To Love, To Lose
First String Of Red
One of Three
David has never been one to believe in fate or prophecies or any new age ideology… has never been one to believe in religion at all, really. But on this afternoon, quickly turning to evening - still in the early nights of winter, a thought comes to David’s mind. The thought, he doesn’t know where it came from and yet he knows it as true fact. It was as simple as blood pumping through his heart or his lungs needing breath. As he looks to his girlfriend, the love of his life, the woman he has already spent three of his post-college years with he knows one thing and one thing only: she is going to leave him. And not just leave him, no… she is going to fall in love with his best friend and they will both leave him forever.
In the noisy arcade, wasting some time before their dinner reservation at the Irish Pub for St. Patrick's Day, David’s Sally Mae played a silly little game called Doodle Jump - a game meant for kids, but was ‘just too cute’ to pass up. The bells go off again as she beats another level (the space themed one), she looks back his direction and again, the thought - the fact comes tp his mind: he is surely going to lose her.
David heaves a breath and moves from having his hands holding his weight against the air-hockey table to his ass so that he can cross his arms over his chest. He starts speaking, not exactly caring if their best friend Gabe was listening. “She’s going to fall in love with you.”
Gabe’s smiled fades and his eyes drift away from Sally. His expression one of ‘did I really hear that’, he simply replies “What?”
A soft laugh leaves David’s lips. He flicks his wrist toward her, “Next time she wins the game… notice who she’s looking at, who she’s showing off to.” And right on queue they hear the little bells ringing and Sally Mae does indeed turn around…and all the happiness and love in her eyes land on Gabriel.
Gabe shifts on his feet uncomfortably, his lack of smile turning into a thin lipped frown. Almost as if he is expecting David to punch him or scream at him, or tell him to fuck out of their life all together, he stands tense. David does nothing, and just watches his Sally Mae with her game, wanting to appreciate her while he still could. Holding his breath - maybe that would make the moment last….
But the moment passes from one to the next, his heart beats in his chest, his lungs fill and empty of air. Resigned to the future that was now so obvious, his voice floated away from the both of them, “Just take good care of her okay? I’ll let her come to the decision on her own time…. But just take good care of her.”
Blinking a little too much, Gabe just nods.
David may not have been a smart man, he may not have been a man of anything other than science. So he knew… and he had known, he wasn’t exactly enough for the blinding Star that was Sally Mae. To him, there had always been a question if they were going to be together forever (just given the fall in numbers of lasting marriages and other percentages that affect committed relationships) but she always answered “Of course!” and that had been enough for him.
It seemed that now their forever was coming to a close. And stealing a line from her favorite book: ‘Some infinities are shorter than others.’
The Day didn’t come for a few months; seasons changed: winter to spring, spring to summer. And David never pushed it, but he had been realistic; he stopped making long-terms plans with her in the spring, and his heart sank when early summer she stopped too. He tried to believe it was for the better, that it was for the best, that it was what was meant to be… but it was like a terminal person watching and examining their own declining life - all the optimism or contentment felt like a lie.
At first, Sally didn’t even realize what was happening. She just liked Gabe. He had been their best friend for years so ‘hey nothing new, right?’ She talked about him, talked to him, hung out with him one on one… nothing too strange or unusual. David had been working to get his Bachelors for a while, his Sally Mae had taken time to travel and then work and eventually she started Community College. She was about to finish her summer classes, the Associate’s at end of the tunnel was so close, and then a few weeks off before Fall semester starts at the University. She is a bundle of nerves and excitement. And that’s when the change happened.
Right before the few weeks of freedom, right when she was about to use the direct to University program, she stopped talking about Gabe to David. She would get a text and smile to herself, not explaining what was funny. She would say she was going out with friends, but was never specific. He was becoming important to her, in ways that were confusing and conflicting and she was just trying to lessen the tension.
David knew Sally Mae well enough to know she wouldn’t cheat, but he also knew that she was already picturing her life with Gabe. He knew her well enough that the sweet smiles, soft sighs, good dreams, were for their best friend, no longer for himself.
