Perish the Thought

Daily Prompt: The Road Less Traveled

~*~

I shudder to think about that alternate road while Manda, my 12-year-old inquisitor, continues to draw in her journal awaiting an answer.

Indeed, where would my life have taken me had I stayed with her uncle Ted?

We were ships that passed in the night, by the end, caught in each others’ wake of misery in a sea of lies. He’d never really loved me, and told me as much when he returned home after completing his Masters degree. For five long years I worked to glue the relationship back together again. I was committed ~ or perhaps I should have been committed ~ because I was beating my head against the proverbial brick wall of his narcissism. He no longer had eyes for me. I served no useful purpose to him anymore. But how do I tell a 12-year-old about failed love without making her jaded?

“Well, sweetie, that’s a really good question,” I delay while sipping on soothing chamomile tea and looking across the table to peek at her drawing of a horse under a willow. Such a good little artist, my Manda. “And I’m not sure how to answer it, to be honest.”

Manda stops drawing and puts down her green pencil. Evidently the grass will have to wait. She reaches for a small bunch of grapes from the ceramic fruit bowl in the middle of the kitchen table and plucks one from its stem. Pops it in her mouth. She’s thinking. Oh, dear.

“Why?” she asks with the nonchalance of youth.

“Why?” I repeat with the desperation of age.

I never understood his side of the story, because he wouldn’t talk about it. Why does anybody fall out of love with someone they promised to spend eternity with, and why would anyone want to stay with a person who’d fallen out of love with them? We’d had nothing to keep us together either. No children because blessedly, as I was to find out later, I was unable to get pregnant. The longer I stayed with him the more I became lost in his narcissistic need for everything to be about him. It was always about what I could do to keep him happy; never about what I even needed to be happy. So much so, in fact, that by the time we parted I had no idea what made me happy anymore.

“Sweetie, as you get older you’ll realize that relationships are only as functional as the people who are in them. If I’d stayed with your uncle Ted you and I would not be sitting here having this conversation, for one thing. We’d still be a one-car family which I’d never have access to, and the only time we would see each other is if your mom or dad came to get me. Before your uncle Ted and I parted ways we lived in a tiny town isolated from friends and family. I was stuck at home and,” she may as well know this, “cried a lot.”

“You cried?” Manda’s eyes light up in surprise. I don’t know that she’s ever considered my feelings beyond what she knows of me now  ~ the happy, smiling auntie who loves life. I did not love life so much back then.

“Well, Manda, when you’re unhappy that’s what you do, right?” I confirm. “Remember when those so-called friends of yours excluded you from their group and you ran away crying your eyes out?” She nods and absently pops another grape into her mouth. “Well, my experience with your uncle Ted is just a more complicated version of that. I was desperately unhappy. He’d cut me off; excluded me from his life. Everything I’d ever considered to be true about our relationship turned out to be completely false. I’d been living a lie with a man who’d lied about ever loving me.” I stop to register the effect of my words on this young mind. She seems okay, so I continue, “If I’d stayed with him … well, to be honest, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.”

I take another sip of tea and for a moment we become lost in our own thoughts. Oh, the journey I’ve taken since leaving that sad man. I recall the tipping point. We’d been out shopping in early January, spending Christmas gift certificates, I think. Went to lunch. I’d asked him what his plans were for the year, digging, I guess, and nothing in his answer included me. It was telling, but I didn’t say anything at the time. And then on the long drive home his seeming indifference began to eat away at me. I started asking those suppressed questions. His answers got defensive.

“So what do you want from this relationship?” I finally asked as we pulled into the driveway.

“A furnished house.”

His answer floored me. I was so flabbergasted by this strange response I had to ask him again. Certainly our new home had a few empty rooms in it, and my work as a writer, artist and riding teacher was not so lucrative, yet. But, could it be that all he wanted was for me to be a conduit of financial resources for his precious lifestyle at the expense of my own dreams?

“I want a furnished house,” he repeated without apology.

Nothing about love, or family, or shared dreams … just a house with furniture and his travel plans mentioned previously over lunch. I did not fit into his scheme at all.

“Auntie Sal,” Manda’s loving voice brings me back. I shudder away the memory and take another sip of tea.

“Yes, my lovely Manda?” I respond, glad of the present moment.

“Really, it doesn’t matter to me what your life would have been like if you’d stayed with uncle Ted. I love that you are happy now, and don’t want you to be unhappy thinking about all that other stuff.”

I reach for a grape from the bowl and throw it at her playfully. Her reflexes are good. She catches it as it hits her chest and puts it in her mouth.

“Well, all I can say is thank goodness for that. Now, let’s have a cookie.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Never

Daily Prompt: Never Again

Have you ever gone to a new place or tried a new experience and thought to yourself, “I’m never doing that again!” Tell us about it.

~*~

“So, what was it like, Aunt Sal?” Manda begs to know what it was like to dine in the dark.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“Just that. I never did eat in the dark.”

