It is much like the film 'Blue Valentine.' Caroline has nicely allowed me to publish her story, so please remember that it is copyrighted 2012, and Enjoy!...
This is going to be fine. You knew this was coming. Right? Yes. You did and it is not a big deal. At all. Deep breath, that a girl. Eleanora leaned against the kitchen counter, eyes closed, deep in thought. She tapped her heel rhythmically on the mahogany floor. Composure is what will get you through this. It got you through architecture school, hell, it got a baby out of you, and it’s going to get you through this divorce. Another deep breath. The chime of the doorbell jolted her eyes open, interrupting the next stage of her pep talk—preparing for the worst. She ironed out her gray, wool sweater with her hands and walked through the living room towards the doorway. As she marched, she caught a glimpse of herself on the wall mirror, positioned horizontally so one could only see from their shoulders and above as they walked through the room. That’s how she had wanted it—a lasting image that wasn’t cut short, but followed you the length of the room. She paused and brushed her bangs to the side. Long strands of silver peeked through her dark hair. Gosh, I should have gotten a touch-up. And my eyebrows, I didn’t get a chance to plu—who cares! Why do I care so much about this? It’s just Frank, for God’s sake. She pulled open the door with a little more force than she had intended.
“Elly. I’m so sorry I’m late. If only money gravitated towards me like traffic does.” Frank removed his coat as he entered the doorway. “You look nice. I’ll have to stop telling people your age because they won’t believe me anymore.” He grinned and Eleanora couldn’t help but exchange a smile.
“It’s nice to see you Frank, let me take that for you,” she said as he handed her the garment. No one else called her Elly but Frank. The sound of the name resonated in her mind, and almost made her drop the coat on the floor.
“Wow you really kept up with the old place. It looks better than ever.” Frank took a sharp right, helping himself into the dining room and looked out the wall of windows that faced the lake. The trees were a beautiful blend of fire orange, gold-yellow, and forest green. He’d traveled to many parts of the world, but Frank was still convinced that there was no other place more gorgeous than New Hampshire in autumn.
Eleanora watched Frank as he glided adjacent to the windows. He always loved that spot of the house, she recalled. He could stand there for hours looking out that window. Hopefully this won’t take that long; better distract him before he gets reeled into that corner for the entire afternoon, she thought.
“Frank can I get you anything to drink? Some coffee or tea?” She motioned him toward the kitchen.
“Oh. Why, yes a coffee would be great, Elly. Thanks.” He followed her across the hallway.
“Are those mine over there?” Frank walked to the corner of the living room toward a stack of small yellow boxes.
“Yes, I thought I’d get started for you. Most of them are empty but I filled a couple of them with some old albums and books of yours,” she called from the kitchen. Just what she wants, Frank thought to himself, me to get my things and clear out of here as soon as possible. I bet she can’t stand the sight of me. Women and their games. Why not just say it: Frank hurry the fuck up so I can celebrate the seal of our marriage’s demise. Step one, get all your shit out of my house; step two, sign the divorce papers. Thirty years I gave her, and all she can do is give me some shitty boxes. What happened to us? Frank looked down at the boxes, lost in thought.
“Here you go. I hope I still remember how to make it the way you used to like. One cube of sugar . . . two scoops of cream? Or was it three?” Eleanora handed Frank his cup and began to sip on her own tea.
“Three but it’s fine, I bet it still tastes great. Especially with the weather as it’s been lately, anything hot does the trick.” They simultaneously sat down on the beige sofa and sipped quietly. Only the chirping of the finches and jays from the trees outside lightened the heaviness of the silence. Dried leaves brushed against the windowpane as they made their descent to the ground.
Eleanora cleared her throat. “So. How is the city treating you? Do you like your new place?”
“Well, I’m adjusting. Of course it’s much different than this part of the state. But hey, I said I wanted change, right? So I traded all of these trees and the lake over there for tall buildings and car exhaust.” Frank Monahan gulped down the remainder of his beverage. “I’m happy though, I’ve had over two months to get accustomed to it.”
