‘Til Death Do You Part by Lenore Hirsch

Evelyn Parker didn’t know whether she wanted to laugh or cry as she gazed across the table at her future son-in-law. The muted restaurant lighting didn’t hide Peter’s obvious infatuation with Chrissy. Now his arm was around her, forcing him to stop eating his steak. Evelyn liked steak too, but she’d never pay what they charged in this restaurant, no matter how tender the cut of beef. The young folks didn’t seem to mind spending hundreds of dollars for one dinner, especially if her husband, Todd, picked up the tab. Peter once again engaged with his food, but constantly turned his head towards Chrissy, who prattled on about wedding gardens, caterers, and florists. 

Todd sat across from Evelyn, nodding like he was listening, but Evelyn doubted he had any interest in wedding details. His idea was to give the couple a sum of money and let them figure it out.  

Evelyn grew up in a large family—four siblings and little money. She remembered going without. Perhaps as a result, she and Todd had spoiled their only child. Ballet lessons, new bikes, lacy dresses, the latest doll sensations. Birthday parties with all the trimmings, including a jump house and a clown. It had been fine when Chrissy was little, but when she got older, Evelyn wanted to teach her daughter values around money. 

“She should get a job, Todd. She could babysit or work at the McDonald’s. Let her learn the value of work if she wants a new phone.” 

Todd listened, but more often than not, the new phone would appear in an Easter basket or on the Thanksgiving table. When it came to Chrissy’s college applications, Todd refused to let cost be a factor. Chrissy chose a private university and Todd cancelled plans for their long-awaited European vacation. 

Sometime during Chrissy’s college years, Evelyn became disenchanted with her marriage. Maybe it was the control Todd held over their finances. Maybe it was her own part-time job in a dental office, which was less than exciting and often stressful. Every day, she dealt not only with the patients, but also with the personal problems of her co-workers. She arrived home from work completely drained, to make the expected dinner for her husband, who had secretaries and assistants to do everything for him at his office. 

Where was her joy? Where was the fun in her life? She didn’t know, but since Chrissy had left home for school four years ago, life had become a drag. Now her daughter had graduated, started a teaching job and moved in with Peter in the city. And, on top of all that change, they were planning a wedding. Did all these moving parts leave a place for Evelyn? Did Chrissy value her opinion or want her advice? 

Chrissy’s dinner conversation had moved on to proposed wedding dates next year. The garden she liked was already booked for the entire month of June. Chrissy pushed her hair back and glanced around the table. “Do you think July would be too hot?” 

They humored Chrissy’s thinking out loud for the rest of the meal and then, over dessert they were all too full to eat, Todd said, “Chrissy, you and I will sit down one day soon and talk about a budget. Then you can decide how to prioritize what you want.” Evelyn knew he’d probably give the couple whatever they needed for the wedding of their dreams.

This conversation happened on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. On Sunday, Chrissy and Peter drove back to the city and life reverted to its boring normalcy. The only thing Evelyn looked forward to was a lunch with her friend Marjorie, whom she had known since her own school days. Marjorie lived in the other end of the state, but traveled to town a couple of times a year to see family and take care of personal business. Evelyn used a long-overdue vacation day in order to primp for her lunch outing and enjoy a glass of wine or two, along with conversation with her oldest friend. She even suggested that Todd pick up a rare take-out meal for dinner, so she could come home from a long lunch without  facing the kitchen. 

The two friends met at the French restaurant Marjorie requested. Evelyn hadn’t visited La Toque before, but Marjorie found it in the Michelin guide and said it was supposed to be great for a special occasion. Their visit certainly merited something special. They told each other how great they looked. Evelyn thought, she has really aged since last time—probably I have, too. Once seated, they ordered cocktails and toasted their friendship. 

“So Chrissy is getting married,” said Marjorie. “Tell me all about it!” 

Evelyn launched into a description of the preferred wedding venue, the number of attendants Chrissy planned, and concerns about the heat. She gave her approval of Peter. 

