Janet closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It took a moment for her to regain composure. “Its supposed to be easier since the kids left for college” she said aloud. “I seem to have more work than ever, I just cant take this”. She readied the dishwasher and continued thinking. I am constantly cleaning or cooking or taking care of something for my husband. I need time for me. I need to regain order in my life. Im starting to forget who I am. What is my purpose? It can not be simply being a housewife. I have or rather had dreams of my own.
She sat down with a cup of coffee and a notebook. She had been writing for years in the battered book. It was where she wrote her desires and planned the orderly life of her dreams. So much has changed since her daughter Eve left for college 2 years ago, and then last year her son Ronnie went. She had dreamt of travelling with her husband Peter. They would go to Europe and have a fascinating time. But Peter said no, they couldn't afford to go running around another country like a couple of kids. Janet put the book away. Sadly she was beginning to realise those dreams she had were just lovely wishes. She was married and had responsibilities. But still in her heart, she liked to keep the dream alive.
Janet remembered a day they had a picnic up the mountain at “their” lake. They called it their lake because everytime they went there, they enjoyed it without anyone else ever being there. Eve and Ronnie had been just little kids. So full of energy and life. Peter had been in a playful mood, chasing the kids around. The day had been sunny but not to hot nor too cold, just perfect. They had enjoyed a picnic lunch and took their boat out on the lake all afternoon. It was one of her fondest family memories. As she fondly remembered that day, she told herself she didnt need a "grand adventure". She could be happy with her memories. But still she dreamt of adventure. Even something small like her happy memory. Anything to leave spontaneously and have fun.
She thought maybe Peter would like to go back there and picnic. Just the two of them. Maybe they could relive some old times and enjoy each other again. The weather was nice, no rain expected in the near future. Maybe she could get him to open up about whatever had been bothering him. She used to know everything about him but recently he was like a closed book. Hiding out in his study making calls and all that paperwork. Whatever was so important? Well this was important to her and he would just have to take time for her. Janet decided they needed to have this picnic to open up and be together. She was getting excited about it. She would talk to him about it at dinner tonight.
As they ate their dinner, Janet tried several times to bring up her idea. Peter told her each time he wasnt in the mood for a discussion. They ate in silence, the scraping of forks and chewing the only sounds. Janet thought she was ready to burst into tears. How could life be so unfair? Yes, she had a good comfortable life. There were many who didnt have the security she enjoyed. Was a little picinic too much to ask for?
Peter set down his fork and smiled. He was oblivious to his wife's internal turmoil. "That was a lively dinner, darling. Those potatoes were so delicious. What are we having for desert?" Janet stared at him and replied, "First I need to say something. Ive planned a little get away for us. I, no we need this." Peter shook his head. "This is not a good time to go away now. Maybe in a few months time but no, it simply wont workout." Now Janet really did burst into tears. "The children are gone, you still are out all day and then disappear into your study. I meant it when I said we need this. Its just a day trip to the lake. Remember how much fun we used to have?" They argued back and forth but Peter realized that she was not going to be happy until he gave in. He did remember the fun they used to have at the lake. It would be the two of the alone and it had been an awfully long time since they had been there. He got up from the table and came around to Janet. He put his arms around her and rested his head on hers. "My darling wife, i would be honored to spend Saturday at the lake with you. We will do whatever you desire. I do so love you". "Oh Peter, thank you so much. We are going to have a grand time. Even better than before".
Janet spent the next two days planning, packing and shopping. They would leave before sunrise and have their morning coffee watching the sun come up over the mountains. Then they would have a campfire breakfast. Peter made the best pancakes over an open fire. Then maybe see if the boat was able to take out and spend a leisurely morning cruising around the lake. Maybe a hike after lunch? Sometimes a "maybe" plan was better than a strict schedule. But they would enjoy it whatever they did.
Finally it was Friday night. They laughed as they made their way upstairs to bed so very early. The plan was to be in the car by 4 am. It was an hour drive up to the lake. That should get then their just as the sun was begining to shine though the tops of the mountains tbat kept their little piece of heaven secluded
.In the wee hours of the morning it was so hard to see in the dark. Peter and Janet kept bumping into each other in their bedroom as they hurriedly got dressed. “Do you think we’ll get there in time?” asked Janet. She was so excited. She got her arm stuck in her sweater and giggled. Peter snorted and replied, “I suppose so if you shake a leg. Janet couldnt help goading him, the grump. "Might help if you had turned on the light.” Peter answered that he never turned on the light in the morning so as not to wake her. It was a hard habit to change since he retired a few years ago. She reluctantly followed him down the dark stairs. She wondered if he was going to find fault with everything and be a grump all day. She had worked too hard for this and was not about to let him ruin what she was expecting to be a wonderful day. One for the books.
