Note: Every Monday until July 31, I’ll be posting chapters of Room for Two on my blog. Read Chapter 10 below. If you want to start from the beginning, here's Chapter 1.
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The 2002 Major League baseball season came with a pleasant surprise. The Detroit Tigers were scheduled to play a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. Watching the Tigers play in person was something I always wanted to do but never had the opportunity. Since Phoenix was only an hour away by plane, I started making plans to attend at least one game.
I was excited not only to see the Tigers play but at the chance to see Jennifer again. Over the last few months our friendship has blossomed. We spend about an hour a day talking on the phone and sent several e-mails to each other while at work.
When I told Jennifer about my impending trip, I thought there was a hint of excitement in her voice. As we talked the trip grew in scope, and we decided that I should stay a few extra days and take a trip with Jennifer to see the Grand Canyon together.
I looked forward to the trip like I had no other. This five-day trip to Arizona was a chance to see if our friendship would blossom into something more serious and beautiful.
The morning I was to fly to Phoenix, I arrived at the cemetery with flowers — a mix of daises and lilies — and feelings of guilt for having not visited Krista and Hope’s grave for five weeks. In the months following their deaths, I made weekly visits to the cemetery, braving the snow and wind to spend fifteen minutes at their headstone. I felt a need to be close to them. As the months passed, these feelings lessened, and weekly visits became biweekly. Once I started dating, the time between visits increased even more.
I placed the flowers in a small, glass vase near the headstone. With the exception of two robins hopping about the lawn looking for worms, I was alone. I sat on the dew-covered grass and looked over the valley. The cemetery was located in the foothills of the northeast corner of Ogden. On a clear day one could look to the west and see all the way to the mountains on the far side of the Great Salt Lake. This was one of those mornings. The sun was just cresting above Lewis Peak, bringing with it the dry heat of the desert. The salty waters of the Great Salt Lake sparkled on the horizon.
Normally I was selective in what I thought about at the cemetery. The next life and Krista were acceptable. Thoughts of Krista’s suicide or Hope were not because they brought up strong emotions I preferred not to deal with. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me. Of all places where I should be willing to let my emotions and thoughts go, the cemetery should have been one I felt most comfortable doing this.
Today though, my thoughts were on Julianna and Jennifer. Despite a horrible first date, Julianna and I had gone out twice more. I had been floored when she had agreed to a second date at church the following Sunday. I had expected her to say no and had an apology prepared, ready to give her. But when I asked her to go out with me, again she agreed. I was too stunned to say anything other than, "I’ll see you Saturday." Our second date and third dates were better than the first, but they weren’t great either. We never discussed Krista or my previous marriage. Those subjects became the proverbial elephant in the room. It hung over everything we did. Once or twice I tried to find ways to broach the subject but never thought of a good way to do it. Julianna seemed content not talking about them.
I wondered what Krista thought about me dating again or if she even cared. Occasionally I speculated how often she checked in on her loved ones in this life from heaven or wherever she was. Since the other side was supposedly a more beautiful place — one where there were no tears or sorrow — I often thought she had more pressing things to do than worry about my life. But on the off chance Krista took a moment to stop and see what I was up to, I wondered if she was disappointed. I had promised to love Krista forever, and seven months after her death I was spending practically every weekend in the company of one woman or another. Knowing how jealous she could be, I didn’t think she’d be very happy about it. Maybe things were different once you passed on. Maybe jealousy wasn’t a part of her world now. Maybe she didn’t care and was simply waiting for my time to come so I could be with her again.
A 737, heading south on its way to the Salt Lake airport, glittered in the sky. The sun had caught the side of the jet just right and its body reflected the light like a mirror. I watched the plane until it was out of view, then I looked at my watch. It was time to go. In a few hours, I’d be on my way to Phoenix. And tonight I’d be attending my first Detroit Tigers game.
I rearranged the flowers in the vase. Before I left I said out loud to Krista just in case she was listening, "I promise I’ll visit again soon."
Jennifer’s smile was visible from the other side of the security checkpoint twenty yards away. She waved excitedly when she spotted me. As soon as I walked past the bored-looking security guards, Jennifer flung open her arms and we embraced.
