I enter the house, balancing the dry cleaning and a bag of
groceries, and discover the door is unlocked. Damn, Kaitlin. How many
times have I told you to check the lock before you get on the bus! Or did
you lose your key again? When she gets home… I feel a twinge of guilt.
She is reliable, and I give her so much responsibility…Damn, it! I trip over
something and almost drop the groceries. Did she leave her backpack
again… Oh. It’s his bags. He let himself in the same way he had gone out.
My stomach knots, a hundred twisting, tearing knots. I balance
myself against the wall, suppressing the need to vomit. I remember this
feeling. The panic, the loss of breath. The pain. The day I came home
from work, carrying a bag of Chinese take-out, finding his drawers
empty, his bags gone. And all the days, and nights, after that first day,
the terrible, gnawing, suffocating pain…But it had disappeared. I had
managed to pack it away in the unknown closets of my heart.
What was once the anxiety of his absence is now the regret of his
return. I had survived the rejection, endured the humiliation. I had finally
picked myself up, steadied myself. How dare he come back now!
I stand in the doorway, shifting the weight of the bag against my
heaving chest, Afraid to enter my own home. Gathering courage through
righteous anger. I can hear the intruder in the kitchen.
He steps out, carrying a pile of folded shirts. He is doing his laundry.
He isn’t back! Only stopped by to take care of his dirty laundry.
We face one another. We do not speak because there is too much
to say. Why did you leave me? Why can’t you love me? What do I do
now? Questions hang over our heads, suspended by silence, building an
insurmountable wall between us.
Again he fills his bags with garments now washed gray. He is bent
over, at my feet. I stand like a warrior, the dry cleaning slung over my
shoulder, groceries beneath one arm, afraid to breathe least I fall. No one
He zips the back with finality and maneuvers around my balanced
body. He turns his back to go, carrying his bags one on each side, like
the scales of justice. I watch him leave, wondering why I feel guilty in the
service of this life sentence. I notice how easily he manages the stairs.
His baggage does not weigh him down.
Now I am alone, again. The door remains open, making me feel
vulnerable, so I kick it shut with one foot. Alone, until Kaitlin comes home
with her backpack full of books and crumpled papers.
When I was young, my grandmother took me to the circus. I
remember the acrobats. The Flying Wallendas. A family climbing into a
pyramid and balancing upon the high wire. I was terrified for them.
“Don’t worry,” my Grammy assured me. “They are a family. They
have practiced supporting one another. See how easily the man holds
the woman upon his shoulders? See how the children are balanced
against their mother. They are holding each other up.”
“But what if one of them falls?” I persisted.
“Well, sometimes that happens,” Grammy admitted. “One may
falter, or get tired and let go. Then they will all be off-balanced.”
“Will they die?”
“Not if there is a net beneath. With a net, they bounce back. Of
course, they have to climb back to the top, and they are no doubt angry,
probably embarrassed, knowing everyone is watching. It doesn’t make
for a very good show.”
“What if there is no net?”
“Well,” the old woman sighed, “that has happened. People died.
Others were crippled, paralyzed.”
What the hell kind of show is that, I thought then. I think it now.
I am crying. Tears of regret and of relief. He is gone. I am still
standing. I try to wipe my eyes, but my hands are full. Juggling the
groceries and the dry cleaning, I step lightly across the tight rope into
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