Jack and June Barnhill’s marriage stood like a dead oak in winter. From the outside, it looked strong and mighty. But on the inside, it was brittle, twisted and rotten. After 50 years of marriage, they sat across from each other in their home’s den, trying not to breathe the same air. They had long passed “for better” in their relationship. Now they were smack in the middle of “for worse.”
Sarcasm replaced kindness; Angry glares stood in for loving looks.
“You can leave me, you know.”
“But that would bring you happiness. I want to stay right here and make you completely miserable.”
“Congratulations. You’re doing a darn good job.”
“You know, this Ex-Lax commercial could be a short film about your life.”
“And the Preparation H one about yours.”
“Well, I did marry a pain in the…”
The cat, tired of the constant bickering, gave up and went into the other room. Even the Grinch would have had enough of their bitterness.
Their two children, tired of being put in the middle of their parents’ feuds, moved as far away as from them as they possible could. Jack, Jr., an engineer for Boeing, lived in Everett, Washington. Jennifer, an internal medicine doctor, lived in Maine.
They only came home once a year. If that often.
“Well, if you will excuse me, I have to clean the kitchen. I don’t want you to touch the water. You’ll melt.”
“Sit down, martyr. If you did any work around here, the roof would collapse.”
June, 75, got out of her plaid recliner and shuffled toward the kitchen. What happened next would change their lives forever.
She entered the kitchen and collapsed. Jack heard grizzly smack as her head hit the tile floor.
“OK, Drama Queen. You can come back now.”
But there was no response.
“June? June?!? JUNE!”
Jack leapt to the kitchen and saw her body lying on the tile floor. A small circle of crimson began to grow from the gaping wound on her forehead.
Jack screamed, “OMIGOD! HELP!” He pulled the phone out of his pocket and dialed 911. ”My wife is unconscious at 98 Windchime Ct. She fell and is bleeding! Hurry!!
It was the first time since Vietnam that he was truly afraid.
“Hold on, June. Hold on,” he cried as he tried to stop the bleeding.
Bitterness had been replaced by something even more cold — fear.
The next day later, Jack Jr. and Jennifer arrived from the airport. They walked into the hospital room and found their parents together. Their mother was on the bed unconscious; their father with his head lying across her. The children stood in the doorway, watching with awe as their father slowly stroked their mom’s unwashed gray hair. He then raised his head and whispered loudly into her ear.
“I’m sorry for all the times I pissed you off — well, most of them. I’m sorry for all the cold nights. I’m sorry that we lost our way. If you come back to me, I’ll change. I can’t live life without your insults. Life without your cranky voice would be torture. The house would be too quiet. My heart would be too empty. I had forgotten how much I loved you until now.”
He broke down and began to openly sob.
As he did, a single tear trickled down the old woman’s face.
In that Mississippi hospital room, old wounds were healed. A marriage, cold and bitter, still had a little life left in it after all. And the dead oak in winter sprang back to life.