As she relaxed in the swing on her back porch, listening to the sounds of the Texas summer night, Hannah didn’t seem to notice the humidity or the numerous mosquitoes swarming around her exposed skin. Any other night, they would have forced her back inside the house. But tonight, her mind was in a faraway place, re-living each moment that she’d been through during the prior months.
She could hardly believe that almost three months had already passed. It didn’t seem possible. Time prior to that seemed to crawl by, and she hated every minute.
She had found herself in a place she never thought she’d be. A seven-year marriage in which each anniversary seemed to mark off another year of confinement and move her one day closer to her release date. Or so she thought.
Her best friend Colleen knew all about Hannah’s marital strife. Her own marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was a cakewalk compared to Hannah’s. She’d wanted to counsel Hannah but could never find the right words. She knew that Hannah needed some time away to relax, so she did what every good girlfriend does--she planned a trip.
“Did the word ‘cruise’ just come out of your mouth?” Hannah looked at Colleen with astonishment; Hannah had wanted to go on a cruise ever since she had watched episodes of The Love Boat during her childhood, but she knew there was no way she’d ever get her motion-sick husband on one. So she had long since given up the idea of ever getting to fulfill her dream.
“Yes, I’ve talked to Greg, and he said that he’ll be away on business the first week of June anyway, so we might as well take a girls’ trip and enjoy ourselves. How does a five-day cruise to the Cayman Islands sound?”
“Perfect!! I can’t wait. I need this more than you can imagine, Colleen.”
With that, Hannah headed home, her mind racing with plans for the trip. She knew that she needed to talk to Andrew, but she wasn’t sure when would be the best time. No time ever seemed to be a good time to talk to him. He was always busy, or so he made it seem. When he wasn’t working, he was running. Not just physically, but emotionally. Running from his childhood, swearing not to duplicate the unspoken mistakes that his father had made. Trying to break free from some sort of invisible barriers that Hannah couldn’t see or understand.
All of Andrew’s working and running left Hannah alone and feeling the burden of loneliness. She felt completely detached from the man whom she had fallen in love with ten years ago. She didn’t know how to get through to him; she didn’t know how to make him happy. And so for many years now, they had been living in the same house, their parallel lives never intersecting.
As soon as Andrew came home from work, Hannah blurted out the news about the trip. As she had predicted, he gave her the go-ahead without showing much emotion, other than a brief look of what appeared to be relief because he knew that she would no longer badger him to go on a cruise. With that task out of the way, Hannah felt ready to start the real planning.
In the weeks prior to setting sail, Hannah daydreamed about the cruise and the escape that it would provide. She began to think about how she longed to be free from the isolation and monotonous routine of her married, yet separate, life. She didn’t have an exit strategy devised, but she thought that the time on the cruise might provide an opportunity to get her thoughts straight and allow her to plan her future.
From the moment she stepped on the pier, she knew that this cruise was going to be everything that she had dreamed of since she was a little girl. She spotted the name of the ship, Liberty, and had to laugh. She was excited about the journey that she was about to take.
As the ship pushed back from the only thing connecting it to solid ground, Hannah began to relax, enjoying the view now that they were free from being landlocked. Colleen, meanwhile, began to peruse the activities offered on board the ship. Her eye caught the title “Disco Night,” and she knew what they’d be doing that evening.
After a dinner fit for a queen and thirty minutes of persuasion, Colleen managed to coax Hannah to the disco. Many of the passengers had brought 80s attire specifically for this event, and Colleen and Hannah marveled at the outlandish outfits that had been thrown together. Colleen loved dancing and quickly merged onto the dance floor to do her best impersonations of a disco diva. Every so often, she’d dance over to where Hannah was sitting and urge her to join her.
“I don’t know how you do that Colleen,” Hannah screamed over the blaring music.
“It’s nothing. You just dance like no one is watching. Come on; just give it a try!”
But Hannah didn’t budge. She enjoyed people-watching and was content to vicariously enjoy the fun from her seated vantage point. It was during this time that she spotted an older, tender-looking gentleman. He looked as if he wanted to join the action but had resigned himself to watching the action on the dance floor because there was no one his age around to dance with. Hannah had almost convinced herself to go chat with him, but he got up and left for the evening.
The following night, the dining steward seated her next to the gentleman whom she’d watched the night before. She immediately began to strike up a conversation with him. She learned that he had recently lost his wife of forty years to cancer and that they had booked this trip prior to her death. He had chosen to come alone, rather than bring one of his children, because he wanted to have some time alone with his memories of their years together.
Hannah quickly lost herself in Mr. Allen’s stories. He painted beautiful pictures as he told of courting and marrying his wife, raising their three children, losing their youngest son to a rare disease, and just doing life together with his beloved. Before she knew it, she found herself asking him personal questions about how he and his wife had managed to survive forty years of marriage.
“Hannah, I’m glad you asked. I saw your wedding ring but haven’t seen any signs of your husband, so I’m guessing from that and your question that you are on this cruise to sort things out, kinda like me. I readily admit that I don’t have all the answers. I think some of the things that helped my wife and I were our faith in God and admitting to each other and to God that we didn’t know how to do marriage, or at least not all the time. I hope Alice felt that I loved her well. She sure made me feel special; she accepted me for who I was and gave me all the respect a man could ever dream of having. She never said an unkind word about me in front of anyone. Because of that, I think we were able to keep the lines of communication open, even when I didn’t really want to talk.
“Many people these days think that marriage is a little too confining. But there can be so much freedom in marriage; sometimes it just looks a little different than one might expect. I’d encourage you to ask other couples how they make their marriage work because everyone’s story is a little different.
“I need to be on my way. It‘s been nice talking to you. I appreciate your letting an old man tell his stories.”
Hannah did not see Mr. Allen for the remainder of the trip, but what he said never left her thoughts. His words were as fresh that late August evening on the porch as they were when he first spoke them on the cruise in early June. She had taken them to heart and done her best to put them into action. And good things had come from it.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the screen door opening, and she smiled as she saw Andrew. He sat down beside her on the swing and gently slid his arm around her. Hannah enjoyed the moment, thankful that her marriage was headed back to solid ground.
“But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Gal. 5:13)