Each week I will post a short story based on a prompt provided by a writing website called Reedsy. This week’s prompt was to tell a story from the end to the beginning. The following is my response:
“Divorce, man. It’s an awkward kind of death.”
Beverly nodded slowly, her eyebrows furrowed as she looked me up and down.
“I’m not trying to be dramatic or anything,” I said, shooting her the most disarming smile I could muster. “It’s just the truth of it. I mean, if I had died or something… I don’t know, maybe it’s a selfish thought, but I feel like it would be easier on both of us. A clean break, you know?”
Beverly pushed her glasses up, leaning back in her chair. “Is this really how you want to open with me?”
I shrugged, taking my cues from her as I leaned back. “I’m not a big fan of small talk. I’m all about big talk, you know? Deep talk. That’s where everyone should start, right? So we know if we’re compatible right off the bat.”
A smile played on Beverly’s lips. “Alright… but I have ground rules.”
“Don’t ever call me ‘man’ again.”
“Fair enough,” I said, holding back a chuckle. “What about ‘Bev?’”
“That’s fine,” she shrugged. “We’re talking big, after all… might as well lean in with the nicknames.”
“Alrighty then, Bev. Any other rules?”
She sat up straighter, her eyes more alert as she considered her answer. “Just one more: the one I demand from everyone. No lies.”
I smiled at that, nodding as I sat up to meet her. “I never lie during big talk. There’s no point, otherwise.”
“Okay then,” she said, gesturing to me. “Go ahead.”
“Welp,” I said, already beginning to chew my top lip. “I suppose we should start with the fact that she’s the one that divorced me. Had me sign the papers and everything. See? In small talk, I might have said it was me who wanted to split, or that it was mutual, at least… but that’s not the truth of it.”
Bev nodded, giving nothing away as she seemed to stare into my soul.
“I mean, I’m not gonna lie, I’d thought about it before. But only in passing, right? Like, ‘oh, wouldn’t it be crazy if we got divorced? I’d have so much time to… I don’t know, rest or something,’ yada yada. But it wasn’t ever a serious thought. I could have never imagined… well, I guess that’s not completely true. I imagined plenty. I just never expected her to do it.”
“Why do you think she did?”
I couldn’t meet her eyes at that moment, looking everywhere but at Bev. “I know exactly why she left. I think that’s why I imagined it so often.”
My voice shook at forming the words. “…because I wasn’t good enough. I mean, I know, no one is perfect, and… well, regardless, she was right. I wasn’t good enough for her.” I forced myself to Bev in the eyes. “I told her as much when I gave her the papers. I fought for us, I did, and I thought… but she deserved better.”
Bev didn’t respond, watching my face as I struggled with where to go next.
“I let her go,” I said, running my hands through my hair. “I showed her how much I’d changed and the man I’d become… and she was proud of me. Man, I… even when she didn’t take me back, the fact that she was proud of me… that changed me more than she could ever know.”
“Changed you how?”
My lips twitched upward. “I was a decent guy. A good worker, faithful, and went to church and all that… but I was a crappy husband.”
I started to tap the coffee table, my fingers twitching as I hesitated.
“Why do you say that?” she prompted.
I shook my head. “She would tell you it was because I drank, but that ain’t it. Not like it sounds, at least. I mean, sure, I drank, but never too much, if you know what I mean. And I didn’t get mean or abusive or nothing like that. I just…”
I pursed my lips. “I just didn’t pay attention.”
Bev leaned back in her chair, her eyes piercing.
“I realized it too late; what the real problem was. I wasn’t focused on her enough. I looked forward to an hour at the bar more than seeing her. I forgot what it meant to love her, the attention required to love someone so… well, the short of it is that I took her for granted and I realized too late.”
“I gave up the drink, you know. When she started threatening to leave. I mean, she didn’t threaten, really. Not directly. But she’d start throwing out the idea, casually dropping it in conversation like a terrible joke. Pointing out other people who got divorced and talking about how happy they were… the hobbies they’d picked up to fill that hole inside of them…”
“Have you picked up any hobbies?” Bev asked a little too innocently.
I smirked, letting out a sigh. “Nothing worthwhile yet.”
Bev nodded sagely. “Why do you think that didn’t work? Giving up drinking, I mean.”
“Because I didn’t know yet!” I said, throwing up my hands. “I thought it was just about drinking, and I was trying to solve the problem that wasn’t really the problem. That’s really what broke our backs too, when I kept ignoring her even without it, not realizing I was trying to replace her with my phone, and food, and streaming… and she felt it. She felt herself being replaced, but she didn’t know what to call it. She couldn’t recognize it to call it out and didn’t even have drinking to blame anymore.”
“So she blamed you?”
I nodded. “And rightly so. When I realized… it wasn’t just the last while that I’d been ignoring her. It was years of neglect. I’d been so selfish, as if marriage was just some big perk that I got on the side. Like I could live my life like always and nothing would change. I went from bachelorhood to bachelorhood with a mortgage and a roommate. Selfish. Ignorant. Unworthy of her in every way.”
“She’s not perfect,” Bev said, pushing her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. “And you didn’t have to be perfect to be worthy of marrying her.”
I smiled, careful not to roll my eyes. “No, she wasn’t perfect. But if she was close to the sun, I was in darkness.”
“I think you’re being a little hard on yourself.”
I shrugged, pulling my eyes away from hers. Both of us were content to sit in silence for a long moment as we collected our thoughts. “I had good intentions when I married her,” I said eventually. “I wanted to do right by her, I just didn’t realize how… little I was. How unprepared. And now that our marriage is over… well that might have been the first time in my life I’d truly done the right thing for her.”
Bev checked the clock on the wall, double-checking it with her watch. “That’s close to our time,” she said, shooting me a thin smile. “Is there anything else you’d like to share as we wrap up our session?”
I sat up straighter, my eyes lingering on the nameplate resting on her desk. “I wonder… I don’t know, but I wonder if, maybe when you think I’m ready. And I’m more capable and more selfless, and ready to pursue her the way she deserves… if you think I could win her back?”
Bev pursed her lips, setting down her pen. “Maybe that’s something we can talk about next time.”
I slowly shook my head, conflicted as I pushed myself to my feet. “Divorce, Bev,” I said with a hint of a smile.
She smiled back. “It really is an awkward kind of death.”