Nile and my relationship was stalled, like Nile on the pier with the parrot, we kept parroting the same arguments back and forth without ever moving forward to get our proverbial hot dogs. Naomi wasn’t conceived to fix that, but once she made herself known, she certainly quickly made it hard to break ourselves apart. How could we say no to a week on the beach? We had the vacation time saved up. We had a free place to stay. We had no excuse other than the fact that we didn’t want to be around each other 24/7 for a week and the fact the being on an implied romantic beach vacation would only make it all the more apparent that our relationship had lost its romantic spark long ago. And you can’t exactly say that to your friends when they kindly offer you their beach house for the week. So, here we are. Day one. Hour two. Six days to go. Countless tense hours and silent seconds ahead. I feared this may be the final nail in the coffin of our relationship and while the potential for less tension in my life and the hope of new love did give me some comfort, the overwhelming feeling was one of anxiety at how I would manage birth, a newborn, and a divorce all at the same time.
The “d” word was fresh on my tongue—I’d said it just 2 days earlier in a sort of casual should-we-or-shouldn’t-we kind of way that I’d been mastering over the last 365 days. Nile’s response was to shut down, say nothing, and wait for me to change the subject. I didn’t get it. He didn’t seem happy. But he refused to talk about it with me. He wouldn’t talk about why he wasn’t happy, he wouldn’t talk about our relationship, he wouldn’t ask if I was happy, he wouldn’t try to come up with ways to improve our relationship, he wouldn’t give his opinion on if we would be better off apart…. nothing! We were stalled on the pier.
“I didn’t know if you wanted one or two, so I got you two. If you don’t want it, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” Nile said returning with the hot dogs.
“Two is perfect. Thanks,” I said.
“No problem.” Nile sat down and stared off into the horizon.
I looked over at him, fixating on the mole to the right of his left ear--had it grown? I touched it softly and he turned sharply, “Did I get some ketchup on my face?”
“No. No…” I couldn’t stop thinking about the time after we first started dating and we came out to the Santa Monica Pier and ate ice cream on the beach. He had kissed me—his chocolate ice cream still flavoring his lips and my strawberry ice cream flavoring mine creating this delicious chocolate covered strawberry swirl. “Do you remember the first time we came here?” I asked.
Nile furrowed his brows trying to summon the memory. Suddenly, “Ah!” he smiled, but then ever so slightly retreated back into his protective shell. “That was fun. We got ice cream from… what was that place called?” He looked around as if hoping to find something so long ago forgotten that he couldn’t quite tell if it was real or imagined.
“Soda Jerks.” I said, pointing my finger in the store’s direction. “You can’t see it from here, but it’s over there.”
Nile shook his head in quasi-annoyed disbelief, “The memory on you.”
I smiled, “Pregnant too! Doubly impressive, no?”
“Truly,” Nile rested his hand on my belly. “Your Mama remembers everything for better or worse, Naomi. You’ll do well to learn that now.”
I stared at him. “For better or worse?”
“Forget it.” Nile said. “Sorry.”
To the untrained ear, we were just a happy married couple having hot dogs and a nice conversation on the beach, but our ears were calibrated to the same station--and we both knew this interaction was a publicly disguised fight we'd fought a hundred times before. We both sensed the rising tension and danger of a quick escalation and so, not wanting to throw proverbial punches, we both just dropped it.
The sun was starting to set. Perhaps it was hormones, or the collective anxiety of months of a rocky relationship with someone who used to be my best friend, but tears started falling out my eyeballs and wouldn’t stop. Nile noticed, though he tried to pretend he hadn’t. We had learned each other’s cues so well now that I could tell he felt annoyed that I was crying even though he would never admit it.
“Sorry.” I said, at the same time resenting my impulse to apologize.
“Should we head back?” Nile asked, standing.
“Yeah,” he helped me up, always needed to play the role of gentleman. “I’m gonna get some ice cream.”
He stared at me, as if to say, “Without me?” But he wouldn’t say that and I knew he wouldn’t say that which is why I didn’t bother clarifying.
“Okay,” he said. “Be safe.”
Be Safe. That’s all that’s left to say when “I love you” is no longer relevant. Don’t get murdered or mulled—it would really be a hassle for me to deal with if you did. Don’t be a hassle. Be safe.
He walked off. I watched for a moment. I wondered what he would do with his free time in the empty beach house. Probably watch some tv show he’s seen 1,000 times already and drink some wine since he couldn’t drink around me without feeling guilty.