“That’s really great to hear, Frank. Let me take that for you.” Eleanora took the cup and walked into the kitchen where she was out of his sight. Well it’s not going as bad as I thought it would, she thought to herself as she rinsed out the cup. We’re not at each other’s throats yet. The sun’s natural light illuminated the kitchen and gave her a boost of hope that this day wouldn’t be completely terrible. Piece of cake. Just two mature adults . . . two mature adults going through a divorce . . . the first time these two mature adults have seen each other in two months. Crap.
She looked down at the purple cup in her hands as she dried if off. The image of a kitten was shown hanging onto a branch by his forepaws. “Hang in There!” was printed below the picture. Eleanora studied the cup as if she had seen if for the first time . . .
“I hate my life! There’s no future in this stupid major. No one’s going to be interested in my work.” Eleanora sobbed into her shirt as Frank gently rubbed her back.
“What are you talking about, crazy girl? Your drawings are great. You’ll be a great architect one day. You just have to work through this sucky college part, that’s all. Just give it some time.” He gave her a reassuring smile and kissed her on the forehead. His thick, sandy blonde hair flopped over into his face as he leaned over. She wiped the remainder of her tears on her sleeve.
“Here take my shirt, I like the one you’re wearing. I don’t mind if you get your tear buggers on it.”
The next morning, Eleanora rushed into her apartment kitchen, late for class as usual. As she reached to turn on the coffee maker, she noticed a purple cup sitting next to it with a note attached: “Humans are stronger than kittens.”
The moving of boxes in the living room placed Eleanora back into reality. She caressed the cup and placed it back into the cupboard.
“Did you want some help in here?” she asked. Frank was sitting on the floor rummaging through the boxes.
“Umm, I’m just checking through what you’ve already put in here, just to give me an idea of what I still need to pack up. But no, I don’t want to take up anymore of your time. I know the big day’s tomorrow and you must have plenty of things planned for today.”
“Nonsense. You forget that I don’t leave things for the last minute. Everything for tomorrow has already been taken care of. I just need to set some things up around the house for the reception. Emily was very picky about how she wanted it to look, especially since it’s taking place here. I think she gets that pickiness from you, “ Eleanora teased.
“I still can’t believe she’s getting married. Wasn’t she five not that long ago? Now she’s twenty-four and going off into the big world. Time flies by, boy I tell you.” Frank taped up a box and put it on top of the pile forming in the corner.
“How about this,” Eleanora declared, “I’ll get some things done around the house but I’ll also keep an eye out for your personal items that you left behind.”
Frank nodded in agreement. “Okay, I appreciate it thanks.” He watched her exit the room and stood up to do one final search of the living room before moving to the next room. As he looked around he saw the horizontal mirror. He shook his head at the reflection looking back at him. Why on God’s green earth would she want to put that horizontal? he thought to himself. “Why would someone only want to see half of themselves?” He remembered saying to her. “That defeats its purpose. You know those people who wear blue shirts and green pants? I bet you they don’t have a full-length mirror. Either that or they put their full-length mirror horizontal.”
“Fine. Put it how you want it,” she exclaimed and stomped out the room. He stared at the mirror. Well she finally got what she wanted, he thought. Frank resumed to searching about the room, through the bookcases, under the desks. Done. Onto the dining room. His favorite room of the house. He walked through the hallway to the dining room and paused at the entrance. The long oak table was the centerpiece of the room, surrounded by matching chairs with carved intricacies on the legs. A china closet was positioned in the corner, encasing chinaware that Eleanora had collected over the years. Frank walked over to it as if it was a new addition to the room, even though it had been there for over 20 years. He never understood the use of china; why have a cabinet full of dishes that are never put to use. What a waste.
He walked passed the closet and set his eyes on the real reason he came into the room—the wall of windows. From ceiling to floor, one could see the view outside of the magnificent lake, the dock, and the forest of tricolored trees. Elly must think I’m a nut job, he thought. But there was a meaning for this space that even she didn’t know about. Sure, she thought that he loved the view, but there was more. He looked closer to the lake. Yes, it was still there. The bench . . .
“Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?” Frank looked down at the girl with the dark curls and a ribbon in her hair. The girl that would come to this same spot almost every day that summer and look out at the lake, watching the sun set. The girl who he had wanted to approach for almost a month. She looked up at him with kind eyes, freckles dotting her cheeks, and smiled, “Sure.” Frank had watched her from the shack near the dock where he would rent out boats; she’d jog around the lake so gracefully and then sit at the bench to rest. She always looked so beautiful and peaceful there by the lake that Frank was hesitant to pursue her, until the thought came that one day, she might not come back. She might decide to jog somewhere else and then what? That was enough for him to get over his anxiety and approach her. And from that day forward, they would meet at that same bench every day as the sun set.
The bench had suffered some wear and tear over the years but it was still going strong. That little pile of wood was the reason he and Eleanora decided to by this house, for the view and the memory of when they first met. He was glad he decided to let Elly keep the house, at least one of them could hold on to the memory. Frank had chosen the location, Elly created the design for the house. Frank leaned against the glass and could see that another couple was sitting there, holding hands and looking over the glistening water at the falling sun. Falling sun? What time is it? Frank looked at his watch and saw that it was quarter to five.
“Nope, nope, nope,” Eleanor said out loud to herself as she flipped through the videos in her bedroom. She wanted to play some old videos of Emily when she was a child at the wedding reception tomorrow night; nothing like some good old motherly embarrassment. She had made a pile for Frank as well that she would give back to him. “Give Me Five: Football Live,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Jaws.” That last one gave Emmy nightmares for weeks, she smiled to herself. It didn’t help much that they lived right next to a giant body of water. What she found next caught her off guard, “Frankie and Elly’s Wedding: I Fell in a Pile of You and Got Love All Over Me.” She rolled her eyes, why did she let Frank label the videos. Should Frank have this or should I? she wondered. He’d probably lose it, maybe even on purpose. The date 7-11 was marked on the corner of the label. Their anniversary . . .
Eleanor glanced at her watch. 9:45. Where the hell is he? She opened her planner, “Anniversary dinner @ 7:30 7/11 J.” She threw it onto the couch and began to remove her heels. She suddenly heard a key enter the door lock and looked up with her arms folded across her chest. Frank stumbled in, giggling and waving out the door as a car drove away. He turned around and with one look of his wife, said, “Uh-oh.” She grabbed her heels and marched up the stairs.
“Elly, I’m sorry! I completely forgot. It’s not too late to go, put your shoes back on baby.”
“That’s the last thing I’m going to do! Look at yourself, you’re drunk. This is ridiculous. You’re such a child.”
“I’m not drunk, I had a couple drinks with my coworkers at the firm. I just forgot, it won’t happen again, I promise.”
“That’s exactly what you said the last time, Frank. I’m tired of you being so irresponsible.” She slammed the bedroom door shut and sat down on the floor with her face in her arms.
Emotions resurfaced in Eleanora that she had forgot about, feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment. What happened to us? she thought. She looked down and realized she was gripping the wedding video so hard that it was on the brink of breaking. She glared at the tape for a moment, then stuffed it in the VHS player. She immediately regretted the decision. The tape restarted where it had left off, at the reception; the cameraman zoomed in on Frank and Eleanora having their first dance. He spun her around and took her back in his arms flawlessly; he always was a good dancer. She on the other hand wasn’t as coordinated, but no one would ever know with the way Frank led her across the dance floor. Frank looked into her eyes so intently as they danced, as if she was the only thing that mattered in the entire world.
“I’m done with the . . . downstairs,” Frank’s voice trailed off as he peered his head in the room. Eleanora jumped up, startled and embarrassed. “What ya got there?” Frank said as he walked into the room.
“I . . . Well. I was just going through all the videos and wanted to make sure this one still worked. You know how sometimes you would accidentally tape over things.” She searched for the remote to turn it off.
