My husband of the past eleven years, and I would be officially divorced by midnight tonight. I stood in what had once been our kitchen as I looked over the paperwork. The house that I had painstakingly redone, going room by room was now his. I considered it a painful price for my freedom. Don’t get me wrong, Luke wasn’t a bad husband, there was just too much baggage for both of us to carry. I walked away to save us both from destroying each other any further. We had agreed that I could stay one last night in the house, I was off to California in the morning. I spent the evening packing the last of my belongings and making my way through the house saying goodbye to all of the spots where I had put my love, the dining room where I had learned to hang wall paper, the upstairs bathroom where I had laid each tile by hand, and the guest bedroom with its newly refinished floor. The house held so many memories, most of them so happy. I paused as I reached the bedroom at the end of hall. We always kept the door closed, it was just too painful to open, with the cheery wallpaper of teddy bears and nursery furniture. I put my hand on the doorknob but I couldn’t bring myself to walk into the room and say goodbye, it was still too painful two years later. I put my hand on the wooden door and leant my head against it.
“Bye, sweetie,” I whispered.
I knew the child that was meant to be in there couldn’t hear me, yet I needed to say it vocally. I walked away from the door and down to the wine fridge, deciding that I would spend the last night in my home, blindingly drunk. Walking away was just too painful to do sober. I knew it wouldn’t take much, I had always been terrible at holding my liquor. I made dinner as sipped my red wine. I made sure to leave the dishes in the sink, it felt like one last fuck you to Luke. By the time my pasta carbonara was done, I had a pretty good buzz. After dinner I took a soak in the claw footed tub in the master bath. I had bought it an estate auction. When I dragged it home, Luke thought I was nuts, I was thrilled. I giggled at the memory of us hauling up the stairs together, huffing and puffing. I still cannot believe we managed to do it. I climbed into the bed I had shared with Luke for one last time, passing out more than falling asleep.
“Julie wake up. Big surprise you left your phone downstairs. You have a ton of missed calls.” Luke said, with annoyance thick in his voice.
“I have the house until 11 am. That was the agreement, remember,” I croaked.
I sat up and the crushing pain from my head caused me to almost vomit. I instantly regretted drinking the night before.
“Nice, Jules, hung-over, are we?”
“What do you care? Why are you here?”
“You clearly haven’t seen the news, have you? Typical you,” he said as he reached over for the remote and clicked on the television.
The headline on the morning show said, National Lockdown. I sat up and tried to focus on what the newscaster was saying but my stomach was rolling.
“Effective immediately, all residents in the state are locked down until further notice. You should remain in your home and leave only for essential items. Please use extreme caution in venturing out. All flights from Regional Airport have been grounded until further notice,” the perky blonde said on the television screen.
I looked over at the clock it was 8 am. I was supposed to be on a noon flight. The movers were due an hour ago, but I imagined if I checked my phone it there was a message saying they weren’t coming. Luke stood watching the news with me. As the realization hit that I was now stuck, I couldn’t hold back the need to be sick. I ran from the bed, shutting the bathroom door behind me. I felt a little better after I vomited, and I knew a shower would help. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been properly drunk enough to be hung over. I climbed into the shower and emerged thirty minutes later feeling much better. I came out wearing only my towel. I instinctively walked over to my dresser remembering my clothes were no longer in there. I pulled out a pair of blue jeans and a cream sweater out of my suitcase and dressed. I walked downstairs as the smell of coffee wafted upstairs.
The sunny kitchen which I had always loved, was exceptionally bright this morning as I pushed open the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room. Luke stood with his back to me as I walked in. He was pouring himself a cup of coffee and as he heard me enter, he poured one for me. I sat down at the marble island remembering the day we had went to pick out the perfect piece of marble for the kitchen island. That had been such a fun day, and one of the last that I think we were both truly happy. He turned around and slid my cup towards me.
