I Should Have Left The Light On

by Mindy Segal
Originally Published: 
A sad black-haired woman with a man behind looking at her
Tetra Images / Getty

In hindsight, I should’ve left the light on.

I should’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs.

Twelve years ago, I was a young mother of three boys. They were so little, so needy, and I was parenting alone. The twins were under a year and my older son the ripe old age of three when the ink dried on the divorce papers from my first marriage, barely six years after we’d married.

A casual acquaintance I’d known from previous work experience was presented to me, almost on a platter (“Here is a guy who is your age, likes kids, and thinks you’re pretty, you two should go on a date”). I was working my tail off, in a constant state of no sleep (7-month-old twins, anyone?) and feeling a magnetic pull toward keeping my little family afloat, being both parents to my sons, fiercely protective and not in the mood, market or having any need for a “Prince Charming” to swoop in and save the day. But he was handsome and smart and didn’t see me as a “situation” or “with baggage.”

I agreed to the date, and we met at a local restaurant with a great wine list and a beautiful, fresh mozzarella. The lighting was good, and I felt human and happy and for the first time in months, and it wasn’t because of toothless infant giggles or toddler snuggles. I was just a girl at a nice restaurant with a guy who was into me.

We talked for hours. I explained that I hadn’t dated in ten years. That I was unafraid of being a single mom. That the man who I ended up with wouldn’t be doing me a “favor” or “saving” me and the boys, but would be lucky to join us. I was comfortable in my independence. He had a freckle on his nose, and seemed fascinated by my wine and beer knowledge. We kissed outside, by the brisk fall moonlight, and I knew, driving home, it would be the last first kiss I’d ever have.

Fast forward through all the predictable stuff…meeting the kids, explaining to our families and friends that his intentions were good, going on vacation with my ex-husband and his girlfriend (okay, that wasn’t predictable, but we did it anyway — twice). We were in love. The kind of “in love” that feels once-in-a-lifetime-ish, where you can’t wait to get home, where he’s waiting outside for you when you pull up, holding your babies, and you just can’t get enough. The kind where even a year in, being away for the hours at work just felt way too long, and the way he looked at me made me feel for the very first time like I was beautiful.

There were pitfalls along the way, but all we wanted was all we had. Even crushing blows (the news we couldn’t expand our family, a pretty terrible disease, a somewhat failed restaurant that kept us up nights for four years) seemed to be shrouded in this cloak of rubber, as if nothing penetrated our intense, almost hypnotic enchantment. It wasn’t about the thoughtful gifts, or the short getaways to places we’d never been together, or the fact that we’d inadvertently become the quiet envy of all of our friends, as we were truly best friends and lovers both. It was just that sweet spot, the joy of being and feeling whole and happy and complete.

And then, something happened. I don’t know what. Trust me, I’ve asked myself. Maybe it was the years. Maybe the stresses of absorbing those blows weakened our seemingly impenetrable exterior and leeched in between us. Maybe it was the infants and toddlers growing up into feisty (read: pain in the ass) pre-teens and teenagers. Maybe it was being 40 and not 29. Who knows. But see, what happened was, we got lost. We lost our way. We wandered away from each other.

Gone were the morning kisses, the afternoon greetings in the driveway, the sleeping wrapped in each other’s arms. Gone were the texts and emails, sometimes explicit and sometimes just loving, extolling the virtues of our happiness at finding each other. I no longer felt beautiful. I just felt invisible.

It became painful to spend time together. We now worked again for the same company, and our conversations seemed predestined to land on one of three topics: the kids, our work, or fighting about the kids or work (or things we didn’t like about each other, or things not done in the house, or fill in the blank). The empty space between the left side and the right side of our bed made my chest ache. I still applied lotion and perfume to the back of my neck, under my hair, each morning in hopes that perhaps, even if by accident, his nose or lips would land nearby and remember their way home. They rarely did, and if so, the effort went unnoticed.

You may be asking yourself “why didn’t you just talk.” Please rest assured, we did. We do. It just doesn’t move the needle. I’ve searched high and low for us, in books and in conversations, through old photos and letters, and with romantic dinners and weekend getaways. We are nowhere to be found. At times, we peek our heads through, like tulips showing through the dirt in March, but then I dig a bit, and all traces are gone, and my trail is again cold. It isn’t that the love is gone, because in rare moments, we can still find it, smell it, taste its presence. And then it’s gone, and we are alone. Together, but alone.

I don’t know why. I still love him. I have no interest in others, and I know he does not either. Life came and snatched us away. It absconded with our passions, and our kisses, and our ardor and intensity one night while we slept, and when we woke, all that was left was loneliness.

I fear now for the future. We can’t seem to figure it out and soon we will face the dreaded “empty nest.” What if there is nothing left to say? What if we melt into the furniture, stuck on old reruns of Will and Grace, laughing separately as if no one else is in the room? I’d like to say I’ll continue to search to find what we’ve lost, but I am tired and I feel defeated, and so I don’t want to lie.

I should’ve left the light on.

I should have left a trail of breadcrumbs, so when we wandered away, I was able to find my way back home. But this is not a fairytale, and we are but humans, mere mortals.

Maybe he’ll turn the light. I so badly want to find my way back home.

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