I get home from work and fall into bed without showering first. Troubled about Corey, and tired from a long nightshift, I toss and turn through fragments of terrible dreams I can’t remember.
After several hours I give up all hope of restful sleep, and lie awake in the darkened room. The extra cell phone charger I bought for Corey’s use sits on the nightstand across from me. I wrap it around itself before tossing it into the back of the drawer. Padding into the master bathroom, I remove the bar of soap, the brand Corey uses, from the shower tray, holding it to my nose, and breathing its fragrance into memory before tossing it in the wastebasket. Almost a year ago I purged Simon the same way.
I don’t bother to dry my hair after showering. Instead I make a cup of tea in the kitchen. Maddie will be home soon. Like a mantra, I count the many blessings in my life, beginning with Maddie: I am lucky to be her mom, and have a career by which I can support the two of us. Things will look up. I recover the sense of unexpected relief I felt when Simon left, and again when Corey first told me about Sheila’s cancer: “I don’t have to do this anymore.”
Maybe I’m not supposed to have long-term relationships? But the thought of spending the rest of my life alone chills me. In nursing school I saw too many elderly dying alone in hospital beds- their only visitors a hospital assigned chaplain, or the occasional neighbor checking in. What if I become a hoarder, or a crazy cat lady?
I reel myself in. Where do I get these thoughts? Simon’s right, I always jump to worse case scenario.
Next, I change my Facebook settings, making Corey an “acquaintance,” which seems more grown up than unfriending him. “You’re single,” I remind myself. “You can do as you please,” but I cry for a bit before placing cold, wet washcloths on my eyes to lessen the redness, hoping Maddie won’t notice when she gets home from school.
Her arrival is announced by the slamming of a car door in the driveway, and Kaylee’s mom driving off. Kaylee’s mom works at home. I admire her for being president of the PTA, and organizing social activities at our daughters’ school. I help out making snacks, occasionally manning a table, and carting boxes of chocolate bars, cookie dough, or gift-wrap to the hospital, and selling them to coworkers for fundraisers. I feel perpetually guilty for not being more of a presence.
So I quickly agree when Maddie, after throwing her backpack on the dining room table beside my tote bag, asks breathlessly, “Mom, will you take me and Kaylee shopping at the Mall this weekend? Can we see a movie too?”
“Sure,” I answer.
Maddie hovers over me, delivering a hug and quick kiss. “Thanks Mom! How was work? Did your friends like your picture on the magazine?”
“Yeah. They brought a cake, and taped little copies of the cover on their name badges. It was funny.”
“Cool! I’m going to text Kaylee and tell her you said yes.”
Simon and I agreed it’s time for Maddie to have a cell phone.
“Okay. Do you have homework?”
“Yeah. I’ll do it before dinner,” Maddie is already down the hall to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her.
On Saturday morning I’m up early for a three mile run while Maddie eats breakfast and gets ready for the mall; a complex ritual requiring phone calls to Kaylee, several changes of clothing, and experimenting with the small amount of make up she’s allowed to wear when out with her friends.
After my shower, I slide on yoga pants, a fluorescent pink tank under a jacket, and flip flops, which are essentially off-duty scrubs.
We pick up Kaylee. It’s a warm, sunny day and I’m looking forward to hanging out a bit with them. Their faces are pink and healthy, their bodies strong. I whisper a small prayer of thanks.
The girls chatter non-stop in the back seat of the car reading texts they send and receive. I have some shopping to do too, so we enter the mall together.
“So let’s meet back here after the movie. Text if you’re running late.”
“Mom, can we go out to dinner after? And can Kaylee spend the night?”
“Sure. Ask Kaylee’s Mom if it’s okay though.”
“We already texted her. She said it’s fine.”
“Well, okay then. Stay out of trouble. Text me if anything comes up.”
“We will. How many times are you going to tell us to text, Mom?”
Giggling, they run off to their exclusive universe.
At a department store counter I try on a new lipstick, scrutinizing my face in the small mirror the clerk hands me. The color is good, and brightens my mood, so I buy it.
In the uniform store, I find a set of scrubs I modeled for Call Lights Magazine. I buy them, and a new pair of clogs too. Having something new to wear will help me through the next post-Corey shift.
After aimless window-shopping, I take the escalator upstairs to the food court where a teenager wearing the same pair of disposable gloves to handle everything makes my smoothie. I settle at a table overlooking the ice rink two levels below. Children and adults glide over the ice to an instrumental version of “I Will Always Love You.”
Violently, I’m thrown from reverie by the sight of Corey in line at a food stand across the court. Beside him is Sheila, radiant in a pink sundress; a scarf artfully wrapped around her head. Next to her are their two daughters, also dressed in matching pink sundresses.
I can’t breathe.
I abandon the smoothie on the table, rapidly, and I hope inconspicuously, making my way to the women’s restroom. Ducking into the first empty stall, its door slamming behind me, I squat in front of the toilet, trying to avoid touching the seat. I vomit until there’s nothing left but dry heaves. I’m sweaty and chilled.
The retching stops and I can stand without crumpling to the white tiled floor. I exit the stall and splash cold water from the sink in my face until its color returns in the mirror. I comb my hair, and apply the new lipstick, but my bravado is gone.
After what seems like long enough, I venture out of the women’s restroom into the long hallway leading back to the food court.
I am taken aback by bumping into Corey outside the restroom door.
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