They quickly finished dressing, grabbed the hamper full of breakfast food and a thick, soft blanket and got in the car. “Oh, I can’t remember the last time we were out this early.” Janet was reminiscing about bygone times. So many mornings spent rushing around, getting their son and daughter off to school. Making sure Peter hadn’t forgotten his lunch. Never enough time to just enjoy a sunrise. Never enough time it seemed for her. I wouldnt have changed it she thought, reminiscing. I did enjoy all the time with the kids. They turned out as smart, successful adults so she must have done something right. And Peter had been quite the catch. It was only lately he had begun to feel distant.
They finally arrived at the top of the tallest hill in their valley. Local kids came here in the summer to swim in the lake just over the ridge. It was also a popular lovers lane spot. They looked at each other and smiled. They used to make use of lovers lane when they were dating. It was a nice memory to begin their day.
Peter pulled the car up to a big tree and stretched. “These old bones aren’t used to moving around this early. Been a dogs age since I’ve seen a sunrise. Used to watch it every weekday on the train into the city for work. Sure do miss ‘em now that I think about it.” Janet couldnt help but think that what she missed was him or rather them.
They pulled the hamper out of the trunk and grabbed the blanket from the back seat. Carefully they made their way to the edge of the hill overlooking their valley below. As Janet laid out the blanket and began setting up a picnic breakfast, Peter wandered around noticing things as if for the first time. Morning birds announcing time to get up, crickets chirping hello all seemed as if it was for him. He was happier than he had been in a long time. This is just what he needed. He had forgotten the wonders of nature. He told them all good morning and chuckled as a brave little squirrel approached looking for breakfast. “Not today little fellow, your on your own for breakfast.” He looked at Janet preparing coffee and felt an overwhelming love for this woman who had been at his side for so many years. He was the luckiest man alive.
“Come, Peter. Breakfast is all ready and coffee is poured. Sunrise should be any minute now.” The pair began their meal just as the sun peaked over the horizon. It was a beautiful sunrise full of color and splendor. The birds provided a soundtrack that they enjoyed. It was the only noise they needed at the moment. They watched and ate in silence. After 40 years together the silence was comfortable. Just the closeness of two people who had spent most of their lives together.
Too soon it was full morning and all around them the forest was awakening. They finished up eating and Peter walked over to a downed tree to have his after meal pipe. Despite dire warnings from his doctor he couldnt give that up. It had become part of the meal and he felt he only had 3 pipes a days so nothing to worry about. He knew Janet would have plenty to worry about and would endlessly begin a campaign to make him stop if she knew. Somethings a person just needs to keep to himself to enjoy a normal life he had thought. Not a problem to him so it isnt worth mentioning.
Janet began the putting away of breakfast and thought of all the mornings again that she had missed. It was always something, either someone couldnt find their homework or a blouse wasnt ready. Peter usually rushed out to get to work leaving her to solve all the childrens problems. She didn’t exactly blame Peter and the children, it was just that something in her had recently awoken and she wanted to live. No, she wanted to experience life, not just get through the day living for others. You get one life and she was beginning to feel most of it had passed her by without her noticing it.
"Ok. Time to have some fun" She dumped the basket and blanket in the car and walked over to Peter. He was still sitting on the log where he had smoked his pipe. She smiled, "All this fresh air and wilderness has worn him right out. He looks so peaceful sleeping there. But we came here to experience so time to get up". She felt kind of sorry to wake him. After all they werent young anymore and had had quite an adventure already. It was only 6:00 but felt much later.
“Well that’s odd”, she thought. “He never once has fallen asleep right after breakfast.” But then she remembered that since he went to the doctor last week he had been acting different. He wouldn’t talk about his visit and spent alot of time in his study with the door shut. She had tried to get him to talk, but after all these years she knew when nothing could get her stubborn husband to open up if he didnt want to. Janet hadn’t thought much of it. She was used to spending most of her days alone and she had her housework and Ladies Club to fill her hours. She thought about that for a moment. Housework will always be there and they could afford a cleaning woman if she wanted. She liked being their for tbe children when they came home from school and what n they had days off. Those days are gone and time to turn the page. Her Ladies Club was pretty much an excuse for a bunch of elderly women to get together to complain about what they were dissatisfied with. Last month it had been about Sharon Goulds daughter Emily. Emily was 15, and wanting to wear short skirts like her friends. Sharon was very adamant that her daughter at least give the appearance of being respectable until she left home. Good Lord but the stupid tbings they argue about. Janet had real problems but would rather die than have them gossip about her all over town. Some things are best solved alone. But she was beginning to long for some excitement. Something that wasnt the same old day in day out drudgery. An adventure, her grand adventure that she had waited so long for. Now she had time and was ready.
