Friday, October 14, 2005

Hayride

I used to be in love with my husband. I used to be so desperate for him that the eight hours he spent every day at work seemed so lonely and empty. What happened to the man I fell so in love with? How did he get this way? How did I let it happen? He works so much more than eight hours a day now. He seems so removed from my personal life. He is the man who provides for our son and me. He brings home the money so that we can have a house to live in and food to eat. That’s all he is. That’s all he wants to be. His stockholder meetings and client lunches are what stimulate him now. I am no longer a distraction. He doesn’t stay away because he’s tempted by me. He stays away because he feels no reason not to.

Jimmy is eight. He’s in the second grade and he is my life now. I feel what most mothers feel for their sons—pride and a touch of fear that something might happen to him if I’m not watching closely. He fills my heart and I can’t get enough of him. I do whatever I have to do to be a part of his life. Sometimes I worry about his teenage years when mom will suddenly be uncool. But that is a few years off. For now, he’s happy to have me around. He seems to know that Dad just isn’t available to do things with him. When his Boy Scout pack had their annual hayride this year, he didn’t even approach my husband. He came straight to me.

“Mom, will you go with me? They need lots of parents to help out and I thought it would be fun if you could come.”

“Sure. Sounds like fun.”

The idea of a hayride with my son warmed me. Fall had some of my fondest memories, especially with my husband. Chandler and I met on a hayride. His fraternity sponsored one while we were in college and one of his brothers had taken me as his date. He ended up drunk somewhere, not long after we arrived, and I don’t recall spending any time with him. Chandler latched on to me and we spent most of that October evening together. I remember it as our first date. When people ask me where he took me, that’s the story I tell them. It was a hayride in college. We sat on hay bales and roasted marshmallows, drinking hot cocoa, huddled together, partly to stay warm, and partly as an excuse to be as close as possible. Once we were together that night, we never left each other’s side. It was an amazing first date. The kind that leave you not wanting the night to end. It seemed like something out of a movie. The feeling stirred up inside of me. The strong attraction I felt to this man—not just because he was good-looking, but because of the inner connection we made, almost instantly. We talked about everything—things that I wouldn’t have brought up after just meeting someone seemed to naturally fit within the conversation. After that day, people were jealous of our relationship. They compared their own to ours and feel something lacking. Chandler and I never fought, rarely disagreed, but still shared everything. We seemed to fit so perfectly. We were the couple that would last forever.


What would those people say now? How would they feel if they knew that I barely spoke to my husband? We never went out together anymore, never shared the events of our day or even had a real conversation that went beyond, “what do you want for dinner?”

Chandler hadn’t taken much interest in Jimmy’s Boy Scout events. That was left to me. He was always at a meeting or some out of town conference. Jimmy had learned not to expect Dad for things like this. Chandler spent much of his nonworking time, still at work, ether mentally or dealing with social things. I used to go with him to dinners and parties, but since Jimmy was born, we both thought it would be easier on me if I just stayed home. There was no worrying about the baby at home or making sure to be back by the time a babysitter needed to leave. Plus, who’s better to care for a child than his own mother? I wouldn’t trade a second I have with Jimmy. We bonded so much in those earlier days and now, I feel an integral part of his life—even more so when he asks me to do things with him.

Hayrides are always fun for me. I so enjoy the fall season—leaves falling, the smell of fireplaces on a crisp night. Hayrides are the epitome of fall. They seem to encompass everything that is descriptive of the season. Smores, campfires, warm sweaters, hot cocoa—all of it meshed to create a sensation—a feeling of being home. I could never live somewhere like California or Arizona where they have no fall—not really. Fall can only be defined as not summer. The main characteristic of fall is school being back in session—that’s it. No real season change, no leaves changing color, no cool weather. No fall.

The night of the hayride was perfect fall—cold enough for sweaters and turtlenecks, but not cold enough for a coat. The sky was clear and full of stars, with the moon full overhead. Jimmy was excited. He held my hand as we walked from the car to the big bonfire blazing in the center of the clearing. He was bounding up and down as we made our way over to the crowd of boy scouts and their parents. He ran off to meet his friends and I found a hot cup of cocoa and sat by the fire.

