"I drew a picture of you
You and your anchor tatoo
And saw the face that I knew
Covered in shame
You drew a bird that was here
A kind of sweet chanticleer
But with a terrible fear
That the cage couldn't tame."
~Aimee Mann, "That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart"
1999: Age 39
At the red light, she looked to the passenger seat and picked up the remnants of the dead. She wished she didn't have it, because she knew that somehow, it stood for the fact that she would be next. But it was in her possession now, given to her by someone whose hope had run out years ago. She could only hold it carefully, gingerly, simply out of respect for the ones who eventually left in one way or another, even though she understood that most of them did not deserve it. Because she could not erase history; she could only add to it and hope she didn't repeat it. If only this history didn't leave her wishing she could have done something to change it.
Everyone who came before her now rested in her hands. Karen had told her once in a private moment that her mother tried to instill in her the habit of keeping a diary when she was young. The only problem was that Karen never wanted to waste time on the mundane things that could easily fill the pages of a notebook or a journal. And whenever she did write in it, it was usually about love found, love lost. So it became a graveyard of sorts. Here lies the memory of her first love at thirteen. Over there lies the prom queen she fell in love with but couldn't reconcile until she became much older. Moving through the string of one-night stands and names she couldn't remember. Broken marriages, broken promises, broken hearts. All short, concise passages. All in a tightly bound notebook, some loose pages sandwiched between the front cover and the first page.
The light turned green, and Grace drove until she found a place to pull over, and put the car in park. The snow was falling steadily now, and for a moment, the red head marveled at how white it was. Snow in New York could so easily tarnish, taxis speeding by and grinding the dirt of their tires against the purity of nature. Now that she was out of the city, out of the state of New York entirely, she had a chance to take in the beauty that something so simple could possess. But this was not why she was driving. This was not why she franticly raced out of her apartment in search of a woman who likely did not want to be found. She was in Vermont, headed towards the Walkers' cabin because, while Karen liked to think she was spontaneous, Grace had come to know her habits. Grace paid attention. And in a fleeting moment one night under the moon, when they could start to see their breath in the cold, Karen murmured that it was the cabin she retreated to whenever she wanted to be alone, when she got sick of Manhattan. Karen probably thought that the red head wasn't listening; not a lot of people did. But Grace listened. Grace heard every word.
If the others didn't listen, maybe she stood some chance of protecting their love after all.
But because she listened, her hope was starting to dwindle too.
When I start to feel loved, I pull away. I can't help it. I don't want to. It's just that I've thought I had it so many times, and then it was taken away, or it was never there to begin with and I was merely deluding myself into thinking it was in my reach. And it's happened too much for me to ever want to chance it again. I don't love Stan; that became apparent quickly. But he didn't seem to have a deep attachment to me, other than the fact that I looked good on his arm, and I thought that maybe this would do. Don't tell me you'll love me forever, Grace. Forever doesn't exist. Forever isn't true. You don't know what will happen tomorrow. I just want to soften the blow as much as possible when it comes.
Said in different moments in different inflections, but now everything seemed to form one ominous monologue in Grace's mind. She thought she could be the one to change it all. Because on some level, isn't that what everyone thinks they are capable of this when they've fallen in love with someone who has been let down by every one of her former lovers? But she was swimming against the tide. Karen was starting to pull away recently, and the red head could see it. And as much as Grace tried, she could not escape this fate; she woke up this morning with Karen nowhere to be found and this notebook on the nightstand.
Don't tell me you'll love me forever, Grace. The first time Karen had said that, Grace gave her a sly smirk, and, thinking it was a joke, told her "Okay, then…I'll love you today." And when Karen smiled back, there was a hint of hesitation. The red head never realized that she might have inadvertently made light of something heavy, and as a result, she kept saying it until it became a reflex, until Karen had started saying it too. I love you today. I love you today, too.
Grace wished that before she went to bed last night, she would have told Karen that she'll love her tomorrow as well. A selfish end, but at least it would have ended the way it began.
Everything had started because Grace had been selfish. Seeing this well put-together, and presumably well to do, woman walk through the door of Grace Adler Designs was certainly unexpected, but inevitably the one thing the red head didn't even realize she wanted. This woman who had no viable qualities for the position Grace was hiring for, this woman who merely wanted a reason to get out of the house every day. But her contacts were impressive, and she stirred something in Grace that she couldn't recognize and didn't know was there, but wanted it to stay alive. So she did whatever she could to ensure that this woman was a part of her life in some capacity. The night they first kissed was a blur to her now—a blissful, thrilling blur—but although they had only been together for a few months, she couldn't remember a time without the dark haired woman in her arms. And she wanted to keep it that way.
