Birthday Promises - Part 2
By: Deanne Wilsted
By: Deanne Wilsted
Noah searched Julianna’s face. While she appeared jovial, he knew she had to be suffering inside. After all, no one wanted to end up divorced. In truth, when they’d made the promise to get divorced if either of them were in loveless marriages when they turned thirty-five, neither had really believed it would end up that way. They’d been at each other’s weddings; had been best woman and man of honor. He’d seen the love and confidence glowing from the inside when she’d taken her vows with Mark. And, if he’d had some doubts about the guy’s character, well he’d also known Julianna would be strong enough to bring out the best in him.
Yet here they were, seven years later, with Julia standing in front of him telling him she wanted to keep the promise.
“Are you sure, Julianna? I mean, isn’t there anything you can do?”Julianna sighed and set her champagne glass down. Noah followed her lead. He really didn’t feel much like toasting anymore either.
“Oh Noah. I’ve tried. You have no idea how hard I’ve tried to let go of Mark’s unfaithfulness. I just, he just, well, we just can’t seem to move beyond it.”To Noah’s way of thinking, moving beyond infidelity seemed like the wrong approach. It felt like something you would need to tackle head-on in order to grow and re-establish a bond.
“It probably doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure he’s still messing around with other women.” She barked out a wry laugh. “Of course he claims it’s not true. He says it’s my imagination.” She shrugged, deflated. “Which may be right. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I can’t live like this anymore.”Noah watched Julianna square her shoulders then look him in the eye.
“Besides, a promise is a promise, right?”He reached out and pulled her into another huge hug. More than anything he wished he could take away some of her hurt. “I wish you’d told me,” he said.
“I would have. I wanted to. But after everything you’ve been through these last two years I really didn’t want to add to your troubles.”Noah felt his insides curl, twist, and tighten like a Cheeto. He glanced at the photo of Mattie that he’d placed on the table. What was he going to do?
“When Mattie died….” He swallowed the grief that still overwhelmed him whenever he spoke of it. “After she was gone, it felt like she took the very best part of Leslie and me with her.”“Oh no, Noah!” Julianna was emphatic. “The two of you have always been like rays of sunlight shooting from the same sun. Even when you were young and thought you hated each other.”
Noah remembered those days. It was high school and Leslie, the cheerleader had seemed like everything wrong with society. Her perfect little curls always bounced in time with her steps- a walk that was always done in sparkly, name-brand, sneakers. She smiled and giggled and totally intrigued him, though he would never have admitted it to anyone. But he didn’t need to tell Julianna. She saw it in him from the beginning. “You really should get to know her,” she’d claimed. “She’s really nice. And she likes Tito Puente.” She’d looked at him slyly. But Noah hadn’t bought it. How could anyone who cared so much about being popular appreciate music by the King of Salsa?Noah had watched her enthrall the school for four years. It wasn’t until their senior year lock-up that he finally too succumbed to her charm. A bunch of the kids had begun to get out of control and Leslie had stepped in and described all of the important work around the school that would be destroyed if they sprayed the classrooms with fire extinguishers as they were planning on. He’d watched her that night, ponytail whipping around, as she mapped out the entire school and all of its valuables. He’d suddenly realized that what looked like superficiality in fact hid an observant, intelligent and caring heart.
Love had grown from there. It had inspired the many novels he’d written over the years. There was no better story than love found.But like a tilt-a-whirl his view had shifted when their five year old daughter Mattie had died. Astoundingly, Leslie had bounced back, like the curls which still jumped around on her shoulders. She’d demanded the same of him. But he couldn’t give it, didn’t know how she could.
He was beginning to think his original assessment of Leslie’s character had been correct. After all, what sort of person, he wondered could recover so easily from the death of their child?
Late that night Julianna and Noah sat on his balcony looking up at the night sky. The champagne had kicked in and they were both sleepy and a bit maudlin.“Do you think we’ll ever find love again?” Julianna asked.
