“No one could say we hadn’t tried. We had tried for the last four years, and yet it never seemed to get better, not really. We weren’t husband and wife any longer; we were cordial roommates, perhaps even sometimes friends.
“It was a bitter-sweet blessing that we had no children to drag through our problems. Sometimes I think that was the start of it all, when I lost the baby. Sometimes I think I’m just too used to blaming myself. Whatever the reason, fact is, no matter how much we had tried, the marriage had ended a long time ago. We finally admitted it to ourselves.”
She took a sip of her tea and stared out the window, lost in memories that I did not wish to intrude. I stirred my coffee but didn’t drink any, acting more out of nervous habit than a real desire for it.
The gentle roll of the ship reminded me of the old nursery rhyme, Rock A-bye Baby. I used to sing it to my daughter when she was little as I rocked her in the chair. I finally followed her gaze out past the rain-speckled window to the clouded skies and misted waters outside. I could barely see the land any longer, a faint shadow of gray behind us.
Finally she had put on a smile and turned back to me. “What about you?”
I shrugged, but it was hardly fair not to give my story since she had given hers.
“I was pregnant and fifteen. Our parents made us get married. Can that ever end well?” I finally took a long drink of my coffee, and she waited kindly for me to be ready to say more. “It didn’t start too well, either, and only got worse as time went on. When he started to beat us, I left. Lived on the streets for a while, then CPS took her away.”
I feel quiet for a moment, wondering if I should say more. It felt odd to open up so completely to someone I’d only just met. I finally decided I had already said so much, what was a bit more now?
“I didn’t fight to get her back, what could I offer her? She was given to a kind couple, I did get to meet them, and I told her I loved her and how much I was going to miss her but she’d be well taken care of and always warm and fed and to be a good girl and not cry-”
I finally couldn’t hold my own tears back and hid my eyes behind the napkin as I tried at least not to sob. I still remember too clearly how she screamed for me as I was being driven away. I managed to get myself under control, give an apologetic smile and a nervous laugh as I wiped my eyes and nose.
“How old was she?” she asked.
She reached across the table and took my free hand, squeezing it gently. She seemed to understand that I couldn’t accept more than that, though I sensed she wanted to give me a hug. I even wanted the hug, but I couldn’t take it, not yet.
“That was twelve years ago.”
“Is- is that where you’re headed?”
I shook my head. “Oh no, I can’t do that. I can’t just walk back into her life now that she’s eighteen. That isn’t fair…”
She opened her mouth, then shut it again. I gave a humorless laugh and pulled my hand away from hers.
“Go ahead, say it,” I said, expecting the worst. Chastisement, criticism, judgment; I’d heard it all and more from complete strangers.
“Where are you going, then?”
And you know what? I believe that really was what she was going to ask. I couldn’t help but smile. “Nowhere. I’m just riding the ferries.”
She looked back out the window as she spoke next. “I got the island house in the divorce. It feels so big and empty on my own, though. Too much for one person.”
My eyebrows scrunched together as I tried to understand what she had just said. “For all you know I’m a thief, or worse.”
She looked back at me and smiled. “For all you know, I am.”
I laughed. “Nah, I know those and you aren’t one of them.” She didn’t say anything and after a few moments of silence I continued. “Besides, I can’t- I don’t have a job or anything.”
“I run a home business,” she said. “And I’ve needed some help lately.”
“Why? Why me?”
“I hit a low point in my life once, and there was someone there to give me a hand back up. Now it’s my turn.”
I felt more vulnerable now than I did spilling my past. “You’d do that for me?”
“I’d do it for both of us,” she said and reached back across the table. I met her half way.