She fixated on the spot of black grease on the rim of the lid of the garbage can. Instead of just wiping it off, like she normally would've, she valued it. The grease was from dinner the night before. She had fixed the kids their favorite - breaded steak - even though she knew they'd be too nervous to eat much. Nervous for the first day of school.
The last six months had been one 'first' after another. At thirty-seven years old, you'd think 'firsts' were over for her. And for a long while, there didn't seem to be any more 'firsts' in sight. But, that as before her husband up and left her.
Just like that - BANG - out of the blue. "I'm in love. I don't know how to explain it. I didn't plan on it happening. But it has. Happened. She's the one." That day, to the divorce lawyer and bankruptcy lawyer. To the bank, separate accounts. Boxes. Stuff in boxes. Three days later, he was gone, waves in his wake, lapping at the edges of the empty walls, empty spaces.
To say she was feeling disjointed was putting her condition mildly. She was remote. It was strictly out-of-body. Looking back, she wasn't sure how the kids managed during that initial period; she wasn't sure how she'd kept her job. Only remembered his gleeful disappearance; her own uncontrollable banshee wailing; the way every day at two o'clock she'd get the urge to puke, to run, to pull out her hair. Every day. Two o'clock.
She'd spent a lot of time taking the long way to the bathroom during work hours--she remembers that much. A lot of time bent over the water fountain, trying to swallow the lemon-sized lump that had taken up permanent residence in the middle of her throat. Making it impossible to swallow, harder to speak. But something with the cold splashing of the water against her mouth and tongue soothed her. She stayed bent over the water fountain for the cold-water splash for as long as she could, until her face and the front of her blouse was speckled from the effort of washing it all off, washing the lump down.
At first, she cried over every 'first.' The first time she had to mow her own lawn. The first time she bought bulk hamburger. The first time she looked in the mirror. The first time she took the child support check from his hand. The first time she wrote out bills on her own. The first time she looked at the checkbook and knew she had ten dollars to last her until next payday and an empty gas tank and school lunch tickets to buy and a refrigerator to replenish. She would cry. And cry. All these damn 'firsts.'
Then, one day, when the sobbing began again on the way to piano practice, her nine year old daughter muttered, "It's only a little bit different, Mommy, really. It's not like Daddy moved to Alaska."
Her daughter was telling her to get a grip. To quit wallowing. She felt ashamed. First time ashamed in front of her child, cut down by insight delivered to her with such simplicity.
She remembers that first morning after, how she felt unable to get up off the couch, yet needing to get the kids to school, to get herself ready for work. She remembers trying to calculate, with her sleeping pill addled brain, how many of her anxiety pills it would take to knock her out seriously but not really kill her, thinking that would surely get his attention, make him sorry. The thought of suicide, another first, made her want to cry again.
From the depth of that thought came an echo. She picked her head up off the pillow in order to hear it better. Then she sat up to listen. The echo itself never became clearer than sound skittering along the crevices of herself, but she felt scoured; she let go of Fear. Her strength reawakened, she stood up, and showered. She put on her prettiest dress and she didn't look back.