There was never any pretense; they had always been straightforward in their actions. Too many times they had been hoodwinked, betrayed, all because they wore their emotions on their sleeve. Grace had started to harden a bit as a result, but Karen had been solid as a rock for years. So they never beat around the bush; they always went straight for what they wanted, despite Karen's constant remarks of how much Grace reminded her of someone from her past. In a way, it made Karen that much more irresistible to Grace. But more than that, it made their connection wholly addictive.
The red head could not compare the sheer force of Karen's heart to anything, because she had never experienced anything like it before. Grace didn't know if it was because she was carrying on like this with another woman—something that she had never done, but was never entirely sure she didn't want—or if it was just because until now, she didn't know anyone quite like Karen Walker. That flame torched everything she held to be familiar, leaving the dark haired woman standing among the ash and debris. The heat of the fire became comforting, soothing. It became home. And then last night, Karen fell asleep saying those fated words: I think maybe I need to go away for a little while. She had said it a couple of times before, when her marriage to Stan became entirely unbearable, but she never acted on it; she had simply rested in the red head's arms until she felt better. So Grace just assumed this time was like the others.
And then, in the morning, Karen was gone.
Maybe the drawing was the first sign of their seemingly imminent demise. A few weeks ago, out of sheer boredom and a slow work day, Grace found herself doodling an image of a nude Karen on a blank page of her sketchpad, lying on white sheets that had covered her in certain places, careful to catch the beauty of her curves, her eyes, the way her hair was slightly tousled from tossing and turning in bed the night before. On her hips, Grace sketched the tattoos the dark haired woman told no one about: On her right was a crudely drawn "S," written as a block letter against her skin, and on her left was a small anchor, holding a significance that Grace didn't know. Each stroke of her pencil brought her closer to the daydream, closer to the image of waking up to her lover this morning that she wanted to keep for good.
Looking up at Karen across the room, she realized that the dark haired woman was engrossed in her own work, running her pen across a piece of paper. Grace couldn't help but get absorbed by the scene; she had become lost in the wonder that was the dark haired woman's silence, lulled into a level of peace the red head only associated with her. And it suddenly shattered when Karen abruptly crumpled up the paper she had been so intently concentrating on, and threw it in the trashcan beside her desk. Grace, not knowing what else to do, had quickly shifted her gaze back to her sketchpad, alarmed by the hasty reaction Karen had to her own work. When the dark haired woman had left for the restroom, Grace searched through the trashcan and tried her best to flatten the paper ball. She found that Karen drew a bird in an open cage, looking mournful, fearful to escape. The red head couldn't help but take it as a sign of a fear that Karen wasn't telling her about. And it consumed her.
Ever since she found the crumpled up drawing in the trash, Grace had the overwhelming feeling that soon it would be over. She had the overwhelming feeling that those fleeting "You remind me of her…you remind me of him" comments weren't so fleeting after all, and have built up a wall that is proving difficult to climb. Karen had gotten more distant, not because she had fallen out of love, but because she was in too deep, and it scared her. And what else can you do when you're scared but retreat to a safe place?
Now, Grace left the car idling on the side of the road, unwilling to give up heat as she took a rest from her drive, as she began to build up the courage to read what she had been given. She had always wanted to understand what Karen had gone through, and had expressed her desire to the dark haired woman on more than one occasion. Upon first impression, Karen Walker always comes off as an extremely guarded person. You don't know what you're asking, Karen had said. But it did not deter her. She wanted to know. She wanted to ensure that that part of Karen's history was over.
On a sticky note attached to the front cover of the notebook, in Karen's looped handwriting, she read the words she had until now not given a first glance at. And she wanted to cry at the statement—short, simple, and no matter if she hopes against it, possibly true.
This is how I know you'll break my heart.
If she was going to save this, she had to know what she was up against before she saw Karen again. She had to know the people who have affected the dark haired woman, so she knew what to do in order to remind Karen of them, but not repeat their mistakes. So she opened up the notebook and began to look through her lover's history.