Even a year after his wife had left him, Earl still had a photograph of himself and his ex-wife descending the white steps of the church they were married in. He kept it hidden away because he knew other people might think he was delusional if they saw it, that he was somehow refusing to deal with the fact that she was gone, but he couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it either. It was, and probably would always be the happiest he could ever remember being, and he thought that gave the photograph at least some value.
Earl was well aware of the fact that his wife had left him. He was also well aware of the fact that she had left him simply because she had realized that she was no longer in love with him. She made it explicitly clear to him that the things she had found so wonderful about him; his simplicity, his honesty, his earnestness, no longer seemed exciting to her. She insisted that at the time she truly was drawn to those traits and believed that she would be happy with him for as long as she lived. Earl was naturally shocked; it didn’t really make sense to him, and his confusion was only intensified by the fact that he was not terribly bright, and was even more naïve. She didn’t quite understand how it had happened either, she explained to him, but it was true, and she genuinely wanted to be honest about the situation, because he had always been honest with her.
She moved out promptly, and through contact with her during the divorce filing process, he learned that she had been living alone and supporting herself, giving him no reason to think that she had left him for someone else.
This was at once both relieving and also disconcerting to Earl. It was good to know that she had been honest with him. It was tough, however to come terms with why she had fallen out of love with him without any apparent cause other than perhaps his own stagnant personality. Earl could neither blame her, nor himself.
Earl had a friend named Joseph who worked with him who would occasionally stop by his house after he got off work to see how he was fairing by himself. Joseph had lost his wife during the birth of their second son, and even though he didn’t dare say that he could sympathize with Earl, he thought he could at least help him with some of the more practical matters of living alone after being married for a long time.
Joseph also had a photograph of he and wife taken on their wedding day that he kept on his mantle. Earl saw it once when he came over to Joseph’s house to help him move a new piece of furniture into his living room. Reminded of his own wedding day photograph, he asked Joseph about it. Joseph sat down, beginning a response that was much longer than Earl had expected.
In most people’s eyes, Joseph explained, this was not an unusual thing to do after one’s spouse had died. Most people believed in some kind of afterlife, and because of that it was generally accepted that relationships between human beings were not nullified after their deaths. Joseph did not believe this however. He was a very worldly person who found he had enough to be concerned about within the here and now, and had trouble accepting that idea to be anything more than a possibility.
As such, the decision he made to keep his wedding photo displayed on the mantle was not a choice he made without questioning it first. In Joseph’s mind death had overcome his wife’s ability to love him. Of course he had fond memories of their life together before she passed away, but those memories could not replace seeing her, talking to her, and sharing his life with her everyday. It was those tangible interactions that he missed, and without them he felt their connection had been severed. Though it pained him to admit it, his memories became faded and abstract as time passed.
He still kept the photograph however, because even though she effectively did not love him anymore according to his view, he did not think that what they had shared before she passed away was any less real. He held that regardless of the fact that what the photograph depicted was no longer present in his life, it still just as true as the day it was taken.
Earl returned to his house later that night. He grabbed a hammer and began pounding a nail into the wall. When he was finished, he climbed up the stairs to his attic and pulled out the box that contained his wedding day photograph.