Back at my granny’s house, I got Christopher settled in the portable crib, and then I made the mistake of calling Stacy. “Do you know what time it is?” she asked. No time for hello.
I could imagine her rolling her eyes at this point. “Is that all you wanted?”
“Don’t you think if your dad had died, you’d want to feel some sense of connectedness with the people in your life? Wouldn’t that be natural?”
“I thought we decided we wouldn’t be in each other’s lives anymore.”
We never decided anything. She delivered an edict with which I was expected to comply. “So it’s like cold turkey?”
“Do you ever wonder why we got married in the first place?”
Actually, I had. When I arrived on campus at the University of Tennessee, I was determined to distance myself from my church-boy past, and the first step I took in that direction was joining the brothers of Pi Rho. The Pros. We partied like the rest of the Greeks, then dragged ourselves out of bed for our engineering, or pre-med, or pre-law classes. We believed a man’s tolerance for Jack Daniels had a direct correlation to his management potential. I became a manager at twenty-seven. You can draw your own conclusions.
The Pros had a partnership with the sisters of Theta Nu, so Stacy was there at our very first party. And every party after that. She said I was a good kisser. Now honestly, you tell me what guy wouldn’t follow a girl around like a puppy dog after she said that? Oh, I knew she was lying, but every lie has some sliver of truth, and that sliver was good enough for me.
We started dating, which mostly meant we had the rights to our own sofa at the parties. I met her parents, and they seemed to approve. So when wedding fever hit and Stacy started feeling the pressure because she didn’t have a ring, what else could I do?
I asked her to marry me because obviously, I was supposed to. It was expected. And she had to say yes because she wanted a ring and the notoriety that came with the engagement. If she said no, it might take months before she could cultivate a new relationship and by then, all her friends would have graduated, and she would be left behind.
Of course, I didn’t tell her all that at that moment, and the standard answer—because we fell in love—was a lie neither of us could stomach.
“I’m not sorry,” I said. “Even though it didn’t work out.” That wasn’t a lie.
“Michael, I know this is a very difficult time for you, and your family, your mother, your brother and all those . . . others, they’re probably the best ones to help you right now.” Which meant, don’t call me.
“I’ll be staying through the weekend.”
“Stay as long as you need to.”
Sometimes for entertainment, I’d try to envision what life would be like if Stacy had married David instead. The lecture on the submissive wife would be worth the price of admission all by itself.
But Stacy was my wife, not David’s, at least until the paperwork was filed and the judge spoke failure over us and sent us out into the world again as damaged goods. Regardless of what David thought, I was well aware of what Scripture said about divorce. I also knew that to my mother and father and most of the people who passed through the funeral home tonight, divorce was a personal failure second only to infidelity.
It was a given that no one but Christopher would be sleeping tonight, so I took a chance and headed downstairs, and it was no surprise that Mom and Granny were at the kitchen table, each with a cup of coffee.
“Donna Sue, is he old enough to drink coffee?” Granny’s eyes danced, and she stood to get me a cup.
“I’ll get it,” I said. “Anybody else need a refill?”
“You might warm mine up a little.” Mom handed her cup to me, and I topped it off before pouring my own.
“I thought it said a lot about Dad to have that many people come out when he hadn’t lived here for twenty years,” I said. I took a seat at the table next to my mother.
“Ties are very strong here. The roots are deep,” Granny said. “And he was a fine man. It’s easy to show your respect to a man like that.”
My mother reached over and squeezed my hand, her eyes brimming with tears. “You know, he was the one who shepherded me through all my griefs. I catch myself wanting to hunt him up and say, ‘Phil, what am I going to do?’” She wiped her eyes quickly. “That’s silly, I suppose.”
“Not at all,” I said gently. “It’s a beautiful thing when two people grow to depend on each other that way.” Stacy and I never got anywhere near that place.
“Have you talked to Stacy?” My mother, the mind-reader.
“How was she?”
My mother frowned. I’m not sure if it was because of my candor or because of Stacy.
“Do you think after this time apart that she may change her mind?”
Not a snowball’s chance. “No.”
“You remember what I said about your uncle James, don’t you? You make sure you talk to him before you leave town.”
My granny mentioned somebody who came through the funeral home, and she and Mom went back and forth about the connections back at least three generations. I gave up trying to follow and sat quietly sipping my coffee.
All of a sudden my granny jumped up. “I’m almost certain I’ve got a picture of you and Andrea.”
She was gone. “It’ll just take me a minute to find! Hang on!” she called from the other room.
“What’s she talking about?”
Mom shrugged and shook her head.
Granny returned with a faded photo album which she dropped onto the kitchen table in triumph. “Vacation Bible School.”
It was the summer before we moved, so my hair was white blond, and I had freckles from ear to ear. My front teeth were coming in, so my smile was goofy and uneven. Almost an inch of sock showed beneath my pants. That was one of the growing summers.
The thing that made my granny almost giggle was the fact that I was holding hands with Andrea Maddox. The sweet satisfaction in Andrea’s eyes said it was not an unwelcome thing at all. She was tanned and had a red swipe of antiseptic across her knee. She wore frilly socks with her Keds so there was no mistaking she was a girl, albeit a girl who would not let a little thing like being dressed in a jumper slow her down.
My dad was pastoring a church over in Daniels Fork then, but there wasn’t really a question whether we would attend Bible school at my Uncle James’s church. I remember David and the older kids made puppets and I was jealous because we only made pencil holders.
“Are you trying to say something, Granny?” I asked.
“When God gives you a second chance, you’d best take it.”
“A second chance?” I was playing dumb.
She shook her head. “I saw them give you that degree. I know you’re a smart boy. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that that girl has never married and here she is staring thirty right in the face? God is saving her for you.”
My mother smiled.
“Granny, I think you’ve been up too long. You’re getting loopy.”
“Scoff if you want to, but I’m going to tell you the truth.” She leaned up to the table and pointed right at me. “Five, maybe even three years from now, you’re going to sidle into my house, all sheepish, and you’re going to admit to me that bottle-blonde leaving you was the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“Don’t hold back, Granny.”
“Mark my words.” Then she looked at my mother. “Donna Sue, if I don’t live that long, you hold him to it.”
“Oh, I will, Mama.”
Read the rest of