"I’m glad you’re finally here," she said and gave me another hug. That additional hug was all it took for me to know that there was something between the two of us. The flirting we expressed on the phone and through e-mail was real. This came as a relief. On the flight to Phoenix, as I looked at the sweeping deserts of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, I wondered if the signs of affection I had picked up were simply something I imagined because I wanted it to be true.
We took the freeway from the airport to her parents’ house. The plan was to wait there until Brent got off work. That meant three hours of uninterrupted time together.
"My family is so excited to meet you," Jennifer said. "They won’t be home now, but Sunday night you’re invited to dinner. You haven’t already made plans with Brent for that night, have you?"
Even though Jennifer was the main reason for my trip to Arizona, I had made plans to stay at Brent’s home. Despite my growing feelings for Jennifer, I worried about arriving in Phoenix and find out that my feelings for Jennifer was nonexistent. I had made arrangements to stay at Brent’s house and attend the baseball game Friday night alone with him. I worried I was heading into the relationship too fast. I thought at least spending some time with Brent would give me some time to think and make sure a relationship with Jennifer was what I wanted.
"I think Sunday evening is free," I said. I wondered what Jennifer had been telling her family about me. I hadn’t breathed a word about Jennifer to mine.
We drove through an older neighborhood filled with rambler-style homes. Unlike the newer suburbs of Phoenix, most of these homes had grass for lawns though they weren’t the same rich green color I was used to seeing in Utah. The grass was wilting in the stifling Phoenix heat.
"I grew up in this neighborhood," Jennifer said. "I love it here. I’d love to spend the rest of my life in Mesa, close to my family."
Jennifer’s words made me pause. Krista had often uttered similar statements about her family. One of the few things we constantly argued about was my desire to move away from Ogden and closer to work. But Krista didn’t have the desire to live far from her family. It was an issue she wouldn’t budge on, and as a result I endured a daily one-hundred-mile round-trip commute to work most of our married life. I shook the comparison from my mind. Don’t compare, I thought. Jennifer isn’t Krista.
Jennifer stopped in front of a red-bricked rambler. We entered in through the side door that led to a family room. One wall was covered with bookshelves, where books of all types and sizes were stacked. There seemed to be little or no order to them. In the corner was a desk piled high with papers. A framed picture of a couple in their fifties that I assumed to be Jennifer’s parents hung above the desk.
I sat on the couch while Jennifer went to the kitchen for water. She returned a minute later and handed me a tall, cold glass. Then she sat next to me so close that our legs were pressing against each other. It was a little too close for me. I moved a few inches away. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be near Jennifer. I wanted to take it slow and make sure that a relationship with her was right. I also was wrestling with my feelings for Krista. Despite the anger I often felt toward her, I loved her dearly. I didn’t know if there was room in my heart for two people. If the relationship with Jennifer was going to become more serious, I wanted to make sure it was a step I was ready to take.
Jennifer slid closer so that our legs were touching again. "You seem lost in thought," she said. "What are you thinking?"
I couldn’t tell her what I was really thinking, how I was trying to determine the best way to have a little more room on the couch. Instead I said, "I’m thinking how nice it is to be back in Phoenix."
Four hours later Brent and I were on our way to the ballpark. A bank sign near the ballpark flashed the time and temperature; it was 114 degrees. How did people live in this heat? Ever since we left the air-conditioned comfort of Brent’s truck, I felt like I was standing next to an open oven. Across the street from the ballpark we bought frozen two liter bottles of water, which Brent said we’d need to keep us hydrated through the game.
The ballpark was kept at a cool eighty-five degrees. We arrived just as the Tigers were finishing batting practice. This early we were practically the only people in the stands. We walked around the mezzanine checking out the different views of the field before we found our seats. They were located on the lower deck twenty-five rows back on the first base side of the field. If we looked straight ahead, we could see directly down the third base line.
"I’ve never sat so close before," Brent said. "These are really good seats."
