One story. Two couples.
I proposed on our first date.
She laughed and told me I was insane. Less than a day later, she said yes.
It was a whirlwind, but we were happy…
Until we got greedy and wanted a family.
It was a life I couldn’t give her, not for lack of trying. Fertility just wasn’t on our side. We sought out doctors and treatments. Spent money we didn’t have. Lied to our families. Smiled for our friends. Put on a brave face for a world that didn’t understand.
Finally, we were successful…
Until we were forced to bury our son.
We were left broken, battered, and destroyed.
They say love is in the details, but it was the details that ruined us.
This is the story of how I took back what had always been mine.
The retrieval of my wife and our family.
The house was dark when I quietly twisted the lock so as not to wake her. God knows she needed the sleep. I didn’t know how she still functioned when her days were filled with tears and her nights weren’t much better. It was precisely the reason I stayed gone as much as I did. Or so I’d thought as I’d thrown myself into work. Money couldn’t solve my problems, but it might have been able to solve hers.
My body ached, and my lids barely stayed open despite the pot of coffee I’d downed not even an hour earlier. It was a miracle I had been able to drive at all. I should have just crashed at the office, but after yet another failed prototype, I’d needed an escape.
Instead, I’d gone home—the very place I’d spent so many nights trying to avoid.
Only one foot was over the threshold when I suddenly froze.
“Elisabeth?” I called, flipping the overhead light on.
My shoulders fell as I found her sitting on the sofa, her long, blond hair curtaining her face and suitcases surrounding her feet.
“What’s going on?” I asked as my gut wrenched, already knowing the answer.
I had no right to be surprised. I’d all but forced her hand. If I was honest with myself, it was what I’d wanted—for her. However, none of that made the pain of reality any less agonizing.
My heart raced. “Elisabeth?” I prompted again, needing to hear her say the words almost as much as I dreaded it.
“I can’t stay here anymore,” she whispered at the floor.
Acid rose in my throat.
Out of habit, I dropped my keys into the basket she’d bought when we’d first moved in. “If you fail the key basket, the key basket will fail you,” she’d announced with an infectious smile the day we had become homeowners to the two-bedroom-two-bath starter home we could barely afford. It was just seconds before I’d swept her off her feet and made love to her on the hardwood floor of our foyer in the middle of the day.
But such was life as a newlywed.
Inside that house with her was the only place I’d ever wanted to be.
Until the fantasy of forever had worn off and the walls of real life had closed in on us. Once my refuge, our home became an inescapable prison with bars built of my failures.
I couldn’t breathe inside that house any more than I could look her in the eye.
We’d only been married for five years. But, seeing her now, I felt like it’d been a lifetime since I’d peered into her eyes, promising to love her in sickness and in health.
But it wasn’t like she was the same woman, either.
Over the last six months, she’d wasted away both physically and mentally in front of my eyes.
And I’d done absolutely nothing to help her.
But how do you throw a lifeline when you yourself don’t even have a rope to hold on to? I might have been able to keep her afloat for another day, but I’d never have been able to pull her back to me.
We merely existed on the same plane. Living under the same roof, eating meals at the same table, sleeping in the same bed. But we were far from sharing our lives together.
“Are you coming back?” I asked, not willing to accept the truth that lingered in the air around us.
Her deep-green eyes lifted to mine—the red rims and the dark circles doing nothing to hinder her beauty. Swallowing hard, she shifted her gaze to the mantel on the other side of the room. I knew what she was looking at, but I refused to follow her into the past.
That might have been our biggest problem of all.
She was still living there.
And I refused to go back.
“Elisabeth?” My voice softened, but the question remained the same. “Are you coming back?”
“No,” she replied, swiping the tears from her cheeks.
A thousand arrows fell from the sky, searing into my soul. My breath hitched, and my lungs burned. This was it—the end of my life as I knew it. But, in that moment, with her shoulders hunched forward in defeat, I realized that it was the end of hers, too.
