by Alice Woodrome
It was nothing, and it was everything, and Lisa didn't understand any of it. All she knew was that a suffocating darkness had descended on her life, and she couldn't find her way out.
The unrelenting night started with the accident. It was late afternoon and they were on a two-lane road coming home from Bristol, where they had celebrated the fifth birthday of Tim's nephew. A flash of blue came out of nowhere—a boy on a bike strayed onto the highway from a gravel driveway. Lisa swerved and crashed the Mazda Hatchback into a clump of trees with a deafening thud. It happened so fast. Dazed by the blow of the airbag and struggling to breathe, she looked around, confused, panicked. The crumpled hood of the car was jammed against the shattered windshield like an accordion.
"Tim," she cried. He lay, pitched forward beside her, bleeding from his mouth. His shoulder was pressed against the deflating airbag which filled the car with an acrid smell. The passenger door was gone, and a tree trunk, stripped of bark, was where the door had been.
"Tim, Tim," she said, her heart pounding in her ears. She reached over to touch him; he didn't move.
"Oh, God, please—wake up." She shook his shoulder. No response. With trembling hands, she tried to feel for a pulse, but couldn't find one. "Please don't die—please." Tears filled her eyes as she pulled herself up and tried to unclasp her seatbelt. She wanted to cradle her husband's head in her arms, but the belt held her firmly in place.
A car pulled to a stop nearby. Lisa tried her door but it was stuck. She gasped, "Help." A sharp pain stabbed her side.
An old man in overalls with bushy hair rushed over, "I've called 911. Sit tight, they'll be right here." His words were slow and calm. "Try to relax—everything's going to be okay. Can I do anything for you until they come?"
"My husband," was all she could say.
More people arrived; some went to the passenger side but a tree blocked them. Lisa heard their tense voices but understood very little. An eternity passed as she sat immobile and powerless.
Lisa closed her eyes and prayed that Tim would live. She thought about their life together. They both worked and had waited to have children until the time was right. At first that meant until they were financially secure, but they had been married nearly ten years, and although they had a nice home in a fashionable neighborhood, the time still hadn't seemed right. She couldn't think why. It could be too late for them, now.
She finally heard sirens, and suddenly their was a blur of activity as the emergency personnel took vitals, ask questions, and removed them both from the car.
Lisa felt a glimmer of hope when she saw Tim move and groan as they transferred him to a gurney. She regretted telling the paramedic about the pain in her side; they made her take a separate ambulance.
Three agonizing hours passed before her husband came out of surgery. She made the necessary calls to Tim's family in Bristol and waited. His parents and brother were there by the time he went to recovery and learned the severity of his injuries. Although the air bag had saved his life, he was badly injured. The surgeon said he had two fractured vertebrae, a shattered knee, broken collar bone, and multiple lesser injuries. They sat quietly in the waiting room, hardly speaking. They knew she had been driving, but did they blame her? His father probably did on general principle. She'd always had the sense that he thought Tim should have married someone like his brother had—a domestic diva. She and Tim were in love, though, and his father's coolness toward Lisa had seemed of little importance. Now it loomed large. She had nearly killed his son.
Tim was awake and groggy when she finally saw him. He looked so pitiful lying there—bandaged with tubes and monitors attached.
"I'm so sorry," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "I was so worried—I thought you were dead."
"Are you okay?" Tim whispered, wincing as he spoke, then closed his eyes.
"Yes, just a cracked rib and a couple bruises. I should be the one in that bed. It was my fault."
Tim opened his eyes again. "No, no. It wasn't your fault. I saw him dart right out in front of you. It was the boy's fault, but I'm so glad you didn't hit him."
Lisa started to say something, but then didn't. It was best he didn't know.
Lisa's broken rib healed quickly but Tim was in the hospital for weeks. He then endured months of arduous physical therapy. It broke her heart to see her husband struggling to stand erect and having to use a walker just to step across the room to the bathroom. He faced it cheerfully—even joked—but Lisa could see the pain and frustration behind the smiles. Three months passed before he walked on his own, and six before he was well enough to go back to work for a few hours a day.
