Story 2: We Could Have

The light of the sun began to bleed into the night. It was cold in the car, and I wondered if it were colder outside. The car had been running for hours, but Sarah and I were so preoccupied that I didn’t notice it was on or that the heater was off or that my phone was still playing music. I let go of Sarah’s hand to turn the heater on low. I didn’t want it to be too loud. She grabbed the box of tissues, nearly empty now. Our eyes were red and swollen. We’d been drained dry. My soul felt flushed, and she must have felt the same. We had little else to say.

I sat back to feel the warmth and looked out at the horizon, now a light orange, casting a soft shadow from the mountains onto the lake. The music was soothing, and it healed me as slowly as dawn bled over the sky. Sarah held my hand again, and her cool fingers were smooth against mine. I looked at her, but she was looking forward, just as I’d been. Her gaze was wide, searching for something that might not have been there. She seemed to be looking through the mountains. I looked out again.

“Do you think we could have made it?” Her voice was hoarse and tired and broken.

We could have, I thought. If we were truly honest about how we felt from the beginning, before any of this, we could have avoided digging the hole we were stuck in now. Resentment and mistrust were poisons that killed us slowly, but we could have found a cure sooner. We could have held each other and told each other about all the stupid thoughts we had and all the irrational things we tried to rationalize and all the people whose stories revealed us to ourselves. We could have forgotten about the meteor shower and gone straight to the restaurant. We could have avoided all this if she or I decided that enough was enough, that life as we knew it wasn’t what we were promised in those thoughts and rationalizations and stories.

The sun peeked over the ridge of the mountain and the light hit Sarah’s eyes. They were vibrantly brown. The first time I saw her eyes in this kind of light was the first time I told her I loved her. Could I say it now?

I was drained. But it was satisfying. There had been too much in me for too long that drained was the best I could ask for in that moment. The emptiness granted clarity. That we didn’t stand a chance was always clear. But that we could’ve given ourselves a better one was something that dawned to me now.

The gold of the sun faded slowly from her eyes.

“We could have.”

Story 1: Bless You

I felt the sneeze welling up behind my nose, so I quickly turned, just barely remembering to hope that no one or nothing would be where my sneeze trajectory would traverse. But hope wasn’t enough.

I turned to sneeze, and it cleared my sinuses so powerfully, I was tempted to focus on the effectiveness of that sneeze rather than on the mother. And the baby. My vision was just coming back to me when I realized just what it was that my eyes saw.

I just sneezed on this baby.

And not on the shoulder. Not on the arm. I sneezed directly (but without malice aforethought) on the face of this woman’s new child. For a small fraction of a second, I caught the face of the baby as I sneezed onto his face, and he reacted pretty normally considering the social magnitude of this faux pas—his face was stunned, he had a small pause to comprehend what just happened as much as a baby can comprehend this, and then he began to cry loudly, most likely due, in addition to many, many other things, to the sudden shock and the loud noise I just made, inches from his face. I looked to the woman holding him. His mother was absolutely appalled. Disgust was painted, nay, sculpted, on her face—in the form of excess sneeze debris.

Very unfortunately, I began to chuckle. This is how I’ve always reacted to non-lethal mishaps that I’ve witnessed or experienced. I’ve learned to enjoy how ridiculous the things that happen to us can be, to take it all in stride. Somehow, this felt like the perfect and the worst time to laugh. Perfect because this seemed as ridiculous as a scenario can get. I mean, what. are. the. chances.

Worst because this was a Christmas party. It was a semi-formal event. Professionals, coworkers, families, and significant others were all here, dressed better than they would for a dental appointment (but worse than they would for a gala).

“I. Am so. So. Sorry.” I tried to plead to this woman holding a wailing baby, wiping my nose with a napkin from my pocket.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” She whispered very loudly at me. She may as well have yelled it loudly. There was nothing else the people around us could assume she said to me at that moment. What else can you say to someone who sneezes on the fruit of your loins?