I started walking through the hot sand towards the ice cream shop, Naomi doing flips in my tummy. This isn’t how I wanted to bring a child into the world. To be frank, I didn’t want to bring a child into the world at all, but low and behold, after a rare moment of mutual horniness and too many glasses of wine, Nile and I had sex for the first time in 3 months and made a human. Ope.
They should really require a course before you get to be a certified adult. I don’t know what I’m doing! I would have flunked out by now and been held back in childhood—unable to make big decisions like getting married and having a baby; relegated to conquering the monkey bars and mastering cutting in circles with scissors. But no, we’re all out here just flying blind and making life-changing mistakes aren't we?
Mistake 1. Marrying Nile.
No. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake. I loved him. I love him? I mean, what is love? Is it even real? I couldn’t have foreseen our relationship turning into what it has become. It was so great in the beginning. Maybe we just didn’t have staying power, maybe we changed too much, maybe we didn’t work hard enough to make it work. Maybe love is an illusion we trick ourselves into believing so others can be envious that we’ve found the “one.”
Whether I was ever actually in love with Nile or not, the current fact of the situation is that I don’t want to be around him. And so, I shouldn’t be. Simple!
I had arrived in front of Soda Jerks. I went inside and ordered two scoops, one chocolate, one strawberry. I would be my own chocolate covered strawberry swirl. I would create my own magic. I would move us forward off this pier, by force if need be. I decided to tell Nile when I got back to the beach house that I wanted a divorce. No questions this time, just a statement. “I want a divorce.”
As the anxiety about the logistics of our situation started creeping in, I forced myself to start imagining a new life—me and Naomi. Just the two of us. Doing whatever we want. Dancing in the sunlight on a Sunday morning. I hated dancing and couldn't for the life of me actually see myself enjoying a grace-less, uncoordinated dance with my newborn in whatever shitty apartment I could find to afford on my own but for whatever reason this was the daydream that comforted me.
“Ma’am?” An older voice with an out of place southern accent drawled. “Is this you?” The old lady was excitedly walking out from behind the counter with an old Polaroid picture. “I can’t believe it! It is, isn’t it?”
She held out the photo for me to examine—two young lovers kissing over their ice cream cones, the sun setting vibrantly behind them. I clutched my cheek and got butterflies in the pit of my stomach--Naomi, are you seeing this? I felt briefly like I did the first time I kissed Nile--a strong, overwhelming, joyous feeling I hadn't felt in so long, here now so rudely interrupting the determination of my decision to leave—casting shadows of doubt on the notion.
“Yes, that's me. I’ve never seen this… how did you…?”
“I’m Paula Crohn. I been workin’ here for 20 years and oh, five or so years ago my nephew was visitin’ and playing around with his Daddy’s Polaroid camera and took this photo. I thought it was just such a gorgeous little picture. But by the time it developed, y’all were halfway down the beach and lost in the crowd. Benny, that’s my nephew, he wanted to find you and give it to y’all before he had to go back home to Memphis, but… anyhow, I said you’d be back. Everybody comes back eventually. Our ice cream’s that good, right?” She winked, and then glanced down at my belly. “I see things worked out for y'all.”
I stared down at the photo of Nile and I at the start of everything, and so certain of our love. It was a great photo, beautifully captured. I noticed our ice cream cones--wait a minute, I thought. In Nile’s hand was a strawberry ice cream cone and in mine was a chocolate ice cream cone. Guess my “perfect” memory had its holes after all and I couldn’t wait to tell Nile…
“Can I keep this?” I asked Paula.
“Of course, honey! That’s what I been sayin’! We been trying to get this photo to ya for years!” She clasped her hands around mine. “Y’all take care now. And don’t wait so long next time to come back in and see us for a scoop or two!”
“Will do,” I said. “Thank you.”
My slow walk back to the beach house was inexplicably accompanied by romantic old Jazz tunes blasting out one of the shops—the kind Nile and I danced to at our wedding—as if the universe was throwing me little signs to remind me of what Nile and I used to have together… of what we could possibly have again if we found a way to work at it together. I looked at the picture and the look on our faces reminded me of something I had forgotten… what it had felt like when things were good between us. Something so incredibly special. In this photo: proof of our love. And in this photo I found myself confronted with what I would really be giving up if I called it quits on our marriage--the good stuff. If we could find a way to get to the good stuff again... it would be worth it to stay and get through this rough period. If we could learn from it, grow from it, get closer from it, it would all be worth it... now it just came down to if I was willing to try... was he?
I opened the door. "Nile...?"