Sunday, February 2, 2014

grace

As an actuary for a leading insurance company, I see life tunnels differently. 

In recent years, a number of spectacular traffic accidents occurred in tunnels which have triggered debates about their safety.  An average of eighty accidents in freeway tunnels occur in California alone each year.  Because of a myriad of extenuating circumstances in tunnel accidents, the available data for the effectiveness of safety belts, airbags, brakes, and  tires is dramatically changed. 

I have imagined Clive driving through a tunnel.

He is in his brand new M3 Convertible, listening to Radiohead and approaching a darkened tunnel that he has been through a million times.  Only this time, Clive has to slam on his brakes when he sees a series of orange road signs signaling a work crew ahead. 

Of course Clive’s brakes and tires (complete with exclusive 18-inch double spoke wheels) are not able to keep the car from stopping in time.  The car is propelled, end over end, and finally comes to rest in the middle of the freeway in the way of oncoming traffic.

Clive’s life is not spared; neither is his car’s.

It would have to happen relatively soon, before his divorce to Hannah is final, if his widow (my best friend) is to have possession of all of their property, not just fifty percent.  She would then be grieving the loss of her scoundrel husband who left her for his sister’s friend (still in college) and not forced to watch that scoundrel parade around town with her. 

I would offer tissue to both Hannah and Clive’s mother, but secretly be cheering his death deep down inside.

Hannah is much more forgiving.
“For the last three years we haven’t been best friends, you know,” she says over coffee at Peet’s.  I have offered to be moral support as she signs the papers, but I don’t have to like Clive or pretend I like him. 

“Really?” I ask.  “Maybe that’s why he slept with his sister’s friend who is still in college.”

Hanna sips her coffee and raises an eyebrow at me. 

“Where’s the grace, Amelia?” she asks me.  ME!  She wants to know where the grace is for her husband who even flirted with me right before they got married. 

“I don’t have grace for him.”

“Well, then, do you deserve grace?”

“You’re taking what I say out of context.”

“Oh, I see.”

Hannah puts down her coffee cup and I see a hidden smile that is perpetually on her face.  She is the first friend I’d call in the middle of the night, the most faithful friend to laugh with me and cry with me.  She has an angel’s face framed with wispy curls.  She is joyful and perpetually optimistic.  This kind of savagery isn’t supposed to happen to her. 

It should have happened to me. 

“I’m just saying that we all need forgiveness.  We all need grace.” 

I want to smirk and tell her that most of the time that’s true, except when your husband sleeps with another woman.  It is then that I remember my Dad. 

Part of me dies inside when I remember the day he left. 

I had just walked home from school and it was a sunny day in October.  I was walking with Robert Newcastle, who lived just two blocks away from me.  I secretly liked him and he secretly liked me, I was convinced.  We had such chemistry, even in the fourth grade. 

As we walked we talked about the science fair and what we were going to enter and then he asked if I wanted to do a team project.  I remembered that my heart just stopped.  The sky exploded into a multi-colored brilliant display of stars and I had to look down at my feet to see if I was still walking. 

When Robert Newcastle turned down his street, I walked for a bit before running home to mine.  I couldn’t wait to tell my Mom what just happened. 

I turned the corner and saw my Dad’s car in the driveway; he never came home during the day. I thought Grandpa or Grandma had died and my absolute euphoria was forgotten momentarily.  I ran into the house to see my parents standing up and facing each other, looking like they could slap each other. 

“What happened?” I asked, fear pumping through my veins. 

They both dropped their anger and looked at me.  My mother, with a look of sadness and pity; my father with a look of guilt.  I had a terrible feeling that my life was over.  In a moment we would all sit down like adults as Daddy told me that he was in love with Mrs. Greenbaum, a married neighbor who lived two doors down from us. 

That’s when I heard the word: divorce.  They were getting a divorce.    

I emotionally divorced myself from my father that day.  I even insisted to Mother that we move and we did.  We lived in the apartments on Willow Street, next to elderly people and single teachers.  It was just the two of us, she would say, trying to smile.  I didn’t ever do a science fair project with Robert Newcastle and from that day forward, I’d never emotionally trust a man.
“What is grace except undeserved forgiveness?” I am thinking that she forgives way too easily.

“Exactly!”  Hannah laughs, like I’ve just told a joke. 

“No, thanks.”

“No, thanks until you need it.”

“No thanks for forgiving Clive.”

“I can forgive him,” she says, stretching.  “I can and I will.  I chose him; he and I had a covenant that he broke, but what else can I do?  I can’t hang on to this offense… I want to get on with my life.”

I am all astonishment as I look across the table at my friend who is signing her divorce papers with that little smile on her face.   

“I was supposed to be here for moral support,” I say, drinking my last sip of cappuccino.  “You’re the one encouraging me.”

Hannah laughs and reaches for my hand.  I hold it and I feel a surge of hope, a deep desire to have this grace that she’s talking about.  I don’t know the first thing about forgiveness and I want to.  I want to learn so that I can be free.

“Don’t worry, Amelia.  I’m no doormat.  I’m forgiving him to set myself free, not just him.” 

“I never said you’re a doormat, did I?”

“No, I guess not.”

We gather our purses together and she places the signed documents in her bag.  Our next stop is to her lawyer’s office to drop them off.  She could have signed them there, in her attorney’s office, but she wanted to do it at her favorite coffee shop with me next to her. 

“Next time you want moral support, ask someone with morals to go with you.”  I say, hugging her and we get into her car to drive off. 

As start to back out of the parking space, I notice a blue balloon tied to the post. 

I think it must have been placed there over the weekend for a party.  Now the balloon’s helium was waning and it was no longer inflated to its full capacity.  Still tied to the post, it looks like it’s trying to get away but it can’t.

“Wait!” I say to Hannah, who stops backing out of the space.  I jump out of the car and go over to the sad blue balloon, whipped about by the wind so much that it’s bopping itself against the post it is tied to.  I untie it and set it free, and it goes flying down the street, blown by the breeze.  I watch it and am satisfied.

Even if it didn’t have enough helium to go up to the sky, I knew it should at least be free.