The police had said she was not responsible for the accident. She hadn't been speeding or drinking, but Lisa knew she'd been distracted by her phone vibrating in her pocket. She had glanced away from the road only a moment as she reached for it, and had just looked up again when the accident happened. If she had kept her eyes on the road, would she have seen the boy in time to avoid the accident? No! She had looked up just in time, and had done the only thing she could to avoid hitting the boy. She hadn't told Tim about the phone—it wasn't really germane—but she couldn't shake the guilt. The boy was fine and her husband was healing. Their insurance paid for everything. Tim even told her that, in some ways, the accident had been a blessing.
"It forced me to get off the fast track long enough to reevaluate my priorities." he told her. "Material things were becoming too important." Tim talked about quitting his job at the advertising agency to work for a renewable energy laboratory—a lower paying position that promised to bring him more satisfaction.
"I would actually be making a positive difference in the world, instead of contributing to rampant consumerism," he told Lisa. "And I would finally be using my degree. It's the kind of job I was aiming for back in college—before I got sidetracked."
Lisa smiled and said, "Yes, it does sound right down your alley."
There was nothing positive about the experience for Lisa. She told herself it was all for the best, but the near tragedy had been the catalyst for a sea change in her soul, and no amount of effort could reverse the murky tide that swept over everything in her life. She tried to hold things together for him, and she did—handling their affairs, paying the bills, and seeing to the other details of maintaining a household. But the stronger Tim got, the more Lisa's spirits flagged. It didn't make any sense.
She quit tending the garden she had loved and begged off when friends called. Nothing seemed worth the effort.
Lisa had always adored live theatre, even local amateur offerings, so Tim took her to a much-praised production of Rent for her thirty-third birthday shortly after he had returned to work part time.
"Are you okay," Tim asked her after they parked the car and walked toward the Civic Center. "You hardly said three words on the way. You are usually bubbling with excitement when we come to these things."
"I am excited," she answered, though it was a lie. "I guess I've been worried about you. Did you take your pain med? It's going to be a long time for you to sit." She couldn't tell him she hadn't wanted to go—that she didn't want to do anything.
"Yes, and I brought an extra pill just in case." He chuckled, "Be sure to punch me if I fall asleep." He looked at her and winked.
They climbed the stairs of the marble building and Tim winced as he held the heavy glass door for Lisa as they entered the lobby. She had hoped when they arrived that the old feelings would return, but she felt suffocated as they made their way through the crowd.
The orchestra was warming up as they were directed to their seats in the fifteenth row of the middle section. It looked like a full house. The noise of the auditorium was deafening—or did it just seem that way? She had once thought the buzz of a theatre crowd exhilarating.
"What great seats," Lisa leaned toward Tim to be heard as the curtain went up. "This is perfect." She wanted to be grateful—wanted so to feel something.
Tim enjoyed the performance. Lisa sat silently through the first half, anxious for it to end. She applauded when everyone else did, and hoped that Tim wouldn't notice her disinterest. As she listened to those around her respond with delight to the musical, she wondered how they could find something so banal entertaining.
"Do you want to leave now?" Tim asked during the intermission. "I don't think you are having much fun. You've been so quiet."
"No, no—I'm enjoying the show." She answered. "I just have a bit of a headache, but I wouldn't think of leaving now." She was quick to add, "Unless you are in pain. Did you want to go home?"
Tim steadied her eyes for a moment. "Yeah, I think so. I'm sorry your birthday present wasn't a hit."
"It really was a thoughtful birthday gift," she said on the drive home. "It was me—not the gift." She wanted to say more. She wanted to explain everything, and she would have if she'd had a clue herself.