The Tigers player in the batting cage smacked a ball into deep center field. A player in the outfield ran after it and made a diving catch to the applause of his teammates.
"How’s the dating game going?" Brent asked.
I smiled. "It’s going."
"Anyone special I should know about?"
I wanted to tell Brent about Jennifer but decided against it. Brent had never liked her much and wasn’t thrilled that she was accompanying us to tomorrow’s game. I also didn’t want to jinx what might happen between Jennifer and me. Aside from some flirting on the couch that afternoon, little had transpired. I had the feeling we were both waiting for Sunday to see what would happen. So instead of Jennifer, I talked about the only other girl I thought about on a regular basis — Julianna.
"I’ve gone on three dates with a girl who runs marathons," I said.
"Tell me about this marathon girl," Brent said.
"Not much to tell. Our first date was absolutely horrible, Brent. She didn’t know I was a widower, and I ended up telling her midway through dinner. She had a mouthful of chicken when I sprung it on her."
Brent laughed. "And she agreed to a second date?"
"And a third. To be honest, I’m still a little shocked she said yes."
"Maybe she has a thing for you. Maybe she can’t get you out of her mind."
I shook my head and watched as a new Tigers player took his turn in the batting cage. He swung hard at the first pitch and drove the ball deep into right field. The ball bounced off the warning track and rolled onto the grass. The player slammed his black bat on the ground in disgust. The next pitch he hit into the left field bleachers. The dozen or so kids hoping for a ball to come their way chased after it.
"I usually don’t ask a girl out after a bad date. But there’s something about Julianna. She’s always somewhere in the back of my head."
"Once I dated a girl I couldn’t get out of my mind," Brent said.
"I married her."
I laughed. "That’s encouraging."
"Best thing that ever happened to me."
A player in the outfield threw a ball high in the air. I followed the ball as it fell back into his glove.
"Well, this girl must like you a little bit," Brent said.
"I don’t think so."
"She goes running every morning," I said. "Five o’clock, just like me. If she had any feelings for me, she’d ask me to run with her."
"Maybe she doesn’t want to humiliate you by kicking your butt," Brent said.
"She loves running, Brent. I’ve never met anyone who enjoys it like Julianna. She knows I run. If she liked me, it would be something she’d want to share."
The player in the batting cage took one last swing and hit a foul ball into the upper deck of the ballpark.
"Has your family met her?"
"Briefly. At church."
"They like her?"
"I don’t know. They don’t understand why I’m even dating again. Most of them are still grieving for Krista."
The Tiger players on the field jogged toward the visitors’ dugout while the grounds crew dismantled the batting cage and started raking the infield dirt with long, silver rakes.
"What makes you think they’re not moving on?" Brent said.
"They talk about Krista all the time. They ask me questions about the day she died. It’s the way they talk about her that makes me think they aren’t ready to see me with someone else."
"Are you still grieving?" Brent said.
I looked over at Brent. Our eyes met for a moment, then returned to the field. The grounds crew had reached first base and was making its way to second.
"Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Krista or Hope. I wonder all the time what my life would be like if they had lived. I miss them more than anyone will ever know."
The ice in my bottle had melted enough that there were several ounces of water. I took a long drink and rubbed the condensation on the outside of the bottle over my neck. Several drops of cold water ran down my back, giving me chills.
"I’ve spent the last few months trying to put my life back together," I said. "I can’t begin to explain how hard that’s been. Every day I’ve battled the guilt and responsibility I feel for Krista’s death. But it’s always there gnawing at my heart. I don’t know if it will ever go away. I imagine I’ll carry some of those feelings around for the rest of my life."
I caught a whiff of popcorn and Polish dogs. On the field someone from the grounds crew was chalking out the batter’s boxes.
"I know people who have made a mistake and have spent the rest of their life regretting it. My dad took a job in Wyoming nine years ago. To this day he regrets taking that job. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation where he didn’t bring it up, wishing he hadn’t moved to Casper. I have a hard time understanding why he feels that way. I don’t want to be like that — especially when it comes to Krista. It’s a waste to spend your life wishing you could have done things differently. Life’s about learning from your mistakes and making better choices. Even though I wish I could go back to the day Krista died and save her, I can’t do that. Both she and Hope are dead, and there’s nothing I can do to bring them back."
