It is late. I'm driving southbound on I-15 heading home. Marathon Girl is in the passenger seat looking out the window at the orange lights of the sprawling suburbs of Salt Lake City. Our three kids are sleeping in their car seats. I hear Steven snoring softly. Glancing back at him, I can just make out his head titled to the right, leaning on his shoulder. Outside the headlights illuminate the white lane divider lines and dreary grey concrete of the freeway. We haven't spoken a word on the way home. It's not because we don't have anything to say. Rather, the silence is a result of us both being exhausted. I had a long, brutal day at work. I'm not happy with the way my radio show turned out this morning and have a headache from staring a computer screen for hours on end. Then Molly had a follow up exam at the doctor's office that took longer than planned. We ended up eating dinner at the in-laws house and since the kids were having a good time playing with grandma and grandpa, opted to stay there until their bed time. Marathon Girl is tired too. Adjusted to three kids in the house has been difficult for her. At times she feels overwhelmed and that she's not giving the kids the attention they need.
"I almost called her Hope today," I say.
For ten seconds all I can hear is the sound of tires on the road. I'm starting to think that Marathon Girl didn't hear me. But then her voice rises over the din of the drive.
"At your parents' house," I say. "When she started fussing in the middle of dinner. I told you â€˜I'd bring Molly into the kitchen.' I almost said â€˜Hope.'"
"You almost made that same mistake at the hospital," Marathon Girls says.
"You caught that?" I say. I'm surprised. I didn't think Marathon Girl had noticed. A few hours after Molly was born, I was rocking her to sleep, talking to her, telling her how happy I was that she was part of our family. Somewhere during that talk I halfway blurted out Hope's name but caught myself. I had looked up at Marathon Girl immediately after the mistake. Her eyes were closed. I thought she had been sleeping.
"Does she remind you of Hope?" Marathon Girl asks.
"No. Not really," I say. "The only similarity is that they both have my dark brown hair."
"Have you made this mistake a lot since she was born?"
"I've caught myself about a half dozen times," I said. "Time seems to help. It's not as bad now as it was a week ago."
More silence. We crest Point of the Mountain and start the decent into Utah County. Off to the west there are homes decorated with the Christmas lights. The homes look happy, cheerful, and warm.
"You were different after Molly was born," Marathon Girl says.
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"As soon as the boys were born, you were right there hovering over them, asking the doctors questions. With Molly, you kind of held back. You looked uncomfortable. It was like you didn't know what to do."
"I was worried about her health," I said. "Since she was three weeks early, I wanted to give the doctors some space to check her out."
"Is that the only reason?"
I shake my head even though I don't know if Marathon Girl can see that in the dark. I glance over at her. Her face is tinged with the blue glow from the dashboard lights. She is looking at me, waiting for a response.
"I wasn't sure how I was going to handle it if Molly had problems," I say. "The last thing I wanted was another baby girl in the ICU."
Marathon Girl squeezes my hand. "That's something that both of us didn't want."
"Sometimes I think your life would be so much easier if you didn't have to deal with these things," I say. "You should be able to bring home a baby girl and just be able to enjoy her."
"I'm not upset at you, Abel. Before we had kids, I didn't quite understand why you had a hard time talking about Hope. But nowâ€¦." her voice trails off and she looks back at our sleeping children. "â€¦now I can't even think about what it would be like to have one of them die. I don't think I'd handle it nearly as well as you have."
A gust of wind rocks the van. Snow blows across the road. I'll be glad when we're safe at home.
"There are days I wonder why you married me," I say. "You could be happily married to someone that didn't come with all this baggage."
"Love had something to do with it," Marathon Girl says.
"Just something to do with it?" I say. "
"Love had everything to do with it."
"I guess I gave my rugged good looks too much credit," I say.
Marathon Girl squeezes my hand and says, "That had something to do with it too."
I change lanes and take the exit to our house. Another ten minutes and we'll be home.
"I still feel bad about mixing up their names," I say.
"Look at some of the issues that some my sisters and our friends have to deal with in their marriages. At least I have a husband who enjoys spending time with his family and does his best to live righteously and be a good example to our children," Marathon Girl says, "I knew what I was getting into when I married you. I'm not saying it's easy to know that you mix up Molly and Hope but I know it's just a little bump in the road. We'll get through this just like the other issues that come up from time to time."
"I really don't deserve you," I say.
"I know," Marathon Girl says playfully. "Now you'll have to lavish me with gifts, fine food, and lots of late night snuggling."
I bring Marathon Girl's hand to my lips and kiss it. "I think I can manage that," I say.
"Thanks for telling me," Marathon Girl says.
"No problem," I say.
We hold hands the rest of the way home.