Dear friends in Christ,
here in the presence of Almighty God, let us kneel in silence, and with
penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins,
so that we may obtain forgiveness
by his infinite goodness and mercy.
CONFESSION OF SIN
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
I was married eleven years before I started imagining how different life could be if my husband were dead. Beginning that year, and not, to my recollection, prompted by any overt unkindness or sudden disruption of affection, images of random damage, of events more simple and unpredictable than murder, invaded my dreams both sleeping and awake. The more I tried not to think about it, to purge these worrisome ideas out of my head, the louder my unconscious mind wailed. When I woke in the sheet-twisted dark and found myself pasted to the body of my very real husband, his whimpering snore as high-pitched as a cat's, it was a bitter comfort. The familiar smell of him on the pillows, a pungent mix of his daily dousings of cologne and hair tonics, seeped into my pores with all the nauseating effects of a virus. I spent my nights, and an embarrassing number of days, picturing how I would react, what plans I would make, when misfortune cast me in a new role: that of grieving widow.
I would see him rounding the curve of the old highway, eyes closing, driving head-on into someone else's headlights. Stumbling into the line of fire during a convenience-store robbery. Stepping off the curb to be dragged under the wheels of a bus. When he fell asleep in front of the television late at night, head tilted backward over his chair, I would see him strangled that way, his breath cut off in mid-snore, a large bubble of exhaled air dancing cartoon-style in front of his face.
Every day I imagined some new way for it to happen. I saw the harmless objects of our ordinary lives turning against him, his body betraying him in one violent, irretrievable moment. He'd crack his skull on the shower wall while reaching for a towel.
He'd try to light the pilot on the furnace and trigger a freak explosion.
He'd stumble over a child's bicycle in a neighbor's driveway and snap his neck.
Once, when I was turning my key in the kitchen door, my left arm balancing a bag of groceries, I found myself thinking, He could be dead inside this house, in our bed, and I wouldn't know it.
Sometimes he would fall as he made the climb toward the sixth hole at Glenville Meadows, his heart squeezing in upon itself with a final cholesterol-clogged pang, his long, rigid body landing like a toppled game piece on the freshly mown fairway. The last thing he'd see is the dimpled ball sailing skyward toward the green, where it rides the hillside on waves of light and dark, hopelessly out of his reach.
The first time I make my confession I know I'm making a big mistake, as if I've taken the wrong exit off the interstate and am barreling full speed down rain-slick, unlit streets with no on-ramp or telephone booth in sight. It's a Saturday, the day my next-door neighbor Donna Lindsey and I reserve for what we affectionately call our "suicide strolls." At 6 A.M. sharp on most Saturdays, Donna and I meet at the boxwood hedge separating our two lawns--lawns kept green, well-trimmed, and dandelion-free by the Lawn Doctor, not our husbands--and set out along the bicycle paths that wind around the cookie-cutter Georgians and mock Tudors in our thoroughly modern and fitness-friendly subdivision.
Donna and I begin our walk by streetlight and moonlight, leaving our homes bundled in sweat suits and windbreakers, stealthy as teenagers sneaking out past curfew. Much of our route is uphill until we reach the cul-de-sac where, in a mirror version of our own cul-de- sac, Phase Four of the Heritage Knoll development ends, so we usually talk only on the way back to our respective homes, when we can catch our breath.
Copyright 2001 Jeanne Braselton; all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Ballantine Publishing Group.
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