The Questions Left Unanswered

When I was twelve, my mom sat me down to talk about love. It went over my head at the time, but I remember what she said pretty clearly.

“Jeremy, if you meet a girl, and if you love her, never ask her if she loves you,” she said.

“Why’s that?”

“Because if you have to ask, that means you don’t know,” she said. She took a moment and dabbed her eyes to clean up some tears. I paused to let her regain her composure.

“Is that what you and daddy were talking about last night?”

“We— I mean… yes. That’s what we talked about.”

I didn’t see my mom much after that.

When I was twenty-one, I had a class with a girl named Megan. She arrived early because, of course she did. And I was late because, of course I was. I took a seat next to her and asked what the professor said so far. We kept talking for a while after that. After class, after midnight, after college. We talked for a while.

When I was twenty-four, Megan and I went stargazing. We spent six hours under the stars, talking about everything from rent (which we shared) to family (which we didn’t share, yet). In the fifth hour she brought up past loves. Familial, platonic, infatuation. Just before she got to romantic I asked her to marry me.

She smiled and said yes. We kissed and drove home.

I’m happy the conversation ended when it did.

When I was thirty-six, I had three too many drinks at a dinner party. We started complaining about work, and work led to home, and home led to wives. The people I was with complained about how their relationships had changed. It was almost always for the worse.

“Marriages are like milk,” one said, “It’s great when it’s fresh. But it’s always bound to spoil.”

I laughed and nodded but when they got to me, and asked how do you deal with your wife?

I just replied “it’s difficult to explain.”

When I was forty-two, I told Megan I loved her.

She cocked her head and replied, “Of course you do.”

We didn’t speak for the rest of the morning.

When I was sixty-six I bought a farm. Megan and I moved out to it and started living off the grid. We didn’t talk much, but there wasn’t much to talk about. Our schedules were consistent. Our crops grew well. We worked like a well-oiled machine, at most exchanging smiles in passing.

When I was seventy-two, I started thinking back on life. On love. On dangerous questions. My wife and I didn’t talk much anymore. Although no one talked much in those days. It was always quiet. The quiet let me think. I wanted to ask Megan about what she thought about me, about us. We never really talked about it. I enjoyed the moments I was around her, but I could only hope she felt the same.

Then I remembered my mom’s words.

But it’d been sixty years. I had grown and matured and loved. So I decided to ask the question over dinner. We prepared the meal in silence, and ate in quiet too. Until eventually I opened my mouth to speak. Except the words just… didn’t come out. The noises I made weren’t right. Weren’t normal. I closed my mouth quickly and froze.

I felt like I was twenty-one again, worried that I just made a fool of myself in front of the girl I liked. I hung my head in silence.

After a little while, I felt something warm touch my hand. I looked up and saw that Megan’s hand was holding mine. She smiled. I smiled back.

When I was seventy-seven I stopped being able to smile. Or wink. Or point and nod. My voice didn’t work and my hands consistently betrayed me.

Megan lied in our bedroom most of the day. I would stay there with her. And in her final moments, I wanted to tell her something. Anything to comfort her. I was never very good at empathy.

As her heart rate slowed, I just looked at her. And she looked at me. The whole world was silent, but we knew. We didn’t need to say anything. Didn’t need to give any answer to that question that bothered us.

The answer to my mom’s question is still left unsaid.

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