“I would never tape over this, you know that. Hold on for a second, I haven’t seen this in ages. Is that Uncle Richard, look how thin he is. And wasted.” Frank chuckled and sat on the bed next to Elly. “Were you going to give this to me? I’d feel safer if you had it.”
“Well, if you insist, sure I’ll hold on to it.” Her whole body felt tense.
“Sorry for barging in like this. If it makes you uncomfortable, I can go look through the rest of the rooms,” Frank said.
Yes! Leave! she wanted to scream. “No, that’s okay. It’s your video as much as it is mine.” Stupid, stupid. What’s wrong with you? Eleanor kicked herself.
They sat there for the next hour watching the video of their past, the tape that proved they were once in love at some point in their lives; that it wasn’t just a figment of their blurred memories. They laughed together and at other times there remained an uncomfortable silence in the room.
Eleanora realized that it was no longer bright outside. “Goodness, I had no idea it was so late. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have put this on, that’s my fault. I’m sure you need to get out of here. Where are you staying?”
“I’m staying at the hotel on Dawson, about 20 minutes away. All the other hotels were booked. We didn’t invite that many people to the wedding did we? My wallet hurts just thinking about that.”
“No, there’s a conference or something this same weekend.” She met eyes with him and uttered out the unthinkable. “You’re always welcome to stay here, you know. It’ll save you some money and time.”
He looked at her with a surprised look. “Really? You think that’s okay? I don’t want to impose.” He shifted in his seat. “All my ‘father-of-the-bride’ gear is in the car so that could potentially work.”
“Of course it is. We have plenty of space here, you know that. You can just take one of the guest rooms.” The hospitable host in Eleanora was fighting against her female intelligence. And the latter was losing.
“Well, okay great! We can leave for the ceremony together in the morning, I’m sure Emily will be ecstatic so see us together.” His gaze returned back to the screen, where they were cutting the cake. Eleanora threw a handful of ice cream cake right in his face, not realizing how hard the ice cream was. Frank yelled out in pain, hunching over as he secretly grabbed a piece on his own, and hit her once she leaned over to see if he was okay. They laughed, icing smeared all over their faces, ice cream dripping down. Frank smiled to himself at their genuine happiness. He looked over at Eleanora who was also smiling, a faint tear in her eye.
His hand reached over to wipe it away. She at first retreated, then she allowed the gesture of kindness. Frank looked at the girl with the dark, graying curls. The ribbon no longer in her hair, but the freckles unmistakable.
Eleanora looked at the man who still didn’t mind cleaning up her tears. Whose sandy blonde hair had become less thick, but his smile just as infectious.
Frank took Elly’s face in his hands and kissed her. “At Last” played in the background as the couple in the video held each other in their last dance.
* * * *
This will be no big deal. Nope. I slept with my husband, who will soon be my ex-husband. Everyone does that. Right? Eleanora flipped two eggs over, deep in thought. Yeah, it was just casual farewell sex. Is there such a thing? Oh my god, this is going to be a disaster. What if he runs out the door, too embarrassed to face me? She tilted her head around the corner of the kitchen to look at the doorway. Was he planning this all along? Was he using me for a last little shebang or something? She cut the eggs into pieces with her spatula. They were supposed to be sunny-side-up, but now they’d have to be scrambled. You are the one that invited him to stay over, a little voice said in the back of her mind. She sighed. She had as much to do with it as he did. What was she thinking, putting on that damn video? Extremely scrambled eggs.
“Good morning, sunshine. Did you need help with that . . . egg? Or how about I make some orange juice.” Frank ducked his head into the refrigerator. Crap. She’s really pissed off. I shouldn’t have kissed her, he thought. This is all my fault. He squeezed the oranges quietly into a container. “That was great last night. The video! I mean. It was great to see all of our family members and friends 30 years ago.” He bit his lip and focused on the oranges.
“Yes, it was a beautiful wedding. I hope Emily’s will be just as memorable.” Eleanora set down two plates on the kitchen table. They both sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity.
“Listen, Elly. Eleanora. We’re both adults here. We can talk about this. What happened last night was just an accident. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was great; but I never planned for it to happen, trust me.”