"It seems to me like you’ve made good progress," Brent said. "I’m surprised how well you’re holding up."
"It helps that I can fly to Phoenix every six months," I said.
A middle-aged couple carrying hotdogs and beers sat a few rows in front of us. They both wore black Diamondback hats. I looked around the ballpark. The green seats were slowly being filled by fans. I checked my watch. Game time was only thirty minutes away.
Our talk shifted to baseball. The Tigers came into the game with a 23-41 record. The Diamondbacks, however, were headed in the opposite direction. They had just won the World Series in October, and there was no reason to think they couldn’t repeat as champions. That night Randy Johnson, one of the top pitchers in baseball, was starting for the Diamondbacks. The Tigers started Mike Maroth, a rookie pitcher who was making his second major league start. Though I hoped for a good game, I wasn’t overly optimistic about the Tigers’ chances of winning.
"Don’t count the Tigers out," Brent said when I told him of about my concerns. "The Diamondbacks often have problems with young pitchers that no one has heard of."
As the game started, I didn’t care if the Tigers won or lost. For the next few hours I was going to fulfill a lifelong dream and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from enjoying it.
Brent was right about the Diamondbacks. The young Tigers pitcher gave the Diamondbacks batters fits all night. He pitched eight innings and allowed only allowed three runs. It was a good effort and enough for the Tigers to win the game 6–3.
On the drive back to Mesa, Brent said, "You look happy."
"The Tigers just won."
"It’s more than that. You seem genuinely happy tonight."
Brent had seen something I didn’t think was visible. For the first time since Krista died, I was truly happy. I had been able to spend the last several hours without thinking about Krista or Hope. It felt good. It was a feeling I wanted to have every day.
"I am happy," I said. "This has been a wonderful day."
The next evening Brent and I were leaning against the top of the right field fence, fifteen feet from the foul pole. We had been standing in the bleachers for forty minutes, hoping that a Tigers player would hit a ball in our direction before batting practice wrapped up. On either side, children and adults stood two deep, hoping the same thing. During batting practice only a few balls had been hit over the right field wall, and of those, only one had landed within thirty feet of where we were standing.
I took the baseball glove off my left hand and handed it to Brent. "You want a turn?" It was Brent’s glove. I had forgotten to pack mine.
Brent shook his head. "They’ll be stopping any minute now."
I put the glove back on and glanced back at Jennifer. She was sitting ten rows back. She was wearing jeans and a white blouse and a Cubs baseball hat. Her blonde curls hair hung down below the hat. She waved when she saw me looking back at her. I smiled and waved back before returning my attention to the field.
Brent looked at Jennifer, then back to me. "I think Jennifer likes you," he said.
I kept my eyes on the field. I still hadn’t said anything to Brent about Jennifer. "Why do you say that?"
"She was flirting with you like crazy at my place this afternoon,"
"Was she?" I said.
Jennifer had come over to Brent’s house thirty minutes before we left for the game. She sat close to me the entire time and would occasionally touch my shoulder or arm was we talked. Each time she touched me, I found myself smiling. It felt good to have someone who wanted to show affection. I could feel the blood rising to my face. If Brent had noticed Jennifer flirting with me, had he also noticed when I flirted back?
I watched as the Tigers player taking bat hit a ground ball in our general direction. It rolled all the way to the warning track. Another Tigers player picked it up, and the kids next to us yelled for the player to throw it to them. He ignored their cries and threw the ball back to the infield.
The crack of wood on leather turned my attention back to the field. A ball arced high in the air, heading in our general direction. It had enough height and speed that it looked like it might make it to the bleachers.
"It’s heading straight to you!" Brent said.
"No, it’s not," I said.
"Yes, it is!"
