a short story by John K. Adams
“Yes, I’ve been expecting your call.”
To have and to hold and ‘til death do us part. Who could argue with that?
Abigail was perfect for me. She was everything I ever wanted in a partner, friend and lover. And she felt the same about me. Everything fell into place for us, easy as breathing.
We vacationed in Spain and rode horses past ancient Andalusian windmills. We joked about slaying giants as the sails fluttered and groaned, turning against the wind. Then, after galloping together to the crest of a hill, I dismounted and proposed marriage to her with the valley spread behind me. Abigail shouted “Yes!” laughing through happy tears.
We wed in wine country and honeymooned at a vineyard, walking amidst the arbors, plucking luscious grapes and laughing together.
One early morning we drove to Morrow Bay and picnicked in the shadow of the great rock, before the sun burned the fog away. Huddled on a blanket, we watched laughing gulls wheeling through the mist. We drank brandied coffee from a thermos, fed each other grapes and fresh baguettes and laughed until the sun was high. We always spoke of this as our ‘picnic at freezing rock’.
It didn’t take long to settle into a happy routine. Life went on easily and contentment reigned. Months rapidly accumulated into years. And then, something slowly felt off to me. Was it all too easy? It seemed we were ready to grow further. At least, I was.
How old fashioned of me to think of children, usually a woman’s topic. Broaching the subject with Abigail never felt right, though. And even broad hints were deflected.
Then, one night at dinner I just bluntly asked. And Abigail, just as bluntly, said no. She didn’t want children. And didn’t expect to ever ‘be ready’. She resented friends and relatives presuming things about the time, and their unsubtle hints about her and my ‘health’. She insisted she was happy with me and didn’t want to disrupt our love with diapers and baby puke.
After that, any further attempts to continue the discussion were met with her ‘look’. The subject was closed. It was the only forbidden topic in our whole time together. It was so strange for this huge gap to exist between us while everything else was still perfect. I could find no way around it.
But, old fashioned or not, I wanted a family. It was a natural progression of a loving couple to raise children. An embrace of the future. I always imagined passing my sense of the world to my children and watching them learn to navigate the shoals of life under our care.
During our courtship, the topic never came up. I just assumed children were part of a normal marriage. I was foolish to take that for granted.
I became restless.
I didn’t cheat. That would be stupid and beside the point. I wanted a family, not a mistress. And I was still in love with Abigail. I was at an impasse. The need for a challenge nagged at me.
Then, an ad popped up online, while researching a project. I almost missed its promised of relief for the lovelorn who need the ‘flee-dom’ to move on to a more positive personal relationship. A medical procedure which deleted my loving emotions while allowing me to retain my memories! Was this too good to be true?
The reviews on Yelp! appeared legitimate and were uniformly positive. Glowing, actually. I couldn’t find too much on the procedure itself, but the results spoke for themselves.
I called for an appointment with Dr. Wilhelm.
The procedure was amazingly inexpensive, $199.99. The outpatient procedure took about an hour, under sedation. It was not invasive. There was no recovery time or healing. Just relief.
The office was no less than opulent, comfortable and easy on the eye. The staff was cheerful and professional. I wondered how Dr. Wilhelm could maintain this facility with such affordable treatments. He must have a huge clientele. Who knew so many suffered from this condition?
And to the big question, is it reversible? Dr. Wilhelm responded with a question of his own. “Why would you want to do this if you want to reverse it?” I could not answer that. Dr. Wilhelm confirmed, “if the need arises, it is indeed reversible.” He assured me their success rate is extremely high. There didn’t seem to be any downside to this life changing procedure.
They did not pressure me. There was no pitch, no pressure. But I’m not impulsive. I told them I would get back to them.
While I drove home, Roy Orbison’s song, ‘Crying’ came on the radio and I lost it. The song hit me exactly where it was intended to. I didn’t want my love to end. I wanted one last piece to complete our lives together. I didn’t see a solution. It wasn’t up to me.
I took Abigail to dinner at our favorite restaurant and broached the subject once more. She responded with, “Are you really going to ruin this wonderful dinner by starting a quarrel?” ‘Nuff said.
Next morning, I made an appointment, for a week hence. I concentrated on work and kept to myself. There was nothing more to fight about. Abigail seemed distracted too.
On the day of my appointment, I left work early so it would be done and I could return home at my normal time. What would happen after that, I could not plan in detail. I figured I would tell Abigail, as much as I had loved her, my love had faded and it was time for us to part.
While driving to Dr. Wilhelm’s office I felt anxiety building. Deleting my love for Abigail was not what I wanted. But my life felt incomplete. I also didn’t want to hurt her. Freeing us both would allow us to find partners more suited to our temperaments. It was a win/win situation.
Dr. Wilhelm’s assistant was courteous, professional and disarming. Such a personal issue like deleting one’s love for their wife was treated as my personal business. No one pried or asked inappropriate questions.
I filled out the appropriate forms and flipped through a magazine.
Dr. Wilhelm made me feel I was doing the right thing, relieving myself of this unwanted stress on my life. After all, why shouldn’t I find a mutual love with someone who wants the same things in life as I do? Compromise is for losers.
I lay back in the chair and the doctor put a breathing mask with anesthetic over my mouth and nose.
I awoke and was told the operation was a success. I was free to go as soon as I felt ready. I felt fine. They told me to call if I have any questions or reactions to the procedure. Otherwise, no follow-ups were necessary.
I felt great. I paid the nominal fee and practically kicked my heels as I walked out the door.
As I drove home, I reviewed my life with Abigail. I remembered everything, clearly and concisely. But that yearning ache I had felt for her was gone. I was free. I really believed this was for the best, for both of us. I hoped she would see it that way too. I hoped we could continue to be friends.
Coincidentally, that Roy Orbison song came on again. I appreciated the melody and lyrics and Orbison’s genius for interpretation. But not one tear welled in my eye. My love for Abigail was dead.
I opened the door to our home, prepared for a reasonable discussion of how to move forward, to disentangle our lives without rancor or pain.
The entryway was dark. But a dim, flickering light glowed from the dining room. There, the formally set table was lit by three slender candles in elegant candlesticks. My mother’s antique china awaited a feast of what promised to be my favorite beef stew.
Potted vines heavily laden with voluptuous clusters of ripe grapes were draped around pictures and furniture. Abigail had turned our home into the grape arbor where we had first sworn our wedding vows.
I didn’t know what to think.
Abigail entered, smiling coyly. “We need to talk,” she said with a shy giggle. “And I need to apologize.”
She was pregnant. And happy about it. Abigail begged my forgiveness at her stern rejection of having children. She confessed she was afraid and handled it badly.
Abigail raised her glass of cranberry in a toast to having as many babies as I wanted. Her manner was easy and fun, like when I first fell for her.
I burst out laughing. But I felt nothing. Abigail took my laughter for agreement. She was thrilled.
She sat me down and served me a dinner fit for an expectant father. I ate. We talked. We laughed. I felt nothing.
I couldn’t bear to tell her I no longer loved her. That I was indifferent to her news. How could I?
I no longer loved her, but I knew what I had to do.
I called Dr. Wilhelm’s office, first thing the next morning. He was expecting my call. I explained what happened. He told me, “Relax, my friend. It happens all the time. If anything, the reversal procedure is in more demand than the cancellation procedure.”
I asked what my next step should be. He said, “It’s very simple. Your annual income is?”
I told him.
“And your wife’s annual income? This is going to cost you.”