By MICHELLE HISKEY
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The signs of Rob and Karen Byers' marriage have been bleak the past three months.He's been living apart from her and their 1-year-old son.Last week, morning commuters near Emory University passed dozens of these signs posted by Rob Byers. "I made a big mistake," he says of what led to their separate homes in Decatur.They've been married for 11 years, college friends for a decade before. They were the quiet pair who always hung back at parties.
He's 38 and still in his head too much.She's 39, angry and confused by him, long wanting more emotion from him.In an effort to come home, he dreamed up something really big.
"I'm going to surprise you tomorrow," he told her by phone one night early last week. "And you're really going to like it."
The first yellow signs were stuck under her car wiper blades."Rob Loves Karen.""Karen I'm Sorry."Perplexed, she drove off — along the same route she takes every morning to her favorite bagel shop.
The same six words shouted from telephone poles along busy Clairmont and North Druid Hills roads. Along this popular commuting route to Emory University, the posters burst in the color of war ribbons.
He was wrong: She didn't really like it.At all.Have a loved one's best intentions ever ended up making you even madder? Then you know how she felt.
"Totally freaked," she said. "I felt like it was advertising to the world we had problems. I felt embarrassed that that was thrown out into the world. These are things I have only told a handful of close friends."
She tore down the first few, but "there were so, so many and the baby was in the car, I knew I was getting nowhere."She thought back on their pattern: his bad timing, her disappointment.
"It was like when he proposed," she says. "I was weak and in bed with a cold, and he got me out of bed and I was in my bathrobe when asked me. And I was furious that this is what I would remember forever."
He was at work when she called to vent about the posters: "If that was a surprise, it was really lame!"Her view changed after she talked to friends, who urged her to see his gestures as sweet and romantic, if misguided.
He did express how he felt, just not the way she ever imagined.Making something private so public opened up her eyes to a hidden truth."People have been so supportive and opened up," she says. "Everyone has problems even though they act like everything is fine."
Even though they don't know exactly where their marriage is headed or how they will get there, after all this, they realize that neither wants to give up.And both agree that's a good sign.