He appeared in the threshold of the kitchen, unshaven, his glasses sitting on top of his mad scientist hair, sucking on a red popsicle and sporting his lucky gray T-shirt. He'd been up all night. As she'd promised herself, her anxiety began to drain. But her energy and bravery seemed to leak out with it, leaving her fragile and wanting to collapse into his arms.
"Hey, I was wondering where you were, just about to leave you a note on the fridge. How'd it go?" he asked.
"And how's Lydia?"
The betrayal and hurt over Lydia, over him not being home when she got there, exorcised by the run and displaced by her terror over being inexplicably lost, reclaimed its priority in the pecking order.
"You tell me," she said.
"You guys fought."
"You're paying for her acting classes?" she accused.
"Oh," he said, sucking the last of the popsicle into his red stained mouth. "Look, can we talk about this later? I don't have time to get into it right now."
"Make the time, John. You're keeping her afloat out there without telling me, and you're not here when I get home, and---"
"And you weren't here when I got home. How was your run?"
She heard the simple reasoning in his veiled question. If she had waited for him, if she had called, if she hadn't done exactly what she'd wanted and gone for a run, she could've spent the last hour with him. She had to agree.
"I'm sorry, I waited as long as I could, but I've really got to get back to the lab. I had an incredible day so far, gorgeous results, but we're not done, and I've got to analyze the numbers before we get started again in the morning. I only came home to see you."
"I need to talk about this with you now."
"This really isn't new information, Ali. We disagree about Lydia. Can't it wait until I get back?"
"You want to walk over with me, talk about it on the way?"
"I'm not going to the office, I need to be home."
"You need to talk now, you need to be home, you're awfully needy all of the sudden. Is something else going on?"
The word 'needy' smacked a vulnerable nerve. Needy equaled weak, dependent, pathological. Her father. She'd made a life-long point of never being like that, like him.
"I'm just exhausted."
"You look it, you need to slow down."
"That's not what I need."
He waited for her to elaborate, but she took too long.
"Look, the sooner I go, the sooner I'll be back. Get some rest, I'll be home later tonight."
He kissed her sweat-drenched head and walked out the door.
Standing in the hallway where he left her, with no one to confess to or confide in, the full emotional impact of what she'd just experienced in Harvard Square flooded over her. She sat down on the floor and leaned against the cool wall, watching her hands shake in her lap as if they couldn't be hers. She tried to focus on steadying her breath as she did when she ran.
After minutes of breathing in and breathing out, she was finally calm enough to try to assemble some sense out of what had just happened. She thought about the missing word during her talk at Stanford and her missing period. She got up, turned on her laptop, and Googled MENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS.
An appalling list filled the screen--hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, crashing fatigue, anxiety, dizziness, irregular heart beat, depression, irritability, mood swings, disorientation, mental confusion, memory lapses.
Disorientation, mental confusion, memory lapses. Check, check, and check. She leaned back in her chair and raked her fingers back and forth through her curly, black hair. She looked over at the pictures displayed on the shelves of the floor-to-ceiling bookcase--her Harvard graduation day, she and John dancing on their wedding day, family portraits from when the kids were little, a family portrait from Anna's wedding. She returned to the list on her computer screen. This was just the natural, next phase in her life as a woman. Millions of women coped with it every day. Nothing life-threatening. Nothing abnormal.
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