The Husband had been out of work two months when I accepted a job offer promising a pay increase and a much better bonus plan. It was a job that had crossed my path four times in five years, the timing all wrong until the last. The first time, I had been referred by a colleague and phone interviewed by an angry administrative assistant that left me with a bad first impression. Two years later I was contacted by an outside recruiter that had been making random field calls. She was a delight and left me with a much better impression, but I had just started a new job that week so I tucked her name and number under my blotter and forgot about it. Every once in a while I’d clean my desk and find it there but I never dialed the number and I never threw it out. Last fall she called again and I listened to her pitch. I was interested enough to have a face to face interview but the company decided to promote from within, which didn’t ruffle my feathers because I was happily employed elsewhere. When she called back just two months later with yet another opportunity, however, money talked and I walked. The Husband had been out of work long enough for me to know the future was uncertain and if I could do something to better our situation, I had better do it.
I had mixed feelings about the training program; it was six weeks long and out of state. On the one hand, I didn’t travel well. On the other hand, the thought of getting out of that stressful home had me packed and in the car with no qualms. I was in my hotel room in North Carolina a week into training when I realized something was terribly wrong. I did not miss my family. I did not miss my home. I missed one of my dogs, but not the dog hair. Each evening I came home to a friendly desk clerk greeting me by name and a clean, quiet room. No arguing, no blaring television, no one following me into the bathroom. It was a peaceful time that I spent reading the entire Twilight series and falling in love with Edward Cullen. I confess that some nights I forgot to make the obligatory phone call home. When I did make that call, I found myself at a loss for words. I had nothing to say. By the time I finished training mid May I realized that I could very well live alone. That I could envision a very different life from the one I had created. I had found the first chink in my armor.
There is no doubt in my mind that I had spent the better part of 30 years encasing myself like a steel armadillo, becoming impenetrable to any outside interference. I didn’t get close to people anymore. I didn’t look for friends. I had no interest at all in looking at men. I was focused solely on family and work. My Husband will tell you that I made all the decisions; that everything was done as I wanted, and in his eyes I’m sure it was. What he couldn’t see was that I controlled the pieces of our life that would make me comfortable, but never truly happy. I had made the decision to stay married no matter what and with that decision came the layers of metal that would keep my creative urges, my romantic nature and my yearning soul safely hidden away. I had a role to play as wife, mother and provider; to deliver an award winning performance I would have to harden my shell and I did.
I have only reached the beginning of the fourth month in our story and am fearful that I have been misunderstood. I did not meet a man, have an affair and leave my husband. That’s a common story barely worth being told. That is not my story at all. I found the chink before I met The Boy and I was forced to bend back that steel cage and deal with the woman inside. The Husband and the rest of my family, other than Her, will always blame him but they are wrong. What She knew and the other’s had missed was that I had reached my limit and it had made me vulnerable. The sadness deep inside me was bubbling to the surface and seeping through the cracks; dissembling my armor and changing the way I looked at everything. I had emerged from room 428 at the Holiday Inn a different person and just a little bit frightened.
I was also quietly dealing with another fear during that time. I would lie in that hotel bed with Stephenie Meyer propped on a pyramid pillow and my fingers would stray to that little pebble in my breast. My thumb would absently stroke the skin, trying to determine if it had changed any from the previous day. I was making a tactile memory to compare with tomorrow and the day after, trying to determine how many days I had left before the pebble became the end of my life. Not two years before I had lost my uterus and one ovary to a tumor the size of a small football, a comparison made by my beautiful Indian doctor. I had waited too long to go to the doctor that time, ignoring the discomfort and heavy bleeding until I was terribly weakened by anemia and nearly too exhausted to withstand surgery. That tumor was benign but those who have been there know the fear I speak of; weeks waiting for appointments and biopsy results. But I couldn’t go to the doctor this time; I was the only one working. If I lost my income, we’d be finished. I kept telling myself and that little bump that we’d be fine. I never told myself or that little bump how scared I was.
Back home the seedlings had been transplanted and my perennials were blooming. Every year we had anxiously awaited the April return of our hummingbirds. I had been away when two made it back from their long sojourn to South America and nested in our backyard. The feeders hung from the rails of our deck and we watched them with delight during our morning coffee. I had a hot pink sleep shirt they were particularly fond of and would fly within inches of my face looking for my nectar. In moments they would forget me and turn their attention instead to the window boxes; overflowing with red petunias and the basil I would let go to seed just because they enjoyed the flowers. Most days the gentle hammering of a lone Pileated Woodpecker would set the staccato beat I would drum my fingers to on the wrought iron table top; a habit I inherited from my mother.
There are two places for me that are always full of my mother: the garden and the kitchen. I cannot be either place without the thought of her coming quite unbidden. She was an early riser and would be in her garden before the coffee was finished brewing and the household began stirring. I could be in her kitchen by six o’clock and find a colander of freshly picked green beans in the sink, yellow zinnias in a cobalt blue vase on the counter, and my mother out on her brick patio sipping her black coffee and reading the morning paper; her garden clogs and pruning shears stowed by the back step.
I don’t have enough confidence in my writing to convey the true beauty of the home my mother built. There are hundreds of images that come to me in unexpected moments with many unshed tears. I find myself choking back the memory of orange juice served at breakfast from a small pink glass pitcher, of delphiniums tied to a bamboo stake against a Rhode Island stone wall, of iridescent clamshell plates lined with Bibb lettuce and chilled shrimp resting on Battenberg lace with a mahogany tabletop peeking through. There was loveliness in everything she touched. I wanted so much to recreate that in my home but I always fell short. Those first weeks back from training I would sit on my deck watching the hummingbirds play, unable to put my finger on exactly what was missing from my life. Why didn’t I feel the same peace in my garden I had felt in my mother’s? The answer didn’t come to me that spring. It came to me many months later when I finally told Her that I had fallen in love.
I told my sister first, quite by accident. I had not meant to but the words flew out of my mouth in a torrent of their own volition, my steel cage not strong enough to contain them. She had known something was different, had seen the subtle changes and had wondered at their source. I realized I could not keep the secret from Her, that She knew me the best and would notice. I didn’t quite know how to tell my daughter that this life I had built for her, this step family, was in jeopardy; that I had done something so selfish and out of character that her life could be drastically altered. Just days before we left for Buffalo I screwed up my courage and told her. Her immediate reply was, “I know.” When I asked her how, she answered “I’ve never seen you this happy.”
That was my answer. I had never been that happy. I don't expect to ever be that happy again.