Sam’s breath caught in her throat and her voice broke, “John, you can’t be serious.”
“But a divorce! How can you…?”
He shifted his gaze, fingering the pages of a magazine on the counter. Watching the pages flutter with a soft whoosh, she saw life as she knew it slipping away.
“John! Talk to me.”
“Please. Don’t make this any harder-”
“What?” She didn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “I should make it easy? You walk in here and end our marriage as casually as… as…” Emotion choked her and she took an angry swipe at the tears searing her cheeks.
“I didn’t want it to be this way.”
Sam took a deep breath. “Then why is it happening?”
A long, thin silence followed.
“Is there someone else?” she asked, barely having the courage to hear the answer.
The denial came quickly. Too quickly?
“Don’t lie to me, John. Whatever you do, don’t lie.”
“I’m not. I swear.” He shifted his weight and looked away.
“Then talk to me,” she implored. “Tell me how we reached this point and I didn’t even have a clue.”
“It just happened.” He glanced at her, then away again. “I don’t know. One day I just knew I wasn’t happy anymore.”
Sam stared in disbelief. He was having a mid-life crisis? They used to laugh at people who let their lives fall apart like this.
“That isn’t a reason. It’s an excuse,” she said. “There has to be something else.”
“I told you there isn’t.” John raised his head in defiance and their eyes locked until Sam felt her composure about to crumble. The deep brown eyes that used to melt her heart now chilled her. Everything about him seemed to be changing. The square jaw she used to find strong and attractive was now hard and unyielding. And when had his hair thinned to mere wisps?
Feeling like she’d entered some strange time-warp, Sam shook her head in an effort to bring back the real John. It didn’t work. A stranger still stood in front of her.
“It’s not your fault.”
His words focused her wandering mind.
“It’s me,” he continued. “I should have told you sooner. It was cruel to keep living a lie.”
Slowly, she sank into a nearby chair as a new wave of pain washed over her. Did he mean their whole life had been a lie? A game?
This didn’t happen to couples like them. It happened to people who had nothing in common. People who cheated. Argued. Screamed at each other. Not to people who’d lived over twenty-five years together in relative harmony.
Sam felt the pain burning inside, rising and swelling like some alien invader. She wondered if it would tear her apart and scatter her in little pieces across the freshly scrubbed floor.
“I’ll just pack a few things,” he said.
She watched him walk out of the room, his back rigid with resolve. Should she go after him? Plead with him to stay?
The small shred of dignity she had left kept her rooted in the chair, and shock held her immobile as John passed back through with a suitcase. She thought she heard him say he would call in a few days, but she wasn’t sure.
Maybe if she tried hard enough, she could pretend that he was just leaving on a business trip.
Sam sat in the chair in front of the window until the late afternoon sun faded toward dusk. Idly, she glanced around the kitchen. Shafts of pale light illuminated the blue flowers she’d so carefully painted on the white squares of tile above the sink. They’d built this house together and hadn’t even argued about the pattern on the wallpaper or the color of the carpeting.
That said something about the strength of their relationship, didn’t it?
Then again, maybe she just hadn’t seen it coming. A man doesn’t decide to throw away a marriage overnight. Surely there had been signs of his discontent. Had she been too blind or too stupid to see them?
Not liking where that train of thought led, Sam stood and went to the phone. She had to talk to somebody. She punched the first few digits of Melissa’s number, then hesitated. What could she say? “Hi, this is Mom. Just called to tell you Dad wants a divorce.”
She hung up. How was she going to tell the kids? How would they react? If she stalled long enough, would John change his mind?
Fighting a rising sense of panic, she reached for the phone again.
“Margaret, it’s me, Sam.”
“Hey, what’s up? It’s been ages since you called.”
“Well, uh…” She stopped. How could she say it? She cleared her throat and tried again. “Uh…” But the words wouldn’t come. Instead, she burst into tears.
“Sam? What’s wrong? Is it one of the kids?”
Between sobs and hiccups, she managed the words, “John’s leaving me.”
“What? Tell me this is a joke.”
“I wish I could.”
“What on earth has gotten into the man?”
“I don’t know.” Sam took a ragged breath. “I simply don’t know.”
“What did he say?”
“That he’s confused. Unsure about things. He needs time to sort it all out.”
“If I can be so indelicate. That’s a bunch of bullshit”
“Things have been tough at work lately. Maybe he-”
“Don’t you dare let him off the hook.”
Sam reached for a tissue and blew her nose.
“I suppose there’s some cute young thing as part of the equation,” Margaret continued. “Of course, he said there isn’t. There always isn’t in the beginning. The bimbos just magically appear a few months later.”
“You’re wrong. There’s been no indi-”
“Then tell me. How’s your sex life been, huh? Good as ever?”
“Criminy, Margaret. We’re in our fifties. It’s bound to slow-”
“Nope. Not true. People just assume old folks don’t have as much fun as young folks.”
Sam couldn’t stop the smile. Margaret did have a way of cutting right to the chase.
“What’re you going to do?” Margaret asked.
“Haven’t had a lot of time to think about it.”
“Well, do that. And while you’re thinking. Consider coming up here. If it comes to starting over, this isn’t a bad place. You could stay with me.”
“You make it sound so simple.” Sam leaned against the wall. “It’s not like flipping a switch. Up, I’m married. Down, I’m single. How can I get on with life when I don’t even know what that’s going to be?”
She heard a deep sigh over the miles that separated her from her friend. “You’re right,” Margaret said. “I just wanted you to know you have a refuge.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Have you called the kids?”
“I don’t know what to tell them.” Her voice faltered.
“Is it definite he wants a divorce? That’s it? Final?”
“I don’t know. I was so shocked I’m not sure what he said. Didn’t even have the presence of mind to ask if he’d consider trying to work it out.”
“Then don’t say anything to the kids for a day or so. Talk to John. See if he’ll go to counseling. Or take a romantic trip.”
“Are you nuts? A man who just asked for a divorce isn’t going to consider a cruise.”
“Okay. No trip. But don’t rule out counseling.”
“I suppose I could ask. It’d be better than sitting still and letting it happen.”
Hanging up, Sam silently thanked God for Margaret’s friendship. They’d been through a lot of years and a lot of stuff since their days at Wayne State University in Detroit , and she could always count on Margaret for good, level-headed advice. Maybe her friend was right about this.