She hadn’t forgotten the relief scrawled all over James’s face when she picked him up in Myrtle Beach. He held her so tight she thought she’d break. She could feel him shudder as he choked back sobs. When she pulled away, his eyes welled up and tears ran down his face. She watched him lean over to get his bag, saw the nape of his neck that was replicated in her kids, felt a treacherous tug on her heart. His eyes had filled anew as he turned toward her. “James, what’s wrong?” He stopped. He looked down at her, his brows knit in consternation, “I was afraid I’d never see you again.” She reached for him and held him close.
They started a conversation.
She asked “Why?” Why was he mad at her all the time? Why didn’t he trust her?
He wasn’t mad. He didn’t know what to do. He’d always known who she was. When he came back from Vietnam, she was still there, the same as she was when he’d left. She was committed to her religion, when he was only going through the motions of habit, avoiding the conflict of examining where god went when you were so scared you shit yourself, when families were being blown to bits for reasons nobody knew. She hadn’t pestered him about it, she didn’t ask any questions. He felt that she understood who he was inside.
“I wanted to know. I wanted to know what happened. I didn’t ask you because it wasn’t my business. I thought the church was your reason for living. Then why did you get so mad when I cut my hair?”
“It was beautiful and soft and it smelled good. I liked to touch it before I went to sleep because it meant you were right there, with me. Every day, as soon as I got done work, I went home to get the kids to come see you at the market because I couldn’t wait for you to come home. When you cut it, I thought that was the beginning of the end. You were changing. I thought you didn’t love me.”
He said a lot more; private things she hadn’t expected, things he thought she just knew. They’d stayed through the weekend before they drove back home. They’d made it through the intervening years, trudging through some and sailing through others. They had ugly words and sweet words, more words than she’d imagined. In the end, whether she’d chosen her destiny, or they had created it, didn’t matter at all.