It’s Just Dinner…

Dearest Rachel –

I’ve been led to understand that there is a dating service in the area called ‘It’s Just Lunch’, which is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin – a means for singles to get together with each other and just have lunch, without necessarily anything else to be behind it. People have to eat – why not do it together, and determine whether you and this other person are compatible? If the two of you click, you can meet again for more lunches, and maybe move on from there. If things don’t work out, at least you’ve had a decent meal.

This is what I kept telling myself last night. The last couple of weeks, the girls have gotten together at the house on Tuesdays, since Ellen had plans over the weekends. This wasn’t the case this week (and in any event, I had to get up early on Wednesday to get to camp to discuss the budget), so nothing happened. As a result, I sent out inquiries about possibly getting together last night. It was admittedly short notice, but as a general rule, I could be fairly confident that none of us had anything planned, socially speaking, even on a Friday night.

Of course, that’s not to say that there might be other mitigating factors. Erin was the first to suggest she might not be able to make it, although she seemed agreeable in spirit; she did have to report to work in the wee hours of this morning, after all, and couldn’t guarantee that she’d get herself sufficient sleep during the day beforehand. I’ve always considered that work environment that she deals with to be someone unhealthy for her, and that she needs to escape it soon for her own good. Then again, if you were to compare my health against hers, I have no right to speak. Regardless of that, I will continue to maintain that hers is not the best work/life balance; still, I understand that it’s a path she’s chosen to walk, and it’s not my place to dissuade her from it.

Ironically, it was Ellen who was the first to actually confirm that she would not be able to make it; even more so, I got the call from her as Kerstin was walking through the door. It had been a long day at work for her, and while going out for a meal sounded like a good idea, she was just too tired to leave the house now that she’d gotten there. She just wanted to stay home, do some laundry, and veg out with her cat. Again, between the short notice, and the activity of her day, I could certainly understand. Besides, as she pointed out, this getting together was supposed to be an every other week type of thing; I had just gotten used to it after a couple of consecutive Tuesdays. I mustn’t get too greedy of the girls’ time.

But with Ellen out of the picture, the dominoes began to fall. As I mentioned before, Erin was already concerned that she might be too tired – she has but two speeds, full pelt (which often times amazes me as to how long she can keep that up) and utterly exhausted – and with Ellen deciding to take the evening off, there was no reason for her to show up and greet her like a hyper-caffeinated prairie dog.

(Apart from you yourself, I imagine that an outside reader might look at that last phrase and think of it as a hyperbolic metaphor. It isn’t. Somewhere along the line, you’ll remember that the girls were over at the house watching YouTube videos with us, when we came across a series of gag-dubbed clips of wild animals – one of which was an energetic prairie dog calling out for his mate “Alan! Alan! Alan!” Erin being Erin, she thought that sounded like “Ellen! Ellen! Ellen!” which she would repeat while bouncing up and down enthusiastically. Ellen being Ellen, she responded in kind immediately thereafter; “Erin! Erin! Erin!” It became a running joke for them to greet each other in this manner, and they’ve stuck to it ever since. And thus are inside jokes – and surprisingly close friendships – are born)

Meanwhile, the boys had just gotten home from the movies (evidently, the Sonic sequel was at least every bit as good as the original), so they were looking forward to continuing their more usual activity of watching anime at home. Besides, they’d already grabbed something to eat (after a fashion – I’d hardly call a couple of large pretzels a meal, but Daniel does his own thing when it comes to his appetite), so the idea of setting their watch time aside to go out for a meal was not a high priority.

So, it was down to just me and Kerstin.

Let’s just say that this could’ve been awkward, if we thought about it too hard. I’m sure it certainly looked like a date, to any outside observer.

And, to be honest, we both set about addressing the elephant in the room. It turned out that she was every bit as uncomfortable as I was at first as we were driving to Uncle Julio’s (and while I know that Jan had expressed interest in the place when we first dredged those cards up from wherever in the house they’d been buried, we quickly discovered that the place was never open for lunch, so that wasn’t going to happen). In her case, she was concerned that she wasn’t properly dressed for such an occasion. But once we established that neither of us had any designs on each other, it was so much easier to just be ourselves – which was as it should be.

Not that we couldn’t make jokes about it; it crossed my mind that Erin might’ve bowed out of getting together in order to set me and Kerstin up, as some elaborate 4-D chess move to divert my attentions from her. And while Kerstin does connect well with Daniel on religion and politics in a way I cannot – or maybe she’s just willing to just listen, while I fear being unable to refute him on every point – and would be a fine surrogate mother to him, I can’t see us being an ‘us,’ if that makes any sense. It’s a clever ploy on Erin’s part – probably too clever by half, given that she was in her ‘running on fumes’ mode – but I doubt she even considered it, and in any event, it didn’t succeed.

Not that the two of us couldn’t have a good time together on our own; and in any case, the food was lovely and quite satisfying. And honestly, it’s easier to enjoy yourself when you’re not trying to impress the person across the table in that way, toward that end. Just ourselves being ourselves, enjoying a meal and conversation together; nothing more.

You were, of course, a great deal of the conversation; she misses you, too, although in a very different way than I do. You did, after all, take up a sizable amount of her down time, back in the day, trying to help her clean her own house (despite the fact that you found ours too much of a challenge to do – it’s probably easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff, since you have no particular emotional attachment to it). She expressed amazement at your willingness to eat the most absurd of her leftovers like it was a gourmet meal, and bring home what neither of you could finish, taking it off of her hands (although you probably would have been appalled at all that Jan and I ultimately wound up throwing out).

She related how you would share what some might consider to be ‘too much’ with her about our life together, but I certainly appreciated hearing it relayed back to me from her – it’s a comfort to hear from someone else how much you enjoyed being a couple, doing couple stuff… like, well, coupling. She mentioned about how the two of us, even to the end, carried ourselves like newlyweds (enhanced by the fact that she knew what we’d been up to mere hours before showing up at Sunday service). It may have been painful for her to hear, like listening to someone describe an exotic vacation that the listener knows they’ll never be able to go on, but she didn’t – for the most part, aside from a little wistfulness about how ‘that’s what I expected my marriage to be like’ – display any resentment toward us about it.

Maybe it’s because those days are – at least for now – behind both of us. We’re both left asking ‘why,’ but for different reasons. Why didn’t it work out? Why did you have to go? And of course, these aren’t questions we’re going to get any answers to, so in the end, there’s no point in asking them – but it’s hard to keep from doing so.

The only thing we can try to do is to move forward – as soon as we can figure out what direction ‘forward’ is. The funny thing is, even as we’re driving back home, she’s looking into church singles groups she thinks I should check out. Not that I should switch churches, but if there’s a special event…

Well, it’s worth considering. After all, it’s just an event, just like this was just dinner…

Wish me luck, honey. I think I’m going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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