“But you went, didn’t you?” She sits up abruptly, knocking popcorn from her large bowl onto the floor beside her. Now she’s getting frosty.

“Yes.”

“So?”

I sigh and lean back in my nice, comfy, floral arm chair. The fire’s roaring in the hearth, barely beating the chill of this brutally cold February day. Manda’s sprawled again on the sofa opposite, munching on her popcorn and waiting for me to begin. So, I guess I better get on with it.

“Well, let me begin from the beginning.”

“Sounds good,” she munches and slides her bare feet under the sleeping collie curled up at the other end of the couch.

“We had planned a trip to Paris several months in advance and I’d heard about this interesting dining experience where you eat in the dark.”

“Yeah …” She already knows this. Twelve-year-olds know everything.

“I checked with your uncle Bill and he agreed that it would be a novel way to spend an evening, so I made a reservation … for three as his daughter was going to join us.”

“You mean Mary?”

“Yes, Mary.

“Okay … then what?”

“You know, if you’d stop interrupting I could get on with my story.”

“Sorry,” Manda crunches contrition.

“Well, the much anticipated evening arrived. It was pouring rain as only it can in Paris, so we were pretty soaked when we arrived at the restaurant.” I take a sip of Malbec, a favoured wine I picked up on during a drip to Argentina, and then continue. “When we entered it looked like any other fine dining restaurant you might frequent. It was warm; inviting; had a bar, and ambient music … you know, that sort of thing. However, when we were greeted by the Maitre D, well, that’s when things began to look a little different.”

Manda finishes a mouthful of popcorn and sips from her glass of homemade lemonade. She’s all ears, and I’m grateful for a break from the crackling of corn. Then she grabs another handful.

“Do you think you could stop eating that stuff long enough for me to tell the story … please? It’s most distracting.”

Manda puts the bowl to the side and hunkers into the couch. She’s a smart, obliging kid, this one, not prone to arguing even if she can be a bit petulant at times. “So, what changed?” she asks.

“The Maitre D showed us to a wall of small lockers and assigned us one. Then he asked us to leave our bags, and anything we had that might emit any kind of light, inside it … you know, watches, cellphones, that sort of thing. Of course, it made complete sense that we would do that. It’s not in the dark if there are watches and cellphones lighting up all over the room.”

Manda giggles, as do I.

“So we did that, and then they gave us each a flute of champagne, reviewed the format of the dining experience and showed us the menu offerings. We weren’t going to be able to see our food, but we did have a say in the kind of food we would eat. For instance, as you know I’m not a fish eater, so they needed to know that. The point of dining in the dark is to get an amplified sense of taste for the food. If I don’t like fish by the light of day, then eating it in the dark would be … well, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.” I sip my wine.

By the quizzical look on Manda’s face I can see she’s chewing on this new bit of information.

“You mean you had no idea what you were going to eat?” she asks, amazed.

“Nope.”

“I don’t know if I could do that.”

“Well, maybe we ought to do an experiment of our own at home, some time.”

“Maybe …” Manda responds with caution.

“Anyway,” I return to focus, “next thing I know a blind waitress …”

“You mean vision-impaired,” admonishes my politically-correct niece.

“Okay, vision-impaired waitress has us forming a congo line, one hand on the shoulder in front of us, the other holding the flute of champagne, and is guiding us through three sets of heavy curtains into a pitch black room. I mean, there’s not a stitch of light anywhere even though my eyes are searching for it. In fact, it’s so dark in there I can’t see my hand in front of my face.”

Manda gasps. “You mean you couldn’t see at all?”

“That’s right.”

I let her sit with this notion for a moment while I grabbed another sip of Malbec and reached for a handful of popcorn.

“So, how were you going to see your food?”

“Huh?”

“How were you going to see your food?” The look of abject horror on Manda’s face is priceless.

“Well, that’s the whole point, we weren’t supposed to see our food.” It’s then I realize that, like me at the time, she hadn’t thought the experience all the way through.

“Oh no, so what did you do?”

“Claustrophobia kicked in. I had a panic attack and was gently escorted out of the room to the bar downstairs. I ate there … alone … and wrote about my experience on a napkin. My notebook was in my purse which was in the locker, and Bill had the key. I felt like a colossal fool, to be honest, forgetting about my fear of enclosed spaces. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I’d managed to let it go. Maybe.” I sigh and stare at the fire. There are lots of things I don’t do because of claustrophobia.

Manda moves to the other end of the couch and wraps her arms around Maggie’s voluminous, silky haired body. Comfort in an uncomfortable moment. I know her to be claustrophobic, too. She moves the moment along. “Did Uncle Bill and Mary eat in the dark?”

“Yes, and I understand it was quite the clumsy adventure. And noisy because, remember, all the other senses are heightened. So it’s not just about the food, the whole ambiance is altered as well. But they seemed to enjoy the challenge.”

“Would you ever give it another go, Aunt Sal?” Manda wonders aloud while giving the dog another squeeze.”

I drain the last of the Malbec from my glass.

“Never.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016