She watched the bath water go down, down, down. She sat there naked, her arms around her knees, her belly protruded. She felt not cold or warm, but numb. Then...did she feel a kick? She waited. Nothing.
A few days earlier, she had considered bringing up that dreaded topic with him. He was lying in bed, reading. She came into the bedroom after brushing her teeth. The word screamed in her head. She couldn't say it outloud. DIVORCE. It sang like a chorus.
Most people she knew didn't divorce until the love had faded followed by, or as a result of, a series of negative events - infidelity, most commonly, addictions, restlessness, mid-life crisis' of various degrees of severity - on and on the list would go. One close friend of hers had gotten a divorce after taking a trip to Italy with another female friend and realizing that there was a whole world out there she hadn't yet seen. Living in the suburbs, working the 9-to-5 no longer interested her. She was childless and still young, and her husband Thomas was happy with their life in the 'burbs - a life Lauren had referred to as "unbearably boring!"
She had nodded and listened to Lauren, pretending to be sympathetic. She looked at her and realized long before Lauren would, that she was making a mistake. But it was too late to tell her this - she had made up her mind. Out with the old, in with the new, as they say.
She stood up and looked down at her swollen belly, swollen breasts, down to her swollen ankles. She felt alien in her own body. She loved her husband so much. Why would she put him through something so awful as a divorce? One day some time after this, he would ask her this question again and again: Why? His eyes would betray confusion, fear and sadness all at once. Each time, he would look like as if he were about to cry, but the tears would never come.
She would list all the reasons, calmly. Gripes, mainly. Things that could be resolved over time, or just accepted through patience on her part. Their relationship could survive, but her bitterness would always be just under the surface, bubbling up from time to time, and then disappearing again, only to resurface and begin the cycle once more. Again and again.
No, those gripes were not the reason. His bad habits, his lack of ambition - all of those things were excuses. She wanted the divorce because she wanted to save him from her bitterness and her resentment. In her mind, she reasoned, this was an act of kindness. This was her way of truly loving him.
Shit. He didn't mean to think that--what kind of asshole judges a stranger with a made-up word that lazily sums up the intent of fucking ugly? But it was undeniably the first word that popped into his head when he saw her.
That was the second word.
Why was he even here? Suddenly this secret-blind-date-sexy-stranger-no-one-has-to-know-fantasy had lost its charisma. But there she was, sitting in the agreed-upon armchair at the far right corner of the coffee shop. And she had already seen him anyway. Alright dickhead, let's get this over with.
"Hey! Glad you could make it."
"Yeah, well, it's not every day that you see your description in one of those ads."
"Yeah, I didn't think you'd find it. My friend kinda made me do it."
"Oh. Well, I have a girlfriend, anyway."
"Oh. Do you always look at personal ads when you're dating someone?"
"Uh, no. I don't know. I guess I was bored. I don't know. Sorry, I guess I'm wasting your time here."
"No, I mean, whatever. It's just cool to meet new people sometimes, you know?"
"Yeah. Yeah, you're right. Sometimes you just need that, I guess."
Dusk had descended by the time he left the coffee shop.
i pick at my rapsberry/peach muffin, plucking the edges of its top in a circular motion, round and round until the sugary crust vanishes revealing a center of sweet dough and chunks of fruit that stains my fingertips.
look at me.
when did i become so methodical?
i'm turning into my mother.
no, my father.
i don't even like muffins.
i'm just a sucker for free shit at work.
almost time to meet the green courier bag boy.
can't believe i had the balls to write him.
[note to self to not use words like 'balls' on our date.]
my mother wouldn't approve of that language,
nor of my meeting strange men in cafés.
[another reason why i'm doing it]
she insists the city is filled with rapists and serial killers.
i've never knowingly encountered one.
maybe with the exception of that guy who sits and watches me eat my free muffin every afternoon. maybe i'm being paranoid. or perhaps this is some weird obsession or perversion for him. is there a word for someone with a pastry fetish? there should be. he gives me the creeps.
I started looking at the online personal ads only after Richie sent me an email with a link to an ad that described him almost exactly: Average height, sandy blonde hair, great smile, green courier bag, 8:05 a.m. train, red iPod.
"Should I answer it??" he wrote beneath the link.
Richie was a charismatic type - one I could not help but favor when choosing to whom I would give the best projects; he was a prized member of my young staff. He reminded me of myself on the inside - the man I would have liked to have been at his age. A decade younger than me, he had more promise and a better future than I would ever attain.
"What would Leila think?" was my simple response. But in my head I screamed: YES!! Don't let life pass you by!
