Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 4
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part Two
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part Three
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 4
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 5
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 6
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 7
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 8
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 9
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 10
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 12
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 11
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 13
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 14
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 17
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 15
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 16
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 18
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 19
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 20
- Divorce And Dating And Other Disasters At Age 40: Part 21
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 22
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disaster at Age 40: Part 23
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 24
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Part 25
- Divorce and Dating and Other Disasters at Age 40: Epilogue
Recently divorced Anna Waite is learning to appreciate life after first love. With the support of her best friend Kira, and a solid sense of humor, Anna tackles the world of dating. This is her coming-of-middle-age story.
THE DATE WHERE I GO TO THE MALL
Holiday shoppers cram the halls and stuff into stores in a pre-Christmas rush of gift purchasing. So, when my date, Cory, suggested we meet at the mall, I wondered if he was crazy or masochistic. It turns out he just needed a few last-minute presents.
I wait for him outside Games and Things, enjoying the festive atmosphere. A giant evergreen stretches from floor to ceiling, twinkling LED lights dancing in a colorful array. Red and white ornaments cover the surface, from dangling balls to fabric bows to humongous candy canes. A grin touches my face as I look at the star on top, a dazzling glitter-fest of blinking gold. I love Christmas time.
“My wife used to gaze at the tree with the same expression you have on your face.” Cory puts a hand on my lower back, the touch a little familiar for a first date. But, even with our multiple late-night texting sessions, it feels too soon.
I take a step away. “Christmas is my favorite season.”
“Yeah, my wife loves Christmas too.” Another disconcerting thing about Cory; he always leaves off the “ex” when talking about his former wife, which is the opposite of how I refer to Mike. I always call him the ex, or ex-hole, or the duplicitous jerk I divorced. The word husband rarely passes my lips.
“Where to next?” I ask, overlooking the wife comment.
“Well, it might be kind of weird…” he bites his lip, and a light blush dots his cheekbones. “Do you mind if we grab a snack and go to the North Pole? I love the holiday décor over there.”
“Sure. We can head that way.” But, of course, it might be weird to someone who doesn’t love Christmas. But Cory is in luck because I’m happy to ogle the holiday frills until my eyes bleed.
The North Pole area features mechanical elves working on a giant clock. The little animatrons go up and down ladders, hammering gears and swiveling to the Christmas tunes playing overhead. A cozy fake fire burns in a brick structure next to a leather chair. Santa himself fills the seat, waiting for a dressed-up elf to lug a child his way. A photographer stands by to capture the moments of smiles and screams.
We sit on a bench with our soft pretzels, cheese dipping sauce for me, mustard for him. The urge to shove the whole yeasty, cooked dough in my face almost overtakes me at the first bite. Since I’ve been going to the gym more and limiting things like sugar and bread from my diet, this little snack tastes way better than it should. I break off small pieces, dipping them in the nacho sauce and letting it sit on my tongue to savor each salty bite.
Silver Bells plays, and I tap my toes to the beat, enjoying the atmosphere. There’s something special about this time of year. The decorations. The music. The spirit of giving. And though my eyes focus on the flashing spectacular of color and light, my thoughts turn to my divorce. This will be our first Christmas as a broken family. A physical ache catches in my chest as I think about waking up on the morning of December 25th without my kids. The empty house will greet me, no sounds of running feet and laughter. Just me and my hollow heart. Some tears might join the party, perhaps depression. Cheer will be in short supply. How are you supposed to celebrate Christmas alone?
“My wife used to close her eyes and make a wish every time a tree had a star topper. But not angels or snowflakes. Only stars.” A soft smile touches Cory’s mouth, and I resist rolling my eyes. This guy is clearly hung up on his ex.
“How long have you been divorced?” I ask.
A deep sigh gusts from his puffed cheeks. “Fifteen months next week. How about you?”
“My divorce was finalized about five months ago. But the marriage was over way before that.” The dark nights wondering when Mike would get home. One-sided talking where he stared at his phone, and I attempted conversation.
Cory reaches over and covers my knee. “The holidays are always the hardest.”
“I won’t have my boys for Christmas,” I whisper like a shameful confession. As if my husband leaving me for another woman and fracturing our life reflects on me. I know it doesn’t. Kira incessantly reminds me I have nothing to feel guilty about.
“My first Thanksgiving alone, I ate microwave burritos and curled on the floor watching Friends re-runs.”
A laugh catches me by surprise. “That’s terrible. Does it get any easier?”
“No.” His lips flatline, and any trace of humor disappears in a puddle of melted snow. “It gets harder. The days are endless. I miss my family so much it hurts.”
“Oh. How…sad.” I take another bite of pretzel and stare at my lap. My black leggings with Santa hats and gingerbread men now seem over the top, and I long for flannel jammies and Netflix. A real tearjerker to match my dwindling mood.