“Peter, wake up. Its time to go home.” She got no response so she said it again louder. “Oh for crying out loud he’s going to be a bear when he gets up if he’s that sound asleep.” Peter was not at his best when woken from a sound sleep. Janet tried to never have to wake him unless it was a dire emergency. "Well, this is one. We didnt come all this way for me to watch him sleep. Grumpy or not he is going to wake up and we'll se about taking a boat out. We used to love that. It's been so long. So long for many things". She could feel the despair of having to put her wants aside and decided that it was not going to happen to day.
But as she came around the tree limb he was sitting on she realized that Peter wasn’t just soundly sleeping, he had passed on while enjoying his forbidden after meal smoke. His pipe had fallen to the ground in front of him. Still lit. Janet picked it up and watched the smoke curl. She remembered the man she had spent 40 years with. All the happiness , sadness, pain and pleasure. She looked at him and didnt see the old man he had become. She saw the handsome young man who had sat next to her on the bus and wouldnt leave until he had her phone number and a date set. He was so dashing and charming, he swept her off her feet. She loved him now just as she had loved him then. He had been a wonderful bprovider. Despite him working all the time he was a great father. Both kids loved and respected him . Their son would come home on holidays from college and their son Ronnie and Peter would have chess duels that sometimes lasted all weekend. Their daugher Eve always made sure her dates met him before they went out. She trusted his judgement, if Daddy didn like her young man, that young man didnt stand a chance on a second date with Eve.
She sat beside him and quietly cried. This man had been such a huge part of her life for so long. It was because of him that they had the beautiful house in the nice part of the city. Because of him she had beautiful clothes to show off to her friends. Because of him their children went to good colleges and were on the track for success themselves. So many things taken for granted but they meant nothing to her at the moment. She also cried because she would gladly take another 40 years of housework and children and drudgery if she could have him back. Her heart was torn in half and would never be whole again.
After she could cry no more she realized she had to make arrangements. Peter couldnt just remain slumped on that stump. If he could see himself he would be mortified at such an undignified death. But we dont get to plan those things so she went to the car and found the phone they kept for emergencies and called the police. She dealt with everything matter of factly as she had always done. She had been raised not to show emotion when tragedy occurs. Keep a blank face until you are alone and then let it all out.
She called her children and they would be arriving as soon as they could get there. Ronnie was still in college and would come right away but Eve was a highly sought photographer and was in the middle of a shoot that there was no getting out of. She told her mother she had 2 days left and would be on the first plane as soon as the last photo was taken. Both of them were devastated at hearing their beloved father had passed away. There were long phone calls between Eve and her mother, both women comforting the other as best az tbey could. Janet thought her life had now changed for the worse. Whatever would she do witbout tbe man she had spent most of hef life with? Yes, they had arguments. Some big, some small, but they truely loved each other and showed each other just how much each other meant as often as they could. Ronnie told Janet a story of how when he was 10 and had several friends over for a birthday sleepover. One of the boys had gotten up to use the bathroom and on his way saw Janet and Peter kissing on the couch. Peter laughed as he told his mother how horrified that "old" people would be doing that. It felt good to reminisce about how strong their love was. Janet planned on doing more of that later. She would be kept busy with all the arrangements. At least until her daughter came and took over.
Janet found out that the doctor had told Peter that he had a blood clot in his brain and they could do nothing about it. He could not find the words to tell his longtime love that he would be leaving her. He thought about it constantly but everytime he tried to broach the subject, he would look into her eyes and see that gogeous young girl that he had fallen in love with so long ago and couldnt tell her. He knew it was selfish and wrong but he rationalized it by thinking that if she knew, she would spend every minute he had left worrying and they wouldnt enjoy their last few moments together. So he acted like usual and as if he was the picture of health.He had tbought about tellng his son so he could help finalize certain business matters but then he would have to also tell his daughter and Janet would find out. He held the news to himself.
He had spent all that time alone finalizing his affairs so Janet wouldn’t have to worry about money. That is why he had been so busy and distant this past week. He had many business dealings that needed to be signed over to Janet as well as what he wanted to go to the children. Peter had been more successful than Janet had realised. None of tbem would ever have to worry about money or security. He wanted to make sure his family would survive without him and he did that very well. He took care of every last thing except for telling her he was dying.
She made all her calls to family and friends and then there was just nothing. Just a void in the room she couldn’t avoid. So for the first time in many years, Janet did something spontaneous. She got in the car and headed back to the hill. She parked in the same spot by the tree and grabbed the blanket that was still there from that morning. She spread it out and sat down just in time to watch the sun set. It was as beautiful as the sunrise. She stayed sitting there till it had completely set. The moon came out and danced on the— lake below but she barely noticed it. Not thinking about anything, just being. Chipmunks scurried around her looking for handouts but went away discouraged that she had no food for them.
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