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A Marriage CAROL
By CHRIS FABRY GARY CHAPMAN
Copyright © 2011 Chris Fabry and Gary Chapman
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Shortcut
"When do we tell the children?"
He said it without feeling, without emotion, without giving weight to the words. He said it as though he was asking the latest stock price for Microsoft or Google. These were his first words after nearly twenty minutes in the car together. On our anniversary.
"After Christmas," I said, matching his evenness, his coldness. "Not tonight or tomorrow."
"Don't you think they know by now? At least that something's up?"
"Not David, he's too young. Justin asks questions and just looks at me with those doe eyes, but he keeps it in. Becca is the one I worry about."
"Kids are resilient. If they don't know, they'll understand. It's for the best. For all of us."
I hope he's right.
"Now they'll have two Christmases," he said.
The windshield wipers beat their own rhythm as wet snow fell like rain. The landscape had retreated under the white covering, adding to a previous snowfall that hadn't fully melted. The roadway, where you could see it, shone black with treachery from the moisture and falling temperatures. Cars inched along ahead of us on an incline as ,Jacob drove faster, crowding the car in front of us, looking for a chance to pass.
"Are you sure he'll be at his office?" I said, looking out the window, bracing for impact. "In this weather? On Christmas Eve?"
"He's still there. I called before we left. The papers are ready."
"Does he have a family?" I said.
"What?" He said it with a healthy dose of condescension, and added a look I couldn't stand. The look I could live the rest of my life without seeing.
"Does he have a family. A wife? Kids?"
"I have no idea." More condescension. "I didn't know that was a prerequisite for you."
"It's not. I was just wondering. Working on Christmas Eve. No wonder he's a divorce lawyer."
So much for a congenial discussion. The silence was getting to him now and he flipped on a talk station. I was surprised he hadn't done that earlier. The clock showed 3:18, and a delayed Rush Limbaugh was going into a break. A commercial about an adjustable bed. Local traffic and the forecast. Snarled intersections and cold weather reporting. Expect an even whiter Christmas. Several inches whiter. Maybe more. A cold front moving in and more precipitation at higher elevations.
"Can we listen to something else?" I said.
He suppressed a huff and pressed the FM button. This was his car so nothing on the FM dial was pre-set. He hit "scan."
He frowned. "Punch it when you hear something you like."
I passed on Gene Autry and Rudolph. The song brought an ache for the children. Especially David who still believed in Santa and reindeer. At the next station, José Feliciano was down to his last Feliz Navidad. On the left side of the dial, the local Christian station played yet another version of "Silent Night." I couldn't stay there because of the guilt of what we were doing.
Paul McCartney said the mood was right and the spirit was up and he was simply having a wonderful Christmastime. I wished I could say the same. The band Journey sang "Don't Stop Believin'," but I had stopped long ago, at least concerning our marriage. This was not how we planned it twenty years ago, though the snowstorm felt similar. Twenty Christmas Eves after I walked the aisle in a dress my mother and I had picked out, I was wearing jeans, an old T-shirt, and an overcoat, cruising in sneakers down the slippery road to a no-fault divorce.
Three children and the bird would live with me (a dog made too much mess and Jacob is allergic to cats), and he would move into an apartment after the New Year. Jacob promised to stay involved. There wasn't another woman, as far as I knew, as far as he would let on. That wasn't our problem. The problems were much deeper than infidelity.
I hit the button on singer Imogen Heap. Nothing at all about Christmas. Just quirky music and a synthesized voice that took my mind off the present, which is supposed to be a gift, I know. I've heard that.
"I'm done with this road," Jacob said. "I'm taking the shortcut."
"Over the hill? In this weather?" Two interrogatives to his one statement of fact.
"It'll cut the travel in half. Nobody takes County Line anymore."
"Don't you think we should stay where they've plowed?"
He ignored my entreaty and turned left sharply. The rear of the car slid to the right. I grabbed the door handle instinctively as he corrected. He gave the ,Jacob head shake, and with shake you get eye roll and a sigh on the side.
"Trust me for once, will you?" he said.
I wanted to bring up a million little ways I've tried to trust him. A million little ways I've been let down. For twenty years I've searched for reasons to place my trust squarely on his shoulders. But how do you trust someone who has failed at the life you wanted? There were flashes of caring, a dozen roses to say "I'm sorry," but the roses wilted and died. And then we started on this direction, him on the Interstate and me on the Frontage Road, separate but still traveling in a semblance of the same direction. Two moons orbiting the same planet, rarely intersecting.
"I don't want the kids going to our funeral," I muttered.
He slammed on the brakes and I yelped as we went into another slide. Passive-aggressive driving is his specialty.
"Fine, I'll turn around."
Both hands to my head, tears welling, I hit the power button on the radio and heard myself say, "No, just keep going."
