I wonder if I believe in the idea of an all-encompassing universe anymore. Last night my husband said, "Am I not talking here?" in a sharp way and I hung up the phone. I hung up the phone and put it on the counter in front of me. I stared at it and picked up a dish and ran it under the hot water. I placed it in the dishwasher. I stared at the phone and thought about crying and thought about picking up the phone and apologizing. I felt that apology choke in my throat, and I thought about crying some more.
Instead of crying I walked outside and stood in the driveway. Now what. I looked up at the blue-black sky and counted the points of light far above me. I wondered which ones were stars and which ones were airplanes. Something is wrong here, I thought, when I can't tell if there are even stars in the sky. I picked the one that seemed most likely to be a star -- it was further away, not twinkling, fixed in place. I thought, now what. I thought I should make a wish or a prayer or send some good thought up into that blue-black sky, but there was a feeling in my chest, like something contracting. So I broke my gaze away from the stars or not-stars and walked to the edge of the driveway and stared down to the end of the cul-de-sac.
I could run, I thought, even though I can't. I toyed with the idea -- just picking up my bare feet and bolting down the street, down the pavement, off into the blue-black night, to a place where I could see, really see, the stars in the sky. But the tether of my sleeping children cinched around my waist and pulled me slowly back up the driveway.
I walked circles in the driveway, feet stepping heavy over water from the sprinklers snaking across the cement. My head down, I pulled my arms across my chest, pulled my whole self inward and I thought, now what. Now what. I wondered if I believed in the idea of an encompassing universe and reached inside a minute, feeling the ever-yawning hole somewhere near my heart where I imagine stars are peeping through. Peeping through in the blue-black. This is where my belief in the infinite has gone, and it's going to swallow me whole. It's an odd wound to disturb, to probe the gaping hole and come through with stars stuck to my fingers. To bleed infinity from the inside out.
You have to do something, I thought, and the most I could think to do was keep walking. Think of happy things, I thought. So I thought: happy. And then I thought, you can do better. So I kept walking in those wide circles, feet stepping heavy over the tiny river of water, and I thought: Happy, energetic, inspired. Happy, energetic, inspired. A great exhaustion pressed heavy into my shoulders and those words had never seemed more meaningless, but I kept thinking them: happy, energetic, inspired.
Against my back I felt the phantom thud of my daughter kicking the bathroom door that I was pressed against to prevent her from bursting out and hurting me. "Fine," my daughter shouted. "I hate you. I really do hate you." And so many more ugly things. My ears were filled with the ugly things she said, full to spilling; her ugly words and her vicious kicks were just pouring out of me. My fingertips tingled with the touch of the keyboard, from the effort of foisting off words of thanks to well-meaning friends and family offering their advice. There in the driveway walking my wide circles I wilted under the weight of concerned stares and words that I always carry with me to unpack later. Last night my husband said, "What's the solution, do you want to quit your job? Should we both quit our jobs?" And he didn't know, of course he didn't, how my heart would break with the weight of those words. How I floundered for a response that wasn't a shrieking, red-faced wail. How I searched for some way to defend myself -- against what, even?
I stepped heavy over the sprinkler-river in the driveway. I thought: happy, energetic, inspired. I thought again about apologizing.
I turned to face the dark house with its yellow light shining dimly from the kitchen, where the light touched down on dirty dishes and counters and floors and the phone waiting patiently on the counter. An apology is a gift you give to someone you love because you don't want them to feel hurt, especially if it's something you did. I told Madeleine this once. I pulled that stuck apology from my throat and walked back into the house. And that is what alone feels like: a wound near the heart, a starless sky, a stone-faced universe, and willfully walking back into a situation that is slowly crushing you to death.
I thought: happy, energetic, inspired, right before bed. I tacked on kindness and fell abruptly, like a heavy rock plummeting into dark water, into a dreamless, blue-black sleep.