I Need a Change
By Patricia Thomas
Joan had not been prepared for this at all. Gary, her husband of 30 years, had just returned from his daily run, then walked through the front door into the kitchen and announced to his wife, “I’m moving out.” Joan quietly put down the tomatoes she was holding and sat down at the wooden kitchen table they had bought together. She stared out the big picture window at the hummingbirds buzzing around the gladiolas several minutes, listening to Gary drone on.
“I need a change before it’s too late. I’m not getting any younger. We’ve been together since college…blah, blah blah. Married too young…blah, blah, blah. Grown apart…blah, blah, blah.” Gary retired early due to wise investments and she had not worked since the kids were born. Had their life become a cliché? Then she turned her gaze to Gary and just stared at him.
In the silence, all of her senses were heightened. She heard the gardener, Sam, mowing the grass in the back yard. She smelled her pound cake that she had placed in the oven an hour before. She figured that from now on the sweet smell of pound cake, Gary’s favorite, would be an unwelcome aroma to her. She knew how powerful smells could be, how finely intertwined they are with the events in our lives. “Pound cake equals day Gary left me.” Yes, that is how her mind would work.
“What?” she replied dumbly, or so it sounded to her. “You’re moving out? Wh, Wh, Why?” It was as though her real self had risen from within her and was looking down on her from above, watching her trying to talk and get grounded. Everything was in slow motion, off kilter--her movements, her thoughts. “When did you come to this conclusion?” Then without waiting for a reply, she watched herself get up and walk into the den. She had to move, had to think. Gary followed.
Joan sat on the couch and stared straight ahead. Nausea coursed through her in waves. “Please don’t throw up,” she told herself. When she got really upset, she always threw up. Her eyes slowly panned the den, taking in the family pictures covering the walls. These pictures told the story of their life together—their wedding day in Savannah, the family reunions in Atlanta, the graduation pictures of Tom and Cassie, their children, Cassie with her father on her wedding day and picture after picture of Derek, their two year old grandson. Yesterday she had been quietly content in this room. Now she felt like a deflated balloon. Her eyes landed on Gary.
“I know this comes as a surprise,” Gary announced sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to have a long drawn out conversation, so I figured I might as well get to the point. I know this seems sudden, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, months really. I’ve tried to talk myself out of leaving, but I haven’t been able to do it. You’re a good wife, Joan, really you are. I do love you, but I need to be on my own. I’ve bought a condominium. I’ll be moving out at the end of the month.”
“You love me, but you’re moving to a condominium? At the end of the month?“ Why was she repeating what he had just said! “Stop it,” she told herself.
“Don’t worry. You’ll still have this house, your garden. Everything will be the same, except for me being here. I only want my personal things.” Gary was not even looking at her now, just staring and talking.
“Did I do something wrong? Can’t we talk about this? Have a discussion. Why not just separate for a while? ” She knew she sounded desperate, but she couldn’t help it.
“No, you did nothing wrong. It’s me. I know this is probably a mistake, but I need to do this. There must be more to life than what we have together.”
“Is there someone else? Have you met someone? “ She had to ask that, but disliked how pitiful it sounded.
“No. There is no one. I promise you that.”
“Then why can’t we work this out? We could go to marriage therapy, individual therapy, a couples retreat, whatever you like.” Now she was begging. “Just stop talking,” she told herself.
“I know this is hard. I think it’s best if I stay at a hotel until my condo is ready.” Then he turned around, walked back toward their bedroom and started packing a suitcase. Joan continued to sit in silence, not quite knowing what to do next. Then she heard a “Bang” as the front door shut. He was gone.
Was the house ever this quiet before? Funny how empty a house can feel when you are alone and not expecting anyone to show up. She thought about calling Cynthia, her best friend, but she didn’t want to talk to her yet. She needed to think. Should she call the kids? She would have to do that, but there was time for that later. Now there was time for everything.
She thought she heard a scraping noise and hoped (foolishly she knew) that it was Gary. Maybe he had changed his mind? No. She hated thinking like that. It was pathetic. Silence. She went into her bedroom, closed the door (out of habit), lay down on the bed and started sobbing. The salty tears rolled down her face and into her mouth, her nose ran like a faucet, and her body shook. She cried and cried until she ran out of tears and energy.