I looked at the ball that was now on the downward part of the arc. Brent was right. The ball was heading right to me. I held the baseball glove high in the air, ready to catch it. As the ball sped toward my open glove, I did the first thing you’re taught not to do in Little League when catching a baseball: I closed my eyes. For a moment my world was quiet and black. The noise of the ballpark and those next to me were gone. All I could feel was my heart thumping in my chest. Then with a smack, the baseball landed in the glove’s webbing. I instinctively closed the glove around it. I opened my eyes. The noise and lights of the ballpark returned. I checked the glove to make sure the ball was there. It was.
Brent was ecstatic. "I can’t believe it. That ball was hit right to you!"
I was too shocked to say anything. I held the ball in my free hand and turned it over to examine it. There were some general scuffing and a black mark where the bat connected with the ball. Then it sunk in. I had just caught a major league baseball — something every baseball fan dreams of.
Brent’s voice was still loud and excited. "Can I see it?"
I gave the ball to Brent. He held it like it was a piece of valuable jewelry. "That was amazing," he said. "I’ve never been near someone who’s caught a ball before." He handed the ball back to me. I turned toward Jennifer and held the ball high in the air. Jennifer clapped her hands and smiled.
I took the glove off my hand and handed it to Brent. "Your turn," I said. Brent shook his head and looked at the infield where the grounds crew was dismantling the batting cage. "Batting practice is over."
We returned to our seats. I sat between Brent and Jennifer who took turns examining the ball and talking about my catch.
It was nice attending a baseball game with Jennifer. She could keep up with the baseball talk. Though Krista and I would attend two or three minor league baseball games a year, Krista went simply because she wanted to be with me. She never paid attention to the game but instead would use the game as a chance to talk to me or whatever friends we happened to go with. I was glad that she came to games with me but sometimes wished she had more of an interest in the action on the field. But Jennifer understood the rules and the subtleties of the game. It was a nice change.
It was sometime during the top of the third inning when our hands touched. I don’t remember who made the first move or if it was something that we both did simultaneously. But I do know it took place underneath the scorecard I was filling out. I remember thinking when I first held her hands that they were incredibly soft — quite a contrast from Krista’s, which, no matter how much lotion she used, always felt rough and calloused. I kept my eyes on the field, not daring to look at Jennifer. I waited for her to pull her hand away, but she didn’t move it. I looked over at Brent. His attention was riveted on the field.
Jennifer and I held hands on and off through the rest of the game. Brent seemed unaware of what transpired right next to him. During this time Jennifer and I barely spoke a word to each other. All of our communication went on underneath the scorecard. It was wonderful. I had forgotten how powerful a simple thing like holding hands could be. At that moment that sadness involving Krista seemed far away and distant.
With most of my attention focused on Jennifer, the details of that game were forgotten. I remember the game seemed slower than usual, and the Tigers’ bats had lost the punch they had the previous night. I also remember that the Tigers lost 3-2 and that I didn’t care. I was happy things had progressed so nicely with Jennifer and was looking forward to spending more time with her. I also remember on the way to the parking lot we walked two steps behind Brent and held hands all the way to the car.
When I awoke the next morning, sunlight was streaming in through the window and my watch read quarter past nine. The house was quiet except for the faint hum of the central air. Church was not for another two hours and figuring I had at least another hour until I needed to get ready, I stared at the ceiling and thought of Jennifer and having dinner with her family that evening. Looking back, I think it was the first morning since that fateful November day where my waking thoughts hadn’t been of Krista.
Around nine thirty I heard sounds of someone in the hallway. A soft knock on the door brought me out of my daydream. Brent slowly opened the door and peeked in.
"You awake?" he said. He was wearing pajamas, and his eyes looked tired. "I have a church meeting at ten. Do you want to come with me or come later with Bethany?"
What I wanted to do was stay in bed until Jennifer came to pick me up for dinner. I was too comfortable and happy to do anything else. But I said, "I’ll go with you."
Brent closed the door, and a minute later I heard the sound of the shower starting. I stood up and stretched my arms and back, trying to wake myself. When Brent was done, I took a quick shower and changed into my church clothes — white shirt, tan slacks, and yellow tie. By five minutes to ten Brent and I were driving through the Arizona sunshine on our way to church. Outside it was already ninety degrees.