Why did that realization hurt more than the lifetime of loneliness that was awaiting me when the sun rose?
I lifted a hand and rubbed my chest, hoping to ease the mounting pressure threatening to overtake me. “Don’t do this,” I mumbled through the pain.
I wasn’t sure who I’d meant that for though.
Was I chastising myself for having asked her to prolong the inevitable just because I wasn’t ready to lose her yet? Or was I asking her to stay in this sham of a marriage for even one day longer?
“You’ll be okay,” she assured me, pushing to her feet and gathering her bag, complete with our Yorkie, Loretta, tucked in her mesh dog carrier.
My pulse quickened, nature’s fight-or-flight finally kicking in. But I’d been in flight mode for entirely too long. There was no fight left.
I stepped into her path. “Elisabeth, please.” I wasn’t sure why I kept saying her name. I secretly hoped that it would snap her out of it, bringing her back to the reality of it all. But it was the reality that was killing us.
“I’ll take off work tomorrow,” I pleaded. “We can talk. Figure things out.”
It was selfish. Completely and utterly selfish. But that was nothing new for me.
Her chin quivered as a steady stream of tears fell from her eyes. “Promise me something, Roman.”
I would have promised her the entire fucking universe if it had made her stay one night longer. But who was I kidding?
We were over.
We both knew it.
“Anything,” I whispered, reaching down to take her hand, desperate for the connection I didn’t deserve.
“Remember to live.” Her voice caught, and a silent sob tore through her.
Cupping the back of her head, I pulled her into my chest.
“I can fix this,” I swore, but it was yet another lie. “We just need time.”
Her shoulders shook as she cried in my arms. “We…we promised. We told him we’d live for him.”
I closed my lids and clung to her tighter.
We were supposed to be fighting and screaming. That was what soon-to-be-divorced couples did. But that wasn’t us. We didn’t hate each other. Elisabeth was my soul mate on every level.
And she was paying the price for that.
Minutes later, the tears stopped and she backed out of my arms. I fought the urge to regain my hold, forcing her to stay. But her sad resolve as she hurried to the mantel and then to the door made it clear it’d be a wasted effort.
Never in a million years had I thought I’d be standing there, watching her walk away.
But, then again, I’d never expected her to have the urn of our only child cradled in her arm, either. A reminder of just how much I hadn’t been able to give her. How much I’d never be able to give her.
My past, present, and future were walking out of my life, and I stood immobile as every fiber in my being screamed for me to drop to my knees and beg her to stay.
To take her in my arms and tell her that we’d figure it out.
To reclaim my life once and for all.
But how would that have helped her?
Staying wouldn’t magically bring back her smile. Nor would it make her look at me with those bright-green eyes that made me feel as though I could conquer the world.
It wouldn’t give me back the crazy woman who argued with her whole heart and loved with her entire soul. No. Those days were gone.
I’d lost that woman somewhere in the bitterness between grief and blame.
We’d been happy once.
But we’d gotten greedy and tried to start a family.
That was her future. Not mine. Regardless how desperately I longed to give it to her…and then selfishly take it for myself.
Sex. That’s how babies are made. Children as young as elementary school are taught the simple biological facts of reproduction.
But what they never tell you is that, for one in six couples, having a baby goes a little differently.
For Elisabeth and me, it looked more like this:
Thirty-six months of crushing disappointment.
Hundreds of tests our insurance company refused to cover because the inability to reproduce was not considered a health condition.
Her broken heart.
My empty chest.
Thirty-seven thousand dollars we didn’t have.
In vitro fertilization.
A sperm donor.
A handful of hope.
A positive pregnancy test.
Five months of utter bliss.
A funeral for a child I would never get to see grow up.
A job that became my only reprieve from reality.
And now…losing the only woman I would ever love.
I’d always been amazed by how much punishment a heart could take. I was broken, battered, and destroyed. And yet, much to my dismay, as I watched the front door close behind her, my heart kept beating.