Before the accident, Lisa's work managing the gallery had been energizing. She liked the people she worked with and the stimulating environment. She even looked forward to her daily coffee break with an older co-worker, Adele. They shared a cheese pastry nearly every morning and talked about life. Adele had seemed more like a mother than her own. The work at the gallery became tedious, though, and almost more than she could bear. She could hardly wait to return home each afternoon so she didn't have to talk to anyone—or do anything. Sleep was the only relief she found from the unbearable effort of pretending she was not falling apart.
Simple pleasures like music and sex lost their appeal. She felt like a fraud when Tim apologized for his inability to satisfy her. "Be patient, Lisa" he sighed. "The doctor said it might take a while to get back to the way it was."
It hadn't been him at all. Lisa couldn't feel anything. Only memories of emotions remained. "It's no big deal," she said. She was relieved when, after a few weeks, Tim quit trying.
Tim hadn't realized how profoundly unhappy Lisa was for a long time, but then she had done her best to hide it. After he recovered and set new priorities for his life, including a new job that he loved with a substantially smaller salary, he was critical of Lisa's lack of support for the major changes he had made.
"It's just money," he'd said. "What's that compared to being happy? We don't need all the metropolitan trappings to have a good life."
She tried to explain once. "I want to be happy for you—and I would if I could. I can't explain it, but it just feels like the earth under me is shifting, and I need it to stop."
"It just doesn't make sense. You've been moping around like you lost your best friend ever since I got out of the hospital."
Lisa looked down.
Tim gently raised her chin and looked into her eyes, "We have so much to be happy about—so much to be grateful for. Life is good. Can't you see that? You just have to find a way to snap out of it."
Lisa was resentful. Tim was letting go of their moorings just when she needed to hold fast to something steady and sure. If he loved her enough, he would try harder to understand what was happening to her. He wouldn't have jumped into a new job just when she needed stability the most. He would somehow know and make it all right again.
When Adele was injured slipping on an icy patch in the gallery parking lot, Lisa felt responsible because she hadn't been with her. She had intended to go to lunch with Adele, but at the last moment a client asked to see a painting that was in storage, and Lisa lingered to accommodate him while her friend went to lunch alone.
Adele was gracious, "Don't fret about it, child," she assured her. "I could have waited for you to finish with Mr. Conners. It's my own fault for not waiting."
Lisa couldn't put it behind her, though. She obsessed over the mishap, calling Adele daily for updates on her condition.
She blamed herself, too, when a stray dog that she had been feeding was hit by a car in front of their house. The dog wouldn't have died if Lisa hadn't encouraged it to stay around with food. She couldn't get the picture of the dying animal out of her mind.
After a few days of Lisa moping around the house and mumbling about the stray, Tim lost all patience. "Enough about the damned dog!" he shouted.
It wasn't just the dog, and if ever she needed Tim to be her rock, she needed him now, but shame prevented her from trying again to explain what she could not understand. The chasm that separated them grew wider.
Lisa was adrift in a dark sea of thought. In the weeks that followed, she thought about choices and their consequences. If she had chosen differently that night in the car, a child might have died. Her husband could have died and barely escaped paralysis because of the choice she did make. If she had gone to lunch with Adele instead of working through the noon hour at the gallery, she would have been there to steady her arm when she lost her balance. But maybe they both would have fallen. Perhaps something worse would have happened. If she hadn't fed the stray, he would probably still be alive, but he might be starving. Every choice she made could have tragic implications for someone or something. She couldn't take a step without the possibility of crushing a tiny insect beneath her feet. Her guilt grew with every choice she made and she was frozen by the simplest of decisions.
One evening, when Tim was away, Lisa found herself in front of the open refrigerator, and realized she had been there for several minutes trying to decide whether to heat some leftover spaghetti for her supper, or just eat a bowl of cereal. The decision grew more monumental the longer she considered it—though she didn't care if she ate or not, and had hardly tasted her food for weeks. Finally, unable to decide, she closed the door, then sat at the kitchen table and buried her face in her hands, too weary and numb to think.
