Finley Frances Merriweather, decorating her tree alone for the first time in, well, ever, flopped herself onto the antique couch she’d reupholstered in green and gold brocade and wailed.
Snowball, her West Highland Terrier, cocked his head and whined. He jumped onto her stomach, thirty overweight pounds knocking the air out of her so that she stopped crying. He licked the tears from her face. She drew in a shuddering breath and scratched underneath his baby blue collar the way he liked.
At least she’d gotten the dog in the divorce.
She’d met Alix in college, both early childhood education majors, and they’d been together ever since. Well, except for that time Alix thought she might want to try dating other people and broke Finley’s heart but then came back a couple of weeks later full of apologies and promises. A year after graduation, they’d married in Maui with parents and siblings in attendance, everyone wearing plumeria leis and happy, happy, happy. They’d had cake and champagne and a fancy hotel restaurant dinner. They’d spent the next week snorkeling and feeding each other bites of sweet pineapple and looking deep into each others’ eyes.
She and Alix picked out a beautiful pink Christmas ornament from the hotel gift shop, and it was the last ornament they placed on the tree every year, toasting each other with bubbly or eggnog or whipped cream-topped hot cocoa.
They adopted Kalie and Kameron. Alix, who never did teach but instead went into banking, moved up into management. Finely stayed home with the kids. They bought a pretty house in an upscale suburban neighborhood with good schools and progressive politics. The Kal and Kam graduated and went off to good colleges. Kalie ended up teaching 2nd grade. Kameron was a photographer and doing well.
When Alix took her out to dinner right after the holidays last year, Finley had no idea the shitstorm that was about to knock her entire world sideways. “I want out,” Alix told her over coffee following veal and mashed potatoes and a delicious slice of marble cheesecake. “I’ve wanted out for a long time, but I stayed for the kids.”
Finley looked at Alix, wondering who this person was staring at her with such cool detachment. “Is there someone else.”
“No one serious. It’s not about that. It’s about us. You and me.”
“I don’t understand,” Finley said. Her hand trembled so she had to put the coffee cup onto the saucer. She knocked the spoon from the table and diners around them glanced to the floor and away. “What have I done?”
“Nothing. That’s the point. You haven’t DONE anything. You taught school for a couple of years and then you just did nothing.”
“I raised our children.”
“And you did a good job, but honey, I want to be with someone who wants more from their life than this.” Alix put her hand over Finley’s. “Think of this as an opportunity to explore, to reach for something, to go back to school, or take another teaching job, maybe overseas. You always said you wanted to live in Spain…”
Finley pulled her hand away. “Don’t patronize me.” She looked wildly around the restaurant. “I need to get out of here.”
The divorce went through in June. They sold the house. Alix moved to the city. Finley found a cozy apartment and a teaching job in a small town in New Hampshire. She cursed Alix every day. She filled journal after journal with recriminations and desire for revenge. She sprinkled salt in her own wounds.
Now she dragged herself from the couch, fifty-one years old, and found the pink glass ornament snuggled into its nest of cotton, still intact after all these years, unlike Finley’s marriage and her heart. She pulled it from the wrapping and held it in her hand. It twirled and twirled. She considered putting it on the tree. Instead she wrapped it back up, tucked it into the special wooden box in which she kept it safe, and tossed it into the trash.
She made a cup of cocoa, squirted whipped cream on top, sprinkled a dusting of chocolate curls on top. She lit a fire in the pellet stove and grabbed a book by Edith Wharton. She read for several hours as the light faded from the sky outside and the twinkle lights on the tree cast a cheery glow in the corner of the room. She took Snowball for a walk, and a few flakes of snow began to fall from the sky. She liked the glow of lights in the old-fashioned homes lining the street. She liked the big red bows tied on the street lights in front of Main Street shops.
People liked her here. She’d joined the book club at the library. Antique dealers greeted her by name. Snowball frolicked–or waddled–with the other dogs at the little dog park.
She looked up into the swirling flakes and scanned her heart. She wasn’t happy, but for the first time in a long time she thought maybe she could be. Maybe Alix was right. She could do something wildly different next year. She could travel. She could write a book. She could take up jewelry-making or sign up for belly dance lessons at the recreation department. She could meet someone and unexpectedly fall in love. Or not.
The world was open to her, and in that moment she understood–but did not forgive–Alix’s desire to spread her wings. She thought of Alix in the city, her big stinkin’ life, and how she’d thrown away what had been so good, and she tasted bitterness on her tongue. But she opened her mouth and let a snowflake cool that hot, bitter ash.
She considered the ornament in the trashcan, in the wooden box, in the cushiony padding, and realized it was too pretty to toss. Memory resided in it’s round, pink glass. She’d retrieve it and put it on the tree. She’d write in her journal and consider her options.
Next year, she promised, would be a gift to herself. She’d try everything and anything that appealed to her.
The writing. The dancing. Even, perhaps, the love.