The park Mark had dragged me to dazzled our eyes with leaves gracing us in hues of orange, yellow, and red. I knew I should be in the “now” but instead, I remembered my high school sweetheart, Jacob’s, goofy smile as he had strolled along with me in the past. We had broken up when I decided I needed to stay in Maine to be with my family and he desired to live a life in Washington. It still crushed me knowing life could be much simpler and my heart would weigh less.
I was in a silent testimony, unbeknownst to Mark. After the phone call with my grandmother, I had no time to pretend to be happy with Mark. Instead, I contemplated whether my grandma would need surgery, assistance, or anything else that did not involve Mark. He had not thought to ask about the phone call, I had not provoked the thought of bothering to tell him about it.
He led me to a quieter side of the park, far from shrieks of children and mother’s attending to injuries from monkey bars. Isolation from others, as usual. He clasped my wrist to have me face him, and while I knew another girl would be happy to have seen the ring in his dresser drawer just yesterday, I was dismayed.
“Marry me.” It wasn’t a question; it was a demand.
Looking down at Mark’s hands, I saw Jacob’s instead. Jacob’s rough, hard-working hands holding a perfect, well thought out ring with circular diamonds. I snapped back into reality. In replace of my dream ring was a ring inlaid with square diamonds. A frown deepened on my face. Mark, of all people, should have known I hated square diamonds. We had been together for three years now.
“I can’t,” I whispered softly and was met with harsh, hazel eyes without a glimpse of tears. I wished to be anywhere but here now.
With his previous demand, I saw years down the road, years of a tiring divorce process, and no children. Just assets of his and my small number of belongings that he sought to possess. Ruthlessness was in his nature.
“Why.” A demand for an explanation from me.
“Because,” I hesitated, looking for the right words, “I’m not ready.” Both a lie and the truth. How could one be ready for a lifetime with the wrong person? How could that same person be stuck in the relationship for three years knowing they were with the wrong person?
“Yes, you are.” Mark’s jaw was clenched, and his knuckles grew pale from being squeezed tight. I knew he would never hit me, but I questioned if he would punch the tree behind me, precisely calculating wisps of my hair being shifted by the closeness of his fist. A scare tactic.
Mark sighed and shifted his weight from one leg to the other, the leaves crunching below him. Our silence was interrupted by my cell phone buzzing in my pocket.
I checked the ID to see it was my mother. Mark glowered at me as I glanced up at him, accepting the call. I mouthed an apology and turned around, walking away from him.
“Hey Mom,” I answered casually.
“She’s gone, Laura.” Sobs erupted and I froze.
“I…” There were no words to say, only tears to sting my cheeks. “Oh God,” I cried.
Footsteps briskly thudded on the concrete behind me. I turned around, tears in my eyes, as Mark grabbed my phone and hung up the call.
“Stop!” I yelled, grabbing for my phone.
“You are going to marry me, Laura.”
Blurriness filled my vision as my head began to whirl. I longed for Jacob’s comfort along with my family but was instead supplemented with a man incapable of compassion.
“I need to sit down,” I muttered as I fumbled to the ground, placing my head between my knees. Air is always readily available, but it evaded me as I sought a breath to calm down. Sound faded, the world sucking out familiarity from around me.
I knew it was a simple choice. I could leave Mark behind and attend to my grief as well as my family’s, but it did not seem that simple. To be alone, in a world where we seek partnership to battle life, was more jarring than getting my soul sucked out from a mundane and unfulfilling relationship. There was always the choice to appease Mark momentarily, then break up with him over the phone later. And of course, in a much simpler way, I could tell him my grandmother was gone, we were not meant to be, and I was leaving him.
I peeked up at Mark after my breathing slowed, still indecisive. He towered over me with his broad build and stern expression. Neatly pressed, his shirt billowed in the soft breeze but refused to loosen from its starchy care. He crossed his arms and waited for me to say something, anything. But the words were not coming out. Instead, my head throbbed.
I thought of what my grandmother would do. She was a strong woman and fought hospitalization up until the last week. Her no-nonsense attitude and persuasive knowledge should have inspired me to get up, walk away, and never look back. Yet still, I remained among the leaves and hard ground. It was not enough to evoke the right emotion in me to make up my mind.
“Laura, get up,” he commanded and pulled on my shoulder, yanking me from my position. His fingers pushed mine apart and began to force the engagement ring on my finger, the skin twisting around as the band slid on. The pain in my finger was enough to snap me out of it. I pushed Mark away and took a step back.
“I’m not going to marry you,” I said firmly between gritted teeth. With those words, I turned on my heel and began marching back to the street, preparing to call my mother for a ride. I peeked through my peripheral vision to see Mark trailing behind me, his cheeks red and a vein popping against the skin on his forehead.
“Go away,” I yelled. Mark continued to follow me all the way to the street. I turned towards him and he glared at me.
“So, it’s over, then?” he yelled back. I nodded and he lurched towards me, grasping my shoulders, and began shaking me, as if it would bring some sense into me. “You’re acting crazy. You know we belong together.”
“Stop,” I pleaded, fighting against his arms.
“Hey!” A foreign voice sounded from a distance as Mark released me.
I staggered backward, disorientated. A man appeared and stood between Mark and me. “Leave the young lady alone,” the man demanded. He turned towards me, looked me over, and then gently led me away. “Are you okay, ma’am?” The man appeared to be about fifty and his face was lit with concern.
“Yes, I just…I don’t even know what to say, really.”
“You stay here with me, and my son is going to call the police,” he assured me.
“I need to call my mother,” I said weakly. The man nodded and gave me some space but continued to guard me against Mark.
The dial tone was haunting as I waited for her to pick up. Seconds felt like minutes. She answered and I took a deep breath, sniffling while trying to hold back tears.
I explained what happened and she cried with me.
“Honey, I’m going to get you. Your grandmother would have been proud of you leaving him.” A deep cry erupted, and more sniffling sounded from over the line. “It’s what she wanted in the end.”
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