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The Day

When I opened my eyes this morning and pushed through the haze of sleep, the one thought that didn’t enter my mind was that today would be the day.

And though the blare of our little alarm clock signaled it was time to get ready, just as it had hundreds of times before, there was nothing unusual about the sounds it made. It screeched the same series of beeps and honks it had since we’d picked it up at a Goodwill two summers ago. You would think that on a day like today, there would be a shifting of sorts in the fabric of life – but there wasn’t. It was like every other mundane morning.

I jumped in the shower, got dressed, went downstairs, poured a bowl of Sugar Squares (you know, the knock off version of Frosted Flakes – they’re good, not great), and sat down to read the paper. Crunch, Crunch, Crunch. The sound of cereal being ground into yellowish, milky mush echoed between my ears but there was no voice of God in it – no epiphany – no warning. This morning could have been replaced with any other morning and no one would have noticed. Least of all me.

Lauren came down the stairs to join me right as the coffee maker quit bubbling and popping. Before pouring her own bowl of cereal, she pulled a mug from the cabinet, poured some coffee and set it in front of me. I nodded in thanks and kept eating. Though feet away, we were miles apart. She fiddled with her phone. I read the paper – or, more accurately, I skimmed the words of the paper searching for a reason to keep reading. The only reason that seemed to stick was the fact that reading the paper is what people like me do. So I kept on.

Had I known that today would be the day, I would have put it down. I would have thrown Lauren’s phone into the trash, or better yet, into the garbage disposal, and I would have taken her hands in mine and asked her about her life and her passions and her hopes. The last I remember, she wanted to be a nurse but that was when she was five – eleven years ago. Had I known that today would be the day, I would have asked her favorite song or book. I would have asked her if she was still dating that weird guy with the hair that needed trimming. I would have looked into her eyes, not glanced but really searched for her soul. I would have been present.

But I didn’t know that today would be the day.

And since I didn’t know, we ate. In silence. Wrapped up in noises and thoughts and things that didn’t matter like a caterpillar cocooned in a plastic chrysalis.

The first words I heard you speak this morning echoed down the stairs and into the kitchen. “Because I said so!” you hollered at Michael, trying to get him out of bed and into clothes so he could make it to school on time. But this morning seemed like any other morning so my mind tuned in to a different station and I went back to reading about things that affected me in the same way that an asteroid collision on Jupiter affects the wasps that recently took up residence in our backyard shed.

The first time I saw your face this morning, I didn’t smile. I didn’t have butterflies. I didn’t think, God, I love her. I actually dreaded seeing you as I listened to the sound of your feet drawing you near. I knew last night’s argument would seep into this morning like toxic waste leaking from a faulty storage drum. The past few months it felt like our entire relationship could be labeled ‘hazardous material.’

“Morning,” you said to no one in particular as you grabbed your travel mug from the cupboard and poured your own coffee – adding milk and sugar like you have ever since we met. I nodded a silent greeting.

“Mom, you think I could go out tonight? Some of the girls are going to see a movie,” Lauren tried to ignore the tension between us but she knew. She isn’t stupid. I’ve always said she takes after you.

I didn’t listen to anything else that was said. Instead, your conversation with our daughter became a series of Wah Wah Waahs like the adults on the old ‘Peanuts’ cartoon. I wanted to get away. So I did. I got up, mumbled a goodbye to both of you and left.

But I didn’t know that today would be the day.

Had I known, I would’ve told you I was sorry. Even though I still don’t feel like I really did anything wrong. It wouldn’t have mattered. I would have said the words. And then I would have apologized for every other stupid thing I’d ever said or done – intentional or unintentional. It wouldn’t have mattered who started it or why – who was right or wrong. I would have confessed things that didn’t need confessing and asked for forgiveness for things I didn’t need forgiveness for.

I would have taken you in my arms and held you so closely that I could feel our hearts singing in harmony again – the way it felt our first night together. I would have kissed you like I haven’t kissed you since that vacation to Myrtle Beach in ‘03, not out of obligation or rote ritual but out of a desire to be with you – to be one with you. But I didn’t know.

In all of this, nothing was unfamiliar. Nothing seemed out of place. It was all so plain. That is, until I turned the key and put our truck in reverse. And for an instant, I wondered if I should have waited for Michael to come downstairs. I had the time. I just wanted out of the tension. So I left. I’ll see him this evening after work, I thought.

But I didn’t know that today would be the day.

I’ve driven to work hundreds of times in the rain. There was nothing unusual about that. In fact, I’ve driven in weather far worse than this morning’s. I’ve made this drive nearly every weekday for the past 20 years. North on Vienna Street. East on Interstate 20. Get off at Exit 114. It’s that simple. But it wasn’t. Because today was the day.

I’d just passed a blue eighteen-wheeler, I can’t remember what it said on its side or what it was hauling. Instead, I glanced over at my phone, sitting in the same chair you’d sat in for years, and I thought of calling you. I thought of apologizing for last night. I even picked the phone up and pushed the green ‘call’ button. My thumb hovered over your name for a moment. But then I tossed it back on the seat. She’s still upset, I thought, maybe we can talk tonight.

And then, as I put my hand back on the wheel, I breathed deeply. The kind of breath you breathe right before bed as your settling down and trying to relax from all of the stresses of work and marriage and kids. And I thought this thought, We’ll get through this, just like we always have. Tomorrow will be better.

The thought came and settled in my mind as if it was trying to take root. But before it could, our hydroplaning truck jarred it loose and sent it flying. They say your life flashes before your eyes right before death. That may be true for some people but not for me. For me, it was just this morning. It was just since I’d heard the sound of a blaring alarm clock and tasted soggy cereal and felt the discord between us that had been building for the past 5 years.

It’s going to be ok. Stay calm, I told myself. But right as the spinning was starting to slow, I was greeted out my window by the fly-caked chrome grill of a blue eighteen wheeler. And I was left with darkness. And regrets.

Because today was the day.

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