Noah tried to imagine himself with anyone besides Leslie and came up blank. “Not sure.”“Well, I don’t care.” Julianna pounded her fist on the iron railing and then looked at her hurt hand as if it weren’t attached to her own body. “Ow?”
He grabbed her fist and rubbed the spot below her pinkie where she’d hit. “Silly girl. That’s going to leave a bruise.”She looked at her hand again curiously and then shrugged. “I don’t care,” she repeated.
Noah got the impression she was referring to finding love rather than to her hurt hand.“I think I do,” he said quietly, almost to himself. But as always, Julianna knew he was saying something important and pinpointed him with a laser-like gaze.
“I think you care too,” she said. “But not about finding new love.”Noah huffed. Even though they’d been talking about things all night it was impossible for her to understand what the last six months had been like for him. His daughter was gone. His cold wife was constantly either at work or at the gym. He couldn’t even write. He was lost.
“You’ve always been Leslie’s strongest cheerleader. But try living with someone who acts like nothing has changed; like the worst thing in the world hasn’t just happened. You try showering with someone who still sings; eating with someone who somehow empties their plate; sleeping with someone whose eyes close as soon as the light goes off.”“Um, but Noah, isn’t that just things we all do in life?”
“Not after your DAUGHTER is killed!”Julianna pulled back as if slapped. And Noah’s hands tightened into fists on the arm of the chair. God damn it! No one, not even Juliana understood that life- even the word life- didn’t mean anything to him anymore.
* *Noah’s head was pounding the next morning when he awoke, half-way on, half-way off, the couch. He’d insisted Julianna take the bed. She didn’t know he never slept in it anymore and there was no way he would have slept in Mattie’s room.
An image of Leslie cleaning out Mattie’s closet hit him like a slap on his whiskered face. He’d yelled at her about it; thrown the coffee cup he’d held at her to make her to stop. She’d moved out that day four months ago. Now they only saw each other at the counselor’s office. Their appointments had become fewer and fewer, so that Noah wasn’t even sure when their next one was. He shut down the ache inside himself, not noticing how tightly he held the couch pillow.In the other room he heard the shower turn on and knew Julianna was awake. But Noah could feel the darkness taking hold and couldn’t find the motivation to move from his prenatal position on the couch. Like a curtain falling on the final scene, the room went black and silent. He heard his own breath, but even the sound of the shower was now a distant, indistinct noise, like the meaningless hum of a refrigerator.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out. The sound of whispering voices- of Leslie’s whispering voice, eventually cut through the heavy lethargy that took hold after one of his blackouts. Not wanting to move in any case, he simply lay there listening.“Does this happen often?” Julianna asked.
“I, I’m not sure.” Leslie’s hesitation was in contrast to her rigidity of late. “He told the counselor and me the blackouts had stopped. I thought he was getting better.”It was Leslie’s sob that finally snapped his eyelids open. Across the room the two women he loved most in life sat across from each other at the dining room table. Julianna held Leslie’s hands, cushioning Leslie’s forehead which had dropped onto them.
“Oh Julianna, I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried so hard to hold it all together for us- tried to be the strong one. But I just can’t anymore. I can’t live like this.Her sobbing grew until it was impossible to ignore. At the same time, Noah didn’t know what to think of Leslie’s atypical emotions. At least she was finally showing some. And a part of him wanted to rush over to reassure her. But another side, the one that was omni-present, wanted to yell and throw things. All of this time, after all that had gone on, and only now she cried? Could it even be believed?
“Bravo!” he called across the room, clapping his hands at her theatrics. “What a performance. I’m sure Julianna is impressed with your heartfelt emotion.”Noah lay back on the couch and covered his eyes with the back of his hand. “But if you don’t mind, I’m resting after a champagne fête last night. Perhaps you could take the theatrics outside.”