That was the part of me that I kept hidden away - a place where I stored thoughts that I would never share with my wife. Therein lay a myriad of desires, carefully kept out of view, and which I visited frequently - in the form of online pornography.
"Leila who??" Richie wrote back, followed by a virtual wink.
A few hours later, Richie was in my office.
"Can I close the door he asked?"
"Of course," I said.
He closed the door and quickly made himself comfortable on the brown leather sofa my wife and I had gotten as a gift from her parents. She hated the color. To my pleasure, it ended up here.
"I wrote her an email!" Richie said.
"Wrote who an email?" I asked, confused.
"The girl from the personal ad. You know - the one who sees me on the subway."
"Ah...yes..." I said. Somehow, I was suddenly disinterested in this young man's personal drama.
"Well," I said. "What happened?"
"We're going to meet this afternoon! At the cafe around the corner."
I knew the one he was talking about - the pretty young women who worked there made the lattes taste that much better.
"Yes, well what about..." I trailed off. I suddenly felt old. Why did I keep asking about Leila, his girlfriend of two years? Why was I thinking about her, when he wasn't? What did I care if he met this woman from the personal ad?
"It's not like I'm cheating on Leila!" Richie said, clearly annoyed. "I'm just...you know, curious."
I looked at him for a moment.
His excitement was the fantasy, the wonder, the greener grass on the other side. He was young. I would let him have this moment, make his mistakes, and come back to me baffled and wounded. I had my own battle scars. Why not let him have his?
He rarely took a lunch break, preferring to work straight through until 6:00/7:00. Had he been that busy? Graphic design does take time. He thrived on lattes and the creative boost they rushed. Then he was promoted to Art Director, and although he filtered out the design work to his eager team of recent art school grads, he still remained at his desk, reading magazines and Web sites and fielding client calls.
That was two weeks before the accident.
Now, he breaks the workday into two halves. He still picks up a third latte from Barry’s Bean on the corner, but walks on toward the park instead of taking a left to return to the office. He sits on the same bench, somehow always vacant, and is shaded by an immense oak whose limbs greet with thick shade.
He watches her from this bench each afternoon at 1:00. He had not planned on eavesdropping on her everyday, but now he can’t help it. It’s not a weird obsession or perversion, nothing like that. He’s not even attracted to her. But, he finds comfort in the schedule she maintains. As he sips, not realizing the singe of his tongue from the scalding liquid, she picks at her raspberry/peach muffin, plucking the edges of its top in a circular motion, round and round until the sugary crust vanishes revealing a center of sweet dough and chunks of fruit that stain her fingertips. She dusts crumbs away from the book resting in her lap, turning slowly each remaining page of few.
Sipping, picking, cooling, plucking. Their daily rhythm now in synch.
He recognizes her habits and studies her from a shaded distance of safety. He is a stranger sharing in the peace of their ritualistic comfort.
She never looks up to meet his eyes. He can’t see what color her eyes are from this distance and that is the question he leaves with today. Another day he’ll wonder her name, what book it is, where she lives, does she work, is she a student. Each day a new question to ponder.
And yet, by the time he returns home, he still lacks an answer. But it’s these questions that keep his mind surfaced these days. For now, he’s staring his way to a solution.
his leaving was her arrival into the day. the eggshell walls of their brooklyn townhouse suddenly expanded. the air once again became penetrable. now she could actually consider the arduous task of getting out of bed.
when had this ritual begun? she wasn't sure. long enough ago for the hallway mirror to grow a coat of rust where its metal frame rested on the tub's edge [had he even questioned its relocation?]. into it she stared while melting into her morning bath.
not that she knew what she sought in its reflection. it was the seeking itself that seemed necessary. life was at a standstill. every day she prayed for an earthquake, a hurricane. when the words "car accident" floated into her consciousness, she did her best to stuff them back into the dank, dark hole of her mind. no no, that was an inappropriate prayer--neither suited for church nor for thinking about your husband's fate.
she shuddered, released the stopper, and tried not to watch the bathwater drain into oblivion. that would be depressing, after all.
He closed the door behind him and turned the key, locking the deadbolt. Click! He loved that sound.
As he walked down the front steps onto the sidewalk, he looked up at the sky and frowned. Dark storm clouds were already forming and he hadn't brought his umbrella. He turned around and for an instant thought about going back inside, but the thought of seeing her again, lying there in bed pretending to be asleep was too much for him. Walking through the rain was better than feeling her tears on his neck - that was one thing he couldn't handle.