We arrived at church, and Brent went to his meeting while I sat on the last row of the chapel. The organist was practicing the three hymns we’d sing during the service. I found it comforting and repeated the words of the hymns in my mind as she practiced.
After the organist had gone through each hymn twice, a hunched old man wearing a dark blue suit walked into the chapel with a stack of programs in one hand. Seeing me sitting on the back bench, he walked over and offered me one. "Program?" he said in a quiet, raspy voice.
I took one from his outstretched hand and thanked him. The man nodded and walked away. He stood at the door, waiting to hand one to the next person that entered. I glanced at the front page. The headline, printed in big, bold letters jumped out at me: FATHER’S DAY.
The whole world stopped.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew Father’s Day was this weekend. However, the fun of the last few days had pushed those thoughts to the far recesses of my mind. Now all I could think about was Hope. Tears welled up in my eyes. I tried to think about something else — the baseball games or holding Jennifer’s soft hands. It didn’t work. The tears fell freely.
On the way to the bathroom, I thought of how different my life would be if Hope had lived. I wouldn’t be in Phoenix — that was for sure. Instead, I thought of holding Hope as a blue-eyed seven-month-old baby and gently rocking her to sleep.
I found an empty stall and sobbed silently. At that moment I wanted to be a father more than anything. Not the father of a dead girl, but one who had someone to love and protect. I felt cheated out of the opportunity to experience what so many others would take pride in today. My grief turned to anger, and I cursed Krista silently in my mind.
When I was finally ready to leave, I splashed cold water on my face from the sink and looked myself over in the mirror. My eyes were still red, but otherwise I looked fine. By the time I returned to the chapel, it was nearly full. Brent was standing just inside the doors looking for me.
"There you are," he said, "I was starting to get worried you were lost." He looked at my eyes and asked, "Are you okay?"
"I’m fine," I said, but my voice betrayed my true feelings.
I made it through the first half of the service without a problem. Brent kept looking over at me like he knew something was bothering me. I did my best not to make eye contact with him thinking that they would reveal the grief and envy that weighed heavily on my shoulders.
As the second half of the services began, several members of the congregation spoke on the importance of fathers in their lives. They told stories of their fathers and husbands and what good examples they were to them and to their children. I stared at the carpet until the last speaker finished. As the service came to a close, I began to relax. I had made it through the service without crying.
Then the bishop stood in front of the congregation and made an announcement. "We have a special gift for fathers. Will all the fathers in attendance please stand up?"
All around me, fathers in the congregation stood. The teenagers in the church began to hand out boxes of cookies.
Brent’s eyes said, "Stand up." I wanted to stand and be recognized as a father, but I knew that if I did I wouldn’t be able to hold back the tears. Instead, I put my head in my hands and stared at the floor. I thought back to Hope’s funeral, at the end of the service as her tiny, pink casket was lowered into the ground. That moment had been the most difficult of my life. Then my memory flashed to Krista as she lay in our room, blood gushing from the back of her head. The sadness was replaced by hot, intense anger. I closed my eyes and took slow deep breaths and tried to quell the rage that was waiting to explode.
"Abel?" Brent’s whisper cracked my dark world. I opened my eyes. Brent was leaning close and had a concerned look on his face.
"I forgot it was Father’s Day until I came to church," I whispered back.
Brent put his arm around me. For some reason his action had a profound calming effect, and the anger diminished. But the heartache remained. And as the congregation sung the closing hymn, I knew that even if I had the chance to be a father again, Father’s Day would always be bittersweet. That day would always be a reminder of Hope and the father I never had the chance to be.
The initial meeting with Jennifer’s parents went well. They didn’t ask many of the standard questions that I expected, however, like what I did for a living. No doubt Jennifer had filled them in on everything so her parents would know she was bringing home a good man. Instead her parents seemed more interested in learning if I was serious about Jennifer. They asked if I had looked for work in Arizona or if my house in Ogden was big enough to raise a family. Their questioning left me a little uncomfortable. I liked Jennifer but wasn’t ready to ask for her hand in marriage.
