For what it's worth, I found this hard to write. I've had the basic approach in mind for a week or more, but confronting the emotions in this story was not something I was eager to do. I am still not sure how well it worked. However, that probably means that you guys will love this thing. That wouldn't be a disaster, of course, but it would prove once and for all that I am the worst judge ever of my own work.
Anyway, let me know what you think.
The world ended the night I found out that Julia was cheating on me.
To be fair, it wasn’t all her fault. This wasn’t the life she thought she was getting when we first got together, I’m sure. I get that. Sometimes life isn’t what you expect it’s going to be.
You may not remember that night. If you weren’t there, if you weren’t involved, maybe it doesn’t seem like all that big a deal to you. For me, though, and for the other guys on the team, that night stands out like a ten thousand watt arc light in the deepest haze of memory. There is this grey drudge of everyday life, and there is That Night, the night that everything went perfectly. The night that we became Champions.
If you don’t remember, I’ll tell you. Truth is, I’d like nothing better.
They played the State Championships at Mile High that year. We’d gone nine-and-one, having dropped a game to Buena Vista on a missed field goal early in the season. After that one early stumble, though, we rallied, winning the next seven straight and qualifying as the fourth seed in the state AAA championships. We beat Darius Rucker Memorial in the semi-finals on an interception returned for a touchdown. Yes, I caught the ball. Yes, I ran it back all the way. Yes, I played both ways back then. Then we moved on to the finals, and…
It was glorious.
I ran for a hundred and seventy-five and three touchdowns, and we won thirty-five to three.
God, what a night. There is no feeling in the world like having twenty-five thousand people all screaming your name. I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard to come back down to Earth after something like that. Julia and I made love for the first time that night in the back of her daddy’s car, and I’m pretty sure he knew all about what was happening. He didn’t care. Nobody did. I could do no wrong. Suddenly there were college scouts at everything I did and college coaches on the phone every time I came home long enough to take their calls. I didn’t do anything at school for the rest of the year and still graduated with straight A’s. I still have three full boxes of recruiting letters sitting in my momma’s attic back in Boulder. At least, I think they’re still there. I don’t know why they wouldn’t be.
Anyway, you can see what Julia thought she was getting.
The reality, unfortunately, was a little different after that. I wound up playing at Colorado State. Redshirted as a freshman, backed up Jamal Marcus for the next two years, and carried the load on my own as a senior. I did okay. It was more than most people do, for sure. You might’ve even seen me on TV if you caught the Pinstripe Bowl back in ’05. I played well in that game even though we lost. Had a hundred and five yards and a touchdown. I wasn’t getting much interest from the League, though, and if I’m being honest, my heart wasn’t really in the game much anymore. I had the credits to graduate and decided to do it, leaving a year of college eligibility on the table. Besides, Julia was pregnant, so I needed to get a job. Scholarship money wasn’t gonna buy baby food, you know?
I know what you’re thinking. No, we never had kids. She wound up losing the baby. Her uterus ruptured and… It was hard. But what was I gonna do, leave her? I just couldn’t do it. She was devastated, and so was I, and anyway, it’s not like we had a lot to fall back on. We had each other, and we had a few of life’s little disappointments, but that’s about all.
So yeah. I wanted kids. I wanted a family. And Julia, well, she wanted a husband who was more than just a regular guy. A half-assed city manager in a hick town at the hind-end of northern Colorado. She wanted a stadium full of folks screaming her husband’s name. She wanted a dream.
I get that. Really, I do.
Maybe we should’ve broken up all those years ago. Maybe that would’ve saved us both a decade’s worth of fights and one terrible night of heartache. Who knows? Maybe if she hadn’t lost the baby…
There had been rumors, of course. Julia had a reputation. In high school, I mean. And guys around town remembered her from back in the day, and they’d give me crap about it. But how seriously was I supposed to take all that? So she blew Carl Pickens in the back of his pickup when we were teenagers. So what? I’m supposed to be mad now? That was twenty years ago! Come on, that’s crazy. But you hear the same crap enough times, and I guess sooner or later it starts to sink in. You think, Maybe it’s not all in my head. Maybe there really is something going on. So I followed her down to The Spot that night, and there she was, clear as could be. She was with Lenny from the Country Club. I watched them kiss, watched her grab his cock right through his jeans. I couldn’t believe it.
I should’ve gone in there. I should’ve confronted her right then and there, put an end the charade we’d been living for two decades and more. But I didn’t. I just couldn’t do it. So I turned away, wound up down the street at the sports bar, and… Yeah, things got a little rowdy. Next thing I know, I’m at the City Jail. The guys were nice enough to stick me in the basement cell, though, all the way down in solitary. Not because they were afraid I’d make trouble but just to keep it out of the papers, you know? That much I remember. It was a nice thing to do.
It’s the only reason I survived.
I don’t know what else to say. I mean, you find someone, and you try to build a life together, but it doesn’t always go the way you think it ought to. So okay, you think, Here are problems, and here is heartache, but maybe we can work it out. Or maybe we can’t; maybe we’ll just fight and move on, and that’ll be the end of it. Either way, this is it. We’ve been dancing around this thing for twenty years. Now we’re finally gonna get all the issues on the table. We’re finally gonna clear the air.
But what happens instead is that she dies – BANG! – just like that. A massive solar flare hits the Earth. It wipes out ninety percent of the planet’s population overnight. It’s the end of the world. Armageddon has come and gone, and somehow you’re still standing, and all you can think about is that you’re never get to talk to your wife, you’re never gonna get to work it out – or break up or whatever – after all because she’s gone. Just like that. Just like everyone.
And suddenly the whole world has gone crazy.