An Unexpected Pause

Sometimes what love knew in the morning it no longer believes at nightfall. December evening in California. I was alone, thinking about my life. In a few days I would standing barefoot on the icy cold rail of the Golden Gate gazing down at the cruel waves prowling  the deep, wondering on which side I would choose to land.

That night at Orchard Valley, the cool California breeze tapped loose brittle maple leaves, lifting them into the hazy glow of the street lamps. The warm brush of the breeze did not chill me the way the cold blusters at Mt. Hood did.  I smiled. Just before I stepped inside Orchard Valley, I inhaled to take in the pleasant aroma of the fresh roasted coffee mixed with brisk air.

Hundreds of miles from my wife, I was wondering if our marriage would last much longer. She had all but kicked me out. We argued constantly. She avoided me every chance she got. I couldn’t help but feel unwelcome. She seemed to wither whenever I came near. It was if I was a noxious odor, which could only be tolerated for brief moments. Then on a weekend hike she told me that she was no longer attracted to me. That she wasn’t happy with me. That she needed a break from me.

It was one of those moments that everyone has, the moment when you realize that the things you believed in the morning are no longer true at nightfall. Everything shifts. It feels like the earth beneath your feet is collapsing and everywhere you step the land crumbles. You feel like you’re falling into the abyss. When it happens, it leaves a black void. It feels like you’re trapped deep inside a mine-shaft without a candle or even a glimpse of sunlight. Suddenly, a piece of your soul is missing. The light is gone. You realize or think you realize that you’re alone.

Somehow drinking decaffeinated coffee at your favorite coffee shop is like finding a pack of matches in your pocket. With each tiny shot of light, the ache eases and you realize that there is a way out of the darkness.

As you sip, you remember this is the very place you took her there on first dates. You kissed her there on that very sidewalk. You enjoyed her laughter on that chair over there. You see yourself wiping the touch of cream off the tip of her nose. You feel the sorrow boiling again. But you’re in public so you control it.

You cast your eyes to the packet of raw sugar. You’ve always loved the design of that bag of shiny, sweet gems. You hope the flavor will brighten you a bit. You sip your bitter black coffee. You break open three more magic packets of the raw sugar. Pour, then stir.

A plump mexican musician with a ranchero straw hat plugs in his acoustic guitar. His calloused fingertips strum the instrument. He twists the tuning keys until the strings sing the right notes.

His rich voice opens the first song; immediately, you realize you aren’t alone in your quiet desperation. From the darkness of the sound hole the music bounces out . Each phrase soothes. Your sadness changes, it doesn’t go away, but it hurts a little less. The song has taken away its sting, replacing it with a throb that will fade.

When you return home. You see her as radiant as the first time you met. She is no longer repulsed by your presence. She still loves you. She will always love you. You know this. Just the way you knew that you loved her long before you met her. You know that she has always loved you as well. That she never stopped, and yet there was a moment when you believed she didn’t. You could let it haunt you; instead, you decide it was just a dramatic pause, the kind that makes the music even sweeter.

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