I Don’t Miss You When You’re Not With Me by Bridget Verhaaren

I reach for a glass jar of sweet gherkins and notice the same unfamiliar woman is following me down another aisle in the grocery store.

Photo of filled grocery store shelf
Grocery Store by Army the Nurse (flickr.com). CC license.

I wonder if it is a coincidence. My gut tells me otherwise.

The wavy-haired woman is looking down at her phone.

Moving toward her, I pretend to search for stone ground mustard. I am now close enough to see she is on social media.

Startled I am so near, she stammers, “You, you, you look familiar.”

I look at her and know I have never seen her before, unless I count the previous three aisles. I note we both possess similar features and are tall, have slender-ish athletic builds and wavy hair.

“I don’t think so,” I say looking for the nicest way to say no.

“Are you Bridget?” she asks

“Yes.” I look closer at her face to see if I made a mistake. Nope. I still don’t know her.

“Did you date a guy named Dane,” she asks.

“I hung out with Dane,” I say to my grocery store stalker, wondering where this is going. I glance peripherally down the aisle to see if there is anyone else around.

“I dated Dane after you did and he always talked about you,” she says as she rests her right foot on the undercarriage of her shopping cart. “Sounds like you’re pretty outdoorsy and adventurous.”

She introduces herself and I don’t hear her name because I can’t believe Dane referred to me as someone he dated. I look at the sun crinkles around her eyes and wonder if she’s trolled my social media.

I nod.

“Do you think there’s something wrong with him?” she asks.

I laugh aloud thinking where to begin.

The roar of the engine and music die as Dane turns the key in the ignition. Silence fills the darkness that settles into the convertible. My eyes adjust and I can see the outline of the trees on the mountain ridge ahead of us.

We sit in clumsy quiet waiting for the other to speak.

After long minutes he says, “I don’t miss you when you’re not with me.”

My fingers and toes tingle with shame. I lean my head forward and hope my hair will cover up the left side of my face in the moonlight. I don’t want him to see the tears I cannot stop. I will myself to cry without a sound. I suck my lips into my mouth and bite down.

Don’t you dare make a sound. Don’t embarrass yourself any further. Why did you write him a letter telling him you loved him? Are you twelve? You are so dumb. You fell for him like a junior high crush!

I missed him when he wasn’t with me.

Why didn’t he miss me?

Why didn’t he want to be with me?

What was wrong with me?

“Bridget,” he pauses, “we’re in different places. I’ve been dating for a long time and I have a lot of experience.”

Dating experience?

I keep my mouth closed. Afraid an undignified sound will escape.

I want to say, “You know how to date? Date? That’s not even real. I was married for twenty years! I actually know how to build a successful marriage. I know how relationships work. I know how to sacrifice my selfish desires.”

He doesn’t value my life experience. His words make me feel I am less than.

He hugs me goodbye.

I’m forty-one. That night I cry myself to sleep, mourning the loss of our connection that lasted mere months.

The next morning, I lie prostrate on my late husband’s parents’ Kentucky bluegrass lawn. My head pounds with a bawl-hangover.

I am fortunate to have kind in-laws who always welcome me home without judgment. Since Rob’s death, they have been a soft place for my three children and I to land.

I rest my head on my forearms and look down at individual blades as the spring sun warms my back and legs. More tears slide down my cheeks and drip off my chin.

I am acquainted with deep sorrow.

And this is not deep sorrow.

I don’t know what this is.

Somehow, I thought experiencing deep sorrow was supposed to make you impervious to lesser hurts. But that was a lie. I am wounded.

Why did I think I only had to check the box of loss off once?

The tears continue to flow. Blades of grass tickle my face.

I’m not pretty enough. I’m not thin enough. I’m not young enough. He doesn’t want me.

My arms itch from the grass.

I felt calm and safe with Dane. I thought I was supposed to be with Dane. I thought I was supposed to marry him. I’d spent more time with Dane than I’d spent with Rob before we got married. I felt I knew Dane better than I knew Rob before I married him.

How could I have been so wrong?

I rub my nose and smash the grass down with the palm of my hand.

I should have known.

For months, I thought he was being a gentleman, respectful of my newly acquired widow status. Dane never once tried to kiss me. I nicknamed him molasses and wondered if he was even attracted to me.

We were lined up by mutual friends for an afternoon of skiing. We spent an astonishing thirty-three days together skiing amid the crystal-white peaks that glistened in the sun. I tore up steep slopes with fearlessness. I’d hit perhaps seventy-five mph and beamed in his praise. Dane was the most beautiful skier I’d ever seen—a combination of raw power and strength with graceful, fluid motion. Dane was a guy with cat-like reflexes.