And so The Day came where David sees the beginning of the end. Sally is already awake, which is a habit only expressed when she had a big decision to make or a morning class. She is cooking a large range of breakfast foods; cooking and food being her favorite stress relieving habit. David knows that this was not an attempt to make him feel better, either… she was too in her head for that step yet. And just for a second, as they sit down to eat together, David prays to the God he does not believe in, wishes on all the already dead stars in the sky, hopes with every forced heartbeat in his chest that the choice she made was him.
But as Sally takes the plates off the table, he eyes her going into the kitchen slowly letting out a huge, heartbreaking sigh. She stands in front of the sink and stares without seeing, letting the water run without care. If the choice had been David, this would not be the reaction, it was that simple.
He does not want to make this harder for her, so he goes into the office. It is lunch time when It finally happens. Elbow deep in work, he hears her coming down the hall - usually this would be to ask him what he wants to eat, but instead she closes the bathroom door. And even though she believes otherwise, the sink is not loud enough to hide her sobs.
His computer chair creeks as he leans back. It was time. This is it.
David picks up his cell and calls Gabriel.
“Hello?” his voice a little too worried to comfort David. Gabe knew as much as he did.
A deep breath. “She is going to call you. She is going to call you in a few minutes to say…” a sharp inhale, his voice losing all inflection, “to say that she broke up with me and she needs you to pick her up.” A small pause, “Bring food okay? She loves those dollar chicken sandwiches from Wendy's but fries and onion rings and a cookie dough shake from Steak’n’Shake. She won’t eat unless food is in front of her - she’ll tell you she’s not hungry, but bring it anyway.”
Gabe clears his throat, “Are you-”
David shakes his head. “Just show up,” and he ends the call.
The water turns off, David rises from his chair. There is a click and the bathroom door opens. As he looks down at the love of his life and sees the pain in her puffy eyes and red face, he does something he never thought he’d do in this situation: he hugs her. He hugs her close, which makes her sob all over again and start shaking.
“I’m not going to say it doesn’t hurt.” David begins, he voice trying not to shake, his eyes blinking away any tears - if there was any a time to be strong, it was not. “I’m not going to say I’m not angry. I’m not going to say anything other than: I love you. You will always be my Sally Mae and I’m sorry I wasn’t enough.”
Sometime later David hears the front door close. He peeks through the office window, down to Gabe’s car. He had brought all the right food, but on top of that a bouquet of roses and a teddy bear. This is why David knows this is for the best, knew this to be right….David knew how to protect Sally. Keep her safe…keep her healthy, but he always forgot the most important thing: to keep her happy.
Over the next few weeks, David learns to hate the song ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’. David gets pitying and sorrow filled looks from friends and family. Not only on the days he has to go into the office, or the days he decides to stop by his parent’s house, or the days where his buddies take him out to drown his sorrows. These looks were also given on the days Sally Mae’s things are taken out of the apartment.
David had prepared for this; he already had another place to live. And when her stuff is gone, so is his. He breaks the lease and moves on.
Months and months go by before they see each other again. It was only by happenstance. David finally makes his way to one of their favorite places, the historic downtown district, thinking change may be on his side. But, as he walks down the street with his drinking buddies, their attempts to block his view and distract him are futile.
David isn’t….Anything. He isn’t hurt, he isn’t sad, he isn’t even mad…nothing. He almost doesn’t recognize her and has to take a second look. (Still, no emotional reaction.) His second look turns into a stare, his friends go quiet as he watches her. Her hair is long - as long as she’d been trying to grow it all those years - curled, all pretty around her face and bouncing down her back and she glides around and bounces with laughter. She looks like she has finally caught up on a lifetime of sleep. Her dimples are deeper, her eyes shine, her muscles are toned in a way that makes him wonder if she finally joined the gym like she’d always wanted. It seems everything is working out exactly as she needed it to be. The one thing that does create a small tinge of emotion is the happiness in her eyes. The love. It is for Gabe and it looks never ending.
What makes his stomach drop; what makes his heart break, finally; what makes him actually feel all the pain and darkness and sorrow he’d been downright ignoring: is when she goes to grab Gabriel's shoulder and something sparkles on her left ring finger.
Through all the grief and pain, sorrow and anger… when it really came down to it, David just wished it had been him. And though David’s friends tried to cheer him up with smack talk and alcohol, it would be a few days before he smiles.