Her sadness, her longing - he could feel it, and he couldn't stand it. She expected him to be the man, to step up and take over when things got too difficult. But he had never expected this. Through it all, she had always been the one in charge, the one who remembered the little things and reminded him about his dentist appointments or to buy milk for his morning coffee. Now that she was lost in this sea of depression, he didn't know what to do with himself, and worse, he did not know how to help her. She told him so many times that she knew he loved her, but his love was not strong enough to pull her from this dreary abyss.
As he walked on the sidewalk on the way to the subway, he thought again about the baby, and panicked. How could they raise a child when they could barely get along these days?
He thought back to that sunny afternoon on the boat. She looked so beautiful and happy that day. The sunlight seemed to shine only on her, or maybe he just thought that because he couldn't turn his eyes away from her. Those almond-shaped eyes, the way her upper lip disappeared when she smiled. He was overwhelmed then too, but with happiness. Would things ever be the same?
He felt a raindrop on his face. Those days seemed so far away.
These months that I had planned to spend preparing the room, shopping with mom and friends for maternity clothes, reading expectant mother books, cruising WebMD for articles and advice, watching my body change and grow—be the mother of our child—were now awash with sudden bouts of sadness and longing.
I want to rewind.
That drink. That toast. A dark and stormy. How appropriate.
We still had hope then.
I hear his footsteps, but keep my eyelids shut in semi-slumber. He warms my temple with a goodbye kiss. I catch a whiff of coffee.
Does he hope I’d wake? Is that why he lingers beside me?
Then, I listen to the faraway sounds of the hallway closet door opening and closing, a pause while he puts on his coat, keys settling into pockets, the front door squeaking open and closing snug, the deadbolt clicking into place.
The ocean always reminded him how much was out there, and how little of it was his. Would the kid make his patch bigger, or smaller? Either way, he could talk himself into this. The transition to nearly monogamous had been nearly painless, and for the past couple of years he'd been saying he liked children. He had at least a dozen gray chest hairs.
My reflection stared back at me from the bathroom mirror. I examined her objectively; the way my upper lip disappeared when I smiled, the thin creases branching out from beneath my almond-shaped eyes. Those creases seemed to be getting more noticeable with each year, no, each day. I looked tired, world-weary. My face was shiny, my eye makeup was smudged. I looked at this stranger and wondered what the world must think.
He walked up from behind me, startling me. He started to rub my shoulders and smiled into his own reflection in the mirror. I wondered what he thought of himself, or if he did. He leaned down, put his face next to mine and looked at the two of our faces squished together in the mirror's reflection. He smiled again, kissed me on the cheek and left the bathroom. I glanced at myself, rubbed my eyes, and turned off the light switch.
As his truck turns into the driveway, she hurriedly brushes her teeth, critiquing her reflection in the mirror. Her dark brown hair is finally long enough to pull back into a low ponytail, which she fastens with plain black hair ties. Her olive complexion is tanned from their boat trip last weekend. She applies a thin layer of Vaseline to her full lips, and stares right into her own dark chocolate brown eyes. She smiles wondering if their baby will inherit her color, or that of its father’s.
Beginning, middle, and end. But there is so much more to crafting prose than those three words let on. I've had the idea for this site for a couple of years, having so many first graphs on scraps and in misc Word files. They had potential, but where to go? Then a writing workshop sparked the idea, we all share commentary and writing exercises there, I could share my graphs with my friends/fellow writers, and see where we could take them. It wasn't until I discovered the ease of blogging that I decided to post.
This site is for my friends with hearts full of passion for words. Those who feel unsettled unless they release these thoughts into tactile being.
But as writers, we also carry the burden of being procrastinators. Our houses are the cleanest. Our minds are well-read. And Law & Order and CSI: Miami are favorites because they run 24/7 giving us constant preoccupation from the one task we want to be doing but may not always bring ourselves to accomplish. Unless there is a deadline...Then we are devoted to stress.
You are invited now to return to the fun of writing. Remember your first? The one story that sprang up and whispered to you tenderly and you welcomed the urge to share. Now the tales may be incessant because their voices are not as loud, they have much more distractions over which to speak.
Allow yourself to hear them again. Quiet the mind and enjoy the fun at hand. If you are here, then that is your start. Now make it a beginning.
Each month I will post a first paragraph. Those of you who are authors are invited to post graphs when you are inspired to. Others simply enjoy and comment about the read, or let me know via a comment that you'd like to be an author as well.
Maybe we'll create full stories. Maybe we'll reach dead ends. Who cares! Yes, rest your inner critic and judge and just got for it. Return to the writer within, the one you've always been.