His Exit Line Was I Have a Headache
By Nadja Maril
“Sorry, but I have a headache.” I’d been the one nervous about dating so quickly after my husband died, but these words were spoken by my date.
I stared at the half eaten burger on my plate. Well this is not going well, my inner voice told me as I watched my date toss a $20 bill on the table and exit.
What were my new friends, the ones with whom we were sharing this table, going to think? My work buddy Taylor looked over in my direction. “Everything okay?” he said.
I attempted to nod and smile. It could have been worse, I told myself. I could have been stupid enough to go out with him alone.
Pretty cheesy for him to run out on me, I thought. But when we’d first met at my new part-time job, I’d been intrigued. I’ve always been attracted to a man with a sonorous voice.
“You were the prettiest thing in the window,” had been his come-on line.
Didn’t your mother tell you not to be a sucker for a come on, I told myself, but the feeling of being desired was a refreshing change from the feeling of alienation I felt from most of the world.
It had been the second week I’d been working at a colleague’s shop just to get out of the house. My mother complained of the lonely social life of a widow in her mid-sixties and here I was only thirty-five. At the school bus-stop and PTA meetings, parents initially greeted me with hugs. This was followed by an awkward silence.
Spencer, that was the name of my date, had peered into the shop’s front window before entering and pretended to be interested in the various pieces of old furniture and china before introducing himself. Early on in our conversation, I made a point of mentioning my two little boys, ages four and seven. Then I made a reference to my antiques business, the one I’d started with my late husband. While I chatted on, I could feel his eyes looking at my left hand, looking for a wedding ring. The rings I wore were not traditional ones.
“Would you like to go out with me?” he said. “To a movie?”
“Yes,” I said.
Afterwards. I regretted my impulsiveness. When I explained my predicament to my co-worker Taylor , he suggested we join him and some friends at a local music spot. “It’s safer in a group,” he said.
Turns out, the group had been a good idea. Astonished by what they partly witnessed, they wanted to hear the story from start to finish.
“So your date just walked out?” Taylor asked.
“I don’t think the situation was what he expected,” I said. “He seemed uncomfortable, kept asking when we were going to leave. I told him I wanted to hear the second set. That’s when he asked me about my divorce, whether it was final. I said. “I’m not divorced. My husband is dead.”
His eyes got big. “Were you separated then?”
“We were together. Happily married,” I said.
“You were with your husband when died? How long was he sick?” Spencer asked.
“He was in the hospital for three weeks, a massive stroke, and two months ago he died.”
That’s when Spencer stood up, reached for his wallet. “Sorry,” he said. “I have a headache. This should cover it.”
Had I been at fault, leading him on? Widows my age were not that common. Didn’t most people wait at least a year or two before re-entering the dating world?
It was bad enough that at unexpected moments I started crying. Almost anything might remind me of the future we were planning. Newlyweds. Babies. Elderly couples holding hands. The first day of school.
The idea that a healthy 46-year-old man could die unexpectedly reminded everyone of their own mortality. No one was safe.
Although a few loyal friends tried to be supportive, I could see the pain on their faces struggling to cope with their own grief. Making new friends, who would see me with fresh eyes, seemed sensible.
But dating so quickly? Maybe that wasn’t so sensible.
I had some unfinished business. The previous winter, we’d gone on a family vacation and my husband had introduced me to downhill skiing. The boys had loved it, but I was still a novice. I dipped into my savings and booked a week for myself and my children at a Colorado ski resort.
In the morning we took classes. Riding the ski lift upwards towards the mountain peak, the carriage began to sway. On either side of me were two women in my class. The three of us were usually the last to make it down the trail.
To distract myself from imagining the cables might break, I said, “Last winter when my husband took us skiing, I was too scared to ride on a ski lift. Well look at me now. Think he can see me from heaven?”
Iris, the woman sitting to my left, handed me a piece of chocolate. “Who knows. Maybe,” she said. “ My brother committed suicide six weeks ago. Still trying to understand.”
I gasped. What were the chances that two women, both suffering recent tragedy would be in the same class together on the same ski lift? But when the woman to my right, Micah spoke, I was even more surprised.
“Two years ago, my husband was killed in a motorcycle accident, she said “That’s why I’m here. My boyfriend loves to ski. Wanted me to learn.”
I reached for her hand. How uncanny that the three of us would all be together in that time and place? Or maybe it was fate.
At the end of the week, my seven-year-old had already exceeded me in skill, fearlessly gliding down intermediate slopes with new friends. But I was able to take my four-year-old up the tow-rope and down the bunny slope with confidence.
I began developing some criteria on what I liked and what I didn’t like. And while I could make a list of desirable stats regarding age, values, and interests, what I was looking for was a man with a big heart. Someone with lots of compassion.
A social group for professionals under forty were having a meeting at a local pub. He arrived late, wearing his sweatshirt inside out. Dark eyes. Full beard. Everyone knew him.
He sat next to me at the bar and we began to talk. His voice was warm and soothing.
Our first date, swimming laps at the county pool. A fixation with swimming was something we had in common.
Two years later, Peter took the boys roller skating and asked if it was okay with them if he asked me to marry him.
“Ask her after dark,” my youngest suggested. “It’s more romantic.”