By, Jackie Morgan
You wake up. You are in your bed in your house in the master bedroom. You are on your side of the bed. You roll over. His head is not on the pillow. His hair is not tasseled about in a mess, his fingers are not gripping the top of the sheet, his barely gray stubble is not on his face. He is not there. If there were any tears left to cry, you would feel the warmth of them rolling off your cheek. What do I do? You ask yourself. Well, you say, you breathe. In and out. So you do.
The air is crisp in the room, which gives you another reason to not want to get out of bed. But you have two others that tug stronger at your heart and they give you the strength to get up. One of these reasons is only four years old. She has blonde hair and crystal blue eyes like her father. She has your button nose. She has the heart of her grandmother, able to love everyone, especially her younger sister. She is the second reason you get out of bed. She is only two. Her blonde hair dangles over her big brown eyes, just like yours. Her giggle can light up anyone’s day, maybe even yours today.
You are scared of this day. You are worried that they won’t understand. You are worried that you won’t be able to be a strong support system for them. You are worried they will blame themselves. You are worried this will change their lives. Stop thinking! You snap at yourself. The decision has been made.
Sometimes you wished you could go back to when this all started, slap yourself in the face, and walk away. You knew him, you knew him well. You knew every flaw in his character and every strength he had learned to cover it up with. You knew every doubt that you had about the relationship was supported by conclusive evidence of unavoidable unhappiness. But, here you were now. This evening he would begin his move into an apartment in the city and your girls would wonder why he wasn’t coming home at night.
This very same time last year you thought you were happy. He wouldn’t make it home in time for dinner, but he did make it home. You figured he appreciated the extra plate of food in the refrigerator that he could reheat in the microwave, but you can’t remember now if he ever said thank you.
There’s that expression, blinded by love, but could the same be true about fairytales? Could you be so blinded by the thought that you got everything you thought you ever wanted. You lived in the neighborhood that you dreamed of raising your children in. You had a beautiful French style house with dark wood trim and expensive furnishings. You had antique one of a kind china that you dreamed about having years ago during your childhood tea parties. You had a handsome husband that came home each week with a handsome paycheck. Still you were unhappy.
Your mother warned you of this. This unhappiness that could hide behind sofas and dishes. Because the fabric would wear and the plates would someday form imperfections that could never be fixed without everyone knowing they had to be repaired.
That was what he was most worried about. The thoughts and judgments of other people. What are people going to say? He’d asked you once. Well maybe you should have thought about that before you jumped into bed with another woman. You wished now that you were able to say that to him.
You were truly on a rollercoaster lately. And this was one theme park you didn’t like being at. The merry go round went around and round in circles. Playing the very same music time and again. I’m sorry he’d say. I won’t do it again. That’s what you said last time.
The tilt a world made you feel on edge. Each time it’d lean you forward you wondered if this would be the time it’d throw you off.
You coax yourself out from under the covers with the hope that someday soon you won’t have to talk yourself into getting out of bed. You walk to the dresser, the one that you share, with the man that is sleeping on the couch. You pull over a sweater and feel the scratchiness of the wool on your thin arms. You walk out of your room and down the long narrow hallway. The thick gray carpet provides padding for your fragile toes. The pastel pink walls seem threatening, as if they could cave in on you at any moment. Pastel pink paint; the color of Gerber daisies, seashells, and lemonade. Happy things. Peaceful things. Not these pink walls. Only distant memories of anger and bickering.
The day you brought home paint chips he hardly unburied his head from his work to look at them. Your face lit up as you explained your visions of turning your house into a home. He didn’t notice. He didn’t look or care. He heard you but didn’t listen. He nodded and agreed, quicker than you thought he would. It would have taken a bit more persuasion for most any other man to agree to pink.
He was gone on a business trip the week the painters came. The weather had been manageable so you were able to leave the windows open to let out some of the fumes. It was truly too bad the temperature dropped the night he returned home. How it would have been nice to let out some of the fumes he put off then.
You walk by the living room on the way to the kitchen and tell him to get up. You fumble with the coffee pot. Your cold hands shake as you put three scoops of grounds into the filter. Your nose dances at the scent of the beans, as if it didn’t remember to be upset. You hear the water turn on in the shower so you walk back to the couch and start to fold the blankets of his secret bed. Killing time. Destroying evidence. Waiting the agonizing four minutes as your precious drink is brewed.
You watch your finger trace the stitches of the quilt you’re folding. Each stitch carefully woven four years ago by your mother as a wedding present for you and your husband. What your parents would think if they knew the stitches were falling apart. You remember dancing with your father on that special day. How proud your father was that you wed in the same Catholic Church that they had. Disappointment would be the only expression their faces would give you now. Until death do us part isn’t a suggestion, it’s a promise. A promise to God and to each other. You can almost hear the words rolling off your fathers tongue.
It’s something that your parents would never understand. For awhile you were unsure if you could really understand it. It was just yesterday when you received that call. A woman asking to speak to Matthew. You didn’t think anything of it until she asked who you were. You got really confused and asked her the same question. Is this his wife? She’d asked. Yes, who is this? Oh I’m sorry, he told me he wasn’t married.
The girls were in bed when he got home later that night. You sat in the living room in the rocker you sang to them sleep in as babies waiting for him. You rocked slowly and deliberately, hoping that the steady pace would align the your racing heart and shaking breath. Your eyes were stern at the door. Almost burning a hole through it with your anger. Your fingers were turning white from the death grip you held the chair arms with as if you held on tight enough some of the pain that you felt in your heart you transfer into the innocent chair. When he walked through that door three hours after dinner he was not expecting what you had in store for him. Like a hurricane breaking the levy, you lost it. You shook as you spoke. Each word a little louder than the next. Your eyes dug through him with each accusation. Again? You yelled. Again?
You pulled yourself together when you realized how loud you were. You walked down hall towards the girls’ room and peaked your head in. You saw the empty crib in the corner and the flashlight shinning through the blanket they both were huddled under on your eldest’s small twin bed. Please stop yelling. She had whispered.
It was then that you realized that you couldn’t do this to them anymore. You couldn’t raise them in a house of bickering and misery. It wasn’t fair to them to not be surrounded by anything but love.
You needed to protect them. You found the strength to leave him in the love that you had for those two girls.
“Tomorrow, you’re leaving,” You said. “I can’t do this to them anymore.”
You finished folding the blankets and carefully stacked each one on top of another in the hall closet. You clutched the wedding quilt close to your heart hoping to feel a little love left inside of it. There was none there. Just the worn fabric exposing an over used exhausted blanket.
Awhile later he says goodbye to you. You are standing at the sink, your petite fingers wrapped around the mug keeping warm. You don’t flinch. You don’t turn around. You don’t react at all. You just stare out the window at the family across the way. They look so perfect. Both of them in the window, looking out in your direction but not at you. His arms around her waist, her smile on her face, not just on her mouth but in her eyes too. Their lawn is racked clean of its leaves, ready for the first snowfall. Yours still has the piles he promised to bag up but never did.
Click. You hear the door open. Click. You hear the door shut. You exhale, just then realizing that you’d been holding your breath the whole time. You turn around letting your entire body slide against the cabinet to the floor. You sit there. You don’t know for how long.
Mommy? What are you doing down there? A small voice asks you. You tell her you’re warming your toes by the heat vent. You wrap your arms around her and pull her down on your lap. Where’s Daddy? She asks. You tell her he left already for work. Oh, she says, Rachel tried to get out of her crib again. She wanted to say goodbye.