The Ex

The Ex

By Mel Goldberg


ex-girlI had no idea what prompted her to call me after twenty years. I didn’t know she had the number at the college, although I had been teaching here in Flagstaff for thirteen years. The department receptionist only said, “You’ve got a call waiting from some woman who won’t tell me her name.”

At first I didn’t recognize the voice that said laughingly, “This is your past calling.” Then the words became a puzzle whose pieces fell into place. It was Nancy. No mistake about it. It was a serious understatement to say that she had been my girlfriend. She was my soul mate, my other half. We lived and traveled together for more than five years. Even now, whenever I take a road trip, she travels with me in the back of my mind. We spent many hours in a car reading poetry and stories to each other. Since we split up, I have had other experiences, other female friends, but I always said we were only seeing each other.  No one rose to the title of girl friend until I got married five years ago.

She said she had never moved out of the house in Chicago until a year ago when she found the courage to move west to Phoenix. We ended our relationship because when I moved to Arizona to take this teaching job, she chose not to come with me.  Her clinical depression kept her rooted in that house in Chicago. I always imagined she had found someone else after I left.

As she told me bits and pieces of her life, my pulse accelerated. My breath quickened. I still imagined her as she was back in 1990. I wanted to ask, “Why are you calling me?” but I bit my tongue. I wanted to ask how she found the courage to move so far west and I asked if she had ever married.  She said yes, but he died a year ago.  I told her I was married, happily to a wonderful and fiercely independent woman. 

“That’s your third marriage, isn’t it?   Or were there more?”

“No, just three. I think I got it right this time. How is your daughter? She must be about thirty-five by now.”

There was a pause and the line went silent. I wondered if she had hung up.  I held my breath, like when you are in the air hurtling toward the water from a high dive, waiting for the impact. I wanted to say something intelligent but all I could come up with was, “How did you find my number?  What made you call me?”

She told me she never forgot me in all the years. She never forgot that I was the one who sat by her side when she had the surgery to replace a faulty valve in her heart. She knew I had moved to Arizona to teach at a small community college in Flagstaff and it was a simple thing to locate me.  She had moved to Prescott to be near her recently divorced daughter and grandson and she thought it was a good time to find me.

I gave her my email and said I could get hers when she contacted me.  After she ended the call, I felt happy and sad at the same time. I walked to the parking lot, trudged through the snow, and looked at my breath as it disappeared in the air. I thought about Frost’s poem, “Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood,” and I couldn’t help wondering how my life would have been different if we had walked the same path.


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