March 11, 2015 by Anne Tenino
I know, I don’t usually get into a lot of personal details of my life, especially not when those details are more the property of other people. I’m going to make an exception this time, because of the look on her husband’s face when she finally quit him. We’re not there yet, though. That comes later in this post.
In legal terms, my aunt’s marriage is still very much alive, but in relationship terms, it’s been brain-dead for a year-and-a-half.
I’m not generally in the business of killing love, even out of mercy. I am, in fact, in the opposite business—that of making people fall in love (my characters are too people!). Yet I don’t feel guilty for what I did.
Because the thing is, it had to be done. Someone had to make her finally move out of the home they shared together, and for whatever reason, I was the best-suited family member for the job. So I went down and helped her get well from a cold, then helped her pack up. Then I loaded her car, and it was time to go.
When my aunt left that house for the last time, he didn’t try to hug her or kiss her, or even shake her hand. He followed her onto the porch. Stopping at the top step, he leaned one shoulder against a post and put his hands in his pockets, thumbs out. I got in the driver’s seat, started the engine, and rolled down the window.
“I’ll probably see you again sometime.” I was being civil, as I’d been for the five days before that.
He nodded once.
“Goodbye,” my aunt said, right before settling into the passenger’s side.
And there it was. The look. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen in my life. The anguish wouldn’t show in a photograph, and I could never describe it in a book, other than to say he was tight-lipped and his muscles were set like concrete. His skin resembled concrete in color, too.
I didn’t think it could get worse. Then, as I put the car into reverse and started backing up, an expression of exaggerated duh spread across his features, like he’d just thought of something very important that he forgot to do. When I shifted into drive, he launched himself down the porch steps and rushed towards the barn.
That way, he didn’t have to watch as his wife disappeared for good.
It sounds like so little, doesn’t it? But for this man, it was like breaking down and crying in front of us. I won’t keep try to convince you of that, because I can’t. Not without writing a book, wherein I’d show all his little ticks and mannerisms, and you’d feel his pain at the end, when she left. Not as much as he felt it, but you could empathize. And I do mean empathize—even if you thought he was a bastard, like I do.
I do. I do empathize with him, because: that look on his face. I haven’t been able to get that moment out of my head since we left Saturday.
I love romance novels because everyone gets a shot at the real thing. When I write, I take characters with damaged souls and inner demons (and yes, make it funny, sometimes), and eventually write a happy ending for them. A point where they get to be happy, usually by overcoming those demons and damage. They find true love in spite of themselves.
Real life doesn’t always work out that way. Her husband was losing the woman he once called the love of his life, because he couldn’t get past himself and accept reality. He spited himself.
In romancelandia (in general, not only in my series), I’d redeem my aunt’s husband. In real life, I can’t. I can’t make him grovel, and I can’t make her forgive him after a suitable amount of said groveling. Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to if I could, because in real life,he can’t undo the emotional damage he’s done. He put her on probation, deciding the future of their life together, without telling her he was judging her. She didn’t even know about that until he’d sentenced them to divorce.
Worse, he didn’t break her heart in order to save some war-torn country, or to keep a deadly virus out of the hands of terrorists, or even to protect her from his horrible (or so he imagined) flaws. He told her he didn’t love her anymore because he felt like he failed at something, and he wanted someone to blame.
There’s just no coming back from that. Maybe in a book, but not in real life. And not in this case.
Don’t bother trying to convince me that real life is better than a romance novel. I won’t believe that again for a long time.
I wrote this post while waiting to pick up one kid from school. I finished just as she got in the car, and as we drove home, Florence and the Machine’s Shake it Out came on the radio. There couldn’t have been a more fitting soundtrack. After I dropped 13yo off at home, I went to pick up 15yo across town. She got in the car, we were driving home, and Florence and the Machine’s Shake it Out came on the radio.
Apparently, Coincidence likes to hedge her bets and prod me twice.