“Yeah, okay. And, Lucy?”
“You might want to get that coffee job back as soon as possible.”
After a while, I stood up from the rocking chair and walked to the guest room where I’d been staying. I shut the bedroom door, held my hand around my necklace, and shut my eyes. “Air above me, earth below me, fire within me, water surround me…” I took deep breaths and kept repeating the words Mama had taught me. Whenever she’d lose her balance in life and feel far from grounded, she’d repeat that chant, finding her inner strength.
Even though I repeated the words, I felt like a failure.
My shoulders drooped and my tears began to fall as I spoke to the only woman who had ever truly understood me. “Mama, I’m scared, and I hate it. I hate that I’m afraid, because that means I’m somewhat thinking what Parker was thinking. A part of me feels like she won’t make it, and I just feel terrified each day.”
There was something so heartbreaking about watching your best friend fall apart. Even though I knew death was simply the next chapter in her beautiful memoir, it didn’t make it any easier for me to grasp. In the back of my mind, I knew each hug could be the last, knew each word could be goodbye.
“I feel guilty, because for every good thought I have, five negative ones pass through. I have fifteen coin jars filled in my closet that Mari doesn’t even know exist. I’m tired, Mama. I’m exhausted, and then I feel guilty for almost falling apart. I have to stay strong, because she doesn’t need anyone falling apart around her. I know you taught us girls not to hate, but I just hate Parker. God forbid, but if these are Mari’s last days, I hate that he tainted them. Her final days shouldn’t be filled with the memory of her husband walking out on her.”
It wasn’t fair that Parker could pack his bags and just escape to a new life without my sister. He might find love again someday, but what about Mari? He’d be the love of her life, and that hurt me more than she’d ever know. I knew my sister like the back of my hand, knew how gentle her heart was. She felt every hurt ten times more than most people. Her heart resided on her sleeve, and she allowed everyone to listen to its beautiful heartbeats—even those who were undeserving of hearing the sounds. She prayed they loved her heart’s sounds, too. She always wanted to feel loved, and I hated that Parker made her feel like a failure. She’d leave the world feeling as if she had somehow failed her marriage, all in the name of love.
The emotion that made people both soar and crash. The feeling that lit humans up and burned their hearts. The beginning and ending of every journey.
As the days, months, and years passed by, Mari and I heard less and less from both Parker and Lyric. The pity check-ins grew less frequent, and the guilt-driven checks stopped coming through the mail. When the divorce papers landed in the mailbox, Mari cried for weeks. I stood strong for her in the light, and teared up for her heart in the shadows.
It wasn’t fair how the world took Mari’s health and then had the nerve to come back to make sure her heart was shattered into a trillion pieces too. With every inhale, she cursed her body for betraying her and ruining the life she’d built. With every exhale, she prayed for her husband to return home.
I never told her, but with every inhale, I begged for her healing, and with every exhale, I prayed for her husband to never come back.
Two days before, I’d bought flowers for someone who wasn’t my wife. Since the purchase, I hadn’t left my office. Papers were scattered all around—notecards, Post-It notes, crumpled pieces of paper with pointless scribbles and words crossed out. On my desk sat five bottles of whisky and an unopened box of cigars.
My eyes burned from exhaustion, but I couldn’t shut them as I stared blankly in front of me at my computer screen, typing words I’d later delete.
I never bought my wife flowers.
I never gave her chocolates on Valentine’s, I found stuffed animals ridiculous, and I didn’t have a clue what her favorite color was.
She didn’t have a clue what mine was either, but I knew her favorite politician. I knew her views on global warming, she knew my views on religion, and we both knew our views on children: we never wanted them.
Those things were what we agreed mattered the most; those things were our glue. We were both driven by career and had little time for one another, let alone family.
I wasn’t romantic, and Jane didn’t mind because she wasn’t either. We weren’t often seen holding hands or exchanging kisses in public. We weren’t into snuggling or social media expressions of love, but that didn’t mean our love wasn’t real. We cared in our own way. We were a logical couple who understood what it meant to be in love, to be committed to one another, yet we never truly dived into the romantic aspects of a relationship.
Our love was driven by a mutual respect, by structure. Each big decision we made was always thoroughly thought out and often involved diagrams and charts. The day I asked her to by my wife, we made fifteen pie and flow charts to make sure we were making the right decision.
Which was why her current invasion of my deadline was concerning. She never interrupted me while I was working, and for her to barge in while I was on a deadline was beyond bizarre.
I had ninety-five thousand more to go.
Ninety-five thousand words to go before the manuscript went to the editor in two weeks. Ninety-five thousand words equated to an average of six thousand seven hundred eighty-six words a day. That meant the next two weeks of my life would be spent in front of my computer, hardly pulling myself away for a breath of fresh air.
My fingers were on speed, typing and typing as fast as they could. The purplish bags under my eyes displayed my exhaustion, and my back ached from not leaving my chair for hours. Yet, when I sat in front of my computer with my drugged-up fingers and zombie eyes, I felt more like myself than any other time in my life.
“Graham,” Jane said, breaking me from my world of horror and bringing me into hers. “We should get going.”
She stood in the doorway of my office. Her hair was curly, which was bizarre seeing as how her hair was always straight. Each day she awoke hours before me to tame the curly blond mop upon her head. I could count on my right hand the number of times I’d seen her with her natural curls. Along with the wild hair, her makeup was smudged, left on from the night before.
I’d only seen my wife cry two times since we’d been together: one time when she’d learned she was pregnant seven months ago, and another when some bad news came in four days ago.
“Shouldn’t you straighten your hair?” I asked.
“I’m not straightening my hair today.”