by Laura Kathryn Rogers
Jessica Tyler watched as Robert, her husband of 25 years walked to the driver’s side of their Green Honda Escort. He was trying too hard to be careful, to over-correct when he made a mis-step, and they’d already had a skirmish at the Harrison’s party when she asked if she could drive. He was fine, he insisted. Just fine. And he didn’t want to hear another word about it. He would drive them home.
Jessica was just too wiped out to argue, really. She’d spent most of the evening trying to keep a watch on how much Robert had consumed, angry that he’d broken his promise not to go past a three drink limit. Broken it by about seven drinks. And what was worse, he didn’t seem to care.
She got into the passenger side, slamming the door a bit harder than need be. The sound was very loud in the quiet driveway that was mostly still full of guests cars. Why had they gone to this stupid party, anyway, Jessica pondered. She had wanted to soak in their hottub, take a book she was almost done with to bed…especially as the night was drizzling with a promise to turn into something worse. A hot soak, a good book, some hot tea with milk and lemon….and rest. But Robert insisted. Clients would be at the Mortimier’s party…..he could build on his contacts…..but he had instead made a fool of himself by drinking too much, being a bit too loud, and finally agreeing to go home after she repeatedly asked him to either stop drinking or leave.
Robert sat in the car, waiting, silently. Jessica knew what he was waiting for. Not a tongue lashing. There was no point. He was waiting for her to put on her seat belt. Robert was an insurance salesman, one of the top men in his part of the state. He could rattle off statistics until you felt your eyelids drying out from the strain of trying to concentrate and listen to him. It was fascinating to him, however….and in just over two decades of married life, Jessica could almost quote what he often ranted about back to him, verbatim.
This time, her inner fury would not be placated by anything other than defiance. She usually put on her seatbelt, though she hated doing so. She had gained some weight around the middle after their third and last child was born, a child that died just a few days later of birth complications. She had fed her grief, and never quite gotten down to her youthful weight. Robert didn’t seem to notice. But she noticed when she put on a seatbelt. It cut into her, made her have a hard time breathing. Tonight, she just wouldn’t do it. Robert could sit until Doomsday, and she would not put her seat belt on.
However, this night, he gave up shortly. He sighed, deeply, and said “You know you’re being childish.”
Before she could make a sharp comment about his state of inebriation, he’d turned the key and the engine roared to life. In silence, Robert steered his way out of the driveway. It was amazing that he did it so well, because by that time, the drizzling had turned to a hard, driving rain which got harder as they made their way down the road. They should have been going much slower………yet, Robert, seeming to be totally in charge of his facilities, drove at the legal limit, though it was getting very hard to see.
Jessica looked at her middle-aged, paunchy husband, and thought about what she had waiting for him at home. Tonight was as good as any other time to do it. She’d put it off for a month. Divorce papers.
Their children, twin daughters, were both gone, and had just graduated college. Both had great jobs, good lives in other parts of the state. And in the summer after they had gone, Jessica had known. It was more than just empty nesting on her part. There was an emptiness in her heart. Somehow, in the years of taking care of the girls, dealing with the loss of their son, and just living life, a cavity had formed in the heart of her marriage. Now, there was just nothing left.
When had it started? She thought, as Robert took a curve a little too fast, and almost went into a skid. Swearing, he managed to get the car right again, and kept going, a little too fast for the increasingly nasty weather.
She thought of when they’d met, both runners in a 5k race. They’d never ran a race before, and were joking about it. They decided that they would run together, take their time, and just try to finish, not try to take any prizes. During that race, she had fallen in love with this man….listened as he told her his dreams of being a prosecuting attorney, possibly a senator someday. He was about to take the LSAT exam he told her. She told him about her dreams of being a sculptor. About how some of her works would be in a gallery showing in the next month. He was wonderfully encouraging. She was admiring. He would later say he had fallen in love with her the same time she had him.
Six short months later, they were married at the town’s courthouse. Neither were religious, really, thought Jessica had been taken to church as a child. They set up housekeeping, and to get them through Robert’s law school, they took jobs that were available. He in insurance. She as a saleslady in an art store. Her gallery showing hadn’t been very promising, and in time she’d stopped sculpting. He didn’t pass the LSAT and didn’t try again. So he didn’t become a lawyer. She didn’t become a sculptor. Life went on, and suddenly, it seemed, years passed, and they were in this car in driving rain, him too drunk to drive, her too angry to know what to do about it.
She wondered if it would even phase him when she gave him the divorce papers. It had been nearly a year since he’d done more than touch her arm in passing. He’d taken to sleeping on the couch…falling asleep to whatever late show he chose that night. She had taken her beloved art books to bed. It had seemed, sadly, a reasonable trade off for each other after a time. Then, it seemed that they’d never done things any other way. Too late…..Jessica thought…maybe they could have saved things….but now…it was too……….
There was a bright flash of lighting, it seemed, or perhaps bright light. Screeching. Wind, though the windows were power controlled and definitely not down. She felt a crunch around where the seatbelt normally encased her stomach, and felt suddenly very light. She was outside the car somehow. Walking. And then she saw what happened.