“The moving company called the house line while you were in the shower. They’re not coming. They didn’t give a reschedule date either before you ask.”
“Thank you for the message,” I said as I looked at all of the missed calls on my phone from the moving company, the airlines, my new job it looked like and my sister.
“Jules what are we going to do here?”
“What do you mean,” I asked putting my phone back down.
“Well you clearly aren’t moving today, and I can’t keep staying in a hotel. We’re going to have to stay here together.”
“Oh no we aren’t. You can’t stay.”
“It would be me who would be letting you stay, remember? The house is mine.”
“Don’t remind me,” I said quietly as I took a sip of my coffee.
Luke may have had his faults, but he had always made a great cup of coffee.
“I’ll get what I can, and I’ll go stay in a hotel, or see if there’s a place I can rent until this all blows over.” I said as I sipped my coffee.
“I think you’ve missed the memo babe. The whole country is on lockdown, this isn’t going to blow over. Where have you been? Don’t you watch the news?”
“I’ve been trying to put my life back together.”
I picked up my coffee and walked out onto the front porch. I sat on the swing and pulled my knees up to my chest. It was chilly, and as the swing moved, I realized the swing was a bad choice. I had paid attention to the news, I just thought there was more time before things really got bad. I had hoped to be in my new place before the bottom fell out. I had family I could stay with, but I didn’t want a daily forensic examination of how my marriage failed. My best friend in town, Blair had three kids under the age of four, so quarantining there was not an option either. I wondered if I could just drive to California, but I ruled that out as soon as I thought of it. I was stuck, at the mercy of my now ex-husband. I held my coffee close as hoping it would warm me. Overwhelmed with the feeling of now being stuck, I began to cry. This was not how the first day of my new life was supposed to go. I was supposed to be on a plane starting a new life, that I wanted. I wiped my tears away with the sleeve of my sweater. The cold was starting to really bite at me, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back into the house, Luke’s house. Why had I signed away the house, I wondered to myself again, for the freedom I wasn’t experiencing at the moment?
Luke knocked on the door jamb before he walked onto the porch.
“Look, I’m not going to throw you out during a global pandemic, I’m not that cruel. You can stay. Do me a favor though, can we please try and be civil to each other? There’s no point in us both holding up here, only to kill each other.”
I refused to look in his direction, I didn’t want him to see me crying.
“Jules look at me. Can you please be civil? It’s the only thing I ask.”
I nodded but still did not look at him.
“Julie seriously, you aren’t even going to fucking look at me? Unreal.”
“I don’t want to,” I said quietly.
“Because,” I turned towards him, “I didn’t want you to see me so upset.”
“Why do you think I’m out here? I knew you would be. Hell, everyone is right now. Everyone woke up to a different world today. Do you want to stay?”
I bit my tongue not to reply that I’d love to stay in my own house, but the only thing Luke had asked for was civility. “Yes, please,” I replied.
“Okay, you can stay until the lockdown is over. Since you are still in the master, I’ll take the guest room.”
“You can have the master if you want, it’s your house.”
“No, you keep it, for now. I have to log into work, so I am going to take the office too.”
I nodded and watched him walked back into the house. I finished my coffee and walked back in the house to warm up and grab another cup. I listened to my messages as I poured another cup of coffee. The first two were from the moving company. I took another sip of the coffee, as the fresh hot coffee warmed me from the inside out. The next message was from my new company. The message said,
“Hello Ms. Harris. We hope you are well. As you know the entire country is locking down due to the Covid-19 virus. As a result, our business will begin feeling the effects quickly and severely. I am so sorry, but we are going to have to rescind our job offer to you at this time. Please know, that if things improve, we are still interested in you as a potential candidate. I have sent a letter to your email inbox as well with this message. I am so sorry Ms. Harris.”
