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Doubts and Decisions: A Short Story
Lily Macintosh sighed loudly as she glanced at her wedding to-do list. Much of what remained to be done was minutia, and, even as a young child, Lily had struggled with tasks involving excessive detail.
Standing up, she stretched her short, slender frame and looked around her half-packed efficiency apartment. In a week she would not only have a new name—Lily Peterson—but also a new address: the older, well-maintained home in Pierre, South Dakota owned by Lewis, her fiancé. Over the past month she had experienced substantially more apprehension than excitement about the prospect of getting married and moving in with Lewis. On a good day she dismissed her doubts as part of her frequently conflicted and questioning personality; on a bad day, however, she wondered if she was making a serious mistake.
She would turn 29 in September, and she had never lived outside the Midwest. She grew up on a farm outside of North Platte, Nebraska with her parents and two older brothers, Tom and Jason. For college she had left Nebraska completely, yet only made it as far as Vermillion, South Dakota. Once she completed her degree in secondary education from the University of South Dakota, she moved to Pierre to teach high school English. She had stayed in Pierre ever since; in the fall, she would start her sixth year of teaching. She had a pretty decent life, she had to remind herself, yet she wondered about the rest of the world that she had never seen. Last summer she and Lewis had traveled to Winnipeg, Manitoba just to get out of town for a few days, and this getaway was not the exotic variety of travel that Lily wished for. Lewis, however, didn’t seem to possess much interest to travel beyond their upcoming honeymoon in and around the Grand Canyon. He was from Pierre, his parents were from Pierre, and he had no intentions of ever leaving. He was at least as rooted as the giant cottonwood trees which lined the banks of the Missouri River in town.
What have I gotten myself into? Lily couldn’t shake this thought as she paced around her apartment trying not to trip on half-full boxes packed with books, clothing, and DVDs. The fact that she felt the need to forcefully remind herself more than once a day that she genuinely loved Lewis troubled her greatly. Yet all of this introspection and doubt was starting to run her mentally ragged, and she knew that the only solution was a lunch date with Deanna.
Deanna was the first friend she made at the High School in Pierre. A firm, though gentle native of Pella, Iowa, she had moved to Pierre the year before Lily to teach high school biology. She was unusually pretty—tall, curvy, with short blonde hair and intense green eyes—and, for this reason and others, Lily wasn’t surprised that she had a serious boyfriend by the time Lily arrived. Keith, Deanna’s boyfriend, had become her husband two summers following Lily’s arrival. They were now the parents of a precocious tow-headed toddler named Jasper with another baby, the sex unknown, on the way. Deanna had quit teaching in order to be a stay-at-home mom, and Lily had missed her immeasurably at the high school. They had, thankfully, kept in touch and met for lunch at least every other month since Jasper was born.
Lily grabbed her iPhone and sent Deanna a quick text: I am having a severe case of cold feet. Can you meet me for lunch tomorrow?
Satisfied by her decision to reach out to her closest friend in town, Lily returned to the task at hand: the wedding to-do list. Almost immediately the bulleted items became blurred as tears built up in her eyes. The inconvenient, unwanted thought, I don’t want to get married, flashed through her mind. She sighed again and decided to keep packing and worry about her list after she talked to Deanna. After all, her lease was up at the end of July regardless if she married Lewis or not. Whatever she decided to do, she would have to relocate.
Deanna texted her back a few hours later and confirmed that she could do lunch at noon. They decided on a local diner, Buck’s Eats, and Lily started to count the hours before she could see her friend and unload the weight of her uncertainty.
Deanna breezed in a minute before noon with a mildly frazzled, though companionable look on her face. She wore a snugly-fit blue tank top underneath which her pregnant belly was obvious. Lily, after hugging her briefly, placed her right hand on Deanna’s bulging belly to see if the little person would finally kick for her. Since Deanna was due in three months, Lily thought for certain that she would be able to feel the baby kick by now. He or she seemed completely uninterested in moving, however, and so soon she abandoned this quest and sat down in a booth across from her friend.
They ordered sandwiches, fries, and waters with extra lemon slices from Anna, their apathetic teenage waitress, before diving into conversation. Deanna, knowing how to ask Lily questions to get to the heart of what was wrong, wasted no time broaching the subject.
“What’s going on? You said that you are having doubts and your wedding is six days away. Please tell me everything.”
Lily swallowed nervously before answering. She pushed a stray strand of wispy brown hair behind her ear before speaking. “I am consumed with dread about getting married. More than once a day I have to remind myself that I still love Lewis whenever I have these doubts. I just don’t think I want to spend the rest of my life living in Pierre without at least traveling abroad a few times. And, worse than all this, he bores me with increasing frequency. I haven’t had an animated conversation with him in months.”
Deanna’s brow furrowed in response. She paused before replying. “How long have you had these doubts?”
“Since we were engaged. Or maybe before. I don’t remember.” Lily felt foolish for admitting this, yet she didn’t want to deny her friend the truth.
“Oh, dear. Why did you even agree to marry him in the first place?” She asked kindly; there was curiosity, not judgment, in her voice.
Lily sighed and looked down. “I don’t know. Maybe I thought that I wouldn’t meet anyone else, or else I felt that I had to say yes since we had been dating for over three years already. Plus, you know that I want to have kids one day.”
“He isn’t the only man you could have kids with,” her friend gently reminded her.
“I know. But how do I know if I would ever meet someone else?”
“You don’t know. But here’s the thing: I don’t know for certain that Keith and I will stay married. I can’t promise you that I will be able to keep the promises I have made to him even if I want very much to do so. Life isn’t that simple. If it were, you wouldn’t be a crockpot of existential angst right now.”