“It’s Jasmine, right?” A male voice approached me.

“Uh huh. You’re Clark, Aaron’s dad.”

“Yep.”

“I remember you from the Christmas play last year. Both our boys were trees.” We both laughed at the memory. Clark was the more active parent in his family. His wife Jane was a lawyer and worked a lot. Clark had a more laid-back job—he was a writer and worked from home. “How’s Jane?”

“Fine. Busy as always. James?”

“The same. He’s been working a lot lately.”

“Never get used to it, do you?” I looked at him, quizzically. “I certainly don’t.” Clark had just said out loud what I would never admit that I thought. I hated that James was always away. IT made me mad that he didn’t take more interest in our son. I would have never said that to another person. But Clark just did. It was refreshing and relieving to know that I wasn’t the only one out there who felt this way.

“Always at work—even when they’re home.” I said, staring into the fire.

“Jane was planning to come. Of course, something came up. Some appeal or motion—I’ve stopped trying to justify her reasons.”

“She still gives reasons? James seems to just assume he’ll be working and doesn’t even plan to be available.” I took a long swig of my cocoa. “I’d like to get a reason now and then. IT would give me something to tell Jimmy.”

“It wouldn’t matter to him. Aaron has stopped thinking that Jane will be available for him. I guess I should too, but I hate it. I don’t want to get used to it and have her start to think that it’s ok.”

“I know what you mean. It’s as if if we stop expecting them to be around then they’ll think it’s acceptable not to be. Like we’re excusing them from being parents.”

“Right.”

We both stopped talking and sipped our drinks.

“I can’t believe we’re actually discussing this in public.”

He laughed. “You mean, admitting that our spouses are jerks?”

I smiled. “Yeah. I mean, I hardly know you, other than through your son. We’re practically strangers.” He didn’t say anything, just nodded in agreement. “Still, it sort of feels good to finally talk about it. I mean, why not? Why not talk about what’s bothering us, right?” I started to feel…liberated, I guess. I started saying whatever came into my mind. “Why not tell it like it is and just say that I hate that my husband spends so much time at work and hardly notices me anymore. Unless dinner’s not ready when he gets home. Then he notices. Wants to know how much longer ‘till we eat. Not, hwo was your day or how’s our son. Because he is our son. I wasn’t alone in creating this life, but I sure seem to be in raising it and taking care of it.” I paused to take a drink. “But he just doesn’t seem to care. He probably wouldn’t are if Jimmy was out on the streets selling drugs or even just misbehaving at school. He’s a good kid. He does what he’s told, but that doesn’t get so much as a pat on the back from dear old dad.” I stopped, realizing that I was starting to get really angry. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s ok. I know exactly what you mean. I feel the same way. Jane doesn’t take notice of anything that doesn’t involve a criminal. She’s so absorbed in their problems that she doesn’t even notice her own. Like the fact that her son now needs glasses. She wasn’t home when he went to the doctor and wasn’t home when he started wearing them. I don’t think she notices them at all. He’s eight years old and he wears glasses. His own mother hasn’t noticed his face long enough to recognize the difference. She has no idea that her husband has spoken to a divorce lawyer—one of her colleagues, actually. They work in the same building. I actually went to see if she wanted to have lunch one day—you know, sort of a surprise. She waved me off and said she just didn’t have time. I was so mad I walked down three flights and made an appointment.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I don’t think I could do it. Not with Aaron so young. I’d hate to have something like that happen to him. Still, how am I supposed to live like this? Am I just supposed to take it? What can I do?”
We both sat silent for a moment.

“Thanks,” I said. “I fell much better.” He smiled.

“Me too.” We both shared a chuckle. It felt great to have just a moment to vent, even if it didn’t solve anything. It was nice to have a friend in the same situation, feeling the same way, who wasn’t trying to solve my problem. We sat and watched our boys playing in piles of hay and leaves, thankful not to have to be the one to clean up the mess later.

