Larry’s note lay on the kitchen counter when I got home from work: “Gone to Mexico. Adios.”
This couldn’t be happening again. I smoothed the small, hot pink notepaper meant for quickie grocery lists. My fingers shook. His neat little boy handwriting—letters so small and meticulous—so unlike his laid-back attitude—made the words seem ordinary, like he’d checked with me, like I’d agreed. Just like the other three notes he’d left on the kitchen counter over the past eight months, same cryptic message with a few changes in the wording, always Mexico, always on the same multicolored notepad. Those trips had lasted anywhere from a week to ten days. I’d thought that after his last escape two months earlier, that would be it; he’d get back on track, maybe finally let me know what had been bothering him.
It suddenly struck me that our 1988 white VW was missing from its usual spot beside his 1973 green Chevy van in the vacant lot next to the house. He’d been driving the smaller car ever since he started working on the van’s engine two months earlier. I hadn’t even noticed. So would he be sleeping in the VW?
Or had he finally taken that surfer pal’s offer to stay at his Ensenada beach house? The guy had been inviting him for years; surfers down at his favorite spot in San Clemente were always inviting him on surf trips. They just wanted to hang with him. Everybody wanted to hang with him. He never went. He hated staying with other people, hated to be obligated to anyone.
After the shock of his first unexpected departure, I started thinking that maybe that’s exactly what he needed, time alone on a surfboard down Mexico way. Out in the ocean, catching waves, with that occasional brush with a dolphin he treasured so much—this was where he found his spiritual center. Maybe he’d finally grieve the loss of his mother. She died right before he retired, which was when he planned on spending more time with her. I knew that was a big deal for him. He felt guilty. Not that he said anything about it. No signs of grief, even at the funeral—well, except for convulsively squeezing my hand. The shrink told me he was probably depressed and advised lots of loving understanding. As far as our seeking counseling together, Larry told me I had the problem, not him.
I thought back to our confrontation after his last defection, two months earlier. Not that much different from the other times.
“Okay, so are you finally going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Why do you keep doing this?”
We went back and forth like this for a bit, with me becoming more and more agitated because of his stonewalling. This, of course, just made him calmer and me crazier until I stormed off. This was how most of our confrontations went. But then he’d come through with a self-effacing sweetness and life would continue.
I glanced at the note. “Adios.” I felt my jaw tighten.
Sweetpea and Jake slammed against the back of my legs, vying for my attention. I glanced down. Almond-shaped eyes with white half-moons stared up at me with devoted Staffie intensity. I dropped to my knees, grabbed them both around the neck and squeezed hard.
They yelped and wriggled free then spun back around and licked my face, all the while bumping and grinding against each other. In a wild Tasmanian devil whirl of scrapping, they disappeared around the corner. I flopped on the floor, let my head fall back against the kitchen cabinets, and glanced around at the house I’d shared for twenty-five years with a man I thought I knew. So much for that.
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