Have you ever wanted a do-over or to change someone else's impression of you? Marj Sterling, aka Marjorie Duncan, one of my newest characters knows exactly what that feels like.
RETURN TO SENDER
She took the envelope out of the mailbox and stared at it for a very long time. A red felt tip marker had been used to write the words in big, bold letters, “Return to Sender.” Exclamation marks and underlines had been added for emphasis. It didn’t surprise her that he had returned the sympathy card unopened. In fact, looking at it now, the only thing that surprised her was that he had not used real blood to send it back.
So if she wasn’t surprised, why did she find herself suddenly sitting on the curb, still clutching and staring at the envelope?
She sat there for quite awhile, frozen in time. She thought about getting up several times, but couldn’t make her muscles move. After all these years, why was he still so damn important to her?
She was 23 when they had married. For most people, that would be a good age to marry. Not for her. It had taken her another 15 years to mature, but by then it was too late. The marriage had failed. Still sitting on the curb, she hung her head in shame.
A neighbor drove by and honked. It was enough to stir her and pull her out of the gutter – almost literally and figuratively.
She stood up and shut the door to the mailbox without gathering the rest of the mail. The walk from the street to her front door and through to the kitchen seemed like miles. She carefully laid the envelope down and called her best friend. They had met at a Crafters Camp two decades before and had been friends ever since. There was an age difference, but it had never mattered.
“Britt?” she asked, and wondered why people bother with such rituals as asking someone’s name when you obviously know who it is.
Britt didn’t answer but simply asked her own question, “What’s wrong Marj?”
Marjorie smiled. Yes, her friend knew her best.
“He returned the envelope unopened. Looks like you were right. Mind if we change the bet from money to a Margarita? I’ll gladly buy.”
“Sure. Let me check with Bry to see if he can get Jakey to practice. I’ll call you back in just a few.”
Marjorie hung up and thought about the nicknames they all had for each other. She was Marj. Brittany was Britt. Bryan was Bry and poor Jake, their son, was Jakey. It had been cute when he was little, but as a young man it hadn’t always set so well with him. She smiled because she knew no matter how much he protested, he would always be Jakey.
The phone rang. “I’ll pick you up in 10.”
Marjorie went back out to the curb, and once again sat down. She had the fleeting thought that the curb was where she belonged, and then dismissed it. She had come a long way in pulling her life together. She wasn’t going to let a damn envelope with his scribbles on it negate everything.
Britt pulled up and she climbed in.
They rode in silence the entire way.
The host greeted them. “Hello Mrs. Waverly, Ms. Sterling. Would you like a booth or a table this --?”
Marjorie interrupted, “A table please, Walt.” And she added as an afterthought, “On the patio. Lakeside.”
Britt did nothing more than take notice of her friend's mood as she fell in step behind Walt and Marjorie.
Walt showed them to their table, reviewed the daily specials and told them Katie would be their server for the evening.
Marjorie gave the impression that she was giving her menu thorough attention. Brittany wasn’t buying any of it.
“So, the next thing I know, you’ll be ordering a round of shots for us, the rest of the people on the patio, and the patrons inside. You will party like you’re the happiest girl on earth and act like nothing is wrong. Is that how tonight is going to go?”
Marjorie lowered her menu and with attitude and icy eyes, turned on her friend, “That’s not fair Britt and you know it.”
“Yes. I know it. But I stand by it. Where are you going with this Marj? Are you here to just drink and eat and not talk? If so, I’ve got a family I need to get back to.”
Marjorie studied her friend for a moment and then caved, “He didn’t even read it Britt. All that time and effort, and he didn’t even read it.”
“The man lost his wife just a few months ago, sweetheart. Give him a break.”
The server, who was over the top and way too bubbly to suit Marjorie, approached the table and began reciting the specials again. To spare her life, Britt interrupted and said, “Two margaritas please.”
Marj added, “Large.”
“No.” Britt quickly corrected. “Make that two SMALL margaritas.” She kept her eyes on her friend for effect.
Waitress 101 hadn’t told Katie, the restaurant’s newest server, what to do in situations like this so she just stood there. Britt patted her hand without taking her eyes off Marj, and repeated, “Two small margaritas Katie. Now run along dear.”
Marjorie waited until the waif Katie was out of earshot and then snapped at her friend, “That was mean. To both of us.”
“All I know is that he returned your card unopened. You’re giving me facts, but not really talking. Start talking and I’ll stay here all night with you if that’s what you want. But you’re not going to just drown your sorrows and bury your feelings and tell me the obvious. I know he returned the card. What I want to know is why that is bothering you so.”
Someone brought them some water and Marjorie played with the straw. “Did I ever tell you what I finally decided to write in the card?”
“No. You didn’t. And Marj?” Britt waited until her friend looked at her. “I’m sorry he hurt you – yet again.”
Marjorie shrugged. “I had it coming.” She paused and added with a shrug, “Yet again.” Before her friend could protest, she continued, “I did Britt. No matter how much I wish that weren’t true, we both know it is.” She went back to playing with her straw again and quoted what she had written.
I was a horrible wife and put you through hell. I will always regret that. In time, I became very grateful that you found happiness and love with Gina. I recently learned of her passing and I am so sorry for your loss. I hope the time you had, and the memories you shared, are of comfort. You deserve all the best life has to offer, and I hope this finds you doing well. Take care of yourself. Blessings!
The drinks arrived and both ladies took a sip and looked out over the lake for a moment.
Britt broke the silence. “What did you want to happen Marj?” Her friend looked puzzled, so she repeated, “When you sent the card Marj, what did you want to happen?”
Marjorie thought about it before answering, “Mostly I just wanted to convey my condolence, but I suppose, on some level, I want his forgiveness. And his acceptance. He clearly still thinks I’m this big 3-headed Medusa aberration cross-bred with Linda Blair’s character from The Exorcist.”
Katie walked up to take their order so Britt took advantage of the opportunity and asked her, “Katie, do you know who Linda Blair is?”
The young girl shook her head side-to-side and stared at the two women.
“How about The Exorcist? Do you know that movie, the original, not the remake or sequels?”
Again, Katie shook her head.
Brittany let her off the hook, “We’re not ready to order. Can you come back in about 10 minutes?”
Katie gratefully scurried off.
Both women chuckled lightly. Then Brittany took Marjorie’s hands and held tight. “Marj, even your analogy of what you think he thinks of you is stuck in the past. You have got to let it go. You have got to let him go.”
Marjorie hung her head just as she had earlier, “Over the years, of all the ways I pictured them breaking up, not a single one of those scenarios included Gina dying. What a rotten deal. My heart truly breaks for him Britt.”
“I know it does.”
“I used to have this fantasy that they would split up and we’d run into each other somewhere, and he would see how well I’m doing. Once and for all he would know I’m not this scary, evil person. I don’t know why his acceptance is so important to me, but I worked hard day in and day out to become someone he’d be proud of. Now it doesn’t even matter.”
Brittany tried to wrap her head around that and sat back with her drink for a moment.
Then she leaned forward and looked her friend directly in the eyes, “You mean to tell me that you built your career, your world, around the hope that you would get him back one day?”
Hearing it said out loud, by someone else, even if that someone else was Brittany, made Marjorie feel ridiculous.
“I did it for me too. Even if we never got back together, I wanted to be someone that he would like. I had something to prove – to him, and to me. Then in the end all I wanted him to know was that I was sorry. I was sorry for the horrible wife I had been, and sorry that he had lost Gina after all these years. That’s such a crappy break.”
“How many years were they married?”
Marjorie looked at Brittany in disbelief. She couldn’t figure out what her friend was up to. Brittany had been with her at the courthouse for the divorce, and she knew full well that he had married Gina just 3 months after that. She already knew the answer.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just answer me Marj. How long were they married?”
“Seventeen years and you’re still grieving. Now you’re including his loss of Gina in that grief. You have got to let him go.”
“He still thinks I’m a horrible person and a loser. That’s the part I don’t know how to let go.”
“Oh, I know what to do then. You should send him another card.”
With eyes wide and mouth open, Marjorie looked at Brittany as though she had lost her mind.
The look on Marj’s face made Brittany laugh. Katie walked up to the table again and before Brittany could get her composure, Marjorie ordered the next round, “Two LARGE margaritas Katie.” Before Britt could protest, Marj quickly, literally shooed Katie away.
“Now who’s being mean?” Brittany asked, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes.
Determined, Marj pounced, “Okay, spill it Britt. Why on earth do you think I should send him another card?”
“Oh, this is such a great idea I actually think you should have the card blown up to life size. Better yet, you can hire a quartet to deliver it as a sing-o-gram!”
Frustrated, Marjorie sat back in her chair, “Okay, now you really have lost it. I should have asked for the ticket instead of two more drinks.”
With her eyes twinkling and tongue in cheek, Brittany defiantly said, “Send him something with this message: You can visit my past if you want to, but I don’t live there anymore.”
The words touched Marjorie to the core of her soul.
Brittany continued, softly, “He returned that card to someone he used to know, Marj. He doesn’t know you. The real you. The you that you have worked so hard to become. Let him go girl.”
Marjorie looked up at her with water-filled eyes, and Brittany repeated, “Let him go.”
Oblivious to the moment, Katie walked up with their drinks and a request, “Miss Dixon?”
Marjorie was surprised that the waitress called her by her pen name, “Yes?”
Katie took the book off her tray and continued, “The ladies at that table on the rail want to know if you will sign their book.”
Marjorie wiped the tears from her eyes and took the pen from Katie. “Did they give you their names?”
“Yes ma’am.” Katie handed her a slip of paper with the ladies’ names on it and Marjorie scribbled something. She gave the ladies a nod and a smile as she handed the book and the pen back to Katie.
“Their bill is on me.”
She smiled at her friend. “I really don’t live back there anymore, do I?”
Once again her friend reached across the table and held her hands, “No. You live right here, right now. You have a beautiful life and you are a beautiful person. It is his loss to not know that.”
Marj hung her head for just a moment, and then looked out over the water again, “I loved him, you know? I should never have lost him, but I hadn’t faced my demons yet. We ran out of time.”
Brittany nonchalantly picked up her menu, snapped it open and said, “Sounds like a good book to me, Marj.” She gave her friend a wink.
Marj looked at her and thought about it for a moment. The muse struck and her writing gears began spinning. With her spirits lifted, Marj replied, “Yes. Yes, it does, doesn’t it? Let’s order. I’m starved.”
With a big smile they both waived for Katie.