“Despite everything, though, I love having so much time with Jimmy.” I said. “He comes to me for everything and I love that. I know him so well. I know everything about him and that’s something James will never have. Maybe that’s selfish and childish, but I know I’ll always have that over him. I’ll always be the better parent.”

“Think so?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Me too. Aaron is my whole world. I’d drop everything for him. I feel like the polar opposite of Jane, who would drop him for everything.” We talked for a long time about our boys and how much they meant to us. How much we’d rather stay in an unhappy marriage than have them suffer for even a split second. Nothing was worth their pain. Nothing.

“Now I know all about your son,” Clark began, “but I know so little about you.”

“Not much to tell, I’m afraid. My son is my life. I gave up everything to have him and I don’t regret a bit of it.”

“But what were those thing? What did you give up?”

Hmmm. Did I want to do this? Did I want to relive those memories and dreams? James never asked me about them anymore. He didn’t seem to care. I felt compelled to tell him, though. As though I needed to. Like telling him might make them seem more real, more like still a possibility. My dreams. I had so many growing up.

“I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals. I even started veterinary school, but I had to quit when I got pregnant.”

“Sure, but you could have gone back.”

I sighed. “I could have. But James didn’t really want me to. He wanted me to be a full time mom with Jimmy. I didn’t want to disappoint him…and I was completely addicted to Jimmy. I didn’t want to leave him for a second. It was easy to just quit. For a while anyway. I started to get a little restless as he grew. Wanted more adult conversation and to get out of the house more. James was very supportive for a while, but once things started going really well for him at work, he lost interest in me. You’re lucky—you have a job that you can do from home.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t always like this. Jane used to stay home too. I’ve never made a lot of money as a writer, but it was always enough for us to get by, especially while she was in law school. She had Aaron between degrees. The timing was really perfect. She didn’t have to put school aside to have a family. Of course, now she puts her family aside for her job.”

“Have you ever tried talking to her about it?” I asked him.

“Oh sure. But that’s a can of worms I wish I’d never opened. She started going on about how women have been oppressed for years and expected to stay home with the kids while their husbands went off to work. Well not her. How could I ask her to give up her job? How could I ask her to stop working so hard? Did I know that she had to work twice as hard as the men in her office to get noticed as much as they did?” He was getting angry. It showed on his face. “She actually told me that she’d been so happy that I understood her working so much. She’d liked having a more modern family—one that wasn’t stuck behind old traditions and one where the man didn’t mind staying home with our son. OF course, that made me feel guilty. Sure, I know it’s hard for career women and I would never ask her to stop working. She spent years in law school to make it where she is. But we spent years together to build our marriage. Isn’t that worth anything?”

“You didn’t say that, though, did you?”

“No. Wish I would have. I wonder what she would have said.”

I laughed. “Careful—she might have thrown you out.”

“You think? Would you have thrown James out if the situation were reversed and he was asking you to give up your job that you worked hard for?”

“Yes. But that’s not what you were doing. You weren’t asking her to quit—just spend a little less time at work and a little more time at home. You missed her, that’s all.”

“Yeah. I guess. I do miss her. I miss all the fun we used to have. I miss seeing her all the time and having dinner together. I miss falling asleep with her at night. That hasn’t happened in a long time.” He stared into the fire, as if remembering days past and happier times.

“The little things.”

“Hmmm?”

“The little things—that’s what I miss. Holding hands. Snuggling up on the couch with a good movie. Cheering in the stands at one of Jimmy’s soccer games. James and I haven’t done that in years. I miss that.”
Aaron and Jimmy came running towards us, huffing and puffing all the way.

“Come on Mom! The Hayride is starting!” Jimmy grabbed my empty arm and pulled as hard as he could, trying to get me to rise quicker. I did my best not to spill what was left of my hot cocoa, deposited it in a nearby garbage bin, and allowed him to pull me along. Clark and Aaron were right behind us, chattering away.

