“Would you like another helping of spaghetti, Mike?” I asked my husband, as I noticed him sitting at the dinner table staring off into space.
“Huh? Oh, uhm, no, thanks. I’m full.” he said as he looked at me, although it certainly seemed as though his mind was elsewhere.
“Okay, that’s it. What is going on? What’s the matter?”
Mike had been so distant the last week or so. He hardly said anything to me at all besides, “Good-bye” “Hello” and “Good night”. I was tired of it and I was worried about it. I really needed to get to the bottom of his behavior.
“What do you mean?” he asked, as he finished drinking his water.
“I mean the way you seem like you’re not even here. You’ve been acting so distant, so aloof. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong! I wish you would just stop asking me that question. Nothing’s wrong!”
“Okay, okay.” I knew he was keeping something from me — he just wasn’t telling me, that’s all. I decided to change the subject.
“So what time are we going tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? What time are we going where tomorrow?” He acted as though he didn’t remember.
“The county fair, remember? When we drove by the billboard advertising it last month, you said we could go, and it starts tomorrow.”
“Oh, that’s right, I remember. Well, since it’s Saturday, I suppose we could go whenever you want.”
“Great! It opens at noon, so anytime after that would be fine.”
“All right. Noon it is, then. Do you need help with these dishes? I have a bit of a headache.”
“No, honey. Why don’t you go and rest, and you should probably take something for that headache before it gets worse.” I smiled at my husband as I began to clear the table.
“Thanks, I will.”
He arose, pushed back his chair, and disappeared into our bedroom. I didn’t see him for the rest of the evening, and when I went to bed later on, he was sound asleep. He wasn’t even snoring.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, with just the slightest of breezes rustling the leaves of the trees. At breakfast, Mike seemed to be his usual self again, laughing and joking and teasing. He even complimented my hair, which I had trimmed the day before, and which he hadn’t noticed at dinner last evening.
During the morning we did various chores around the house. I had been asking Mike for what seemed like forever to clean out the rain gutters, and he gladly obliged on this morning. As I was taking the last load of laundry out of the dryer, I found myself humming. It looks like this is going to be a great day, after all.
“Say, hon,” my husband said as he rounded the corner where our laundry room was located. “It’s almost quarter of twelve. Don’t you think it’s about time we get ready to leave?”
“Don’t you want to have lunch first?”
“Nah — why go to the fair if you’re not going to eat there? Besides, I was looking forward to one of those roasted ears of corn.”
“Okay. Let me go and change, first. I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”
“Sounds good. I’m going to check the sports channel while I wait.”
Mhmm. . . that’s exactly what I thought you would do! So predictable. But I would much rather have you predictable than the way you have been the last week or so, that’s for sure.
As I was changing out of the sweats I wore around the house and put on a pair of jeans, I heard my husband yelling from the living room.
“Yes! Yes! All right! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
I came into the living room where my husband was sitting on the sofa, feet up on the coffee table, arms folded behind his head. He had a very pleased expression on his face.
“What’s going on? Whatever it is, you sound awfully happy about it!”
“I am. It’s the Twins.”
“Baseball, honey. The Minnesota Twins. Anyway, they’ve clinched the American League Central division title in a come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Indians and a loss by the Chicago White Sox! I just won fifty bucks!”
“Good, because we’re going to need that fifty bucks today!”
“Ha ha, very funny.”
“So? I’m ready. Let’s go!”
“I’m right behind you.”
It was a lovely day for a drive, and I knew we should enjoy it. Before long, nature would paint her autumn colors on the leaves of the trees and the kids would be going back to school. Before long winter would be upon us, and in Minnesota the winters can be fierce at times.
As we drove into the empty field which served as the parking area for the county fair, smells of cotton candy, mini-donuts, and popcorn wafted through the open windows of our car. There were hundreds of cars in the field already and in the distance you could see the rides operating.
Once we were inside the fairgrounds, we skipped the barns. Neither one of us were raised on a farm and really had no interest in looking at the animals. I, did, however, convince Mike to go into the Arts and Crafts Building with me. It was one of my favorite places on the fairgrounds. There were many years when I would enter quilts, but this year I just had never had the chance to finish one. I guess I had been just too busy.
