Questions about Mom and Dad’s Marriage | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Questions about Mom and Dad's Marriage

Love leaves an indelible mark on life. And for some more than others. For Chicago writer Chris Rice, it was a life-changing event.

In the winter of ninth grade I fell in love with a boy who worshiped the band Nazareth. His blond hair would fall into his eyes as he wrote the band's lyrics on his notebook.

It was the kind of crush that left me nearly speechless in front of him, convinced me to let him copy my French homework, and watch, hopelessly, as he walked his cheerleader girlfriend to class.

In hopes of striking up a conversation, I started listening closely to Nazareth. Those boys had tough times with love. According to them it hurt, it scarred, it wounded, it marked. Even though I knew Jack was way out of my league, that my adoration would go unrequited, love couldn¹t be as bad as those lyrics made it sound. Could it?

And then, something happened that made me realize just how life-changing love could be.

When I would awake from my day-dreams, I noticed that my dad had become distracted. On those mornings when he drove me to school, his black wing-tips polished, his hair Brylcreemed and smelling of Old Spice, we had normally chatted about little things in my life. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped asking me questions. He stopped talking completely. We suddenly drove to school in silence with only Johnny Cash on the eight-track.

Strange thing was: he seemed happy. Really happy. He whistled. He tapped the steering wheel. He began leaving for work conferences on weekends.

Yeah, you know what¹s coming.

But I didn't. And neither did my Mom.

After twenty-five years of marriage, she trusted my Dad so completely that the thought of him falling in love with someone else must have seemed as foreign to her as those lyrics did to me. And, so, when the truth came out, when my Dad admitted to his affair, left and my Mom went on alone, I finally understood what all the fuss was about.

That first year after he left, I would come home to find my Mom still in her pajamas, sitting on the couch, watching the sun set, with a wad of tissue in her hand. How could he do this?, she'd ask to no one in particular. She never expected an answer.

She believed in him and in love that grows and changes over time. Maybe it's that belief, the expectation of someone to count on, that is most crushing. And, when you believe in something so deeply, you never, really, let it go.

After almost three decades, I got up the nerve to ask her something I had been wondering about. We sat at her kitchen table as my daughters cut out construction paper Valentine hearts with pinking shears. She read the newspaper out loud to me: her favorite pastime. That day she read Dear Abbey's response to a woman who wanted to know what she should do about her philandering husband.

When she had finished reading, I asked if what happened with my Dad still hurt. She looked away, her grey eyes quizzical, and repeated, “Still?” I suddenly felt ashamed. Not for the question but for that one word: still.

It suggested that her feelings would fade, somehow, or heal, like a scar.

Her tone told me otherwise. Then she smiled, her eyes flashed and she patted my hand, “I don't want him at my funeral. Does that answer your question?”

It did.

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