Her struggles were increasingly obvious at work. Lisa's expertise and confident personality had made the gallery a success, but now sales were plummeting. Though she once enjoyed working with potential customers, she had hidden in the back room for a good part of the last showing—drained by small talk and faking enthusiasm she couldn't feel. The showing for an artist the gallery had courted for two years was a disaster.
By spring, the owners could no longer afford an unproductive manager. The owner came by one afternoon as they were preparing to close for the day and told her she didn't need to come back. She cleaned out her desk and said good-bye to Adele, who had tears in her eyes. There were no tears from Lisa. She felt dead inside.
She was too ashamed to tell Tim she'd been fired, so she told him what he wanted to hear.
"I guess I'm disillusioned with the rat race, too. Suddenly today I had enough. I'm ready to smell the flowers."
He was thrilled, believing that they were finally on the same wavelength. When Lisa expressed some concern that they wouldn't have her salary anymore, Tim reassured her.
"Don't worry about the money. We can find a simpler way to live. We don't need your salary to be happy."
Tim treated her with such warmth and gentleness that she wanted it all to be true. He made love to her that evening like he had when they were newlyweds. Lisa faked that too. She felt no desire at her husband's touch— no love, or comfort, in his embrace—nothing but a longing for the way things used to be.
"I'm glad it's working out the way it is," Tim told her later that week as they ate a pizza he had picked up on his way home from work. "Since you're not tied to the gallery anymore, there will be time for us to find a more authentic kind of life."
Lisa frowned, "Authentic?"
"I mean a life that has a connection with nature, not an artificial life focused on money. When I worked at the ad agency, I felt like some kind of robot and I had lost sight of who I really am."
"But, you don't work there anymore," Lisa said, worried about what he might have in mind. "You have a job you love, now."
"I do, yes, but it doesn't have to stop there." He held a piece of pizza poised to take a bite, and continued. "I've been doing some reading about sustainable living, and I'm learning all kinds of ways for reducing our carbon footprint, eating better for less, getting rid of stuff that complicates life—and protecting the environment in the process. We'll have the freedom now to explore all of that." Lisa looked at Tim sideways with narrowed eyes.
Tim put the piece of pizza down and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Just a sec," he said. He disappeared, and in a couple of minutes, returned with a stack of reading material. "Here," he said, setting it on the table beside Lisa. "These will explain what I'm talking about. You have some time to read now. Then you can tell me what you think."
"She looked at the pile—at least ten inches high. "I'll look at it tomorrow. I'm too tired now."
The next morning after Tim left for work, Lisa leafed though the books and magazines. She recognized only one name, Deepak Chopra. His book was entitled Simplify Your Life. There were several others, one named The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life, and another called To Have or To Be? Plus others with similar titles. There were also several issues of Mother Earth News. The idea of reading even one book in the stack was staggering. It was too much for Tim to ask. She went back to bed again to seek solace in unconsciousness.
"Did you get a chance today to get into any of the books?" he asked her that evening.
"I haven't gotten very far yet. I read enough to get the idea, though."
"Does it make sense to you?"
Lisa nodded and forced a smile. "Simplifying life sounds good."
Over morning coffee a few days later, Tim mentioned the possibility of moving to the country. "I think the change of scenery would do us both good. It would be easier to really simplify if we were in the country."
"We can think about it." Lisa didn't want to think about it. She didn't want to think about anything, especially another change to their lives.
"It would be good for us—good for you." He paused and added, "I know you've been in a funk for a while now. I really think a change like this would give you a whole new perspective. It's not enough to quit the rat race, we have to move toward something different—something better."
For weeks Tim poured over the classifieds for acreages and rural home listings, but never took it any further. He was busy at his new job and didn't have time to do much else. Lisa was hopeful that it would all blow over. She settled into a routine of sleeping most of the day when Tim was at work, and rallying in the evenings—enough to cook a meal and pretend she was alive inside.
The day came, however, when he found an acreage he was interested in. It had an old farmhouse they could fix up and the price was right. He had driven to the property during his lunch hour, but could only spend a few minutes. He arranged for them to meet the realtor there that evening. When Tim told her, Lisa could hardly breathe. Just the idea of moving seemed beyond her, but to a house that needed repairs? She was trapped.
