My hand trembles as I write this. I wonder what you’ll think of me. But I have to do this, don’t I? I’ve spent so many years of our life together pretending to be happy. Pretending I didn’t hurt when I was bleeding inside. Pretending not to shiver in the cold distance between us.
It’s minute six now. He’ll be home soon, I hope. I keep writing.
I know it isn’t fair to tell you now. Perhaps, if there’s time, we can talk things over. But you’re likely underground by now. By the time you get home, it may be too late.
I wish we’d never met. I wish we’d never married. I wish we hadn’t made so many promises to each other. We were too young and selfish. Then we had kids, and I wasn’t able to be selfish anymore. I had to change. But you didn’t. So I sacrificed myself and watched you thank me for it. I’ve hated you for that for a long time now.
I know it isn’t fair to say these things now. I should have been more honest. I shouldn’t have told you I was fine. I shouldn’t have blamed my feelings on fatigue. I should have blamed your apathy. I should have blamed your ignorance. I don’t regret blaming your mother.
I can’t go on. It’s minute thirteen now. Wet drops smear the “m” in mother and I wipe my eyes. I can’t write this. I crumple the paper and toss it into the fireplace. I grab a fresh sheet and start again.
Thank you for a wonderful life.
I look at the clock. Minutes tick by. Sixteen, seventeen. I shake my head. No more lies. No more pretending. I stare at the eight words on the paper in front of me. I cross them all out before shredding the paper into bits. This is harder than I thought it would be.
But I start anew.
If I could go back in time to the day we met, I would have set my alarm properly. I would not have overslept and missed the 8 o’clock train. I wouldn’t have gotten coffee at the cart close to my job instead of taking my usual detour to the French café up the street. I wouldn’t have spilled my coffee when the cheap cup folded in my hand. I wouldn’t have gone to the ER for third-degree burns. I wouldn’t have met you on the way out as you were coming in, bleeding from the hand because you sliced off your finger. I would not have forgiven your cheesy pick-up line about the “hands of fate,” because I would not have heard it. I would not have taken your number, fallen in love, and married. I would not have chosen you at all.
I swallow the bile in my throat. Thoughts that only ever swirled in my head look so cold and cruel on paper. I don’t feel any release when I read them. They don’t feel quite right. I glance at the clock. Minute thirty. The halfway mark. I’m running out of time.
I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if I had never met you, never married you. Would I be fulfilling all of my dreams? Would I be happy? Would I feel accomplished? I was so much prettier before. And thinner.
I stare at our family portrait on the wall. My husband, our two daughters, and me. Smiles and missing teeth and hidden frustrations, suspended in a moment.
What if I had never met you? Instead of waiting at home for you as you attended classes that I begged you not to take, I might have been dancing with my friends. Instead of carrying all of our financial burdens as you waited for “just the right opportunity,” I might have been taking a trip to some exotic place, or experiencing good food and music.
Were I not married to you, I am sure I would have taken better care of myself. Still…
I sniff and wipe my face. Sip some water. Fend off a panic attack. Sniff some more. Suck in a haggard breath. Try again.
Still… I wonder if I would have been happy. Would I have been satisfied with a quiet, empty house? A worry-free life? Would I have missed the sweet kisses from our daughters if I never knew them to begin with? Would I be satisfied with the sounds of the night, instead of the sounds of you snoring beside me?
Would I notice how little I spoke if I weren’t nagging you about the dishes, the laundry, the garbage? Another date night at the movies? Another spill in the car because someone forgot to use a sippy cup? Would my heart ache when I passed by a mother and her child, or would I shrug and be content? Am I being too harsh? If I had never met you, would I still hate my life?
I toss this version of my truth as well. According to the clock, I have seventeen minutes left. A fresh sheet and several tissues later, I try again.
Once upon a time, there was a shy little girl who wanted everything but was too afraid to ask for anything. One day, a sweet boy came to her and offered her his heart. She took it gladly and gave the boy her heart as well. The boy’s love pulled the shy little girl out of her shell and helped her to grow. She became more confident and bold. She began to feel as though she deserved everything she wanted. So she began to ask for it. But the boy did not give her everything. Whether he could not or would not is hard to know, but eventually, his sweet, childlike love was not enough for her. She felt unhappy, but she also felt guilty. Had it not been for the boy’s love, she would not have thought she deserved anything better. She felt both grateful and resentful. It left her feeling stuck. Then, one day, a fairy came to the girl and told her she had come to the end of her life. She had but an hour to live and should say her goodbyes.
The girl was very angry. There was so much more she wanted to do and be and feel. She decided to write a letter to the boy. He should know that he was to blame for her unhappiness. But as she wrote the letter, she began to feel differently. The closer her life inched towards the end, the more her thoughts cleared. She thought less and less of the places and food and career she had wanted. She thought of the night her mother died. How ugly she looked as she wept. How sweetly the boy had kissed away her tears and held her. She thought of the day her daughter was in the hospital sick, and how the boy’s hand had never left hers. She thought about the family vacation that went horribly wrong, and how they had all laughed and laughed in spite of it. More than the thrill of exotic food, she would miss the hard, bitter taste of her daughter’s first batch of biscuits made from scratch. The spaces between her teeth as she grinned proudly. The sweet notes left in books and on dressers that reminded her that she was loved unconditionally. Just because. Suddenly, the sweet boy’s sweet love didn’t seem so insignificant anymore. And her life didn’t feel like such a waste after all.
I read the words again and again. This is the one. Five minutes left. I fold the letter and place it on the desk while I look for an envelope. I wish we had organized the office supplies. Too many precious seconds are wasted looking for the small, note sized envelopes we send thank you cards in. I return to the letter and place it in the envelope, sealing it with a kiss. I pace nervously in front of the fireplace as the minutes tick by. Why isn’t he here yet? Will I get to see him one last time?
The door clicks, and I drop the letter. The fire pops and singes the envelope, but I don’t notice it. Only him. The clock begins to chime. Seven seconds. No time. I stare at my husband as the letter burns. He smiles and tosses his coat over a chair. Five seconds. This is it. Three seconds. My mind goes blank, and I blurt the first thing that comes to mind.
“Hang up your coat.”