Lily smiled at this comment. She was angst-ridden much of the time, and this was one of several reasons men didn’t generally want to date her. Add in her social awkwardness and near-obsession with Victorian literature, and she wasn’t the type of girl who could discuss the latest Vikings football victory or loss with enthusiasm.
“Did you have doubts when you married Keith?”
“A few. I still have doubts. But they don’t consume me. They are more like the noise from Jasper’s toys that I hear in the background while I am in a different room. It sounds as if you are being assaulted by a foghorn in comparison.”
“Agreed. But still…what should I do?”
“I can’t tell you what to do. I wouldn’t want to. You need to take full responsibility for your decision once you make it.” Deanna paused and was silent while Anna plopped their food in front of them and then asked if they needed anything else.
“Good point. I still want to know if you have any advice, however. You are Keith seem pretty happily married to me.”
“We do okay. Nothing is ever perfect, but it is sometimes good and sometimes even great. Yet there are days I wonder if I have made a big mistake. I am not immune from doubt. I doubt that Lewis is either. Maybe you should talk to him about this.”
Lily sighed; she had been afraid Deanna would suggest this. “I don’t want to break his heart.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re not that type of person. But if you marry him and then leave in two years, you will break his heart at that point. I don’t know if you can avoid causing him pain right now no matter how much you want to.”
“What else could I do?”
Deanna nibbled on a fry dipped in ranch dressing before responding. “I would write down what you want your life to look like in five years. Be specific and dream big when you do this. If you want to teach English overseas, write that down. If you want to live in Pierre with Lewis and your two children, write that down. The problem is, and I think you are smart enough to realize this, is that either choice will involve loss, sacrifice, and potential joy. You can’t know if you will be happy married to Lewis in five years, and you can’t know if being single longer and using that time and freedom to travel and try new things will make for a better life. There are simply too many unknowns.”
“I was afraid you would say something like this. Does Keith ever bore you?”
“Sure. Not all the time, but there are days we don’t have much to say to each other. And there are days that I am bored with myself and with life in general. I accept these days, however, and don’t dwell on them. As a person who cares about you, I hope that you can learn to do this.”
“Thanks. I hope so, too.”
They paused their conversation in order to eat their sandwiches and fries. Lily, whose stomach was tied up in knots, was too uptight to eat most of her sandwich. Instead she pulled it apart as if trying to dissect it, and soon her plate was covered with separated slices of cheese, tomato, and bacon.
Deanna noticed this and reached over to touch her shoulder in an assuring, maternal fashion. “You’ll be okay, Lily. Don’t think that you won’t be.”
“I know. I just wish that this choice wasn’t so messy. I feel damned if I get married next week and damned if I don’t. Lewis, even if he can be boring and stodgy, has stood by me through my moods and my doubts. He has even tried to understand me on a few occasions, though I think it is likely that he will never be able to because we are so different.”
“All people are different, Lily. It’s foolish to believe otherwise. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met here who are convinced that my upbringing was just like theirs because I grew up in another Midwestern state. They cannot understand that I grew up in a picturesque, conservative town where it is against the law for people to mow their lawns on Sunday, and where you are urged to put your best face forward at all times no matter what it happening in your life. Pierre isn’t the same as Pella, and I wish that people could see that. But this isn’t about me. It’s about you. What can I do to help?”
Lily paused before responding. “If I make a list of what I want my life to look like in five years, can I come over later and show it to you? I don’t want to make this decision without your input.”
“Of course you can. Keith will be home at 5:30 from work, so he can watch Jasper for a spell while we confer. Does that work for you?”
“It does. Thank you so much. I am feeling saner already.”
Deanna glanced at her watch and realized that her babysitter needed to be relieved in ten minutes. “Oops! I better pay and scoot before the babysitter gets upset with me. Call me before coming over tonight, okay?”
“I will.” Lily, who was in no rush to return to her disorderly apartment, watched her friend scurry out the door with grace and speed. She moved with such fluidity that she sometimes reminded Lily of a deer.
Anna stopped over and glanced at Lily’s half-eaten sandwich with a raised eyebrow. “Need a box?”
“No, thank you. But I will take my bill.”
Once outside Buck’s Eats, Lily decided to take a detour to the bridge over the Missouri River instead of heading straight back to her apartment. She parked her 2005 Silver Chevy Cobalt and walked over to a bench overlooking the river. It was the same bench that she and Lewis had sat on over three years ago after they had been dating for only a few months. At that time, life with him was new and exciting, and, simply remembering that rush of togetherness made Lily doubt once again what she should do. Musing that she wanted guarantees that life couldn’t offer her, she then moved to wondering what promises she could try to make to herself.
What if I could make this life of mine, as it is, be good enough? She asked herself. What if I could even look at it in such a way to realize that I am blessed in a way that not many people are? This may not have been the home I envisioned for myself as an idealistic teenager, but maybe this can be my home nonetheless. And maybe, despite my doubts, Lewis is a big part of that equation. Can knowing that I could leave now and never look back actually help me stay and devote myself even more to him and to us? This question, unbidden, took Lily’s breath away. It wasn’t the answer to her conundrum, but it was a piece of the puzzle.
The heat of early afternoon, coupled with an unrelenting sun that was starting to burn Lily’s fair skin, forced her back inside her car. Buoyed with uncharacteristic resolve, she drove home to her apartment and started to write down what she wanted her life to look like in five years. She smiled with relief when she realized that it would take as much, if not more, courage to stay with Lewis than it would to leave, travel the world, and risk never meeting another man who wanted to marry her again. I’m making a stand, she thought, stunned almost breathless at the thought. I could leave, but I don’t want to as much as I thought I did. Instead, it is time to take a stand besides my loyal companion, my Lewis, and hope against reason and experience that we will endure together no matter what life throws our way.