"There's even a big garden plot where we can grow our own vegetables." Tim's eyes were bright with excitement. "And you will love the view. There is a little lake about three hundred feet west with willow trees arching over the bank." He took a deep breath, "And wildflowers—they're everywhere."
"Sounds pretty," she said, "but are you sure we're ready for a move like that?"
"It's just what we need; you'll see." Tim was so wound up he barely noticed Lisa's reticence. "It'll mean a lot of work before we get things going, but we can start a whole new life. We'd be free from the city—from all that pressure. We can finally start our family."
The last thing in the world Lisa wanted to do was fix up an old farmhouse. How could someone who couldn't decide what to wear in the morning make all the decisions required for such an undertaking? And a family? She had wanted that, too, once—but now Lisa was barely functioning. She couldn't think of taking on the responsibility of children now. She wanted to hide from challenges, not take on new ones.
On the drive out to see the property, Lisa couldn't push aside the dread she felt. She was mad at herself for not telling Tim early on that she didn't want him to "simplify their lives"—not until she could find some equilibrium in her life again. It had been easier to let him dream his dreams. Simplify. Lisa was beginning to detest the word. Tim was raised in the suburbs and didn't know the first thing about country life. Lisa grew up on a farm. There would be nothing simple about a life in the country. Was he planning to plant and weed the vegetable garden? Would he water it when the rains didn't come? Would he pick the vegetables and put up the harvest for winter? No! He would be at work, and the drudgery would fall to her.
As they drove up the gravel driveway and parked beside the waiting real estate agent, Lisa's heart sank at the first glimpse of the deteriorating farmhouse. Tim introduced her to the realtor as Lisa surveyed the shingles that were askew and the peeling paint that bespoke years of neglect. She smelled manure, and held her breath as they followed the woman up the stairs to the porch, and through the front door. The carpet was stained and ripped away from the baseboard along one wall. They entered the antiquated kitchen, straight out of the 1950s, wainscoting on the walls, open shelves, worn black and white tiles on the floor. When she turned on the faucet over the rusting sink, the tap ran dirty water. She gasped, not caring that her trepidations showed.
"This is your idea of simplifying life?" Lisa asked, a little too loudly.
The realtor raised her eyebrows and turned to Tim. "Do you want to see the rest of the house?"
Tim frowned at Lisa, then back to the realtor. "Yes, absolutely." He turned to Lisa again with knitted brows and said, "Give it a chance, will you? We've come this far. I want to see it all."
The realtor led the way and recited the merits of the old house. Tim asked endless questions: about the foundation, the roof, the wiring and plumbing, how the house is heated, about the septic system, termite damage, if there was any asbestos, the property lines and out buildings. It went on forever, and he seemed far from discouraged. Lisa trailed well behind them, wishing she was anywhere but there. When she could take it no longer she exploded.
"Let's go home. How much more of this wreck do you have to see? I don't like the house, I don't like the smell out here in the country, and there is no way I'm going to move here." She was surprised at herself for being so blunt.
Tim didn't say another word to her until they got in the car to drive back to the city.
"God, Lisa." Tim clenched his teeth as he pulled out of the driveway. "I thought we were on the same page. All that talk about giving up the rat race, and now you're acting like a spoiled brat. You should have seen your face back there. You barely said two words to that woman and then you blow up and act like a shrew. What's wrong with you?"
"I didn't quit the gallery to become a slave to that dilapidated salt mine while you go off every day to your new dream job for half the money."
"Damn it, Lisa! It's a little late for this! You acted like you didn't care that I changed jobs, that the money wasn't important. You wanted me to be happy—remember? Was that all just a lie?"
"I did want you to be happy," she replied,"I mean, I do, I do want you to be happy, but this—this is just too much. You know most of the work would fall to me."
