A Moment of Grace

by Melissa M. Hall

I sat on the blanket, idly pushing sand around with my toes, my paperback forgotten at my side. I smiled faintly to myself at the sheer loveliness of my surroundings " so peaceful, so beautiful... so very mine for just a little while longer. It was not yet the season for tourists and perhaps a bit too cold for the locals, being only late February; I had this warm sun, this blue sky & this turquoise water (that only gave the illusion of warmth) all to myself this afternoon.

I had decided to take off of work today to try to get some more of my ever growing to-do list checked off; but I knew I didn't stand a chance after my first trip outside to the trash bin. By the time I had headed back up the walk, my guilty smile was in place & I was wondering where I had stashed my favorite beach blanket. Before long, the Jeep was packed, and I was heading for the shore.

As I leaned back onto my palms to better allow the sun to bathe my face, I found myself surprised to be so at peace. Had I finally let go of the guilt? Stopped expecting to be berated & put down at every turn? My wonderful fianc had stoically put up with me talking about him so frequently; I was just so confused & surprised to find that there really was a good guy out there... and even though I knew better " I still expected him to change into that wienie that my ex-husband did right after we were married. He really didn't deserve that constant comparison, but thankfully I was able to accept all these wonderful things happening to me and move on, bit by bit. The guilt though, that took a little longer.

My thoughts were making me restless... so I decided to take a walk along the water's edge; the brisk breeze reminding me that it was not yet summer, despite the amazing weather. I laughed at myself, as it took a few moments to get rolled onto my knees & onto my feet. My thoughts drifted back... still amused by my sense of peace and wonder, my mind seemed determined to go over, again, what had brought me here.

I had tried to be a good wife; despite the taunting, the drinking, and the general dysfunction of our lives, I put on a happy face " determined to try to make it work. I never saw my marriage being this way, and so quickly, too! Looking back, I knew I should never have married him so hastily " but he was everything I thought I wanted in a man, I found out soon enough that it was all pretend. Some sick insecurity of his that made him act how he thought I felt he should; a gentleman, kind, considerate, funny " he even pretended to be learned... HA! I thought I would enjoy life as a military wife; I was wrong. After several years of dealing with his constant infidelity and struggling with depression, I thought I had been granted a reprieve; I was enrolled in college & he was being deployed to Iraq. I think that is where the guilt started... that I should be happy to not have to deal with him every day, to not have to be up all night dealing with a drunk who I just pray will finally pass out & stop tormenting me. Shouldn't I be sad that he is being put in harm's way? Upset that my husband is being taken from me plopped into a war zone? Yes, I cried - almost nightly. I loved him in my own way, but it had turned to resentment somewhere along the line.

Walking along, I chided myself for my forgetfulness in not applying sunscreen... my cheeks were starting to feel a bit toasty. I about-faced & headed back the other direction, letting my hair become even more unruly as it whipped about behind me. A gust of wind caught my dress and the white fabric billowed out, making me feel even more like a ship in full sail. The sun felt so warm on my back, it reminded me of shortly after his deployment, when I would come here to try to find myself.

I shuddered, remembering how even from Iraq, he could make me cringe. It was not the reprieve I had hoped for " if anything, it got worse. I no longer had to worry about being pushed about by a drunk " but the emotional & verbal abuse tripled. He was able to call me constantly, if I was in class or a meeting at work and not able to answer the phone, I was subject to hours of doubtful questioning. I later learned that he was projecting his own guilt onto me; even from overseas, he was trying to set up clandestine meetings with women. It just wouldn't end.

My unhappy recollections were interrupted by the giggles of woman; I looked up to find a pair of snowbirds, 80 if they were a day, completely oblivious to everyone but each other, walking along the shoreline. I smiled broadly at the pair, making room for them to continue on; now THAT is the sort of thing that gives a girl hope. I continued along with the sun on my back, following that enamored couple's set of footprints.

As the weeks turned into months, I remember growing steadily more depressed; I vacillated between leaving him now, later, or staying and trying to make it work. We even tried to have a baby " but nothing seemed to work. The turning point came on the evening of my 4th wedding anniversary. Alone with my thoughts & my school books, I was contemplating spending the evening walking the surf " as I was wont to do when my musings became too much to bear. When the cell phone rang, I immediately felt stress & terror... then relief when I see the smiling face of my girlfriend on the caller ID.