My life felt like it was imploding in one day. I left my coffee and walked back upstairs and climbed into bed. Today was too hard. I slept most of the day away, grateful for the respite of sleep. I woke in the late afternoon and my stomach pulled me downstairs, I had not eaten since the night before. I made myself a quick peanut butter sandwich and then went in search of my treadmill. Thankfully it had not been disassembled yet for the move. I put my ear pods in and began my run. An hour later I felt much better, and I came up from the basement feeling more like myself. Luke stood in the kitchen and had begun to prepare dinner.
“I wondered where you go off to. Are you feeling alright? You slept most of the day.”
I nodded that I was okay.
“Do you want dinner? I was going to grill steak; I could throw one on for you if you want?”
I thought about the offer, normally I’d say something snide, but his request of civility reverberated through my head.
“Yes please. Thank you for the offer. Do you want any help?”
“Do you want to do the veggies? You know I always burn them.”
I smiled, knowing it was true.
“Sure,” I said as I walked over to the fridge and pulled out the fresh asparagus and mushrooms caps.
We prepared our food in silence, and I was grateful for the respite in conversation. This situation was awkward enough, I thought to myself. As if he had read my mind, Luke spoke up.
“In a way I am glad you are here. I know it’s not what you wanted but I know you are safe at least.”
I did my best to put on my polite smile as the word civility ran through my head. I held my tongue as I cleaned the mushrooms. Luke took the steaks out to the grill and I went in search of the bottle of wine from the night before. I poured myself a tiny glass, anything to take the edge off of tonight. Luke came back in and put the empty plate he had carried the steaks out on into the sink. He reached over the bottle and poured himself a glass.
“Let me know when we are ten minutes out, and I’ll do the veggies,” I said, trying to be helpful.
Luke nodded and I got up and began to set the table in the kitchen for dinner.
Thirty minutes later dinner was on the table and we both sat down. There was a surreal feeling to eating dinner in my ex-kitchen with my ex-husband that almost felt comical if it wasn’t so sad.
“Did you get a chance to call your new job to let them know you’ve been detained?”
I put down my cutlery, “I didn’t have to, they rescinded the job offer this morning.”
“Jules, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Will you be okay money wise?”
I didn’t say that I had his of the bye-out from our house in my account, it felt like salt in a very open wound. I was grateful for the silence through the rest of dinner.
Our first week of quarantine seemed to pass as we settled into a new routine, making sure to give each other a wide berth. Luke did his best to keep his feelings to himself, but it was clear to me that he was still in love with me. I had chosen the divorce and he had fought me on it, not wanting to throw in the towel. One night, a few weeks into the quarantine, I woke from a noise from downstairs. I crept down to the living room, seeing the lights from the television on. I walked into the living room and saw Luke sleeping on the couch, it was his turn to drink more than his fair share. I bent down and pulled the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels from his hand and set it on the coffee table. I pulled the blanket from the back of the couch and pulled it over him. I couldn’t help but stare, he looked like the man I had married, so young, innocent, optimistic. My guilt gnawed away at me. I reached above him to switch off the lamp next to him when I saw his eyes open. His gaze was kind.
“I still love you, you know,” he said softly with a drunken slur. “I just want you to know.”
I stood back and bit down hard on my bottom lip. It had been me that had taken the final blow to our marriage and I still don’t completely understand why I had done what I did. I reached down and brushed his sandy-brown hair off of his brow.
“I know, you shouldn’t.” I whispered back.
He rolled towards the back of the couch and away from me. I walked upstairs feeling more like a piece of human trash than I had in a while. I climbed back into bed and laid awake for most of the night. I finally drifted off to sleep in the early hours of the morning. By the time I woke up, Luke had already shut himself in the office, working. I tried to keep myself busy, but nothing seemed to keep my attention for long. I decided to make dinner and I’d make Beef Bourguignon for dinner. It would entertain me for the afternoon, and it was a nice way to thank Luke for letting me stay. He emerged from the office at the smell of it cooking.
“Are you making Beef Bourguignon,” he asked as he came into the kitchen.
