Not for the first time, I wonder what the hell I was thinking. This isn't exactly how had I imaged my life would be. Not at all. On days like this – when I come home from a grueling day of work to lock myself away in my bedroom with the curtains pulled and a cold compress on my forehead to beat back the heat of a migraine – I can't help but be a little bitter.
Who am I? No one of consequence, or at least that's what I feel people have tried to get me to believe. Sometimes I know what a load that is. Other days I just want to sit back with a Cosmo and tell the world to go –
Never mind. Some days my language is just…
I have to stop doing that, I tell myself sternly. I use the phrase "someday" much too often. Probably because I don't measure time by minutes or hours any more. Just days. Days until the weekend. Days until the kids' science project, or English paper, or math homework is due. Days until Christmas break. How many shopping days until Christmas. Days to spring break. Days to summer break. Days until school starts again and I know that my son and daughter are once again occupied. Days until the bills absolutely have to be paid. Days until "that" time of month. Days since I'd last called Washington for news of my husband.
It's been twenty-eight. I'll call on Thursday. And like always, they'll do their best… Actually, since I call with such punctuality I'm beginning to think the task of dissembling the non-information they've given me falls to the same person every time. Anyway, they'll do their best to convince me that I have no need to worry.
Yeah right. After 2,035 days, I know better. About one thousand days ago I tried to at least get them to ship him the divorce papers that were waiting his signature –
His signature? I snort and slowly get up from the bed to change out of my work clothes. First he was going to have to get over the shock of getting them – as if he was ever going to be shocked by something I've had the nerve to do – before he could sign them. Anyway, his bosses never sent the papers, and that's another thing I bring up with them on the eighth of every month.
The front door slams and I wince. That would be Chris. God, he looks like his father. Has his temper at times too. Decently dressed, I stick my head into the hallway as he comes stomping up the stairs. "What homework do you have today?" He mumbles something about it not being any of my business and I sigh. So it was going to be one of those days. Was it really only Monday?
With nothing but weary duty spurring me on, I remind him that it's his own fault that he's on academic probation.
"Damnit, Mom –"
I cut him off before he can continue to curse, ground him for a week, and get a mutinous accounting of his homework before he manages to slam the door of his inner sanctum. He turns his rock on loud and I sigh as the beat of some angry punk band takes over the rhythm of my throbbing head.
Amanda is the next up the stairs, and she also favors her father, although at ten she hasn't hit her adolescent best yet as fifteen-year-old Chris has.
"Hello, sweetie. How was your day at school?" She tells me that her glasses got broken on the playground and she thinks she managed to throw her retainer away with her lunch. I assure her that it's alright – even though it's not, according to my budget – and ask her to try to find her spare glasses.
That's another thing I count, I think glumly as I return to my room. The days until my paycheck and what I can only think of as alimony arrives. It shouldn't be enough, but it always is. The money that is. I never bargained to be a single parent.
No, I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to specialize in children's advocacy. I suppose that's what got me in trouble in part. I was taking a course in psychological development as part of my degree, and that's where I met him. He was the guy in the back of the class who never paid any attention but always managed to get perfect grades. He annoyed me, mainly because I'd been able to do that in high school. College was different though.
Until we were partnered up for an assignment, I managed to avoid him. He was just too…and that smirk on his face was just so…and I just wanted…
Anyway, we were partnered up. I don't remember the assignment now. It was almost twenty years ago. I remember that I finished my half of the assignment almost the same day I got it. But he…he loitered. I remember my irritation as I would nag him before class about what he'd gotten done, and after about making sure that he finished. And in between those times he'd sit in the back of the class and stare at the back of my head, that infuriating smirk on his face.
He got his part of the research to me three days before our project was due, and even joined me on the two all-nighters it took to get everything done. That had been a surprise. He'd always struck me as the kind of guy who'd always managed to get the perfectionist lab partner in school and then depended on their obsessive need for good grades to get him the grade too.
I was right about that much, I learned later. Our little talks before and after class didn't stop after the project was done, or after the term had ended. They eventually evolved into lunch dates, library dates, dinner dates…
It was in the late spring of my junior year that I discovered I was pregnant. I don't know why I was so surprised. We'd been sleeping together for nearly a year by that point. And not just sleeping together, but renting-an-apartment-off-campus-together sleeping together. He was close to graduating, and we waited until after he had before getting married in a small ceremony.
Everything seemed magical…at least for a few years. I dropped my classes a semester short of graduation and he got a job. At first he was always home, but soon after we had Amanda, he started to travel more. And for longer. When she was three, we were down to seeing him just a handful of days a month, and I couldn't help but ask him to ask his bosses to cut back the amount of time he was away. I knew it'd mean less money, but the kids were getting old enough that I could get a part time job…
No use. A few months later he moved us to Virginia. Less than a year after that, I was pacing as he packed two suitcases.
"CIA?" I asked again, so furious that I wasn't able to absorb what he was telling me. "How long –"
"I've told you this, Liz." The way he could always sound so calm just added to my fury. This was not a time to be calm.
"They're sending you away?" Even now the anguish that had been in my voice made me shudder.
"Yes. And no, I can't tell you where. It's for your own good. For the kids' own good."
"Bullshit," I growled, right before he twirled me into his arms as I made another circuit of the room.
"It's not forever, Lizzie."
"You don't know that. You already said you didn't know how long you'd been gone."
He'd promised he'd write.
He'd promised I could write as long as the letters went through his bosses.
He'd promised enough money would be sent home to support us.
He'd promised it wouldn't be forever.
I sigh and go downstairs to start dinner. We still eat as a family, even though we're missing him.
The letters had stopped after a few months.
The money had ceased to be enough. I work as a law clerk now to make ends meet.
Chris is angry with a father who has been gone too long.
If it wasn't for photographs, Amanda wouldn't remember his face.
The nights are long, cold, and lonely.
Perhaps it wasn't forever, but 2,035 days is a long time.
I don't feel like making much tonight, so I heat up some boxed macaroni and cheese while I fry up some leftover ham. We still have some bagged salad and fresh blueberries left over from the weekend. That should be a decent enough meal.
Before I can call the kids down, the phone rings. I wonder if my car payment ever made it to the dealership. I'm in trouble if it didn't.
"Hello?" My voice is dull, even in my own ears.
I blink in surprise and check the date again. Had I missed the 8th, so now they were calling out of concern? No…it's still Monday.
"Is this Mrs. Sands?"
"Yes. Yes, sorry." Without my knowledge, my hand goes white-knuckled on the receiver. "This is Mrs. Sands."
"Mrs. Sands, if you see your husband, please contact us immediately."
"What? What do you mean?" The concept that my husband might just drop in out of the blue was a hard one to grasp. Harder than the one about him leaving for parts unknown.
There's a sigh. "He checked himself out of the hospital without informing anyone here at HQ. Please just let us know."
"Of course –" They hang up, so I do also. Just as well. I think I'm in shock.
He'd been in the hospital.
He'd been close enough that his employers thought he might come here.
When did this happen? How long has he been back? Why didn't anyone tell me?
I get over it. I'm here, my husband still is not. Just like he hasn't been for five years. And I still have kids to feed, chores to do, and notes to transcribe.
Halfway through dinner there's a knock on the door and I go to answer it. If I send one of the kids and it's one of their friends, I'll never get them back and the heating bill will go up as they try to heat the great outdoors.
I open the door…
"Hey, Lizzie. Mind if I come in?"
Author's Note: don't be expecting more, because I don't think there is any. But their might be. This was born of frustration with a few scenes that wouldn't leave my head, and I've still got a few more left. But this is not a priority for me. : P Just consider this a Christmas present.