Game Changer – by Tonya Price

When the words came, Trina felt like she’d been punched in the gut.

“They suspect melanoma on back.” He told her, in a text message of all things, on his way home from the doctor.  Trina blinked and looked at the message again to be sure she had read it correctly.

“Did biopsy. Will know in 3 weeks. Just surgery if shallow. Chemo and radiation if deep. Great. Don’t tell anybody.” Came the next text.

“Shit. I knew that f’er looked bad. Just the one spot?” Trina texted back, the phone shaking in her hands.  No response.

She unpacked the groceries from his car, which she had borrowed from him that day, and tried to laugh while their 7-year-old daughter, Amelia, told jokes she had made up on the playground with her friends. Then she took the winter tires, wrapped in plastic storage bags and stacked them at the end of the garage, so they would be ready to load into her car when he got back. She looked tentatively down the road, waiting, somewhat impatiently, for his return. What does this mean? Melanoma – that’s the worst kind. So many things ran through her head. Did he cancel the life insurance policy like he said he was going to? What would she do for a living if he were no longer around to support her? She felt selfish thinking these thoughts. We are going to fight it, of course. He is not going to die. But she couldn’t help thinking of the time earlier this year, at the summer’s end, when Amelia had said maybe someone in our family won’t be alive next year.

“That’s crazy,” Trina had responded. And, because she was superstitious, “Like who?”

“Dad.” Amelia had said matter of fact.

Trina didn’t like it when Amelia said things out of the blue, and so calmly like that. It unnerved her.

A mouse dangled from the beak of a crow across the street, as other, lesser crows waited nearby for their share of the feast. She looked down the street in anticipation, and reminded herself that her daughter also dreamt that strangers broke into the house and shot everyone, and that had not come true.  At least not yet.

It probably was going to be fine. She reassured herself and waited with growing impatience at the end of the driveway. Her tire appointment was at noon and it was already 11:55. What was taking him so long? Of course, I can’t just jump in the car and leave. I must take time to talk about it. She shivered. Talk. Something they hadn’t really done in years. Nothing more, really, than the weather, and when to pick up Amelia, and what the plan would be for visiting family over the holidays. She could not imagine how it must feel to receive such a diagnosis, hard as she tried.  For God’s sakes, have some compassion, she thought to herself. Yes, I must hug him at least. She looked at the time on her phone, and again, down the street.

She thought about the long summer days she spent at the beach with the man she had met two years ago; his strong, bronzed arm strung casually around her shoulders, and the thrill she experienced when she sent sexy text messages or received one unexpectedly. Her stomach then had felt like a most delicious mix of butterflies and uncertainty. Of course, that would all have to end now.  This was a game changer. She couldn’t carry on behind his back anymore.

Then she thought back to the time when her daughter was three.  They were gardening, and again, out of the blue, Amelia began to describe to Trina the way her “new husband” would look.

“He has dark hair. That goes like this.” She had said as she waved her hand over her head and off to the side.

At the time, Trina thought it was the most unusual thing to ever come out of a child’s mouth. What does a three year old know of death or divorce? She herself could barely have imagined, back then, why on earth she would ever be with someone other than her husband. He had just gotten back from a year in Iraq, his second tour, and though things were not amazing, she’d always thought they’d get better on their own, in time. But, again, superstition had got the better of her.

“I’m going to be married to someone else?” Trina had stopped digging and glanced toward her daughter who was squatting over the garden in her sundress, the August sun bronzing her shoulders.

“Not Dad, but after Dad. When you’re older.” Amelia had kept digging with her plastic shovel.

“Well, what happens to Dad?” Trina had asked, once again digging in the dirt, contemplating this information, trying to act like it was not a big deal.

“I don’t know. He’s not there.” She had said,  as Trina handed her a bulb for the hole she had dug. Divorce. Trina had thought, as she dropped a bulb in her own hole and covered it with dirt. She had not considered the alternative back then.

Trina glanced furtively down the road and then snuck a peek of the picture she kept hidden on her phone. Would she be able to end it? She couldn’t think right now of continuing it. Everything had become so real.

Then the black SUV appeared in the distance. Her eyes shifted to the ground when he pulled up the drive. She shoved the phone in her pocket and then finally looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time in years.  She chose to ignore the take out bag he held in his hand, which he must have stopped for in spite of the fact that she had just bought groceries and had an appointment at noon, which she was now late for.

“How do you feel?” she heard herself saying as she fidgeted with the objects in her pocket, trying to guess what they were. A tissue. Mail key. Her phone, of course, it never left her side.

“I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it.” He became busy piling the tires into the back of her SUV.

“Do you want a hug?” She didn’t feel like giving one, not to him, but God, he must need one. How inhumane of her to deny him that one basic need at a time like this. Even though he had denied her basic needs for most of their marriage.

“No.” He heaved another tire into the trunk. “Well, maybe, yeah.” He turned to her and they embraced for the first time in years. The hug felt unnaturally good. She patted his back.

“Thanks for telling me to go get it checked out,” he said.

“Yup,” she responded. She didn’t know what else to say, so she nodded, got in the car, and drove off to the mechanics.

That’s when it struck her. She slumped down in the seat and gripped the steering wheel, struggling to see the road through her tears. He might be dying and you’re making the last moments of his life misery. You’re not even trying to make this work. What kind of horrible person does that? She took a deep breath and the voice in her head reasoned. But I did try. I tried for years, when he was not trying.  The tears came freely now and were salty in her mouth. She wiped them away with the back of her hand. Suddenly the sexting didn’t seem so much fun and she wondered how she had ever could have done it in the first place. It filled your need. Came the voice. That’s how. She nodded to no one in particular, out the windshield. She took another deep breath and knew she couldn’t leave him. Not now. Not yet. This was a game changer. She would not just ‘try to stay’ as she had been doing for years. She would stay and try. After two years of guilt and stress and hidden phone messages, she had finally decided. Because of cancer.  of all the things, she thought. She drummed the steering wheel with her fingers. Then, surprisingly, even to her, a quiet laughter filled the car. She couldn’t help but think of the irony of it. Something known only for taking, and which still might, had given.

By the time Trina pulled into the parking lot, her tears were nothing more than dried up crystal-white riverbeds on her cheeks and the calm in her stomach told her that, no matter what, it was all going to be okay.

 

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