As she approached the hill to the house, she eased her foot off the gas and pulled to the side of the road. She flipped the visor down and contemplated her face in the tiny mirror. Her eyebrows were disheveled from having rubbed sunscreen into her face 30 minutes earlier. She ran her middle fingers over her brows and silently chided herself for not plucking the stray hairs when there was a tweezer available. She touched the pimple on her neck. It had arrived overnight and was big and red and painful. Careful picking, desperate squeezing, a cold washcloth, Clearasil and a healthy dose of cover-up had done nothing to disguise the fact that she had a big, red pimple on her neck.
“Fuck!” She shrieked and slapped her forehead. “What the fuck am I doing?”
She slammed the visor up and her face disappeared. She looked at her watch. She wasn’t expected for five minutes yet and experience told her it wouldn’t matter all that much if she were a little late. She turned up the radio and opened her bag, looking for a chapstick. There was a half-pack of gum, a pony-tail holder, dental floss, her wallet, a shopping list, and the business card of the ugly bore she’d been out with two nights earlier, but no chapstick. She felt sobs lodge in her throat as she rummaged in the glove-box looking for a chapstick.
“Why the hell isn’t there any chapstick in this god-damned car?” She scolded herself again and turned around to search the backseat. She glimpsed a pink tube wedged into the corner of her daughter’s car-seat and reached for it, knowing it was going to be a waxy, congealed, bubble-gum flavored mess. She pulled the top off, shrugged, smeared it on her lips and tossed it on the passenger-side floor.
“Gross,” she muttered as she licked her lips. Why did children have to make a wreck of everything they touched?
She could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she closed her eyes and imagined herself pulling into that familiar driveway, greeting the dog, knocking on the door, maybe shaking his hand, casually asking innocuous questions, making small-talk. She shuddered and pulled the visor down again.
She squinted at her partial reflection. Her lips were pink, full, and glistening with the gummy sheen of her daughter’s cheap lip gloss. She turned her head and her fluffy brown hair filled the mirror. Lately, it had become streaked with gray. She had tried to tell herself that this was distinguished, but in reality, the gray was probably due to some pathetic mix of stress, sadness, surrender and genetics. She took off her sunglasses and regarded her eyes. They were mostly dull, plain brown, but dancing tantalizingly in the corners, she could see flecks of gold and green. And there, there in the pupils, where sight meets mind, she also saw a peculiar combination of fear, resilience and optimistic expectancy.
She sighed audibly and felt a rush of nerves. She looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was coming and flexed her left bicep. With her right hand, she squeezed her arm through her parka and grinned a cheeky half-grin. She was strong, but took pride in the fact that she was not the grotesque kind of strong. She was limber, supple, solid.
“Well, at least I’ve got that going for me,” she said to her smug reflection.
She looked at the radio and grimaced. Gloria Gaynor was on, belting out – with characteristic acrimony – “I Will Survive.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s fucking perfect.” She rolled her eyes as she realized she was talking to herself again.
“Go already, you big baby.”
She put the car in gear and started up the hill to the house. As her vehicle skidded on the remnants of last night’s snow storm, she considered turning around and blaming the weather. Just then, the tires found purchase on dry pavement and the car lurched grudgingly up the hill. She turned into the driveway and heard the cold crunch of snow as she stepped on the brakes. She sat, engine running, and looked down at her thighs. In 8th grade, Reed Whittier had teased her, calling her Thunder Thighs. For a moment, she wished she’d put on her bibs before she got in the car.
“Oh fuck it,” she thought, and turned off the engine.
Just then, the dog appeared from behind the garage and charged the car, tail wagging, looking thrilled to have company. She opened the car door and the cold scent of winter and freshly fallen snow rushed her nose. Unexpected tears froze instantly on her cheeks.
She saw the curtain flutter on the front window and there he was, hair damp from a recent shower, holding a cup of coffee, looking out at her as she simultaneously patted the dog and gathered her climbing gear from the trunk of her car. She hoped he couldn’t see the tremor that had started in her toes and was now making its way unabashedly to her arms and hands.
She walked up the driveway to the house, trying to focus on the dog, the gear, the pimple, her waxy lips, Gloria Gaynor – anything but what lay on the other side of the door and the conversation she knew she was going to have to have.
As she approached the door, she heard the knob turn and she exhaled, chest aching. In that instant, she forgot to breathe.
It was, as she would remember it in months and years to come, a breathless beginning.
They're getting married in 7 days.