The telly came on in the middle of a movie.
A mother was instructing her new daughter-in-law. ‘Let me show you how to make a proper soup for my son!’ Her tone was confident, knowing. It exuded warmth and familiarity. But he wasn’t paying attention to any of that. The phrase had opened a window to his past. The aromas of his mother’s kitchen seemed to float into the room.
He and Bea had just married and were visiting his childhood home as a couple for the first time. Mom pulled his young wife into the kitchen.
‘Let me show you a few tricks about how he likes things cooked,’ she said, smiling.
From the next room he could almost see the chill silence covering the room in frost. Bea drowned that offering of love in ice water, holding it down until it suffocated.
When the weekend was over and they motored home, he heard all about it.
‘How dare she do that! As though I don’t know how to cook for you,’ she said.
‘That wasn’t it at all. She was trying to be helpful. Help you love me even better than you do now.’ He smiled and turned to her. She continued to stare out the passenger window.
‘It was insulting,’ she said. ‘She could have asked.’
‘Mothers don’t ask, they tell. Does yours ask?’
It was the first salvo in a war that escalated over the years, a war he’d had no idea was coming. His pre-marital expectations did not include this. Bea planted a grudge that day, and watered it and nursed it until it sprang up and choked the life out of any chance Dad and Mom had of getting her to receive their love. It finally grew into a huge tree on which Bea tacked up a sign saying, You don’t truly love me so let’s not pretend.
She painted that declaration in the blood of her own childhood wounds. Will realized too late that Bea had grown up in a conditional family, where love was doled out as deemed earned. They were always all at odds. They were all orphans. They weren’t a family. They were a group of snipers.
Where suspicion reigns, each loving gesture is perceived as a threat. Broken lives take input for insult. Bea’s heart had been broken long before Will had met her. Sadly, he didn’t realize how those broken pieces would be like glass, cutting all who trod on them.
Will’s heart was broken too, although he didn’t learn that until years later. When he did, and began to heal, a rift opened between them. She wanted no part of that healing. And so they drifted apart. He marched toward health, while she slid toward increasing bitterness and isolation.
As their marriage broke down and fell apart, he watched the leaves on her tree of resentment wither and fall off. They littered the ground between them.
In his dreams, after the divorce, he had long conversations with her about much of what had transpired between them. He could speak of his failings and mistakes, but she could not. She had nothing to say to his imagination. Sadly, he realized he never actually knew her. She was unwilling to be known.
Will had acknowledged his own mistakes and the acceptance of each one hurt him badly. He prayed for release and forgiveness, knowing he’d likely never receive it from Bea, even if they ever spoke again.
On a walk years later, a leaf drifted out of an empty sky, landing at his feet. He stooped and turned it over. That settled the matter.
He then straightened and moved forward.
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