The room went silent for a moment and then he heard the front door slam shut. Good! They’d left. It wasn’t like Julianna could do anything to help him anyway. He knew from past experience he wouldn’t have the energy to deal with anyone for at least a few hours. He took a breath and tried to sink into sleep.Slap!
The noise reverberated across his cheek and out into the otherwise quiet room. His eyes flew open and found Julianna standing over him, fury making her cheeks as red as his now was. Still she remained silent; the only sound her huffing breath.He rubbed his cheek with the palm of his hand and sat up against the pillow that had cushioned the blow.
“Care to tell me what that was about?” His calm tone belied the anger and hurt beneath the words.“Seriously?” Julianna’s stare turned to one of pity. “Thirty-five and it’s like I’m dealing with a fourteen year old.” She sat down next to him on the couch and he shifted ever so slightly away from her, not allowing her body heat to sooth her blow.
“Flashback,” she said, waving her hand in the air in front of them to paint the picture. “Sophomore year and your art representation of Nelson Mandela being freed was displayed in the hallways with the question: What is Freedom? Do you remember?”Noah nodded. People had written things all over the school walls, and the principal had allowed it.
“It was huge. But instead of seeing freedom in the very act of writing on the walls, you obsessed on one quote… Leslie’s. Choosing how to wear my hair, she’d written. You ranted and scoffed and told everyone who would listen that it was the very definition of blond.”“Yeah, right. See, even back then I was a great judge of character.”
“Yes, except you weren’t. Even worse, I can’t believe that in all these years you never stopped to ask what she’d meant by that quote… or by any of the other myriad of actions you self-righteously declared superficial back then. You claim that she deserted you. But I think she just finally lived up the judgment you’ve never really let go of.”Noah wanted to deny what Julianna was suggesting but memory after memory of his and Leslie’s fights over the years flew at him and dug at his conscience. He’d never actually accepted, let alone understood her differing views, just decided, whenever they’d disagreed, to forgive her apparent shallowness because of her kind heart. Seen in this light his doubt of her and even his own self-righteousness was glaring.
Noah let his head fall back on the couch. He expelled the breath he’d been holding and looked around the room. Every space, every corner, was Leslie. It was why he’d hated the condo…. Sunny and warm and optimistic, it was like his grief was being ridiculed in the very cushions he sat on.“Why did she write that?” he asked.
Julianna’s eyes searched his face as if looking for a cure for cancer. She must have found what she sought because she leaned over and gave him a hug.“Why don’t you ask her,” she said. She walked toward the bedroom, but then turned back again. “I’m going to pack and get out of here. I’ve got to get back so I can hit my divorce deadline. Mark’s divorce papers will be in his hands by the time you call for my birthday. But what are you going to do about the promise?”
Noah smiled and stood up. He looked at the front door then back at Julianna.“I’m not sure I ever met the original criteria,” he claimed. “The promise was we’d divorce by thirty-five, but only if we were in a loveless marriage right?”
“Yep.”“Well then. Leslie and my love might not have been up to the task of healing after Mattie died, but I can’t believe it’s lost entirely.”
“Well then.” Julianna smiled and ran over to him. On tiptoes she reached up and hugged him with all her might. “Happy birthday, Noah.”“Happy birthday, Julianna,”
In the mid-1990 the United Nations recognized the growing awareness of Women’s Rights, Inequality and Empowerment.They aggregated the outcome of a number of conferences on this important topic in a paper called, Guideline on the Empowerment of Women. Quote: “Clearly, a common thread uniting each of the major international conferences of the 1990's is women's empowerment. Furthermore, the international community is now accountable to the world's women for fulfilling the significant commitments it has made to help make empowerment a reality of women's lives. What, then, is women's empowerment? Women's empowerment has five components: women's sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.”
For more on this original paper refer to: http://www.un.org/popin/unfpa/taskforce/guide/iatfwemp.gdl.html
I hope you enjoyed, THE PROMISE, a Journey Inspired by Love.
Find more from Deanne Wilsted at: www.deannewilsted.com