Imperfect Love
by Pete Haynes

 

She sat at the kitchen counter, sipping her coffee, and thought long and hard about her marriage. Barry was a good husband. He provided for them very well. He didn't run around with other women, nor was he one to go out with his buddies. He didn't drink or smoke. Barry was a good husband...

If he was so good, though, why did she feel so listless about their marriage? Certainly things were not as they once were. There was a time when they just couldn't wait to be together. O course, young romantic flames don't burn intensely forever. Gradually the roaring fire gives way to warm embers upon which a good marriage stew can brew.

Now, it seemed like the warmth just wasn't there. The stew was growing cold. They didn't talk much anymore - with each other, that is. Family life centered on the kids. The times were few when just the two of them sat and talked. There were the kids, or work, or television. There are always a thousand things that can keep you apart if you want it that way.

Sometimes she thought that's what he wanted. At least it was one way of avoiding arguments. However, when things get cold, it's no longer any fun ending an argument. She took a sip from her cup and thought, "Barry doesn't really know who I am. We haven't talked much, so he doesn't know how I feel about things. So many changes took place when I went back to work. I'm not the same person."

"Enough of this," she said aloud to no one in particular. "The grocery store awaits. Can't waste a good Saturday.".....

* * * * *

He stood in the drugstore looking through the selection of cards. He'd almost forgotten their anniversary. If only there was a card that said what he wanted to say. He never could find one, though. They were always so "gushy" and flowery. Not that such cards weren't nice. That's just not where their marriage was now.

"Where is our marriage, anyway?," he thought. The card he was looking for was one that would be realistic about today, yet still hopeful about tomorrow.

                            Like

"Our love-life is the pits,
but within every pit
is the seed of something new."

                            Or

"I wonder if you feel like me,
that this is not how it should be.
Let's take the reigns,
and chart a course.
If not, then, dear,
let's shoot the horse.

Oh well, a poet he wasn't. Since he couldn't find one that said this he chose a "gushy" card with flowers all over it. "Maybe Rhonda will like this," he said aloud to no one in particular. "But I doubt it."

* * * * *

The next day in church the minister preached a sermon on love and marriage, complete with roses and the congregational hymn, "O Perfect Love," which caused Rhonda to cry. They had sung that hymn at their wedding. As they sang, Barry noticed a crack in the ceiling plaster he never saw before. Rhonda turned to him with tears in her eyes. "He must be really inspired," she thought, "he's looking toward heaven."

During dinner, conversation gradually made it past the "don't gulp down your food, Billy" stage, to the "what did you get out of church today?" stage. It was like "show and tell," with some showing and telling more than others.

At one point, Rhonda said, "The last hymn we sang in church today was a very important one for your father and me, isn't that right, Barry?"

"Uh...yeah...what was that one again?"

"You don't remember it?"

"Wh...which one was it?"

"The last one ... 'O Perfect Love'"

"'O Perfect Love'... can you hum a few bars"

"Barry, don't you remember that one?"

"No, sorry."

"I don't believe this!"

"What did I do?"

"You never remember the really important things..."

After Rhonda said those words, one could almost predict the route the conversation would take. Both Rhonda and Barry knew that certain words could touch off certain responses. As the conversation changed into an argument, they each used these words to full advantage...

"Imperfect love, our arguments entangling
Boldly we stand to gain the upper hand
That ours may be a quarrel without ending
Which is joined by just a wedding band..."

* * * * *

One by one the children excused themselves to get out of the line of fire. All except the youngest. "I hate it when you argue," the littlest one finally said. "I feel terrible when you do. I don't think you love each other. I don't think you love me either." Then she ran off to her room...

Rhonda and Barry just looked at each other, stunned. That outburst was not in the script of their usual argument. It took them by surprise, and like most surprises it opened up their quarrel to allow something new to happen.

"I do love you, Barry, but I don't think you know what that means. I'm not sure I do anymore. I'm changing. I don't feel you know me anymore. You think you know me very well, but I don't think you do."

"Rhonda, I know I don't know you. Sometimes it feels like there's a stranger in bed with me. Sometimes it feels like I'm a stranger, too. I don't think you really know me, either. I'm not the curly-haired boy you married long ago. You know, the one who resembles our son..."

By the power of a young child's cry the script of an argument was transformed into an honest and open talk. They listened and really heard one another, for the first time in a long time.

The kids did their share by keeping out of Mom and Dad's hair the rest of the day. They knew something good was happening. That evening the warm embers of their relationship gave off heat. And the children felt it, and were glad.

1996Peter L. Haynes

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