Elizabeth puts her purse down on her desk, takes off her coat and hangs it on the back of her chair. She changes out of the sneakers she wears on the train and into a pair of heels. She walks her lunch of yogurt and hardboiled eggs into the office kitchen and puts them into the staff refrigerator. It is Monday and she is not ready to face the week. She pours herself a third cup of coffee.
Last night was another late night. The Eagles were playing some team or other yesterday and even though Elizabeth is not a football fan, she is a “bar” fan. She has a low-grade headache and feels dehydrated. Sunday football. When will she learn? 53 years old and still staying out too late on a work night.
Back at her desk, she turns on her laptop and instead of checking her work email, she opens-up Facebook.
There is a new message.
All’s well in Cambridge. How are you?
Miss our chats. Seems like a long time ago that we were both facing existential issues.
Would be good to hear from you.
It has been two or three years since Elizabeth has heard from Daniel. He suddenly stopped communicating after she drunk-dialed him one night and left a message saying, “Why can’t we just be together?” He was living with Carol at the time and Carol didn’t understand why a woman he hadn’t seen in nearly thirty years was calling in the middle of the night to ask why they couldn’t be together. Carol gave Daniel an ultimatum. The following day, when Elizabeth woke up and remembered her wine-induced indiscretion, she understood his decision to disappear.
“Should I respond?” Maybe Daniel and Carol have broken up. Still, she is not sure that she is ready for the disruption that is always Daniel. Every few years, he resurfaces, usually when he is struggling to make sense of whatever-wrong-relationship he happens to be in at the time. He blows in with a sudden gust, lifts her life out of place, messes up her hair, and then leaves just as suddenly, without a word. Their connection, even after all these years is undeniable. Makes her question whatever relationship she is in at the moment – makes her want to throw caution to the wind, leave her life behind, move to England to see if their connection is as strong in person as it is over the phone or the internet. But it never comes to that. After all these years of intermittent communication, she knows Daniel only reaches out to her when he is looking for a savior (or a distraction), and when he realizes she is neither (or he gets caught), he is gone.
Elizabeth has a carefree, open personality. She is uninhibited; she loves to laugh. She is used to men acting this way – especially unavailable men like Daniel. She listens empathetically to their complaints and their dreams; she laughs at their jokes. In her, they see escape and the connection that they wish they had with their wives. Elizabeth knows this is an illusion, having been tricked into falling in love more than once with unattainable men before. Men who can’t leave their wives or girlfriends after all. Maybe because they truly love them or maybe because they are too afraid to let go of their lives – to take a risk, to make a change – only to find out that the grass isn’t always greener, and that one day, Elizabeth will turn out to be just like the wife or girlfriend that they long to be free of in the moment.
Elizabeth thinks back to the night she met Daniel in Edinburgh. They had had a connection, and even though it was just one night, they had kept in touch all these years. Friends across the Atlantic – through marriage, divorce, career change and children.
Daniel was the person who figuratively held her hand during her divorce (the “existential issue” mentioned in his message). It was nearly ten years ago, and Daniel was living in London, in an unhappy relationship with a woman he met from work. Elizabeth was living in Philadelphia in an unhappy marriage. Despite the five-hour time difference, Daniel would answer the phone no matter what time she called – 1, 2 or 3 am his time – always with the same funny greeting, “Edinburgh City Morgue. How can I help you?”
Daniel didn’t encourage her to leave her husband, but he did give her the courage to leave. He made her realize that she wanted more. She wanted a partner who she could talk to, who shared her interests, who would listen to her fears, who laughed at her jokes, who told her she was pretty.
One day, during a session with their marriage counselor, she admitted that she thought she might be in love with someone other than her husband, Andrew. When Andrew asked who, she told him about Daniel – that he was a man whom she hadn’t seen in twenty years, who lived in London, blah, blah, blah. Andrew looked at her in disbelief and said, “You have lost your mind.” Their counselor suggested that it might be time to consider separation.
Timing had never been right with Daniel. He was in a relationship; she was in a relationship. And it was not practical. He lived in England; she lived in America. And their kids were young.
But now, things are different: she isn’t in a relationship and her daughter, Georgia, is growing older. “If not now, when?”
Impulsively, Elizabeth writes back:
“I am well. Funny that you should reach out – I am actually planning a trip to England this winter.”
Elizabeth was not planning a trip, but what the hell, if not now, when?