She was tending bar just up the road & said that there a fella there, asking about me. I remembered the guy she described to me, very tall, very handsome & very sexy ... totally off limits, but I was feeling restless & defiant. What was the harm in going down for a drink, right? I had met him once before, several months earlier at the same bar with my husband. That night was one of my husband's finer moments. I had played a few games of pool with some friends and this tall, handsome, sexy guy when my drunken spouse started pushing me around. In the interest of non-drama, I left for home; he followed some hours later after more disorderly conduct & and with a police escort. I learned later that he was "helped" from the bar, tossed like a sack of flour over the shoulder of the tall guy... I love that part.

So, off I went, willy-nilly; eager to do something, anything that would lift my spirits. I knew I was in trouble the moment I laid eyes on him. We hit if off immediately and I quickly fell into a dangerous affair. We spent every possible moment together; I hadn't had so much fun in longer than I can remember. I was happy and I didn't want it to end... I only felt guilty when I stopped to think about it, so I didn't stop much. We were so compatible, it just had to be wrong " at first I knew it had to end before it got out of hand, but then things changed. He offered to leave his job in another state & move to be with me; he never mentioned it, but we both knew what that would mean for me. I have never felt so reckless & sick to my stomach in my life " it was a blind leap into the unknown, but then I always imagined that the stuff worth going for would involve some risk. I loved this guy, so much & so fast.

When I finally left my husband " I was giddy. Free. Guilty. How do you tell our love story without letting people know that you left your husband while he was deployed in the service of our country? The reaction from people who didn't know him wasn't pretty " well I guess that's none of their business now is it? The ex certainly didn't make it easy " but really, what more could he do to me?

We were a good year into our relationship before I stopped holding my breath, waiting for this to really be too good to be true. The divorce was final, I had my name back, and things were looking pretty good. Then I found out that the ex remarried just days after the divorce was final & they already had a child... I pretended not to care, but I was devastated. Not that he was married, I could care less, really... but the baby. It just didn't seem fair, we had tried for 2 years with no success " and then the minute he gets back to the States, he knocks a girl up? Ugh! Through the grapevine I hear that he has stopped drinking, is trying to be a good person. I wish him happiness, I truly do " but why this jealousy?

I finally came to the realization that I was angry that even after all he put me through, he was able to get such a precious gift. It took much self-examination to come to terms with it... it's all in the timing. I am very grateful, now, that I never had his baby " THAT is a connection that wouldn't be so easily severed! Maybe it was what he needed to pull him back from the brink; he was, justifiably so, a complete mess after I left him. Negative thinking was never my forte, so I was happier to put it behind me, finally.

I got back to my blanket to find the sand had drifted over it & it took a bit of rearranging to get settled again. I heard my cell phone beep from inside the depths of my bag " I dug for it, feeling a little sheepish for taking the day for my own selfish reasons. I found a message from my fianc; saying he was out early & thinking of taking me to the beach. "I love how you think, my boy... but I've beat you to it" I texted back. I sat a few minutes longer, making sure I had covered everything in my head & there were no more guilty thoughts to bring me down. I was sure I had them all, now; I felt at peace... I finally had my moment of grace.

Gathering up my book & sandals, I stuffed everything down into my bag and with a deep breath, started my back & forth rocking to try to get my feet under me once more. The sun suddenly was shadowed & I heard a deep chuckle; I smiled as I looked up into the smiling face of my honey, amused by my unsuccessful attempt to stand. What timing! I grinned & held up my hands in a 'help me' gesture. He obliged me & hauled me up like I weighed next to nothing. "What have you been up to, slacker?" he asks me. I lie, "Oh, nothing."

Apparently picking up on my mood, he leans down for a kiss and turns me back into the wind for another stroll. We walked in companionable silence for a few minutes before he asks me, "So, have you decided on a name yet? We've not got much longer..." For a moment I remembered that was another tick on my to-do list back at the house... then it hit me. I thought about it one more second as I was flooded, once again, with that wonderful peaceful feeling. Stopping, I looked up at the love of my life& then back down to the hands that protectively covered my very pregnant belly, smoothing the fabric over our very own miracle. I met his eyes again & nodded, "Yes, I've decided. Her name is Grace."

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