“You must be so excited,” said Marjorie. “Is there a wedding planner or are you doing the preparations with Chrissy?”

“She seems to have it under control,” answered Evelyn. “She hasn’t asked me for much help. Her father will take care of the finances.”

Their entrees arrived and they ate in silence for a while. Evelyn heard laughter from the couple at the next table. Maybe in their forties, the man and woman appeared to be enjoying themselves. He finished a story, his hands in the air, and she giggled like a school girl. The man had no wedding ring; she couldn’t clearly see the woman’s hands to satisfy her curiosity.

She asked her friend, “Marjorie, how did you manage once your kids were out of the house? I seem to spend too much time looking at the walls.”

Marjorie put down her fork and gave her friend’s arm a squeeze. “Oh, it was tough at first. Jim and I did some traveling once he retired. You need to find some new hobbies. Sewing or painting. Didn’t you buy a fancy camera once, with the idea of taking great photos?”

“It’s in a box in the closet. I never found the time to learn everything it can do.” She remembered happy times when Chrissy was little, dressing her up and taking photos to share. 

Evelyn sighed. “I just don’t seem to be interested in anything much. And Todd, well I wouldn’t tell this to anyone else.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “But when you get right down to it, Todd is pretty damn boring.”

Marjorie’s brows shot up. In all the years she’d known Evelyn, she’d only heard the good stuff. “Todd got a raise.” “Todd gave me this necklace.” “Todd is so good with Chrissy.” Something had changed.

“Tell me more,” Marjorie said. And she listened to Evelyn’s story. Evelyn told her how little she and Todd talked to each other. How he came home from work grumpy and went to bed early most nights. How the kitchen had become a kind of prison with its daily expectations and rituals.

“Did Todd and I ever really have anything in common? I don’t think so,” she said.

Evelyn finished her lunch and her second drink and sank back in the chair, unburdened. 

They lingered over coffee and dessert. 

“I’m so sorry you’re having a tough time, dear,” said Marjorie. “Perhaps things will improve when you and Todd retire. Or you’ll find some new interests. New friends. Just don’t give up. You’re going through a phase. I know you. You’ll come out of it.”

When Evelyn got home, she changed into her everyday clothes and lay down on the sofa for a nap. Todd arrived at dinner time with Chinese takeout and asked her about her visit.

“It was nice to see her.” That’s all Evelyn said. 

The Saturday after Christmas, Evelyn found herself in a rare moment, alone with Chrissy. Her daughter arrived for the afternoon with a stack of “save the date” cards that sat in a pile on Evelyn’s dining room table next to the hill of envelopes to be addressed. Chrissy wanted to do this the old-fashioned way. They breathed in the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies, Chrissy’s favorite, that Evelyn had baked that morning. 

Chrissy paused her writing and caught her mother’s eye. “Can I share something with you?”

“Of course, Dear.”

“Peter has this thing about spending time with his guy friends. That’s fine with me. I like to see my girlfriends too. But last night he was out late. If I’d been with him, it would have been fine, but it was upsetting to wake up at two a.m. to the sounds of my drunk boyfriend stumbling around the bedroom.”

“Hmmm. Maybe he needs to sow some wild oats before the wedding?”

Chrissy scowled. “Mom, did you ever doubt that Dad was the right guy? I mean, how can I know that Peter is ‘The One’?”

Evelyn laughed, then examined the serious look on her daughter’s face. The young woman had noticed the easel and art supplies Evelyn was setting up in the family room, but had only commented, “You’re taking up painting? Great!” Chrissy probably had no inkling of her mother’s loose ends, or dissatisfaction with her marriage. 

“There’s no way to know that, Honey. I guess if you’re really close friends, that’s a good start. You can’t predict what it will be like after ten years, twenty years, or more.” Evelyn smiled, glad to keep her secrets to herself. 

Chrissy nodded and picked up the next envelope. Evelyn sat back in her chair and sighed. For better or worse, she thought. For better or worse.