I was sure they knew about Krista but was surprised when they didn’t mention her — especially when, to them anyway, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Jennifer and I were going to live happily ever after. It was possible they didn’t know how to broach the subject. But considering their other questions, I thought they’d want to make sure I was ready to make Jennifer the number one person in my life.
Right before dinner Jennifer and I found ourselves alone in the living room. The sounds of her mother making the final preparations emanated from the kitchen. Jennifer was staring at me intently. I knew she wanted me to kiss her. I wanted to lean into her and kiss her but didn’t feel her parents’ living room was the best place to do it. I averted my gaze to the framed photographs of Jennifer’s family on the top of the piano. Jennifer placed her hand on mine. I squeezed her hand and looked at her in the eye. She moved closer and we kissed.
I was unsure what to expect when our lips met, but I was anticipating feelings of elation, joy, and excitement. But with Jennifer, there was nothing. It wasn’t because the kiss lacked passion or substance. Everything I wanted physically in a kiss — good lip movement, a brief taste of tongue — was there. But emotionally the kiss didn’t excite me.
My first kiss with Krista had been brief but intense. When our lips touched, I was filled with something similar to an electric shock. The feeling grew with our relationship, and even after we were married, a passionate kiss from Krista was enough to send those feelings through my body again. I felt bad for comparing my first kiss with Jennifer to my first kiss with Krista, but that was all I could think about.
Jennifer moved in a second time. I closed my eyes, waiting for the sparks to fly. Once again there was nothing. Physically, however, it felt wonderful to kiss someone. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much I had missed it.
Jennifer rested her head on my shoulder. "I love you," she said.
I put my hand on the back of her head and let my fingers brush through her yellow hair. I wanted to say, "I love you, too" but the words didn’t come.
From the kitchen came the voice of Jennifer’s mom announcing dinner was ready.
"Ready for your first official dinner with the family?" Jennifer asked.
We walked into the kitchen together holding hands.
Because I was unfamiliar with the layout of Phoenix, it took me a several minutes to realize Jennifer wasn’t driving back to Brent’s house after dinner.
"Where are we going?" I said.
"There’s something I want to show you," Jennifer said.
We drove down the broad, brightly lit streets for several minutes before turning down a dark side street. A minute later Jennifer parked near a large, well-lit granite building.
"We’re at the temple," I said.
"It’s a nice place to walk at night when it’s cool," Jennifer said.
I followed her through the parking lot, then to a sidewalk leading to the temple grounds. The LDS temple was a large, square building covered with eggshell-colored terracotta tiles with well-manicured grounds. Across the top of the temple, depictions of Mormon pioneers crossing the plains were carved into the building.
To my surprise there were other people walking around — about twenty couples in all. Most of them held hands and from time to time stopped and looked at the temple, no doubt dreaming of being married there. Jennifer took my hand, and we started a slow walk around the temple grounds. We paused every so often for a kiss. I had stopped wondering why I wasn’t feeling anything inside when I kissed her. Jennifer was a good kisser, and I enjoyed the kisses for the simple physical pleasure that they were.
After two walks around the temple, we sat on a cement bench next to a palm tree. Jennifer put her arms around me and leaned her head on my shoulder. From the bench we could see out the front gates of the temple to a quiet street with old homes lining either side. It was quiet and peaceful. I closed my eyes and breathed in the warm Arizona night.
Suddenly it was the middle of the day. I saw myself standing near the gates of the temple, dressed in a tuxedo. Jennifer was standing next to me. She was wearing a white wedding dress covered in lace. My mom and dad and all of my brothers and sisters stood next to us. Brent, Bethany, and other friends were there, too. I saw Jennifer’s parents and other people that I did not recognize but somehow knew were Jennifer’s friends and family. They all congratulated Jennifer and me on our marriage. Everyone was smiling and happy. Everyone, that is, but me. I stood in the midst of them realizing I had just made the biggest mistake of my life because I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with a woman I did not love.
Jennifer tugged at my hand and the image of our wedding day melted away. "Abel?" she said. "What are you thinking about?"