"I intend to do my part. Besides, I told you it was an old house—that it needed work." Tim turned to Lisa in the passenger seat, his eyes narrowed. "What did you expect?"
"I expected you to ask me what I wanted before you started changing everything in our lives."
"We've been talking about getting back to basics for months."
"No!" Lisa shot back. "You're the one who's been talking about it for months"
"You never said one word about wanting something different. Was I supposed to read your freakin' mind?"
"Shut up! Just shut up!"
Miles passed before Tim spoke again "I thought that fixing up the place would give you something to do while I was at work. You like that sort of thing."
"Don't tell me what I like and what I don't. You don't have a clue what I'm about—what I feel or what I want." Lisa closed her eyes, inhaled, and continued. "If you did, you would have asked me instead of going off and finding that hell hole. You don't care what I want as long as you get your way. You're a selfish bastard."
"I didn't know you were such a witch," Tim responded. A crazy witch, at that. Do you get some kick out of jerking me around? Smelling the flowers? Shit! I was happy for you when you quit the gallery, but I guess that street only goes one way. You're such a phony!"
Lisa couldn't admit that she lied about the reason for leaving the gallery. "You were only happy I quit because you thought you'd get some slave labor to fix up a mess like this."
"I should have known by the way you've been keeping the house lately that what you really wanted was to sit on your ass all day."
"You self-absorbed jerk," Lisa snapped. "When was the last time you washed a dish or ran a load of wash? You're just like your father and brother. I should have known better than to marry into that family of narcissist losers. It's a wonder your mother hasn't slit her wrists before now."
Tim was stunned into silence for a moment, then glared at Lisa with lowered brows. "Don't you say another word about my family, you maniacal bitch."
The argument lasted only a few minutes, but it was followed by a week of silence. Lisa hadn't meant half the things she'd said, but she could see that their marriage was in serious trouble.
There had been other arguments in their years together, but this time there would be no flowers, no apologies, no making up and putting it behind them. Instead of finding their way back to one another, the distance between them grew in the weeks that followed. Tenderness and affection—the best part of their relationship—evaporated. It was as if there had been a death in the family, but no one talked about it or even acknowledged it. Hopelessness descended on the household; the only words spoken were about mundane details of everyday living.
She sometimes saw tears in Tim's eyes, but he did his best to hide them. She was beyond being able to say anything comforting or reassuring—beyond any tears of her own. She felt worthless in a dozen different ways. Lisa gave up trying to pull herself together for the evenings when Tim returned from work. Most nights he ate on his way home, and Lisa threw some cheese between two pieces of bread for her meals. At night they lay silently on their own side of the bed, thinking their own thoughts before sleep overtook them.
In less than a month, Tim was packing a suitcase.
"We've simply grown apart," he told her with misty eyes. "No one's fault, really. We just don't want the same things anymore."
Lisa was filled with regret and fear, "Can't we wait a while?"
"Wait? For what?" Tim looked at Lisa. "Waiting would just prolong this torture." He paused a few moments and continued, "From the moment my values started to change, I could see you backing off." He shook his head, "I can't go back to the life we had—to the person I was. I just can't."
"I'm going through some changes, too. Can't you see that? It's not anything that I know how to explain, but—"
Tim cut her off. "It's no good. I don't know what's going on in your head, but I know we are aiming in different directions. I don't see any hope of working things out."
"Things are moving too fast."
"You can't want this to continue—the way things have been? We've both been miserable," Tim said, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. "I can't stand it anymore."
Tim closed the suitcase as he looked around the room. "You can stay in the house until it sells. With the equity, there should be enough for you to rent an apartment for quite a while." He looked at Lisa, and then away. "I'll be staying with my brother for now."
And that was that. There was no choice for Lisa to make. Tim arranged for a realtor, and someone to give the house a thorough cleaning, then returned the next evening to get a few more things.
He folded the top of one of the cardboard boxes he had filled and said. "The realtor should be over sometime tomorrow to look things over and get your signature. I won't take a full half when it sells—just enough to put a down payment on a little place to start over."
