We packed up the kids and dogs and headed for a cabin in the mountains outside of Blowing Rock, less than two hours away. We arrived as the sun was sinking behind the range, unpacked, and went out to dinner.
As we were about to sink our teeth into a pizza, Phebe stopped us. “We need to pray,” she said.
We all grabbed hands and nodded our heads to the amazement of people at nearby booths and tables. No one prayed in public anymore. But we did. Sometimes. When one of us would remember.
After dinner we walked around Blowing Rock talking, laughing, and peeking into the windows of shops that were closed for the day. As we approached the public park in the center of town, the girls ran ahead of us.
“Did you talk with Matthew today?” Tabitha asked.
“I did,” I said.
“Well?” she asked.
“It went pretty well, I think.”
Tabitha knew that I was terrible with legitimate business confrontation. That I loathed the song and dance of it.
“So what did he say?” she pressed.
“He said that we’d talk about it more soon.”
“That doesn’t sound like a conversation that went well at all,” Tabitha snapped. She feared that I was being taken advantage of. That this man we’d trusted for so long was insincere at his core. After meeting him the first time, well before the company started to generate millions in sales, she even warned me to “be careful” with him.
She had a way of knowing people. Once, when our oldest dog was sick and we were checking out a new veterinarian, she said she got a bad vibe from the doctor. Two weeks later he was arrested for running a meth lab in his back office. Another time when Abigail was invited to spend the night at a friend’s house, Tabitha got a strange feeling about the girl’s older brother when she dropped her off. We received a call later that night from our crying daughter saying that she wanted to come home. It seemed that the boy was hiding in the bathroom while she was taking her bath and it freaked her out so much that she couldn’t be in the same house with him.
There were other things too—intuitive things. Things that would skip right past me, but that she could see. Or rather, feel. I trusted her insight. And because of this, I was always careful with Matthew.
“Look, I asked him about it. We were on the verge of a breakthrough, and then some clients arrived. He had to leave to meet with them. I came home. We’ll talk about it again next week. He knows that I—we—need some help and that I expect to be paid something sooner rather than later,” I said.
I hated talking about work the way I hated talking about my inability to write. She knew this, but continued to press.
“Well I hope something happens next week because our house is falling down, Jim,” she said.
“Jesus, Tab, don’t you think I know that?” I was frustrated. The children were on the playground far enough away to be spared a conversation that felt like it was going to end in yelling.
“I know you know. But something has to happen. And I don’t just mean at GreenSteel. If we don’t get the roof fixed, we’re going to need a lot more than just a roof. Plus, we can’t expand our house without the roof being fixed. We’ll never get a fair appraisal. And we need our bathroom redone, and the windows replaced, and…”
“Fuck, Tabitha. Enough. Please. I know goddamn well what has to happen. I’m right here next to you in this.”
She shoved her hands into her jacket and let out a sharp breath that signaled a temporary retreat.
We stood there for a while, in silence, watching our children play on the swings in the glow of the streetlights when I noticed an engraving on a piece of granite at the entrance to the park. I walked over and read the inscription: “God forges us on an anvil of adversity for a purpose known only to Him. That is the way He prepares us for life. —J. E. Broyhill.”
During the time I was flying through three years of literature in ten months of college, I came across a quote by Samuel T. Coleridge that stated, “Nothing is insignificant.” I consider this quote to be the truest thing I know about life. It was no accident the guy at the package store didn’t sell me that six-pack long ago. It was no accident that Tabitha took a job in Newark. It was no accident that I spied the Broyhill quote at that exact moment.
We started up the park’s concrete steps in silence to fetch our offspring, who were now turning cartwheels on a hill under the pale light of the moon. Tabitha reached her hand out to me.
I took it.
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