The lights on the temple bathed Jennifer’s face in soft, white light. I looked back to the lawn where I had seen the two of us standing. The memory of that image burned into my mind so well I could see Jennifer and the faces and smiles of those in attendance with exquisite detail. Thinking about that day again only intensified the feelings of dread and regret.
Again Jennifer’s voice brought me back to the present. "Abel, what’s wrong?"
"Nothing," I said. "Everything’s fine."
"You spaced out there for a minute."
"Yeah. I’m tired. It’s been a long day."
We walked back to the car. Before I opened my door, Jennifer pressed my body against the passenger side of the car and kissed me again.
"Maybe next time we come here, we can do more than walk around the grounds."
"What do you mean?" I said, even though I knew exactly what she was implying.
Jennifer put her hand on my chest. "I thought if things worked out between us, it would be a nice place to be married."
I closed my eyes. The vision of our wedding day flashed through my mind a third time. The dark feeling was still there.
Jennifer seemed to sense that something was wrong. She moved her hand from my chest and took a step back. "I don’t mean to scare you or anything," she said. "I’m just excited that things have gone so nicely between us."
"It’s not that," I said. "I think I’ve had a little too much Arizona heat the last few days." I pulled Jennifer close and kissed her. "I’m looking forward to our trip to the Grand Canyon tomorrow."
That night I couldn’t sleep. I tried reading, writing in my journal, and playing games on my cell phone, but nothing worked. My thoughts kept returning back to Jennifer, our first kiss, and the vision of our wedding day. I didn’t know what to make of it.
After I married Krista, I had thought it would be impossible to open my heart to another person. Before I started dating, I had to rethink my thoughts on there being more than one person who I could love. Perhaps part of the reason that I was unable to feel the same connection with Jennifer as I did with Krista was because there was only one person out there for me. Though I didn’t want to believe it, maybe Krista was that person, and now that she was dead, I would be unable to love or be with anyone else.
Around two, sleep slowly overtook my body. I thought about the trip to the Grand Canyon I’d be taking in a couple hours with Jennifer. But my final thought as I drifted off to sleep was not Jennifer or our trip, but Julianna. I realized that this was the first Sunday in months I hadn’t seen or been able to talk to her. I thought it odd that she would pop into my mind at that moment. But then darkness overtook me and I slept.
The trip to the Grand Canyon was perfect. The three-hour drive to the south rim flew by as Jennifer and I talked about whatever was in our minds. I could talk about anything with her — books I had read, my job, or sports — with ease. And I was interested in Jennifer’s life and interests, too. The only other person I had ever felt this comfortable talking to was Krista. Each mile that brought us closer the Grand Canyon pushed away the doubt and confusion that had crept up the previous night.
About thirty minutes from the south rim, Jennifer turned off an exit. When I asked where we were going, Jennifer smiled and said, "You’ll see."
Five minutes later we were driving down a dirt road. Jennifer pulled off near a gate and unlocked it. She drove up a little hill, past some pine trees and a cabin came into view.
"This is the family cabin," Jennifer said. "I thought I’d show you around before we spent all day at the canyon."
It turned out that the cabin was nothing more than an excuse for the two of us to have thirty minutes where we could make out. When we finally stopped to catch our breath, I wasn’t much caring for the Grand Canyon. I would have been happy to stay at the cabin the rest of the day. But Jennifer insisted that we go. "You can’t come to Arizona without seeing the Grand Canyon," she said. "It’s the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see."
Jennifer was right. The Grand Canyon was spectacular. My first look at it, realizing how large and vast it really was, took my breath way. Standing there, looking over the red and yellow walls, I felt like standing on the edge of the eternity, watching time slowly pass one grain of sand, one gust of wind at a time.
We spent the day hiking along the top of the south rim. I enjoyed the feel of sun and wind and watching the cool green waters of the Colorado push their way along the canyon’s floor. As the sun dipped into the western horizon, we headed back to Phoenix, dirty and tired. The Grand Canyon had been a wonderful end to my time in Arizona. I felt was like my life was slowly coming back together, one piece at a time.