the first 5 pages

Chapter 1

Saturday morning

     She had to watch. She tried to anchor herself in the kitchen, to hot coffee and the beginnings of a list—mac & cheese, milk—but as the storm door banged shut on her marriage, she dropped the pen and rushed to the glass, to Dana’s broad-shouldered march towards the car.

     She opened her mouth, then snapped it shut as a jumble of longing, regrets, and wishes surged up and snagged in her throat. She reached out her hand and it stalled against the windowpane, her diamond wedding band shooting flares in the morning sun. Her fingertips pressed against the cold glass. Her hand, her body was trembling.  

     She willed herself numb, begged the chill of the glass to freeze her, make her immune to the pain. It was something she was good at, walling herself off from hurt, a skill she laughed off as a party trick with friends, ha-ha, just another one of her quirks. But it wasn’t a trick; it was survival. Other people ask for a hug when they’re feeling lonely or scared. She had taught herself not to feel.

     This morning though, as she watched Dana walk away, numbness failed her. Instead, all five senses were jacked up and bombarding her, distracting her from the moment, the meaning, as if they had stepped forward and said to her heart, “Don’t worry, we’ll handle this.” Her cheek stung from Dana’s weird, last minute lean-in (was it intended to be a kiss? A hug? The reality was more scrape than caress because of her surprised flinch as his face came close). Her sinuses burned with his smell, Old Spice slapped on over restless, clammy sweat, and her ears were screaming with the echo of his “Okay”, the only word he’d spoken this morning, choked out after he bent in and straightened back up. Okay what? Okay, that chore’s done? Okay, I’m out of here? This is all going to be okay? She couldn’t see how.

     Her eyes zeroed in on Dana, his rumpled hair, his wrinkled shirt, a look that years ago boasted of a late night of exotic cocktails and a need to touch, to slide hands in back pockets, to drape blue-jeaned legs over each other, and hours later, to fight off sleep because of just one more thing to say. Now it was simply an acknowledgement of uninspired exhaustion. She wondered if he had slept in his clothes. Or slept at all. She rubbed her eyes.

     She focused on his blue running shoes, knotted together and dangling off of, oh God how many bags? Her heart skipped a beat. Clearly after all was said and done a rapid getaway was crucial, no back and forth to load the car. Perhaps no “back” at all. She swallowed hard.

     He was leaving.

     The words had been handed to her last night over routine Chicken Piccata and the low murmur of the TV. His “Allie… ” had jolted her, lowered her fork; not so much the gravity in his tone, but that he’d said it at all. Addressing each other by first name after so many years was like a parent starting a sentence with your first, middle, and last name.

     They hadn’t raised their voices; there had been no argument over the glasses of Chardonnay. Dana had presented his closing summary in his smooth legalese, in the way he was schooled at ironing the ache out of his words, and she soaked it in, her face still, the bullet points piercing her, drawing blood but absolutely no visible tears.

     He was leaving.

     She couldn’t hear the soft thud of each bag hitting the leather car seat, but as she stood behind the glass she could feel it, and every one punched a purple bruise on her heart. He glanced back at her as he shut the door, a quick shot of his broken expression, his weariness, and their eyes wrapped around each other.

     And he was everything.  

     She didn’t know what to do with her arms, and for a moment this frustration almost reduced her to tears. She crossed them over her chest, but didn’t like that statement and thrust them down at her sides, where they hung, flaccid and useless. It was unbearable, this dilemma with her arms, and if she could have cut them off to solve it, she would have. She cast around for something to touch, to hang onto; her only option was a princess umbrella that one of the kids had dropped by the door. Without hesitation, she bent and straightened, her fingers a vise around the smooth plastic.

     Dana was behind the wheel. She raised the garish pink handle to wave, and her arm—extended now like the Statue of Liberty with a Disney prop—stalled in the air. As if she was commanding Stop! or maybe had a question.  

     And the black Volvo drove away.

Journal Entry #1

Saturday night

June 10, 2000

     I’m afraid of being alone. I’m wide awake in the bowels of my first night without Dana, and although I’ve plugged in and clicked on every slice of artificial life I could get my hands on—lights, TV, computer, both baby monitors—it’s like I’ve tried to light up the Amazon with a nightlight. I’m acutely aware that just beyond the yellow glow sprawls the bottomless dark, where there is no edge to my emptiness, no warm skin to delineate where I end and the dead, hollowed-out space around me begins.

     Sheer desperation cracked open this journal. But the calisthenics of writing is helpful, especially during commercials when it feels like my date has just gone to the bathroom and I’m alone at the bar pretending I’ve got a lot on my mind. The first mark, however, was daunting. The blank page sneered, daring me to begin, but the hovering, “How did I get here?” seemed so trite. In thirty-two years I’ve walked through many doors, but it’s not as if any of them loomed before me with a Let’s Make a Deal number above it and a heart-pounding decision attached. I floated through most of my life carelessly, unceremoniously, and the unselected doors evaporated in my wake.

     The journal was not my idea. About a month ago, Zoe—who I now believe is psychic—dragged me to her therapist. Celia was younger than I expected and pretty, although she tried to mute it with a pair of thick, black-framed glasses, which probably did make me sit a little straighter. She suggested the journal. I backpedaled, stammered that when I was younger, writing in a journal was dangerous. I’ve always been terrified to pick up a pen and begin, lest the pen, on its own like the moving piece of a Ouija board, suddenly decided to scratch away at my smile to see what churned just below the surface.

     But ulcerous desperation—which has a taste by the way, a mix of tin and white chalk—shrinks the world into black or white. Curl up into yourself, or dare.  

     And so, I have picked up a pen.