I suppose the most natural place to start is at the beginning. But like most beginnings, this one starts at the end of something.
The morning is unusually cold. Early spring air blows in gently through the open window and I shiver under the thick green blanket. Looking down, I take in the ratty wool blanket tucked in around me. Stephen must have come to my rescue after I opened the front window in my haste to get fresh air. This blanket is a true testament of my love for my darling husband. Under no circumstances other than love would I keep such an impractical and scratchy eyesore of a blanket. We hardly need such a heavy blanket where we live, but Stephen insists on keeping it around. And I do love my husband, I sigh contentedly.
I love having the windows open when I sleep, hearing the nightly routine of nature float in as I fall asleep, or try to sleep I note grumpily. Even in the middle of summer in our hot southern home I love throwing open the windows in the middle of the night. The soft chirping of birds and crickets act as a mid-summer’s night lullaby to my sleepy ears, and the steady whir of the overhead fan lulls me to sleep.
Shifting uncomfortably on the couch, I wonder how long I’ve been asleep. As my eyes flutter open a sudden panic overwhelms me. The clock on the fireplace ticks a soft rhythm, but the rapid beating of my heart pounds in my ears. It is five thirty in the morning. My breathing turns uneven as I try in vain to calm down. Breathing deeply I turn over on my back and look up at the creamy white ceiling above me. I feel as if I’ve had a lovely daydream interrupted by a nightmare. The old grandfather clock Stephen and I found on an early morning yard sale spree ticks louder. But that must be my imagination, I reason. The ticking of the clock is always the same rhythm, the same volume. It is as dependable as my father’s homecoming at six o’clock every weekday evening. You could set a watch to my father. His routine never varied from week to week, and I remember waiting impatiently for his return each night, dragging my schoolbooks out to the front porch in an effort to appease my mother as I waited.
I shift heavily on the couch and look out the wide front window of our living room. The breeze is lazily floating in past the curtains that I drew back late last night in an effort to cool the room quickly. I hear the clock tick slower now. Again, it must be my imagination…
“Charlotte? Charlotte, are you okay?” she asks with concern.
“Um, y-yes.” I stammer. Where am I? I look around the cluttered room and remember. Two overflowing bookshelves line one of the far walls while the others are decorated with framed diplomas and cheap stock paintings from the brand name craft store from the next town over. “Sorry, Claudia. I guess my mind drifted off.”
I’m sitting in my therapist’s office. I have a tissue in my hand and my head feels fuzzy. The dark green walls have always made me feel a little claustrophobic. There is an aching in my chest and a pit in my stomach. These are things I know. What I don’t know is how I got to Claudia’s office. Or where my car is parked. Or why I decided to wear a sweater in this awful heat. I fidget with my sleeves and pull out at the front of my sweater uncomfortably.
“You left us for a minute… what were you thinking about?” Claudia asks. She looks more than concerned; she looks afraid.
“Right. Um, I…” I try not to swallow loudly. “I was just thinking.” I respond in my best non-committal voice.
“Would you like to talk--“
“Claudia, I’m so sorry.” I look at my watch-less arm quickly. “Not to be rude, but I forgot I had, um, someplace to be now.” I try not to look her in the eyes as I clumsily gather up my purse and scarf from the plaid couch under a large painting of a stone cottage nestled by a lake. I can feel Claudia’s eyes on me as I stumble over my feet and leave somewhat ungracefully, shutting her office door with a quiet click. Shuffling down the steps to the front door I feel the scarf in my hands and pause. Seriously, what was I thinking this morning?
A wall of cold air hits me when I open the front door, and a wreath bangs loudly next to my ear. I sigh inwardly and look up to the cloudy skies above me. Right. Of course. It’s December and Christmas is right around the corner.
I pull open the wreathless door and step inside as fast as I can. I have never been mistaken for someone who has it all together, but that little episode has left me feeling pretty shaken. I take a deep breath and turn the lock, leaning on the door for support. At least I found out where I parked my car. And thankfully I didn’t break the window trying to get into that doppelganger car outside of Claudia’s office. I peek back outside and see my white ’97 Honda Accord parked safe and sound in front of the house. Seriously, Charlotte, you’ve got to get it together.
It’s not the first time someone has lost their car in a parking lot, and it’s not this someone’s first time either. But even by my standards, forgetting that I walked the six blocks to my weekly counseling session is getting a bit ridiculous. Padding into the kitchen, I stop at the refrigerator to check its contents. My stomach rumbles impatiently. I’m not sure I ate breakfast, but I am quite sure that 3 o’clock isn’t exactly lunchtime. It will have to do, I mutter to myself as I eat cold leftover pizza straight from the box. How cliché, Charlotte. I can hear my mother’s pejorative tutting from three states away. Oh well, today has not been a gold star kind of day, so why start now? Now that I think of it, this type of all or nothing behavior is what Claudia has spent the last three sessions harping on. I lean my head back on the cold surface of the refrigerator door and sigh. I know that’s not fair. Claudia does not harp; she’s kind and thoughtful. And concerned about me, I remember uncomfortably.
She’s not the only one.
The house sits quiet around me and I know that I should get up and turn on the radio. The whir of the bedroom fan and the soft tick of the clock from the living room fill my ears with sound, but my mind hears the relentless quiet nevertheless. I run my hand across the soft blue shapes on the fabric of the window seat beneath me, tracing the circles with my fingers. This window seat in the middle bedroom has been one of my favorite spots in the house ever since Stephen first showed me this little house on Fourth Street. Though five years ago I didn’t know that I would be living here or that he would be my husband. But once he proposed it wasn’t long before I had designs planned for each room in our new house. The fabric store down on Main was one of my favorite stops on my way home from work. I loved picking out all the colors and patterns and textures of our new home. After our humble abode was decked out and completed, I would go back and spend hours pouring over fabric swatches dreaming of the day when… when…
Sighing deeply I get up and pace the room. I didn’t hear the keys in the lock, but the door slamming into place gets my attention.
“Stephen??” I call out uncertainly. The house answers back with creaking floorboards and silence.