"Thank you," she said, hardly audible.
Before he left, he said, "I'm sorry it's come to this. I thought we'd be together for ever. I wanted that, but—" Tim's voice trailed off and he shook his head slowly. It was a minute or two before he reigned in his emotions. As he walked to the door with the last box, he paused a moment and turned back to Lisa. "You'll have to get another job eventually, but you're not the domestic type, anyway."
Lisa's last refuge was about to be swept away. When the woman who Tim had hired to clean the house came later that week, Lisa was ashamed of how dirty she had let it get. She stayed outside most of the five hours the woman was there so she wouldn't have to talk to her. Lisa pulled a few weeds and trimmed a few perennials before the neglected flower beds overwhelmed her. She spent the rest of the time sitting on the deck mulling over what she would do when the house sold.
The realtor wanted an open house that Sunday, so Lisa called Adele and asked if she would like some company for the afternoon. She hadn't seen her since she left the gallery.
"Oh, Child, you don't look well," her aging friend said when she opened the front door and saw Lisa for the first time in many weeks. "I knew you were having a rough time the last couple months at the gallery, but—" she paused. "Have you seen a doctor?"
"No," she admitted. "But what could a doctor do? Tim's gone, Adele. It's over—it's all over. They're showing the house this afternoon."
The friends talked for a long time, but Lisa was no more able to tell Adele what was wrong than she had been able to tell Tim. Before she left that afternoon, Adele extracted a promise that she would get some counseling.
The next time the realtor showed the house, Lisa went for a walk through the neighborhood. When it started to rain, she hurried to a park three blocks away where she sat on a bench in a small shelter house— soaking wet and holding her arms against her body to keep from shaking.
When the shower abated, Lisa walked back just in time to glimpse the couple who had been shown the house. They were shaking hands with the realtor and about to get into their car. They looked too happy, Lisa thought, shivering. Were they the strangers who would take her house—her sanctuary, her hiding place?
The house sold in less than three weeks to out-of-state buyers who asked for a delayed closing. Lisa would have sixty days to vacate the premises. How had her life gone so wrong? She couldn't blame Tim. She loved her husband, although the feelings were locked away. He must have felt bewildered and perhaps abandoned when she withdrew, but she felt betrayed. The husband she thought would always be there for her had been too quick to cut and run. It was ultimately her fault. Somewhere she had made the wrong choice and started the chain of events that had her life spiraling downward.
Lisa started grasping for straws—anything that promised an end to the desolation. She prayed and went to church. She read a book that Adele recommended on spirituality. She tried meditating and listening to new age relaxation CD. Lisa even made an appointment with a psychiatrist and took the prescribed pills. When the darkness did not lift, he told her to give it time. She continued to take the meds and hoped for the best. He suggested she write her thoughts in a journal. Lisa tried, but she didn't know what to write. The mockingbirds sang outside her window and her abandoned flowers bloomed among the weeds, but Lisa found little relief for her troubled soul.
Gradually, though, during the weeks that followed, the obsessive concerns began to fade. Lisa wondered if the pills were finally kicking in, or if it was the meditation or the prayers, but she was able to go through whole days without being crippled by indecision about minor things. One day, after spending the afternoon packing up the contents of her china cabinet, she realized she had set aside several things to give to Goodwill without giving the decision to part with them a second thought. Not knowing which miracle had restored some measure of normalcy, she continued them all.
Adele even noticed the difference. She came by unannounced one afternoon to visit, bringing cheese pastries. "It is so good to see you feeling better," Adele said, smiling. "It's something in your eyes. You just look more alive."
And she was. It happened by minute degrees, but the darkness was lifting. It came too late, though. Her feelings and energies were returning, but her marriage was already over. "I'll leave it to you to file the divorce papers," Tim had said they had last touched base about the house sale. The rest would be just a legality. In a few days her furniture would go into storage because she hadn't found an apartment—had hardly looked. She would stay with Adele until she decided where to go. What good was mental health if she'd already lost everything?