* * *
County Line Road used to be one of my favorite drives. In summer when the hills were in lull bloom and Becca was little, I would take the shortcut over the mountain to show her how other people lived—not jammed into houses so close you couldn't breathe, but on long, flowering acres with roaming cows, horses enjoying fresh pasture, and people living less like hamsters on wheels and more close to the earth. As a child, I dreamed of living on a horse farm, riding them every day, cleaning stalls, feeding them oats and apples. But those dreams died a slow death, four hooves sticking out of the frozen snow, along with the dream about a happy family, a good marriage, fulfillment, purpose, and a lifelong love.
Jacob flicked on the radio as we ascended, obviously disturbed by silence again. Santa sightings by the chief meteorologist gave way to a nine-car pileup and a shutdown on the Interstate.
"Told you it was smart to take County Line," he said. I wouldn't call it smug. Jacob wasn't capable of smug. He was more a river of indifference. Perhaps that was it. He was the river, I was the highway. The passion was gone. Was it ever there? It's hard to remember a fire when the embers are covered with snow. Yes, it existed at one point, but then so did dinosaurs.
We had been advised that it was better for us to decide on the distribution of our assets—the house, the cars, and the kids—before we went to court. The attorney would represent me, since he couldn't represent us both, but we had amicably decided the allocation of everything down to the bird and our cell phones because said lawyer told us once the court got involved in deciding who gets the wagon-wheel coffee table and what visitation rights will be, things go south quickly and the children are the ones who suffer.
"Don't give control of the future of your family to a judge," the lawyer said in our last consult. "A judge doesn't want to be the parent. He or she wants you to work out a plan that's best for the kids. Do this now and you won't have to go through that pain in a courtroom. You don't want a judge choosing who gets how much time with the kids."
We were doing what was best. We were being grown-ups, trying to absorb the pain of our choices and the changes that had made us such different people. We were sparing our offspring more pain, blocking access to the horror show that was our marriage. We were miles apart at the same dinner table, in a bitter relational chill, skating on precariously thin ice. And this was our effort to do the responsible thing; pull the family off before the surface cracked beneath us. We were also saving Jacob a ton of money, which is what he really cared about. If he could have purchased a divorce at Walmart, he would have. And he would have used a coupon.
"Remind you of anything?" Jacob said, his voice snapping me back to reality. "The commercial?"
"No, the snow. Remind you of anything in the past?"
"Just like our honeymoon," I said indifferently.
"You didn't trust my driving then, either."
"I wasn't worried about your driving."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Heavy sigh. "Nothing. I was scared that night."
"Scared? Of me?"
"Scared about what we had just done. That it wouldn't last. That I wouldn't be the wife you wanted."
"Or that I wouldn't be the man you wanted. Guess those fears turned into reality," he said, sticking the fork in the overdone turkey.
"Yeah. It just took longer than I expected." I spoke staring out the window at the early December darkness. Clouds blocked the sun and hung over us like specters, spilling wet tears from heaven's portals. Higher we climbed, into the unincorporated, untarnished mountainside. Long stretches of pasture and woods stared back at me.
He shook his head and dipped the volume on the radio only a little. "If it makes any difference, I'm sorry it turned out this way."
Out of the blue, it almost sounded sincere. I turned and found him looking at me. We were children when we were married, which was part of the problem. "I do," had turned into famous last words. His hair, once thick and buoyant, had grayed and receded in a forced march by the unrelenting taskmaster of time. He had refused to wear contacts, preferring the same style of glasses that had gone out of fashion and returned like my favorite pumps. Crow's-fleet around his eves, and rosy, youthful cheeks that had turned puffy and wan. An objective viewer would say he was still handsome in some cherubic way. But I am not an objective viewer. Not that his slight weight gain made any difference to me. I always thought he was handsome.
"Your sister called before we left," he said, switching the subject during my pregnant pause. "I told her you'd get back with her."
My sister. The Christian mother. Loving, kind, a sweetness you could make a Blizzard with at Dairy Queen. And yet, unapproachable. As much as she said she did, she couldn't understand our problems. And wouldn't you know it, she had to confide in our parents and let them know our marriage was on shaky ground.
He stared at me, but I couldn't look him in the eye. "I'll call her after we sign the papers."
His eyes were too much. Too blue. Nearly opaque. That was the first thing I remembered about him. Those Eyes—almost penetrating the soul, it seemed.
When I looked up we were nearing a curve, and through the haze and blowing snow I noticed two headlights bearing down on us like our oncoming future. I couldn't scream, couldn't speak, just threw out a hand and pointed.
Instinct. His foot to the pedal. Steering wheel one way, then the other. Fishtailing. A truck's air horn. Jacob reached out for me.
Out of control.
A snow globe shaken and dropped.
Excerpted from A Marriage CAROL by CHRIS FABRY GARY CHAPMAN Copyright © 2011 by Chris Fabry and Gary Chapman. Excerpted by permission of MOODY PUBLISHERS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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