“I’ve tried to patch things up with my wife, but she says I need to move on. That I’m obsessed.” He uses air quotes on the last word and scoffs.
I side with his wife on this one. The way he clenches his jaw, the refusal to use the prefix “ex,” and his penchant for frozen Mexican food and TV sitcoms define obsessed. Trying to think of something neutral to say and dig the conversation out of the trenches, I clear my throat. “Are you finished with your shopping?”
“What’s the point?” Distraction adds an edge to his voice, and he scans the North Pole.
Sitting on the bench with him, his hand covering my knee; casts an illusion of a happy holiday couple. It feels deliberate, like an act. But we barely know each other. Discomfort bubbles in my stomach, and I wonder if it’s soft pretzel indigestion. Nope, definitely discomfort. I need to make my excuses and leave. A quarter of my pretzel remains, and I debate if I stuff it in my face, throw it away, or save it for later. A loud squeal interrupts my thoughts in the midst of my internal bread struggle.
“Cory!” A blond woman stomps towards us, her red cowboy boots clicking on the floor. Her blunt-cut hair reaches her chin, and she wears a candy cane striped sweater. “Why are you here?”
He shrugs and tightens the hand on my knee. “Just shopping with my girlfriend. So now I can’t even do that?”
Screech! Obsessed-Guy says what? “I’m not his girlfriend.” Removing his hand from my leg, I set the record straight. She ignores me. He replaces his hand.
“You think bringing some—” she eyes me up and down—“Christmas hussy will hide that you’re stalking the kids and me?”
Excuse me? I’ve been called a lot of names over the course of my forty years. But the words Christmas hussy have never been uttered. So, I don’t have the chance to defend myself as she turns and talks to an older woman behind her. Instead, the gray-haired lady stands with outstretched arms, blocking three girls.
“Mom, take the kids and meet me in the car. I’ll deal with Cory.”
His eyes widen, and he shakes his head. “Don’t take the girls. I want to introduce them to Anna.”
“This is our first date,” I say, prying his hand off my knee and rising from the bench. In his effort to keep me close, he lunges and knocks the quarter-pretzel from my hand, and the ramekin of cheese flies from my grip, sailing through the air like a shooting star. A trail of gooey sauce follows in its wake until it lands, plopping on the red boots.
“This is why we’re divorced!” She glares at the orange dribbles splattered on her footwear.
Cory pleads his case and other mall patrons notice the growing disruption. A dad gives us a wary eye and hustles his son away. Santa’s helpers close the photography station. One of them whispers in a walkie-talkie, calling for backup. Strains of O Holy Night echo as the North Pole shuts down.
I take a backward step, and then another, wanting distance between myself and the real-life soap opera unfolding. The ex-wife rants; Cory breaks into tears, and three mall security rush toward us. Right as Celine belts “noel” at the height of the musical scale, a guard grabs Cory by the arm, pulling him from where he weeps on the floor. My feet propel me in reverse, one slow step at a time, and my eyes stay forward, watching the drama.
Hands press on my shoulders, stopping me, and I turn to see I almost ran into Santa. He makes a great man in red, with a real beard hanging to cover his neck and a soft body that fills out the suit.
“Are you okay?” His gentle tone wraps around me like a cashmere scarf. Soft blue eyes gaze into mine, his concern a tender calm in the unexpected blizzard of my life.
“Surprisingly, this isn’t my worst first date,” I say, and Santa laughs, a generous ho ho ho as we watch the mall cops lead Cory away. He doesn’t even look back. So much for being his girlfriend, not that I was interested.
The elves work to re-open the North Pole. Bells jingle on their pointy slippers, and they race around. The cheese sauce gets cleaned; Cory’s puddle of tears gets mopped. Finally, the photographers set up the camera again, checking the light and testing the flash.
Santa gives me a consoling pat on the shoulder. “Since we have a minute, tell me what you want for Christmas.”
“Me?” I chuckle and tuck my hair behind my ears. “I can’t even remember the last time Santa asked me that question.”
“Don’t you believe in the magic of the season?” He winks, and crinkles appear at the edges of his eyes. “You’ve had a rough night. Nevertheless, you deserve a Christmas wish.”
Of course, I believe in the magic. Decorations fill every open space in my home, and I play carols on repeat. I think about his question. Because mall employee or not, I never waste an audience with Santa. My first instinct is to ask for Christmas day with my kids. But as much as Mike drives me crazy, the boys love him, and he treats them well. Besides, wishing for something to hijack joy from someone else detracts from the spirit of the holiday.
So, what do I want? Nothing too serious. This is Santa Claus, not a therapist. Ideas tumble through my head, everything from wanting to lose twenty pounds to finally having a good date. Then I land on something. My lips turn up as I think of an elusive hope that might take a Christmas miracle.
“I wish I could see Deltoid Dan again.” Saying it to anyone else might be embarrassing. But this is Santa. “And that he’s single,” I tack on, sending my Christmas wish into the universe.