“I am, I hope that’s okay.”
“Are you kidding, you know it’s my favorite. I think you make it better than anywhere else on Earth. Remember when we went to France and I ordered it, it was awful.”
“And it made you so sick,” I chimed in.
“Man, that was awful, remember I totally ruined the back of that cab, and the cabbie was so mad.”
“I thought he was going to kill you.”
We both laughed as we remembered that night.
“What inspired you to make it tonight?”
“I have a room that needs to be painted if you want. I’ll pay you for it.”
“Which room are you painting?”
“The one at the end of the hall.”
His statement took the breath out of my lungs. I set my wooden spoon down on the counter and walked out. I could not believe he had said it, Luke was not a cruel man. I walked upstairs and passed the room with its closed door and into the master. I sat on the bed taking in deep breaths, trying to calm myself. I laid back on the bed and curled up, pulling my knees up to my chest, unable to hold back the tsunami of emotion that came spilling out. I was startled by Luke’s knock on the door.
“Go away Luke.”
“I’m sorry, that … I don’t’ know why I said that. I’m sorry.”
I pulled the duvet over my head, it was too much, all of it. My current situation and my past situation. I once again weighted the options of staying with friends or family, but I honestly didn’t know if I could even get them or if they’d want a house guest right now. At any rate, I wasn’t leaving the bedroom until I was sure Luke was asleep for the night. I laid in bed as afternoon turned to evening, just watching the sun move across the wall of the bedroom. As dusk turned to night, I could have smelled dinner cooking. It smelled like beef Bourguignon. I had not finished it before my encounter with Luke, not that there had been much left to do. I wondered if he had finished it. An hour later Luke knocked on the door again.
“Jules please come down. I’m really sorry. I finished dinner. Please come eat.”
I remained silent. When he cracked the door, I pretended to be sleeping. He shut the door and I rolled away. My stomach growled at the delicious smell, but I ignored it. A little later he knocked on the door again.
“I made you a plate. I’ll leave it here for you. Julie I’m an asshole, I’m sorry for what I said.”
I heard the tray of dinner clink as he set it outside the door. I wasn’t hungry enough to get out of bed, and I left it outside my door as I fell asleep for the night. The next morning, I woke, uninterested in getting out of bed. I pulled the drapes closed and climbed back into bed and went back to sleep. Around noon I finally ventured out of the bedroom, noticing that the dinner tray had been cleared from the doorway. I made a bowl of cereal and crept back up to my room. After I finished it, I rolled back over and went back to sleep. I woke to a dark room, and Luke’s knock at the door again that evening.
“Jules, I’m coming in. You’re scaring me up here.”
He cracked the door and peeked in I stayed still in the bed facing away from him. I hoped he’d just close the door and leave but he walked in. I could smell reheated Beef Bourguignon and he set a dinner tray on the dresser. He paused and I willed him to walk out. Instead, he came and sat on my side of the bed. He reached out his arm, resting it on my upper arm.
“Jules,” he whispered. “Please eat something and I’ll go.”
I laid motionless trying to decide what I wanted to do, when he clicked on the light.
“Honey are you still in the clothes from yesterday? Julie, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I said it.” He paused. “That’s a lie. I said it because I was hurting, am hurting. Seeing you in our kitchen, making our favorite meal. It was a terrible thing to say to you. If I could take it back I would.”
I rolled towards him, feeling too fragile to fight.
“Look if you eat, I’ll leave you in peace.”
I propped myself up and he took the cue grabbing the tray of food, setting it across my lap.
“I finished it last night, but it’s missing something, like a spice missing.”
I looked down at the dish.
“It’s missing thyme.”
“Damnit, that’s it.”