She dozed off and when she woke up it was dark in the bedroom and her cat, Luna, was sitting on her head. Instead of this being annoying as it usually was, she was comforted. Then Joan got up, fed Luna, and walked into the living room. She sat there all night, thinking. When the sun started to rise, Joan got up, drank coffee, and went to bed. Sleep gradually came. This routine continued for a week—cry all night, get up, drink coffee, and then back to bed to sleep once the sun shone in her bedroom. She found it hard to sleep during the night, when things seem so much more ominous. Slowly she was coming to turns with the situation. Eventually, she talked to Cynthia and the kids.
Cynthia was sympathetic at first. “I’m so sorry. How awful for you. Then as the weeks passed, she became furious. “What an asshole? You’re better off. You’re beautiful and hot. Who needs him? Let’s go to The Continental and get a martini. I’m buying. I will not let you sit around and mope anymore.” Cynthia, three times divorced, was not the best confidant during this time of crisis, Cynthia realized, but she enjoyed the company. Maybe she had a point.
“I’m only 50,” Joan thought. “I have a few good years left.”
Her daughter, Cassie, had read an article (she was always reading an article about something) about men and midlife crisis. “Daddy is just going through a phase. He’ll come back. Next he’ll probably buy a red convertible. Men are so predictable . I’m coming over with Derek and keep you company. “
Life went on. Joan signed up for a writing class at the local community college and got out her easel again and started painting. “Why had she given this up?” she thought. She joined a writer’s group and even got a story published. She was thrilled. She bought new clothes, under the tutelage of Cynthia. Cynthia said she needed “hot clothes.” No more “old lady clothes.” She started inviting friends over, buying tickets for the Performing Arts Center, and going on trips to Las Vegas with her girlfriends. She thought about Gary less and less. She was busy… and happy.
Several months passed. Joan was at the hardware store one day buying rat traps to keep the rodents from eating her figs and tomatoes. A silver haired man overheard her question to the sales clerk about which was better and quickly stepped forward.
“I like the big wooden ones, but you have to be careful. If you buy the sticky traps, then you have a live rat on your hands. Then what do you do? Trust me, it’s not a pretty picture. I’m Douglas Ferguson. I’m a retired aerospace engineer. I live here in town, and I have two grown daughters. Would you do me the honor of having a cup of coffee with me? We could go right next door.” Joan felt herself blush, just like a high school girl. Then she accepted.
“What would her daughter say about this?”she wondered.
“That sounds nice. Sure.”
What harm would it do? It was just coffee and the Wooden Spoon Café was right next door.
Next came dinner with Douglas. He was such a gentleman. He showed up at her door in a coat and tie. She liked that. They talked about their children, their grandchildren, cooking, and home ownership. Joan was being courted, and she had to admit, she was very flattered.
Months passed and Joan felt herself falling for Douglas. He was kind, loving, attentive, and best of all, he treated her with respect, like she was a precious object. She told him about Gary’s sudden departure and he told her about the death of his wife, Merna. She loved talking to him, being with him, and finally, making love with him. Joan had never thought that she would find herself with another man, but he was so kind and gentle, she forgot her self-consciousness.
Then Gary rang her doorbell one day out of the blue and asked to come inside. He wanted to talk.
He started talking as soon as he walked into the room. “Joan, I’m so sorry. I’ve been a foolish man. I want to come home. I want my life back, our life back. I made a big mistake. I miss you.” He kept talking after that, but Joan had stopped listening. How she had longed for those words to be spoken six month earlier. But now… She stared out the big picture window at the hummingbirds buzzing around the gladiolas several minutes, listening to Gary drone on. Then she stood up and walked away, leaving Gary staring at her.
Patricia Thomas was born and raised in southern Alabama and attended Auburn University. She has been teaching writing for years, including Loyola Marymount University, the University of Southern California, and Texas A&M. While she has taught all levels of composition, including Legal Writing and Business Writing, her passion is creative writing. She currently teaches writing and literature at Fullerton College in California.