The tractor, which would be our steed on this adventure, had a wagon filled to the brim with loose hay. Boys were already bounding into it, with steady lifts from their parents. Clark had Aaron up, grabbed Jimmy around the waist and hoisted him up too. After climbing in himself, he extended his hand to help me in. That was the first time he touched me and it will be forever engraved in my memory. His warm hand surrounded mine—swallowed it up, even. His strong arms pulling me up, into the wagon.

We found a seat along the side and waited for our boys to join us. But they were having too much fun throwing hay around at each other. When the wagon started to move, they sat down, Jimmy was on my right and Clark sat next to me. The wind was starting to pick up and we huddled together to keep warm. Someone started throwing blankets out to us, and mothers grabbed their sons to hold them close under the covers as the wagon headed for the path in the woods that would take us through our autumn journey.

Clark grabbed a nearby blanket and stretched it over the four of us. Underneath the warmth of the quilt, he found my hand. As he entwined his fingers with mine, I felt a rushing sense of urgency wash over me—like I needed this to happen. I wanted it. I should have felt guilty with Jimmy so nearby. I should have been worried about what he would think if he discovered our hands folded together under the blanket. But I didn’t. I didn’t think about that. I wasn’t feeling guilty. I didn’t look at Clark. I just returned his grasp as best I could. I felt warm all over—like sinking into a hot bath after a long walk in the snow.

As the wagon found the path through the woods, the boys got a bit rowdier, perhaps a little frightened of the unknown, lurking in the shadows of the trees surrounding us. My own unknown was more exciting. How far would I let this go? What if he tried to kiss me? Would I let him? What if he wanted things to continue? What if this was just a friendly gesture? A way of showing me that he understood and knew how I felt? Was that enough for me?
I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything. I just enjoyed the moment. It felt like a first date—new and exciting. I felt like a teenager, not daring to look at Clark as long as his fingers clasped mine.

As the wagon continued on, we went deeper and deeper into the woods. The only light came from the lantern guiding the tractor along. The only sounds were from the boys’ excited cries and the slow turning of the wheels as the wagon was pulled along.

The darkness made me even more daring, and I decided to see how far I was willing to let this go. I squeezed Clarks hand and with my other hand, I reached over to grab his arm. We were in almost total darkness. He let go of my hand to pull me closer, his arm wrapped around me and we snuggled together. I could hardly see in front of me. The moon, hidden by clouds, gave almost no light at all. The soft glow of the headlights was so far ahead that it provided no light at all to us in the back of the wagon.

My heart was beating much faster now, thudding in my chest. Clark reached up to touch my cheek and pressed his lips to mine. This was it. This was over the line. This was being unfaithful to my husband. It felt wonderful. I didn’t want it to end.

His tongue pressed against my lips, parting them. As our kiss deepened, I became less and less aware of our surroundings. I wasn’t thinking of my son, his friends, or my husband. Only our kiss existed in the darkness. It covered us, protecting us from whatever might threaten our togetherness.

I have no idea how long it lasted, our silent kiss. But as the light drew nearer, we separated, returning to the world and our children. The wagon slowed and stopped, back where it had picked us up. We threw off our blankets and headed back to the fire for smores and camp songs.

I sat with Jimmy wrapped in my arms, Clark and Aaron next to us. Every so often, we’d glance over at each other, but said nothing—just a knowing smile. At the end of the evening, we said goodnight as any other adults might. Just a fond farewell, no promises and no obligations. That was it. The night was over.

I drove home with Jimmy chattering away in the back seat about how much fun he had and how he couldn’t wait to do it again next year. I joined in as much as could, but my mind was on Clark and what had happened between us. A brief encounter between two lonely people who, for just a moment were able to forget their lives and enjoy each other’s company in a separate place, set apart from the reality we were going back to.

I’ve seen Clark and Aaron several times since that day and we’ve never mentioned the kiss or our conversation before it. We talked as parents might, as friends even, but that was it. I don’t regret it and I know it will never happen again. But for one night, I was free. I was a girl again, able to follow her heart and live for the moment with no regrets and no consequences.

No comments: