I didn’t even need a second suitcase, Karen was surprised to note her own Spartan style. Her modest jewelry collection—consisting of five gold necklaces, including one heart pendant from her fiancé and a gold cross from her mother--would go into the second suitcase, along with her books. After packing all of her personal belongings, however, the suitcase was still half empty. Karen visually inspected the room, to see what else she needed to take along. All of her makeup, which she rarely wore, fit neatly into an oversized purse. Perhaps some of the cookware could go in here as well, she speculated, walking into the kitchen to confirm that hypothesis. She chose one pizza pan, a skillet and half a dozen plates, along with a few cereal bowls, cups and spoons, knives and forks. Some of them I should ship ahead of time, she thought, carefully placing the fragile dishes into a box filled with shredded newspapers. The flurry of practical activity momentarily distracted her from the reasons behind it. But once she finished the busy work and was faced with the material reality of leaving, Karen broke down in tears.
At this opportune moment, Michael walked in, whistling cheerfully. “What the hell’s going on here? Are you going on vacation with your new lover?” he hazarded a tactless joke.
“I’ve decided to move to Phoenix,” Karen announced, assuming the somber expression of someone delivering a eulogy.
“Why?” Is she leaving me? Michael wondered. Part of him felt some relief at this unexpected deus ex machina intervention. But another part of him didn’t want events to take this turn, at least not yet, since Ana wasn’t ready for divorce. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Karen tried to control her emotions as she began enumerating the reasons for her decision, which she had rehearsed at least a dozen times in her head. “I made a list of all the pros and cons. The pros won. First of all, I’d like to go there earlier than you so I can furnish our apartment. Second…”
“Hold on a sec. Our apartment?” Michael interrupted her.
“We talked about moving to Phoenix right after you finish your Masters degree this spring, remember?”
Michael recalled talking about the move several months earlier, but fresher on his mind still was his change of heart since having met Ana. “I told you I’d like to find a good teaching position in Detroit,” he, in turn, jogged her memory.
Karen felt compelled to tread more lightly. “I know you were considering looking for a job in the area. But just in case that doesn’t pan out, I wanted to set up our nest in your ideal location.”
“What if I find the job of my dreams here?” Michael rebutted, substituting the word “job” with the word “woman” in his own mind.
“Then I’ll come back. But please promise me that you’ll come and see for yourself the new apartment during spring break.
It might win your heart, who knows?”
“I seriously doubt it,” Michael replied, thinking it was highly unlikely that his relationship with Ana would sour so soon.
“How do you know? A week in paradise might change your mind. Maybe you’ll prefer living in an ideal, sunny, beautiful location over a decent job in this dingy ice hole,” she tried to tempt him.
“Yeah?” he asked, unconvinced.
Sensing his coolness, Karen approached him and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. “This decision was very hard for me.”
“I know, Baby.”
“But I’ve got to do it. I want us to start our relationship from scratch, without all the emotional baggage,” she tried to convince herself as much as him.
“You think a new location will erase the fact I cheated on you?” he asked her a little too bluntly.
“I’ve already forgiven you for that,” Karen was quick to assure him, not wishing to reopen that can of worms. “In fact, it cuts both ways. I hope that moving to Phoenix will change your ideas about me. That you’ll come there with a fresh head.”
“A fresh head of what? Lettuce?”
Karen moved away, hurt that he was making light of such important matters. “I’m being perfectly serious! You have all of these wrong impressions about me.”
“Such as…?” Michael’s tone now betrayed irritation.
“Such as that I’m not funny. Many people find me hysterical.”
“Hey, I can’t argue with that,” he concurred, thinking of Karen’s frequent crying spells lately. “What else?”
“You think that I’m not as cultured as you. When I move to Phoenix, I’ll only work part-time. I plan to devote a lot of time to reading and movies, to broaden my horizons.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” he approved, feeling bored.
“And, of course, I’ll also keep up my diet and exercise program.”
“Good. Keep me posted, okay?”
“Sure. I was thinking we could talk every night between nine and ten your time,” Karen took the cue. “Don’t forget, there’s a three hour time difference between Arizona and Michigan.”
Michael hesitated, wishing to leave his options open. “If I’m not home, just leave me a message on the answering machine and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”
“Why wouldn’t you be home?” Karen asked, her suspicions easily aroused.
“Who knows? I might want to go out for a beer with some of my buddies.”
“You don’t have any buddies.”
“By that I mean some of my colleagues.”
“The only colleagues who interest you are the kind that wear skirts.”
Michael couldn’t help but smile at this self-evident truth. “You got me there! But I also like shooting the bull with some of my male acquaintances.”
Karen’s underlying anxiety about Michael’s infidelity had been scratched like a wound by their brief exchange. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t jump off a cliff,” he replied with a smirk.
“I mean it, Michael!” Her tone became beseeching. “At least give us a chance at a fresh start. That’s all I ask.”
“One hundred percent.”
The following day, at the airport, Karen repeated the same plea, word by word. Her eyes were red from crying, her lipstick smeared by his goodbye kiss. What a lost soul, Michael thought, as if he had already abandoned her. This could very well be our final farewell and she’s not even aware of it, he told himself, feeling in charge of their relationship.
“I’ll miss you every single day, each minute of each day,” she confirmed his intuition.
“Right back at you,” he replied, blowing her a kiss.
“I’d never go through with this stupid move if I didn’t feel so strongly that’s our best chance at a new beginning,” Karen excused herself, feeling guilty for initiating their separation.
“May it also mean a better life for you,” Michael reverted like a spring back to his original position, of gradually separating the strands of their intertwined lives.
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