It is five in the morning on a bright Tuesday afternoon. Already the sunlight peers through the shuttered windows; in another few hours sleep will cease to be effective as a weapon against it. The children will be forced to rise, rubbing their eyes and muttering incoherently to themselves as they stumble haltingly into a fight over the bathroom.
The children, she thinks.
She is passing through the house. She is passing through her life, passing from this reality, still present in the warm bodies of the children but fast fading into another, truer reality, one at once gentler and harder, brighter, more immediate. A woman of medium height and no particular beauty, though her features are striking and perhaps a bit arrogant. Her pride is such that it has become one of her flaws where it might have been a virtue. Her pride is such that it kept her in this life for years even after she began to sense the wrongness, because she could not admit failure.
She is a brunette, her hair a cap that might at best be considered “sleek” and at worst emphasizes her rather angular face and cheekbones. Her eyes are blue and sparkling with what might just be tears, though she will not find that out until she leans her head back against the seat of a train and finds moisture leaking into the corners of her mouth. Her mouth is curved into a grim smile of forced cheeriness that will not become in any way a reflection of her emotional state until somewhere around the Arizona border.
She is dressed in a comfortable pair of worn jeans, a long-sleeved white cotton shirt, and very little makeup. There is little point to it, now. She wears a gold-colored watch, a gift from She Who Shall Remain Nameless, at least in this house, on her right wrist. Her ring finger lies unadorned. Her wedding ring sits on their dresser where she left it. No fanfare to accompany that statement, that parting, that revelation of light and dancing shadows on the bare canvas of skin. Perhaps there is a god whose purpose lies purely in marking such endings.
There is a woman who waits for an hour on the couch in the small, liquid hours of the morning, alone in her house, by herself in the dark. This woman will rise after this time as if from a graveside vigil. She will shake herself, and she will move forward.
I am this woman, and I am leaving my husband.
Every angry word imaginable came and went the night before; now, there is nothing left remaining but acceptance, nothing left to do but yield to the inevitable. Everything has already happened, and thank God, because there was a moment there where I might have gone back, there was a moment where the imminent death of everything I had built in my life seemed far more terrifying than the slow death that had been the last forty years of my life. There is nothing else for either of us to find in the other person; this acquiescence is the only meeting point we have. Somewhere inside each of us there is a space where we are still holding each other, weeping and terrified, too terrified to detach from the last vestiges of anything resembling the safety of normalcy. Our real goodbyes were short, poisonous things, terrible to behold, spoken from between lips clenched angrily. They were chomped on and spit out, words made to wound, to hurt, to inflict pain as if it might balance out what we ourselves were feeling.
Our agreement was tidy and practical. He will explain my absence to the children. Last night when I was saying goodnight to them I lingered, trying to put into words what was happening, why it had to happen, how sorry I was for how it would hurt them. The words wouldn’t come. I am a writer, many times recently that’s been the only piece of my identity I could be sure of, and I found that I had no ability to bring forth any words at all.
And so. He will tell them, they will cry for their mother, and gradually acceptance will fill in the blanks. Their acceptance, too, will be blank at first, basic, elemental, stone and unforgiving, but it will change. They will come during the summer to live with us, and I will show them California, a place they are sure to love. They will return to their father bronzed, with highlights in their hair, and a new understanding of sacrifice and the limits as to what a person can be expected to bear.
For now I am taking the coward’s way out. I tiptoe, my suitcase clutched firmly in one hand, hitching a backpack higher onto my back, and carrying my shoes in the other hand. I’ll put them on outside, after I am gone.
This house was my house. I helped to pick it out. The paintings on the wall are half mine. The furniture is half mine. The people inside it used to be completely mine.
As of today, all of it has changed. I have changed it.
But I cannot stay any longer, nor linger over my goodbyes as I’d like. My train leaves in thirty minutes.
I take a last look around. As I am leaving, I trail my hands along the sand-colored walls, which I picked out because they remind me of the ocean. I have no need of such things now; the ocean will lie just outside of my door, and the mountains, and the sky.
Notes written in shaky scrawl skitter across the kitchen table as I walk by. There are three of them. I have memorized each one this past night, cried over each one, held it to my chest and wondered anew how I can possibly bring myself to do this. Each sports a different name. They all say nearly the same thing, anyway: I love you. This is not your fault. I’m sorry.
His ‘I’m sorry,’ of course, is crossed out and rewritten and crossed out a second time. I am not so sure that I am sorry, but he will be looking for an apology, and this one last time I will give him that.
I close the door gently. Sit on the step. Tug on my shoes, as I have a thousand times before when I’ve judged them too dirty to wear inside, back when I was terrified to bring such things into the house.
Get into the car. Start the ignition.
As I pull out my hands are shaking so badly I’m forced to pull onto the shoulder for nearly ten minutes and almost miss my train.
Or maybe it’s just that, in this brave new world, even breathing is gone about differently and I’ve yet to learn how.