In the midst of a world crumbling around her, Lisa's health took a turn—she was nauseated half the time. Lisa assumed the pills she'd been taking were upsetting her stomach, but was afraid to discontinue them. One morning the nausea won out, and she found herself retching over the sink. Her stomach sank further when she questioned when her last period has been. "Oh, no," she said aloud. "I can't be—I just can't be!"
A pregnancy test confirmed what she already knew—a seed had begun to grow in her belly. Lisa panicked at the news. With packing and everything else she had to contend with, suddenly she faced an enormous decision that must be dealt with. Would she tell Tim? Should she—could she—make the decision without him? How could she raise a child alone? What kind of life could she give a baby now—with only a tenuous grasp on sanity? Could she deliberately end this life growing inside her? The questions were staggering, and she had only a few days to figure out what to do.
The emotions that had been absent for months flooded back; all the tears she'd been unable to shed—for her marriage, for a life that had gone terribly wrong—and new tears for a baby that she may or may not keep, She knew if she told Tim, he would probably take her back. He would try to forget her cutting words and do the right thing. He would give the child a home and put up with Lisa's craziness. But was that the right thing? Could she get past the bitterness? Could she truly be Tim's wife again?
The right thing: that elusive concept that Lisa had struggled with so long. How could she know what was best unless she knew the outcome of the decisions? She told her psychiatrist about the pregnancy and the torrent of tears she'd shed since learning about it. He said it was a hopeful sign that her emotions were returning. He did not help with the decision, however; he just handed the choice back to her, and told her she needed to work through her feelings.
Lisa spent a lot of time the next few days walking in the park and thinking about the ramifications of the decisions she had to make soon. She thought about God and forgiveness, and about what the psychiatrist had said about the importance of having a deep peace with her choice. It was soon clear that she couldn't end the pregnancy. The guilt would be too terrible. She wondered if it might be best for everyone to give the child up for adoption.
She sat on a bench in the park for a long time and watched children playing, with their mothers looking on. The mothers all seemed to have it together. When one of the little boys skinned his knee and came running, his mother knew just what to do—just what to say to comfort him.
She passed a teenager sitting along on a bench with his head in his hands. The boy looked lost and discouraged. Lisa knew how he felt. She wondered if her baby would inherit some predisposition for the devastating melancholy that had enveloped her for so long. Would her child grow to be a troubled teen like this boy? Would she know how to help him?
She saw a couple holding hands as they walked, and another sitting together—lost in one another's eyes. Was it truly too late for her and Tim? Could they regain even a portion of the romance that had once been theirs? Or would they be doomed to a stony tolerance if they tried to be a family?
Lisa woke early on a Friday morning, two weeks after learning about her pregnancy. She poured a cup of coffee, thankful that her morning sickness had subsided temporarily, and walked out on the deck that soon would belong to someone else. Lisa searched the eastern sky as the sun appeared on the horizon, outlining the clouds with a whisper of yellow light. A summer breeze brushed against her cheek, and Lisa had a simple thought: all one can do is lean toward the light.
Sometime during the night, Lisa made a decision—several decisions. She would keep their baby. She didn't know what the future held, but she would love the child and be the best mother she could—wherever she was and with whomever she found herself. She would continue counseling and her meds until the doctor said she didn't need them, because it was the responsible thing for a mother to do, and she would continue to pray and grow in her spirituality, so she would have more to give her baby than the physical necessities of life. She would be honest with Tim for the first time since all this began—about everything—not because she would need his help, but because he had a right to know. If Tim wanted her back, they would decide together where and how to start over.
Lisa watched the sun rise from the horizon, streaking the whole sky with gold and radiant yellow. She put her hand on the belly that soon would swell with the life growing inside. Perhaps the darkness in her soul had lifted for good, or perhaps it would return with the next decision. Lisa didn't know, but she did know one thing. She had found her dawn this morning, and she would always know which way to look for it again.