I’m waiting for the light to change. The man standing next to me – a David Beckham type, handsome with carefully contrived stubble – is close enough that the faint lemon tang of his aftershave reaches me through the warmth of the day. My stomach twists at the unexpected recognition. A small boy of about one year has his peachy head nestled in his father’s neck and his bottom is being supported in the hammock of an impressive bicep. Beside him, pushing the now vacant stroller, is a young woman with square, candy-apple red nails and generous blonde streaks in her hair. He leans into her and she responds to whatever he has said with a tinkle of laughter.
Do you recognize these People-With-The-Perfect-Life?
Or, so I imagine.
Until my husband left us – quickly, cruelly, and without a satisfying explanation – I didn’t truly understand the phrase ‘come undone.’ Hours melted into months of stunned disbelief as I examined the past, scene by scene with the eye of a critical jeweller. Many, many weeks I cannot recall anything beyond staring into space, conscious only of the thud of my heart and an ever-present skittering of panic in my chest. Sleep was elusive. I once got up at 3:15 a.m. and stood looking at the little red fish in his bowl as he circled, pursing his lips. When I finally decided to make tea, I realized that I had been standing there for a full ninety minutes.
Some time has passed now, but I remain fascinated by how close to the surface the pain still bubbles. This perfect couple, for example. I had that life. I had romantic, daily proclamations of love and cozy goals about house renovations, travel, and of course, our children. I miss that life. I mourn that innocence.
When I return to the pain, as I do this day, I am no longer surprised or alarmed; indeed, it’s much easier for me to accept that I will – I must – return to this place over and over. But in between I am mostly okay now. Small things help enormously: the girl at the market who compliments me on my earrings; the pale blue concern in my best friend’s eyes; a lovely man who fixes my lawn mower for free; fat, purple hyacinths swollen with their heady scent. These are the footholds that beckon me on and make me climb.