I looked up at him and I know he read the damage his words had done on my face. He sat back down and put his hand over mine. I lost my composure and buried my face in my free hand. He let go of my hand and grabbed the tray putting it on the floor. He sat back up and pulled me into his arms. I expected to feel repulsed, but his hug was genuine, and I felt comfort in his arms. I didn’t push away, but I didn’t embrace him in return either. When I quieted, he grabbed the tray and set it back on my lap. I nodded understanding the silent ask for me to eat and he stood up and walked out leaving me in peace. When I finished dinner, I took a bath. After I dressed in clean pajamas, I grabbed the tray to take it downstairs. I froze as I overheard Luke’s voice in the living room, and I realized he had to be on the phone. I stayed frozen as I listened.
“No, it’s my fault, this is all my fault mom. I know she’s lost. I had no right to say that to her. I’ve apologized but I’ll never be able to take it back.”
There was a pause as my now ex-mother in law who I had always adored, spoke on the other end. I couldn’t hear her side, of the conversation. She had always been kind to me. Even when we announced we were divorcing, but I wondered if Luke had ever told her the true catalyst for the divorce. One of the only things she had asked of me when things were truly awful between Luke and I was not to continue to hurt each other. She didn’t know how deep that hurt went and was still worried about us. I filed for divorce the next day. I wouldn’t destroy her son as a person.
“I love her so much it hurts,” he continued, “ and I would give anything for her to see it. This is all my fault.”
I heard his voice crack as he said it, and decided I’d heard enough. I walked all the way to the kitchen. I set the tray down and started to wash the bowl. I had played a bigger part in our demise than he had. The fact that he thought the entire thing was his fault left me hollowed out to the point that if I didn’t talk to him, there wouldn’t be anything left of me by the time this whole ordeal was over. I had planned a life across the country to avoid this conversation and now I was stuck in the house with him, unable to escape it. I set the clean bowl down in the dish rack and dried my hands. I walked towards the living room and knocked on the doorjamb as Luke sat with his head in his hands. He looked up at my entrance.
“You’re up and showered.”
I could see that he had been crying, his eyes were still red, and his face splotchy. I crossed the room and bent down in front of him.
“I overheard your conversation with your mom. I need to set this straight; this is not all your fault; I share the blame.”
“I pushed you into it, all of it.”
“No, I had free will, we equally participated in a lot of the wrongs.”
“All of losses and you said you didn’t want to keep trying for a family, but I kept pushing. I saw what it did to you emotionally, physically each time, what it did to us. I really believed if we kept trying, we’d get there, and a baby would make everything all better.”
“I know, I did too.”
“I didn’t listen when you said you didn’t want to try anymore, after we lost Daniel. I was selfish.”
“So was I. I couldn’t handle being a disappointment to you anymore, not able to give you the one thing you wanted. Do you know why I had an affair, the real reason?”
Luke looked up at me, as he wiped a tear from my cheek.
“I just wanted to be loved for me, and not with the pressure to get pregnant each time we were intimate. I needed to still be touched as a person for me, and we couldn’t do that. Each time we slept together after Daniel, I was terrified to become pregnant again, but I couldn’t tell you and break your heart further. It was an awful thing to do, I’m sorry Luke.”
Luke grabbed me and pulled me in closer to him and this time I wrapped my arms around him. We held each other for a long time, even after my legs fell asleep from kneeling in front of him. Luke pulled away first.
“I knew I was pushing too hard, but I didn’t know how to stop. To be so close to being parents, and to have it ripped away, I didn’t know how to process it. I pushed you away.”
I leant back into him and let him hold me. We stayed up well into the early hours of the morning talking. Finally, all cried out, I grabbed him by the hand and led him upstairs to our bed. That night I fell asleep in his arms.
The next morning, he woke first and he trailed his index finger down the bridge of my nose. I opened my eyes, and there he was, his deep brown eyes smiling.
“You are so beautiful; I was such a fool to let you slip away.”
“Where do we go from here?”
“Wherever the road takes us if your open to it?”
“I think I am,” I said before I leant up and kissed him.