Ripple Effects

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Eugina returns to college and discovers a whole new world.

Submitted: February 23, 2012

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Submitted: February 23, 2012

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The affair had been a destructive force in both their lives.  Unavoidable at first, the aftermath was a whirlwind of detachment on his part and a torrent of passion and pain for her.  The affair itself lasted for three months, two weeks and five days.  The repercussions sent ripples through her life for a considerably longer time.

Eugina had gone back to college for a second degree at the same time her youngest daughter headed off to complete her first.  She had been a well-educated homemaker for twenty-three years and was ready for more.  Although she knew the current state of the economy held little promise for a forty-seven year old woman trying to reenter the workforce, a generation of running her household like a well oiled machine had prepared her for anything. Besides, she would need something to occupy her and the time she recently found hiding in corners and in darkened nooks behind now quiet appliances.

So, she chose college – opting for a second bachelors degree as opposed to a masters, ostensibly to challenge her mind and lead her on a new path.  If she were being honest, she had been married right after she graduated and started a family, a decision she would never change, but held the slight whiff of regret under her nose ever now and again.  She had spent the past eighteen years doing homework, proofreading essays and working late into the night on projects that were meant to be stretched over weeks – now at least the work would be in her own name.

She registered for only two classes that first semester – easing herself back into the “real world” slowly.  Sociology and psychology, two things she figured she already knew something about after navigating numerous PTA meetings and soccer sidelines.  The professor for her psych class was dull and boring.  His lectures about as animated as the dusty textbooks that had lingered in the library stacks since the college opened.  She sat through class and diligently took notes on crisp, white loose-leaf paper, something that only further distinguished her from the rest of the class, most of whom were bathed in a soft glow as they bought shoes online or chatted silently with a classmate three rows ahead.

Sam was her sociology professor.  He was tall and vibrant, a good fifteen years her junior.  He buzzed with passion for his course, his students and his life.  She looked forward to listening to him talk about race, class, gender and politics, often finding her notebook empty and her mind racing after each class.  When he assigned the first paper of the semester, she went to his office hours for the first time.  It was October 12, the day the affair began.

They talked for a long time about the assignment, then they had muddy, hours old coffee at the Student Union which lead to dinner across the street and dropped her in his apartment, sipping wine late into the evening.  It was well past midnight when she slipped, largely unnoticed, under the covers next to her husband’s slumbering form.

She had never been unfaithful, not even in her fantasies – but she never thought about her husband when she was with Sam.  It was almost as if her life on campus was located in some distant, parallel solar system.In this world she was nineteen again, fresh and dewy, her eyes like peaches in late April, promising and hopeful.

She spent long hours at the computer lab, agonizing to her husband about the time spent researching and maintained an A average.  She was careful not to allow her grades to reflect the shadow of the time she spent in private tutoring sessions with Sam.  In all honesty, she hadn’t set foot into the computer lab and probably couldn’t have even located it on a campus map – but it sounded like a place one could spend the countless hours left otherwise unaccounted.  Her husband only seemed to notice her absence passively, growing slightly thick around the middle from too many meals consumed behind the wheel or at his desk.

There wasn’t a day when she didn’t see Sam.  He seemed as infatuated with her as she was with him – showering her with affection and small gifts she stashed in a shoebox in the back of her closet – a place she knew her husband would never dare to venture.  His distrust all feminine wiles extending neatly into the realm of all things silk or high heeled.  The only trace of Sam’s imminent presence in her life was a silver rope chain with an open book charm dangling perilously close to her heart.  She explained that she saw it in the campus bookstore and simply couldn’t resist – a lie so close to the truth it didn’t seem deceitful.

As the term came to a close the affair burned hotter and grow more intimate – after grades closed she began work on a “special research project” in Sociology, a major she had seriously begun to consider.  Each day began a closed in a tangle of sheets that had never touched her own bed.  Winter break wouldn’t deter her from her studies, she said, and headed off to campus each morning before breakfast.

It was the 31st of January, the second week of the spring term, when she first spotted Sam having coffee in the Student Union with a doe-eyed undergrad.  He had cancelled their early morning trysts the week before, telling her the beginning of the semester was always the most stressful for him.  That afternoon, as she dressed slowly in the long winter twilight slanting through the shades, Sam broke off the affair.  He had suggested that she explore other subjects that semester, which she had assumed stemmed from his attention to her expanding mind.  However, as he explained as matter-of-factly in the languid light, he needed to devote all his attention to his new students, and couldn’t be distracted by her presence in his class or in his bedroom. 

She was devastated.  She begged, pleaded and finally, sensing that her defeat was not a debatable issue, gathered her belongings and drove home through silent tears.  When she arrived, she found herself alone, surrounded by remnants of a life once as comfortable as an old pair of jeans.  The familiarity closed around her like a constrictor, squeezing her breath to the top of her throat where it escaped in fitful gasps.  She ran up the stairs and dug deep into the back of her closet and ripped the shoebox from it’s carefully concealed location and hurried her way back to the trash waiting at the curb.  Her husband was only a blur through her tear-stained eyes when she collided with him at the front door. Trinkets and reminders of the affair skittered across the cold floor of the foyer and onto the front stoop, much like the unspoken truths that now lay before them.

It took two years, six months and twenty-three days for them to finally dust off enough words to talk about how to move forward.  They picked up the pieces of a life once fully lived and went about the task of gluing them back together.  What they reassembled still showed the cracks, but managed to hold water. She took a job in the city to compensate for the time no longer spent in pursuit of a degree.  His anger and resentment finally abated, and they found their way back to one another.  Though the memory of her semester abroad never fully escaped her, she returned to earth, the affair left on the distant planet she once explored but could never claim as her own.


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