They’d been in an accident. Yet, she was not hurt. She looked down, and saw no evidence of injuries. Robert, however, was another matter. She saw him, cut horribly, pinned in the driver’s seat by the damnable seat belt, making horrible sounds of agony, moving his hands to try to clear the stream of blood which was freely flowing into his eyes. She raced to the driver’s side of the door. But it would not open. Stuck. She looked around for her purse in the car. For a phone….but the car was crumpled so many ways there was no way in.
She heard behind her approaching sirens. And from nearby, a car’s horn going off with mournful intensity. She looked at the car with which they collided for the first time. It was a white sedan, its front also horribly mangled. Had they hit head on? If so, how had she escaped? She saw the police approach and the paramedics come running up. She called to them to help Robert.
They ignored her.
She cried out again, just as one of them got to the car. “He looks pretty much done.” One of the paramedics said to the other as they prepared to open the car with a prying device that Jessica had heard referred to as the Jaws of Life. Robert had said something about them once……
“Okay Barnett, you’ve done it this time.” Jessica saw the Sheriff, a short, burly fellow walking towards the other driver. “How much did you have tonight?
“Only a few drinks, man, it wasn’t me! That fellow crossed the line. It wasn’t me this time, I swear to God!”
“You’d better hope it wasn’t you.” The Sherrif was saying, turning back to look at Jessica and their wrecked car. “If we find that it was, you’re going away a long time….remember that three time loser law? This will be your last felony.”
“You gotta believe me…..it wasn’t…..” Barnett’s voice trailed off and Jessica turned to look at the progress the paramedics were making. Robert was out of the car, looking horribly injured, too injured to live. On a stretcher, they were checking for signs of respiration, of pulse. Both there. Thank God…..
It occurred to her that she should be soaked, but she wasn’t. Just a bit damp. Everyone else was thoroughly wet. She didn’t ponder it long….would her husband live?
It occurred to her that this wasn’t the way she wanted it to end. Yes, she’d planned to end it a different way when they got home that evening, but not like this….not like this. She heard them say that he’d stopped breathing….and watched in horrified, mute fascination as the two paramedics tried to save him…….no, not like this. Please God, no………
She wondered what life would be like as a widow. She had no worries about being provided for. Robert was as strict as a Scotsman in his saving habits, and had more than enough insurance. But what would her life be like? She saw herself going through all the business of the funeral, the days after. The days when all the friends were gone, the flowers had died and been thrown away. The food had been eaten or given away that had been brought. When the girls had gone back home. And Jessica, would be alone in a home that really hadn’t been a home in many, many years….
In time, people would expect her to go out socially again. The people at work would find some nice man, possibly another widower or divorced to introduce her to. They would expect her to get on with life….and she supposed eventually she would…….but these final moments were telling her that maybe she’d been wrong about the way she’d been ready to dispose of her marriage as if nothing mattered except her boredom and her feelings of being ‘done’ with how things were with her and Robert.
Maybe, just maybe, she might want to try again. Maybe, the love was still there, just neglected, buried, wounded….like her husband was…….from the place she was standing, she saw the paramedics still working on him……and all she could think of was wanting him to live. She wished with all of her strength that he would live……..that he would. She would go to marriage counseling, she was try to be kinder…..she would be more encouraging….she would try to help him past the drinking…..if he would just live…..
Just then, he began to respond. Jessica covered her mouth with her hands, at the point of weeping. She heard the policemen that had driven up talking to the Sheriff. They walked past her, shining flashlights……ignoring her.
“We saw a purse in there……but no one else there…..have you looked everywhere?” She heard the Sheriff asking one of his men.
A horrible feeling hit her just then. “Her purse was there…….she wasn’t. They ignored her……could it be? And then, she turned, just as a flashlight fell on a bright blue object, crumpled in the ditch. She knew what it was before anyone said anything. The blue was the blue of the dress she had worn to the party. She’d been thrown from the car. Yet, she was walking around……..hearing everything….so very strange……….but then, she knew.
It would not be her that would be the widow. Not her that had to learn to live alone after the funeral was over. Not her that concerned friends would play matchmaker for. It would be Robert. Robert, who was coming around, vital signs steady, being loaded into the ambulance.
She walked over to him, not sure what to say or do. As she climbed up into the ambulance, she saw a door open behind him. A door to something…else. Full of bright, warm, welcoming light. ….a door that was tugging at her to enter into it……
Robert had opened his eyes, and gave her a half-hearted smile. “Guess I really messed up this time, didn’t I?” He said. She shook her head, tenderly and touched his cheek. “You just get better, don’t worry about it.” She said.
“What will I do without you?” He said….and then, suddenly, she realised that neither of them had stopped loving each other. It had been lost, forgotten, pushed to the side, but never had it ever stopped….and the love was there still inside her.
“You’ll do fine.” She said, and gave him a gentle kiss.
Then, with one last loving look, she turned from him, and stood up to walk towards the door which was pulling on her even more strongly. She had ceased to resist. As she walked to the door, she carried that love with her– for her husband, her children, for all that had been part of her life, and found that in the final moments, it was all that was worth keeping.