It’s almost lunch time and there is finally a lull between calls. I spin my desk chair around a couple of times and then look over to the full timers to join in their conversation.
“I’m going camping right after work.”
“In those shoes?”
“I told my husband to pack more… at least 4 pairs. Let’s see,” she says ticking them off her swollen fingers, “the sketchers, the sandals, the boots, the flip flops…”
“That sounds about right.”
“So help me, if he doesn’t remember to pack them. I put them by the door before I left and I told him, ‘don’t you forget to pack my shoes!’ he had better not forget.”
“He’ll probably forget. He did last time didn’t he?”
“Well, he had better not forget this time… or else…”
Or else what? I wonder to myself as I pick up another call. Or else what? I’m staring off into space wondering at this woman’s life. How she came to be here on the middle chair always laughing. Always content with herself. She told me once that they met in high school but she was too good for him, then. It wasn’t until he started coming round her parents place offering to help her Dad with this that and the other thing that she rethought her position. She told me she used to stare down at him from her bedroom window, absolutely livid that he would continue to show up there, day after day. I thought it was romantic, the persistence, not taking no for an answer. I can see him on the road outside her house with a stereo held high above his head. Of course, no one ever tells us what happens next. Now, she is overweight but still pretty. An ageing beauty queen. Well maybe not the queen, but at one time a contender I’m sure. A cheerleader at least. She leans back in her chair arms crossed over her belly and laughs loudly when I ask her if he’s handsome, “he might’ve been, but for the bald head and the beer belly!” Her laugh echoes around me and I scan the waiting room of the clinic. All these people in their tiny little bubbles. I imagine lives for them. They all seem to end the same. Marriage and babies and this woman laughing about her ugly husband. I wonder if she is everything that he bargained for. I wonder if he ever regrets standing outside her door with those carnations. That one last time she cracked. What life he might have led had she not been home.
U2 comes on the radio and I can hear it just barely beneath the harmony of the screaming baby. And I can’t live with or without you… I wonder if I’ll ever get over the fear. The fear for this life I see sitting next to me. Waking up one day in her shoes. Wishing I made different decisions with my life. I’m not scared of much. I’ll walk through dark alleys late at night. I’ll step out into traffic without looking. I’ll jump from that bridge or that plane or that cliff even though my heart leaps as I do it. I’ll move to a different country. I’ll walk away from love without looking back, if it begins to feel stagnant. But, this is what really scares me. Following your heart, being romantic, and then waking up one day in a room with floral window treatments and a living set from Ikea. An apron and a baby holding tight to the hem. An absent minded kiss from my husband as he leaves for work and nothing left but hours to fill. I don’t want to one day walk out my front door and be one more white picket fence on the block.
I don’t ever want to tell a twenty-something girl anything but that I’m still crazy for him. Everyday crazy for him. I want to be one of those loves. You know the ones. The middle-aged couple holding tight to each other in an airport in the middle of the day, oblivious. The senior citizens hiking through country sides, toasting to their life together. Family photos competing for space on my walls. That tender look from across the room. The love that lasts. Even if it means being on that hospital bed. Looking up at him and not being able to speak. Wasting away with nothing but his love and determination keeping me alive. Even if it crashes and burns bright enough to block out the sun. I’ll take it. Just so long as it doesn’t fade away. Just so long as the beginning doesn’t turn out looking like a dead end. Of course, that’s why they never show the day after in romantic films. No director, no writer, no actor or producer wants to break the spell. No one wants to think that even the fairy tales can end up quiet tragedies.