It is years before their lives cross again. David is newly married and they are spending time with his wife’s family. They didn’t come to the states very often, and usually it was in California because of David’s promotion. But his wife’s family wanted to visit Walt Disney World because the nieces and nephews were now old enough. So there they are, smack dab in the middle of Florida.
And, again, it was only by ‘chance’ that their paths cross. David’s brother-in-law needed to go to the ER for a broken wrist and David was fine with leaving the parks and taking the rental car. As his brother is getting checked in, David takes a gander around the room. And right as his eyes fall on the ER doors, she comes in.
Very pregnant, in labor, very much in pain, squeezing Gabriel’s hand as if her life depends on it, Sally is being rushed through the room in a wheelchair. Stock still, David is hit by a mac-truck of feelings. It is just so…off to see her - once their lives were completely intertwined, now they are ages and galaxies apart.
Of course, she doesn’t see him. And it is not his place to try and go see her, even after the baby is born. But, that didn’t mean he wasn’t morbidly curious. He stares after her as they lead her deeper into the hospital - the flapping doors obscuring her from sight.
“David? David Green?”
David’s eyes force themselves to land on Gabriel. He sighed, “Yeah….”
Gabriel has aged well and aged like a man who has all the love and happiness in the world. He eyes David, a sort of half smile in seeing such an old friend. And whether it is intended or not, he pauses when his eyes wander to David’s left hand. Seeing the wedding ring, Gabriel unintentionally sighs with relief and says “Hold on a second, okay?” and then rushes after his wife.
Not knowing why, not understanding the impulse, David stands exactly where Gabriel left him and just waits. After some time, Gabriel comes jogging back into the waiting area and rather out of breath says, “I don’t know what it says. But it’s always in her purse…just in case…. Anyway, it’s for you,” and hands over a rather thick envelope addressed to David.
David takes the letter and looks at Gabriel, not sure what he is feeling or if he even wants to read it. Gabriel looks as if he wants to say more, but can’t bring himself to. A nurse calls for him, making the choice for them both. David raises the envelope slightly and nods, “Go.”
David never reads the letter. It gets tucked away into the back of one off his desk drawers, slightly crumpled and curled over the back. He believes it won’t make a difference. He is happy. Happier than he would be with Sally - whether his romanized memory would let him admit it or not. Once, when his last child is grown, does he think about her. And in that moment he does wonder about the what-ifs. He finally admits that this was the right path - not just for her, but for him, for them all. He doesn’t wonder about her again.
Life passes. Years come and go. Children were born, pets died. Grandkids were born, friends passed away. Great-grandkids were born, and spouses were lost.
David is in his 87th year now, sitting in a rocking chair next to his wife’s portrait. They had had wonderful lives and had done a world's worth of things together. She had passed away a few years prior but David still had all the family and memories he could ever need.
One fall evening, his grandson Steve (and great-grandson Paul) come to see him as usual for their regular Thursday visit. There is a knock on the door, but oddly, Steve comes in to direct Paul to the bed before anything else. David wonders why and sits a little straighter, leaning towards Steve.
Steve kneels on one knee, and places a hand on the arm of the chair. “Do you remember that author lady you used to know?”
David’s mind twitches, memories of his young adulthood sparking a face and a feeling. He nods.
“Well…” Steve maneuvers to pull out a folded newspaper clipping from his pocket. “I just thought you might want to read this…. She passed away.” His brows are furrowed, lips tight, “She mentioned you, is all,” and he moves to the other side of the room to his boy.
David waits until his family leaves to read the paper. There are two pictures at the top - one of his Sally Mae from all those years ago, and one of the person she grew to be… so many years beyond that day in the hospital. Survived by her children, a good handful of grandchildren, and even a few great-grandchildren, Sally Mae Withers left this world in the arms of her husband - both passing away peacefully in their sleep. She had said ‘that she was not ashamed to admit that she had loved before - a generous man by the name of David Green - and that there was nothing wrong with loving as many people as fully and wonderfully as possible. Everyone deserves happiness’.
… all David can think is how it had always been a comfort that she had been out there… living her life, happy. In this moment, after reading the little, faded and folding piece of newspaper, the world seems just a little more sad. A little more… empty.
Another star has faded from the sky.
The End of String One.