I still miss her. I can’t believe it’s been eight years since she passed away. She was the mother of my boyfriend at the time, Mark. Giselle was quirky, cheerful, and loved to travel. She always came back from her trips with a new appreciation for the wine from the region she visited. While Mark and I struggled in our relationship, Giselle and I became good friends. Her quirks and her cheerfulness, I found out, were a façade. A Giselle persona that she created to make her life bearable around her husband and children that didn’t understand her. The more she and I bonded, the more I realized I was one of the few people who knew this about her.
Mark and I broke up about seven years ago. We met in college, and became infatuated with each other quickly. It wasn’t long before we professed our love for each other. However, we were both too immature in our own ways to have a lasting relationship. After a few years, while we loved each other, when the relationship ended, neither of us felt loved. I was incredibly emotional, chaotic, and too much of a people pleaser. For his part, Mark was outrageously stubborn, thought himself superior to most people, and had some serious entitlement issues. He grew up comfortable and spoiled, whereas I grew up in much less desirable circumstances. Our perspectives and life experiences often put us at odds with each other.
After we broke up, I met someone wonderful, and we got married. He’s a kind man, genuine, and we have many shared interests and similar senses of humor. However, the maturity issue popped up in our relationship, too. Without getting into the granular things, long story short, I was constantly working on myself and trying to give us a good life. He wasn’t quite ready or mature enough to be a good spouse. I noticed towards the end of our marriage, that we no longer trusted each other, and I could see resentment building on both sides. I love him. I did not want us to continue on and eventually hate each other. It’s the same reason Mark and I broke up. We really, really didn’t want to hate each other. In truth, I still love Mark, and I still love my ex-husband. Love isn’t something that I can seem to let evaporate.
I was very surprised to get a phone call from Mark. We hadn’t spoken over the phone in years, and he admitted straight away that he deduced from my social media accounts that I had been divorced for a while. Then, he asked me out on a date. I was shocked. Not only was he not the type of person to want to rehash old flames, I felt myself swooning ever so slightly at the sound of his voice. He lives in the city, and I live in the suburbs. He made reservations for a vegan restaurant halfway between us. Apparently, he had changed quite a bit since we last spoke. For one, he used to eat meat. Also, he was very rarely ever the person to initiate contact or call first.
The restaurant was fairly nice, so I actually put a little effort into my appearance. I didn’t feel the need to since Mark knew me already and had seen me in various states of distress. However, it was nice to finally dress up since this was the first time I’d really gone out since the pandemic cooled down. We met in the lobby. I spotted Mark, standing tall, and wearing a black coat, as is usual. So that hadn’t changed.
We locked eyes, and I could see the faintest blush on his cheeks. The lighting was dim, so maybe it was the light from a nearby candle. While I was also nervous, I figured it would be easiest to break the ice right away. I smiled at him, waved, and rushed over to give him a hug. I expected him to be frigid, like he used to be, but he surprised me again by gently wrapping his arms around to return the hug.
"People usually don't hug on a first date," he said with a smile.
"Mark. We used to date, years ago," I reminded him.
"But wouldn't you agree that we're entirely different people now? You went all corporate. I thought you were going to be a painter for the rest of your life," he said.
"That's a fair point," I replied, "The Mark I knew ate meat and would never make reservations at a restaurant. He definitely didn't seem responsible or filtered enough to be a lawyer."
We’d both technically aged over a decade since we first met, but he still looked like the Mark I knew. His hairline had receded a bit. On my end, I had gained some weight, which was honestly a good thing. I was shockingly thin in college. After the initial awkwardness in the lobby, it wasn’t a big deal. It was just Mark and I. Something that used to be normal, but somehow, still felt new.
The host overheard us, but apparently only part of our conversation, "A first date! How charming. Follow me, please."
The host brought us to our table, and the waiter came by shortly to ask for our drink orders. This, I thought, was the ultimate test to see if Mark really matured. Whenever Giselle would get into her quirky persona, her family, especially Mark, would roll their eyes at her behavior. He was not shy about telling her to her face how he found her quirks distasteful. She always seemingly took it in stride, and she and I would discuss her feelings in private, later.
Anyway, it was when Giselle spent time in the Bordeaux region of France that she finally discovered her favorite wine of all time - merlot. Whenever the waiter asked for her drink, she’d look up with a smile and sing, “Merlooooot!” The wait staff always chuckled, but everyone else at the table would roll their eyes. Mark found it obnoxious.
Now was the moment of truth. I looked up at the waiter, smiled, and in my best singsong voice cooed, “Merlooooot!” The waiter chuckled. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mark smirk. Surprising me yet again, Mark ordered a whiskey, neat. Years ago, Mark was vehemently against the consumption of alcohol. The waiter left to put in our drink orders at the bar, and we both looked down at our menus.
“You did that on purpose,” Mark accused, not looking up from his menu.
“Of course,” I replied with a smirk of my own. I set down the menu as I had already found what I wanted. I’m not a picky eater.
“You drink now?” I asked. He chuckled and also closed his menu.
“I got over myself and realized that there are plenty of things to enjoy about life, and since uncle David sang the praises of whiskey, then that’s a ringing endorsement,” Mark explained.
Ah, Mark’s uncle David. Giselle’s older brother. He was another one of the few who knew the Giselle persona and the loneliness and depression it shrouded. David and I got along splendidly. As David was leaving the reception after Giselle’s funeral, he turned to me and said, “You get that boy to settle down with you.”
“I...don’t think I can!” I answered honestly. Mark had never wanted a traditional marriage and despised the idea of having children. David responded by giving me a wink and a wave as he left the country club. I desperately wanted to know what David knew, and what he meant, and why he thought I was capable of such a thing. Unfortunately, David passed away two years ago, so I can’t ask him.
Someone from the bar arrived with our drinks. Mark’s whiskey neat, and my glass of merlot. I actually prefer pinot noir, but I really wanted to do my test. We wordlessly clinked our glasses and sipped.
“I really miss her,” he said, unprompted as he watched me take a longer sip of wine.
“I know,” I said softly, “Me too.”
After we placed our orders and the food arrived, we spent a great deal sharing stories about Giselle and reminiscing, He also caught me up with his life. He finished law school, travelled quite a bit, and it really seemed like the experience...softened him, a bit. I caught him up with my corporate ladder climbing, new friends and interesting trips I had, and it became clear that in the years we were apart, we really both had grown up and become comfortable with ourselves.
It was unnecessary, but I swirled the glass of merlot, now half consumed, around slowly and I gazed at it whimsically. I sang a line from “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, one of Giselle’s favorite songs. Mark smiled.
“You were never shy about singing in public. I’m glad that hasn’t changed,” he said. I chuckled.
“You were never shy about your opinions. I imagine that hasn’t changed,” I said.
“It hasn’t, but my delivery is much less abrasive. It took a while, but I finally realized my sass wasn’t appreciated or as funny as I thought it was.”
The waiter brought Mark another whiskey and poured more wine into my glass. I rested my chin in my hands and looked at him by the candlelight.
“I didn’t think we’d ever see each other again, much less go on a date,” I confessed. I started to sip my wine again. He surprised me one more time.
“Me either, but I’d always hoped we would,” he said. I choked on my wine.