The wind was crisp and cool as it blew across the playground. The clouds covered the sun on this early February morning, although there were patches of blue in the sky. The leaves rustled in the wind, swirling low across the ground.
A groundhog poked its head out of a hole. It ventured out slowly, wary and cautious. It snagged a piece of wood with its mouth and scurried back to its hole. From there it stood, half in and half out of the ground. It began to gnaw on the piece of wood.
A rustle. The groundhog perked its head up. A boy had opened the gate to the playground and walked in. Now he came to stop at the swing set. He sat on one of the swings and sat there, silent for a moment.
The groundhog knew the boy. He was a frequent visitor to the park. Sometimes he came with his friends, but lately, he had been coming just by himself, as in this case. The groundhog watched the boy for a moment, and then stuck his head back down
The boy noticed the groundhog burrowed in his hole. “Hey, Phil,” he said, smiling at the groundhog. That was the name the boy had given the groundhog. Why this particular name, the groundhog had no idea. He didn’t really care though. As long as he had his food, his hole, and his wood, he was fine.
The boy smiled at Phil for a moment more, and then looked away, the smiling fading from his face. “Well, Phil,” he said. “It’s finally happened.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “My parents have finally broken up. The divorce is final.”
Phil continued to gnaw on his wood. The boy went on. “I mean, I knew it was going to happen at some point. They’ve been talking about it for months. I heard them fight all the time.”
Why didn’t you tell me that Jacob was sick? I have a right to know, I’m his father!
Well, I figured you wouldn’t care, as you stay so late at work each night.
Oh, I’m sorry I’m making sure my family and I can have a nice life. Does that show I don’t care, Linda?
“After a while, I heard them talk about getting a divorce.”
Alex, we can’t go on like this each night. I’m sorry, but I want a divorce.
Honestly, I’m glad you said that, because I want one too.
“I used to cry in bed each night listening to them talk about it.”
But what about Jacob? This will crush him. We can’t do this to him.
But this is best for him. He can’t grow up watching us fight every night. We have to show him what a real, working relationship is. And frankly, what we have isn’t one.
“I didn’t want to believe it. But when they told me…” The boy trailed off. He looked at the groundhog.
“You’re lucky, Phil,” he told the groundhog. “You’re life is so simple. All you have to worry about is sleeping and eating. Me, I have so many things to worry about. School, friends, sports, and now this.” He sighed. “But you don’t care, do you? You’re probably not even listening to me right now.”
The only response from Phil was a snort as he burrowed deeper into his hole. The boy looked at him for a moment longer, and then looked away. “But I’ll keep on talking to you, I guess. It’s not like it can do any harm.
“I convinced my parents to stay together through the holidays. I thought maybe if they can get through the holidays, they’ll realize that they can stay together. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about a thing.
“And it began to work, for a while at least. Maybe it was something about the holiday season, you know. It’s that time of year where everyone gets along. But once the new year came, they started to fight again. Talk of divorce came up again, and this time, my parents didn’t want to hear my complaints.”
Jacob, we know you don’t want us to get a divorce. But we do. We promised that we would stay together for Christmas, and we did. What more can you ask of us?
“I haven’t talked to them since that night. That was, what, two weeks ago?” The boy looked at the groundhog again, who didn’t respond. “And now my dad moved out. Went to a friend’s place, he said.
“And you know what’s even worse?” the boy said. “Somehow one of the kids at school found out, and now everyone there knows.” He sighed. “That was the only place where I could forget about the divorce, besides here. That’s why I’ve been coming here so often lately. It’s like I can’t escape this thing.”
Just then the sun poked out through the clouds, and the groundhog scurried back in his hole. The boy noticed this and laughed.
“But you know what?” he said. “I realized something. I can’t hide from my shadow forever. Sooner or later I have to stand up and face reality.” The boy stared at the hole. “Kind of like you, Phil. You may hide in your little hole from your shadow now, but at one point or another you have to come out if you want to survive.” He paused. “That’s the way life works, I guess.”
He sat on the swing for a couple more minutes, reflecting. Then he got up. “Nice talking to you, Phil,” he said. “Happy Groundhog Day.” He began to walk away.
As he left, the groundhog slowly crept out of his hole again. Tentatively, he stepped out into the sunlight and looked around. He ran, got some more wood, and started to burrow again, getting ready for the spring.