The last of our three children had left “the nest” last year, and instead of my life becoming more relaxed, it had become more stressful. I was working full-time, volunteering at the church three nights a week, and taking some college courses two nights a week. Come to think of it, I was hardly ever home anymore. Funny thing, though, I never thought about it until I was walking through the Arts and Crafts Building with Mike.
I was going to comment on this when my husband looked at me with a big smile on his face.
“C’mon, honey. We’ve seen everything here. Let’s head over to the midway and go on some rides.”
I knew this was his favorite thing to do at the fair. He was just like a big kid. He liked to go on all the rides, no matter what they were, except for the kiddie rides, of course. I swear if he thought he could get away with it, he would go on those rides, too. His favorite ride was the bumper cars. He also loved making me go on the ferris wheel because he knew I was scared to death of heights.
So we went on the usual rides: the ferris wheel, on which I screamed the entire time; the bumper cars, on which he always bumped me; and the scrambler, which happened to be my favorite. As we were deciding which ride to try next, we passed by a new ride attraction which had never been at our county fair before.
It was advertised as “Look At Yourself Funhouse”. It actually looked rather eery on the outside. It was in the shape of a distorted house, thin on the bottom and then gradually getting wider as it got to the top. It had black and gray lopsided and cracked bricks painted on it and no windows whatsoever. It was rocking slowly up and down from one side to the other side. But the oddest part about it was that there was no one at the entrance collecting tickets, like every other ride on the midway. There wasn’t even a line of people waiting to go inside. The only thing that greeted us as we opened the door was an odd echo of laughter.
There was not much light in the place; it was actually rather dingy, and the place was deserted. I didn’t see anyone else ahead of us.
“I don’t like it in here, Mike. I want to go back outside,” I said as I turned around and pushed against my husband’s shoulders.
“Oh c’mon, honey. It’ll be fun, I promise. Who knows? We might see some real cool things in here,” he said as he turned me back around.
“Okay, then let’s hurry through this thing as fast as we can.”
My husband laughed, “You are such a big baby, sometimes.”
We had to go up stairs that were moving from side to side. Then there was a big barrel which was rolling around and we had to climb through that. Then we came to the mirrors.
There were five or six mirrors which were lined up side by side and they were warped, which meant that they distorted your vision of yourself. I was surprised by these mirrors. When Mike went in front of each one, I could barely recognize who he was, but when I stepped in front of them, I was easily recognizable. I was really puzzled by this. Then we came to the final mirror. Mike looked like his usual self, but I was horrified by my reflection. I looked so ugly, nothing like myself, at all.
As I gasped at my reflection, memories of the past year ran through my mind. Then I suddenly realized something. It wasn’t Mike who had changed — it was me. I had been so concerned about the way he was acting that I had not taken a good look at my own behavior. I was gone all the time. I was never home at night to spend time with Mike. But he had never complained. When I thought more about it, I remembered that he was not a complainer and never had been. Obviously he had finally had enough and that was the reason for his stand-offish behavior. I was the one who needed to change, not him.
I turned to my husband and took his hands into my own.
“Mike. I am so sorry. When the kids finally left us, I was so sad, and I didn’t know what to do. So I guess I immersed myself into my work, my studies, and my volunteer work. Then I didn’t have to think about how old I am getting. But I forgot about you and how it all affects you. What would you like me to do?”
“Honey, thank you for bringing up the subject. I only want you to be happy, and I guess I figured if all those things made you happy, well, then that was what you should do. But I have felt lonely. I feel like a worn-out shoe that has been tossed into the garbage. I’m really lonely. Maybe you could cut back on something and we could spend more time together?”
“I think that’s a great idea. After all, we started out alone. I guess it’s only fitting that we finish up alone.”
My husband held me in his arms and I held on tight. It felt so right, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought about this before. When he released me I looked into the mirror again and I was shocked one more time. My reflection looked exactly like me.
I guess we all need to take a good look at ourselves every now and then.