Last night, a ferocious thunderstorm rained down on my small New England town. Within minutes of the first surge of lightning, every home and business had lost electricity. The streetlights were out as well, and the darkness that draped over us was the deepest form of darkness I had ever seen. None of the surrounding towns had lights, and no headlights from cars passed by on the streets. I stumbled around my apartment searching in the blackness for the flashlight. I opened the big kitchen drawer filled with odds and ends and felt around, counting on the intermittent flashes of lightning to briefly illuminate my world. It wasn't there. Then, I realized, my ex husband must have taken it with him when he moved out. He had taken most of the tools, too, but had left me the hammer, a screwdriver, and a small wrench. He did not leave me the flashlight.
I know this may not seem like such a big deal, and in the end I did find a candle, which worked just as well. But for some reason the fact that he had taken that flashlight made me furious. It made me remember all of the little things he had done while we were married that made me feel like I was not a consideration. There was the time we traveled to a foreign city where we stayed in a dirty, scary place in order to save money. This was done for the advancement of his career, but my comfort and safety apparently weren't part of the picture. Then there was the time he forgot my birthday, and that other time he forgot my birthday. One year when he did remember it, he told me he was planning a surprise. For weeks, he built up a tantalizing story that made me look forward to my special day more than I ever had before. When the day arrived, I woke up in anticipation of what wonderful event he had planned just for me. I felt special, and loved. But then things went awry, to say the least.
Old Resentments Illuminated
We arrived on Manhattan's upper east side that day in April, and I had hopes of a walk in the park, a picnic with flowers, or maybe dinner in a restaurant I had always wanted to try. Instead, we walked to the museum of natural history. Now, I am not opposed to the museum. I had been there before, and I found it fascinating. But because I was already married to an artist, and had my fill of museums, it made the excursion seem suspiciously more about him than me. And moreover, it hurt my feelings. I felt utterly let down, disappointed, and forgotten. We ended up fighting for hours in the park across the street, and finally went home, both of us dismayed. I still deeply regret that fight, and that entire day. Looking back, it reminds me that it is so difficult to really know someone. Often, marriage can feel just like grasping in the darkness for something to hold onto. People change, and discover, and get rediscovered by their partners in the relationships that last. I guess in my own marriage, there just hadn't been enough light shed on the subject of who we were.
Searching in the Darkness and Discovering a Way Out
I know my ex thought from his point of view that I would appreciate the museum exhibit that day. It was about horses, and I love horses. Maybe he had tried his best, and failed. Maybe I should have gone along with it, kept my disappointment to myself, and should have feigned interest at the taxidermied animals on display, and the points of history on the plaques on the wall. Maybe I would have liked it, after all. I'll never know, because all these years later, we never figured each other out. I'll always appreciate that he never left the toilet seat up, and genuinely appreciated my cooking. I'll always know without a doubt that he respected me, and even loved me. But I will never understand why he never brought me flowers, or confused my love for breathing, running, living creatures with stuffed ones in a museum.
Recalling that fateful birthday, I now see it was another step toward the decline of my marriage. In dark moments, I chastise myself for it, and I say mean things to myself about how our divorce has all been my fault. If only I could be in my twenties again and enjoy a day with him as a new bride, I would be overjoyed. We could go anywhere, and it would be the perfect place. I think these thoughts in earnest, but then, on a stormy night, I open the kitchen drawer in the darkness and discover that he did not leave me the flashlight.
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