The only difference from seven years ago to now was the three children, who also huddled around the table that was only meant to seat four. Well, that was the only tangible difference. You see, the Smintons hadn’t exactly aged well. When grand plans go awry, that tends to be the outcome. Amanda, bless her heart, had married Shawn in his prime. Handsome, athletic, charming, these were some of his most endearing qualities. They first met when they were freshman at Addison College, and felt a strong connection right away. Both majored in sociology, which was a very important quality for each of them when it came to compatibility. After all, they thought, how could you not get along if you have the same interests and passions?
Now Shawn thought Amanda was a lovely lady. Indeed, she was. Tall, slenderly built, dark skinned, soft spoken, and always smiling. Just what he had wanted. It was his type- three of the four girls he had dated before were much the same. Of course, Amanda was the most beautiful, the best of them all, he assured himself.
They were both Christians. That was important, too. Theological convictions came up, and when they discovered they were more or less on the same page, it was a go. They dated for about two years, then married as Juniors in college, thinking it was best, for temptation reasons. They figured they’d both be making big money soon enough, what with each of them pursuing their doctorates and all. Perhaps they could even work together.
Well, that was then, and this is now. The two sat there, Shawn checking his email between sips of coffee on his laptop, Amanda watching some reality show on television from her seat at the table. Who knows what was being said on the program; little Todd was crying so loudly in his high-chair, apparently because he wasn’t getting any attention, and Mike and Chris were both bickering over the last bit of lasagna. And yet, Amanda managed to block out all the noise and laugh at something on the telly. Shawn, who had a rather rough day at work- he never finished graduate school and instead became a sales representative for a small company- had had enough.
“Amanda! Can you tend your sons? They’ve been griping for the last five minutes!” His voice was necessarily raised so that it could be heard over the children.
“You’re sitting next to them,” Amanda said, never breaking her gaze at the distant television.
Shawn sighed heavily, then turned to the two boys.
“Please, boys, just cut the lasagna in half, like this.” Shawn cut it in half, and the two piped down a good bit. But the baby was still crying.
“Amanda, now listen here, I’ve had a hard day at work, and all you’ve had to do is take care of these kids and cook dinner. Can’t you hear Todd crying? And he is next to you.” That remark snapped her attention.
“Oh, that’s all I have to do? You’re serious? Do you know how hard it is taking care of our children? It’s a full-time job in itself.” Shawn had found out, even early in the marriage, that behind closed doors Amanda wasn’t so soft spoken after all.
“I know, I know, believe me, I know,” said Shawn, exasperated. “I’ve heard that enough, but it is your job. It’s why you gave up your studies too, to take care of them.”
“Hah, true, and I thought you were going to be a sociologist. That didn’t happen either, and we’re still in this dump, paying the loan bills from that failed endeavor. Guess that makes us even then, eh?”
“Whatever Amanda, I’m tired of having this argument.”
“Oh me too, believe me,” said Amanda as she stuck a pacifier in the baby’s mouth and lifted him out of his high chair. She cradled the baby against her and resumed watching her show.
It’s hard to make love when you’re so disgusted with one another, when the fairy tale aspirations play out more like a peasant’s tale. So, naturally, the two hadn’t in a long time. And that just made things worse. Shawn was making much less money than he had expected to be making at nearly thirty, and Amanda, also approaching thirty, looked like she was closer to forty. She always had a flushed, anemic appearance. The house didn’t boast many pictures on its walls, except a few from the first year or two into the marriage They thought they’d be out of there soon enough. Why make a house your home when it’s just a temporary stay, they reasoned. While neither wanted to admit it, they began to realize that this place might just be where they would have to grow old together.
Now Shawn’s charm and charisma all but dried up by the fifth year of the marriage, and his job had made him rather cold and calculated. Stress from work, the shame of not completing his degree and fulfilling his promises to Amanda, had taken much of the tuck out of him. And Amanda didn’t let him forget it. She too, though, had been humbled. She didn’t feel pretty after the children and the stress, so she rarely bothered to look much more than presentable these days, and that smile of hers hardly made even a cameo appearance. After all, Shawn wasn’t much to smile about anymore.
Perhaps the worst of all was church life. Oh they went. Barely. Just on Sunday mornings, for the worship hour, they would attend. It was always in the mix when they dated- Christ and growing as a couple in holiness and sanctification- but it never really made it to the forefront, it never disentangled itself from the other milieu and criterion they had laid out for a potential mate. It was more talk than action, but there was just enough Bible study together and enough social outings with their believing friends that they felt themselves quite spiritually healthy. But then life’s pressures and realities came closing in, and soon enough spiritual devotion that was built on something less than solid rock, and was committed too rather sporadically, fell by the wayside. Those church friends moved away, and the two had neither the energy nor the interest to make new ones. The pastor had talked to Shawn about this, and was worried about them, but Shawn would dismiss things, and Amanda would bring out that rare smile for emphasis. They did put on a brave face, the two, but before thirty, before thirty, their marriage was all but dead. And why? Because neither really had the commitment, the root desire, to love each other when all the illusions of grandeur had faded away and were but a vapor, a fleeting fantasy.
“Chelsea from work, now she has that glimmer, that luster that I remember Amanda used to have,” thought Shawn as he lay in bed next to Amanda. Their backs were facing one another.