I found more than serenity in the mountains after Rob’s death. I thought I found the best kind of intimate relationship—love enveloped in close friendship.

After all that time spent together, countless phone calls and texts, I was almost paralyzed with embarrassment to be so forward, but I had to ask him.

There was no right time to ask.

We stood in the darkened hallway of his home late that night.

I leaned my back against the wall as he leaned against the opposite.

My face prickled with shame.

“Are you attracted to me?” I looked down at my bare shins. My skirt grazed the top of my knees. I didn’t want to look him in the eyes.

“Yes,” he said. I looked up and he averted his eyes. He stared at his shoes.

“Why have you never tried to kiss me?” I asked.

“I’m shy.”

I moved closer to him and slid my arms around his waist. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pulled me in close. He held me as I breathed in the musky scent of his neck while his thick beard brushed my cheek. I pulled back and he gently kissed me—on the forehead.


I’d trusted Dane with the tender-most parts of my heart.

It’s as if I had deliberately missed every sign of danger I hadn’t wanted to see, even though I’d watched it all happen. Dane caught me in a web of heart-healing words.

But I couldn’t blame me too much, not when he had said such beautiful things.

“Bridget, your scars from Rob and Ava’s deaths are beautiful.”

Dane persuaded me to believe in the beauty I possessed.

“Bridget,” he’d said. “You don’t have any baggage. The right guy will come along and love you and your children. He won’t be threatened by Rob’s presence in your life.”

I believed that man was Dane.

The grass tickles my lips as I choke on sobs. This was the stinging pain of a rubber band snap on my heart.


I roll onto my back and watch as fluffy cumulus clouds move across the marlin blue sky.

Bridget, what do you really want?

What do you want to do all by yourself? Without anyone else?

The spring sun feels delicious as it bakes my legs.

I want to be outside.

I want to move my body.

I want access to peaceful places.

I understand why mountaintops were ancient sacred spaces. Isolated. Serene. Quiet places that lend perspective to mortal experiences. I want to move to Recreational Zion—The Wasatch Mountains to ski and bike and hike.

Why do you think you need a relationship in order to build a life in a new place doing things you love?

Rob has been gone for almost ten months now, why can’t you do this on your own too?

I jump up off the grass and pull my phone out of my back pocket and dial Dane, who is also a realtor.

“How are you this morning?” he asks. Dane is formal until he forgets to be. I believe he thinks I’ll plead my case, maybe even beg.

“Great,” I say. I will let him think he is only worth one night of mourning. Today, I’m all business. Well, at least I want to appear to be. Moving on never happens overnight, and I’d get there in time.

“What may I do for you, Bridget?” Such a loaded question, I have to restrain myself to answer.

“Do you think you can send me some potential properties?” I ask.

Dane seems taken off guard. “Uh, sure. What sort of properties?”

“I want something rural with trees and I want to hear the water from a stream, and I want it to be dark at night, so I can see the stars. I also want decent access to civilization, not too far out.” Not as a single mother do I want to be off the grid—too many weirdos.

“Ok, I have something in mind. I’ll email you a few properties today.”

I run down the sloping lawn to Rob’s parents’ house, eager to share my plan with them, a plan dependent upon no man.

Photo of two wedding rings
The Rings by
Jason Pier in D.C. (flickr.com). CC license.

The woman in the grocery store has a pained look on her face as she waits for me to answer her question.

Warmth and understanding flow into me and I know Dane wounded her heart too

“I think Dane has good intentions,” I say. “He wants to be a rescuer.” I smile at her. “The irony is you think he is rescuing you, healing your broken heart because he helps you believe in the beauty of your brokenness. You believe he’s safe, but he’s not. And you are left to heal yourself.”

She twists her mouth to the side and nods. She knows.

I glance at her fingers resting on her shopping cart. She wears an art deco vintage style wedding ring.

“How long after did you remarry?” I ask.

“About a year,” she says.

“Me too.”

Bridget Verhaaren
Bridget Verhaaren resides in the Wasatch Mountains, is an avid fan of skiing, and enjoys travel adventures with her husband, Gary Garner, and their eight children (five “bonus” children). She has a BA in English from Brigham Young University and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her graduate creative thesis is a memoir entitled “The Husband Lessons: Death, Dying and The Art of Loving.”

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