“You’re right. It was just old feelings that came up, probably from our wedding video. I apologize for leading you on in any way.” She was relieved Frank felt the same way, that it was just an accident. But she also wondered if it was a “meant to be” sort of circumstance. What if this was a sign that their marriage still might have a chance? A last glimmer of hope. She studied Frank as he gargled his orange juice and smiled at her. Why is he so damn confusing?
The chiming of the church bells resonated throughout the halls, indicating that it was time. Frank paced back and forth along the corridor of the church. He looked down and realized he had made a path in the rug from his nervous strides.
“Are you ready?” Eleanora walked up to Frank to give him a look over.
“Yes? Yes. I am ready for this.” Frank lied.
“Do you remember your line?” she asked as she straightened his bowtie. Frank paused and searched the room for an answer.
“‘I do’, Frank! You have two words to say. Emily will forever hate you if you do this wrong.”
“I don’t know how you do it. You stay so composed, even in the most stressful situations.” Frank said as he looked towards the white double doors that he would have to go through in a matter of seconds.
“Years of practice. You’ll do fine.” Something caught her eye behind Frank. “Looks like you have someone waiting for you,” she said smiling. She gave his arm a reassuring squeeze and disappeared through the doors. Frank turned around to see his daughter, buried in a blanket of white satin, and lace. Suddenly all of his anxiety disappeared.
“I know my girl’s in there somewhere,” he said as he embraced Emily. She looked absolutely stunning, as well as painstakingly terrified.
“Hi Dad. You look really nice, so does mom. Did you two come here together?” she asked as her gaze wavered back and forth between her father and the looming white doors.
“Well . . . you see . . . it’s a funny story . . .” Frank’s words were interrupted by the playing of the organ. Thank God. Barely got out of that one alive, he thought. Two men in suits opened the doors wide, exposing what lie behind the white frames. A room full of people stood up in synchronization, followed by “Ohs” and “Awws.” About forty people pulled out tissues. Cameras flashed from every direction, temporarily blinding Frank. He held out his arm and smiled down at Emmy. She shakily wrapped her arm around his, as they began their decent down the aisle. Don’t fall, don’t trip, don’t walk too fast, don’t walk too slow, don’t smile too much, don’t look sad . . . Frank struggled to remember the list of things Emily told him not to do. She had high expectations for a man that couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Frank fought the urge to look down and make sure he didn’t have a stain on his tuxedo. Then he realized no one was looking at him. He was merely her accessory. The Great Wall of China was no comparison to how never-ending this trek seemed. Frank sighed in relief as they finally reached the end.
“Who gives this bride away?” the pastor asked, looking at Frank expectantly.
“I do.” Frank kissed Emily on the forehead and shook the pastor’s hand as he let her go. The girl who was five years old yesterday. Frank took a seat next to Eleanora who gave him a nod of approval for his performance. “Perfect 10” she used to tell him. Frank looked up at the girl with the dark curls and streaks of sandy blonde in her hair. And the man that looked into her eyes like she was the only meaningful thing in this world. His eyes said it all. He would do anything to make her laugh, comfort her in times of need, be next to her when she woke up each morning with a kiss. Frank knew this look all too well, because not so long he shared it with the woman of his dreams. The woman seated to his left. Don’t ever let her go, Frank wanted to tell the young man. Don’t ever lose sight of what’s right in front of you.
As Eleanora watched Frank give their daughter away, she realized that he and her would never work their marriage out. They had grown apart over the years and had accumulated too many differences. Too many bridges were burned that could never be rebuilt again. As her daughter and her new son-in-law exchanged vows, she couldn’t help but recognize the look their eyes shared. The fire that she and Frank used to have had been stomped out by fights, extinguished by tears, that look of longing no longer in their eyes for one another. Their path of love had ended, and Eleanora only hoped that Emily could do what she wasn’t able to—make their love last a lifetime. Hang on to every single memory, she wanted to tell her daughter. Use them as fuel to keep the fire burning.