Reading Time: 6 minutes
David felt the sunrise. His window remained dark but the warmth of dawn spread inside his chest. It was a new day, a day for rebirth, a fresh start, the dawning of opportunity. He was ready to put his best foot forward, take Kathleen by one hand, their daughter by the other, and walk boldly down a clear path.
“Remember.” Pastor Mark had said, “there really is no coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. God’s reason.”
“But Pastor, I don’t know if I can do it. How do I even know what’s the right choice? I’m not even sure if what I think I want is what I really want!”
“David, you need to take time for yourself. Time for you and God. All of us get confused sometimes. Pray, meditate with God on your questions. Search your heart for the true answer. That feeling deep in your heart – it’s truth. It is put there, in your heart, by God, for you to discover. And when you discover it, you will know that it’s right. It doesn’t matter what other people believe, or what other people think, or even what other people do. If it is right for you, and for God, then it is the right path.”
The conversation with Pastor Mark had inspired him. After dinner that night, David had skipped his usual bourbon and, to the sound of Kathleen reading Little Bear to their daughter Eliza, left the house. Neither of them looked up from the couch as he grabbed his coat and slipped through the front door. David walked to the little park on the corner. He sat on a swing and smoked his last cigarette. Not just the last cigarette in his pack, but, he resolved as he flicked the butt out onto the damp grass and watched sparks scatter in a burst before disappearing into black, his last cigarette ever.
He would be a better man. He would greet his daughter with a hug when he arrived home from work. He would ask her about her day and really listen when she talked about the games she played with her friends or her stuffed puppy’s sad feelings. He would embrace his wife; bring her chocolates and flowers. Not just tomorrow, for Valentine’s Day, but when she wasn’t expecting it and just because. Just because he thought about her on his way home from work. And he would think of her on his way home from work. And he would support her and her passions. Her knitting. Her volunteering at the church. He would stop complaining about her spending more time with her church friends than with him. He would turn off ESPN, unless there was an actual game on; he didn’t need to hear another former football player re-live his glory days – David had his own glory days to start living. He would stop smoking. He already had stopped smoking! And stop drinking. He would be a good dad. He would teach Eliza how to throw a football – just because she was a girl didn’t mean she had to throw like one. And a great husband. He would hold her, just hold her, without squeezing her ass or pulling down her bra strap. She would sigh and give him her weight. She would ask about his day. And she would welcome him in bed, she wouldn’t roll over to the other side when he got in and elbow him when he reached out. Because he would be a good man and a good husband and she would love him. But first he had to earn it. And he would, he would earn it, and it would be beautiful – he could see the future so clearly. Thank God, he saw it now. Thank God for saving him. Thank God for showing him the way. Thank God and thank Pastor Mark.
It was after midnight when he made it back to the house. He crept into Eliza’s room and gave her a kiss on her forehead. Then he kissed her stuffed puppy on the nose. He slipped into bed beside his wife, tempted to reach out and rouse her with his news, his fresh resolve, his divine inspiration, but he knew the words would fall limp – he needed to show her, he needed to act. He needed to do, not talk about doing.
This morning, February 14th, Valentine’s Day, felt so pure. Cleansed. The perfect moment to surprise Kathleen with the new David, the husband she’d been so patiently waiting for. Kathleen and Eliza were already gone when he woke up. He’d slept late, almost 10:00 – that was good though, he could clean up and meet her at the church. The girls had gone early to decorate for the day. Even though they didn’t recognize the Catholic saints and the “Hallmark holiday” wasn’t really religious, their church took the day to celebrate the glory of love – love in the community, love in the family, love for God. David’s excitement swelled as he recalled his night in the park. He had always figured that touching God would be something dramatic – a bolt of lightning, a burning bush, or a hand reaching down to tap his forehead in a beam of light through the clouds – but it had been so much quieter, and so much more powerful. God felt like a whisper, barely a voice at all – just a soft and simple decision.
He stopped at the store to buy roses. At first he thought he’d get Kathleen a dozen, then he thought maybe he’d bring enough to hand out to all of the women at the church, but that didn’t seem right. He was sending a message to Kathleen, not the church; it was a private and personal communication. The grocery store swarmed with men. Boxes of chocolate fled the shelves and the three checkers at the flower stand barely looked up as they responded to requests from the crowd jostling in front of them. In the end, David felt lucky, perhaps blessed by God again, to escape the chaos with two flowers – one for Kathleen and one for Eliza. A beautiful, perfect, full, red rose for his wife, and a small bud, just beginning to loosen its petals, for his daughter.
The church vestibule stood empty but David could hear a boisterous crowd inside the chapel. A laugh, some shouts, a voice raised in stern warning. He’d arrived fifteen minutes ahead of the service start time and had expected most of the preparations to be complete – greeters opening the front doors, ushers waiting to escort folks to their seats in the chapel, and the inevitable bake sale spread on the folding table near the bathrooms. Kathleen often complained about the lack of organization amongst the other volunteers – and how they seemed to ignore her advice, even when Pastor Mark would offer the same direction. David usually paid no attention to that kind of thing – church politics, event planning, and especially the petty rivalries among the wives – but if it had escalated to the point of actually impacting church services, he ought to take note. He smiled to himself – this was just another example of his wife being right – he needed to listen and understand instead of arguing or being dismissive.
The silence descended so quickly that David thought for a moment that something had happened to his ears. Everyone turned toward him, almost as though scripted – their faces went flat, no smiles, no waves. No one seemed to be setting things up, it looked more like a meeting. Everyone – the Pearsons, the Lasakers, the Mendozas, the quiet guy that always sat in the back, the two old ladies that he and Kathleen called “the bake sale twins”, and many others that David recognized only from Sunday services. It was Lucy Pearson that finally came forward. She was red eyed, obviously from crying. Her lower lip twitched
“D-David,” she said, her voice trembling, “I’m s-so sorry…”
His expression must have betrayed his confusion. She reached out, no, she held out a folded sheet of paper.
David took it and spread the fold. It was handwritten, not addressed to anyone in particular. After reading a few words, David recognized the handwriting as Kathleen’s. The “to whom it may concern” tone was business-like, professional, matter-of-fact.
Kathleen and Pastor Mark were gone. They had found their path. Led by the love in their hearts – the love put there by God. They had left together. It may not look like it now, but it was God’s will and their path was the righteous path. Eliza was with her grandmother. They would reach out in time – to arrange the divorce and child custody – but for now they were gone and no one should waste their time trying to find them.
David dropped the note and closed his eyes.
The church doors slammed behind him with a rattling clank, rousing him mid-stride and already half way across the parking lot. He rushed on, passed his truck, crossed the thin strip of grass, and stepped into the road before stopping. His fists were clenched at his sides, David looked down. The two flowers extended almost comically from inside the white knuckles of his balled right hand. He watched the roses drop to the concrete as blood surged back into his fingers, his skin tingling under his nails.
He looked up at the world around him. His chest filled with air and a sunbeam shined between the tree tops into his face, warm on his forehead. David held his eyes wide against the urge to blink. It was a new day.