Had anyone asked, Megan would have admitted her unhappiness. She may even have choked on her words in her hurry to get them out, relieved someone had the consideration to ask, but no one thought to pose the question. On the outside, she seemed just fine. She was managing Katie’s eighth birthday party well, a busy bee of activity, humming around her guests with appetizers, and entrees, lost in her efforts to stay one step ahead despite their requests for more napkins, more ice.
Everyone around her had problems. She could hear them as they muttered their complaints. Her best friend had just finished telling an acquaintance the dismal reality of her real estate losses. Her mother-in-law had droned on about her hip problems, and the need for a replacement. She had earned the sympathy of fellow party goers two drinks ago. Even her husband Paul was laying it on thick for the benefit of the other husbands with his practiced woe is me mentality.
“Megan, can you get me a refill?” he asked, shaking his glass for emphasis, barely looking at her as she’d passed him on her way back into the dining room.
Oh, for the monotony of it, she was thinking. She didn’t bother with her sure hon response.
In their preoccupation with their own lives, her friends, and family never imagined Megan’s upturned lip was a sardonic grimace instead of the pleasant smile they interpreted it to be. It was her own fault. She had been glib for so long-she was practiced in the art of inner distraction. They all believed her to be happy. She was anything but happy.
Megan dropped Katie and Natalie at school like she’d done every weekday morning for years, kissing them quickly at the curbside as they hurried up the path, barely on time. She’d never been good at getting them out the door. Nor at figuring out what to feed them before racing through it, the clock betraying her every effort at trying to get it right this one time.
Paul wasn’t any help. He was gone before the coffee stopped dripping from the pot-always pulling the carafe out before it finished brewing, and stealing the best part of the pot before he was gone, drips of sizzling liquid left in his wake. Barely saying goodbye, he’d grab bits of the girls left over breakfasts as he rushed out the door. No thought that the dishes might do just as well in the dishwasher than on the table.
Their routine was just that-disorganized despite her effort to find order, it always eluding her. She’d longed for a small break in the routine-just a day or two out of the ordinary grind, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He couldn’t spare the time away from the office.
“Who would take care of the kids?” he’d admonish every time she asked. And lately she’d asked more, and more.
“Well, we could get a babysitter. Maybe you could ask your mom to stay a few days.”
“You know she can’t be running after the girls in her state.”
She wasn’t much of a fighter. Paul would argue her place was ultimately in the home anyway, and that she’d not become a mom to shirk her duties as one.
“I’m just saying I could use a break. I was hoping you’d understand.”
Even this conversation was routine. Her rounded shoulders slumped noticeably, and their debate was over. With his don’t bother me attitude, there wasn’t much help in finding a solution, or even a band-aid to help hold it together until another time when her resolve was in check, her inner resources replenished.
She watched the girls talk their way up the path to school, oblivious to the inner struggle that was beginning to eat her alive. She reached for a pack of cigarettes she kept in the tray under her car seat and lit one up with a lighter she retrieved from the pack. She rolled down the window, and rolled slowly away from the curb, rounded the next corner, and pulled back to the curbside under a large maple tree.
She couldn’t bear to go back to the house to the laundry, or to the kitchen floor that needed mopping. She didn’t even like the house in Canton, it was Paul’s idea in the first place, and she’d acquiesced like a dutiful wife in her naïve and youthful ways, too busy with the girls inevitably, to care.
She sat there, and smoked, her mind turning over how she could do it. She smoked another cigarette using the roadway as her ashtray, and kept the windows down to air the car out. They didn’t know she smoked, and she’d never hear the end of it from Paul if he found out. He was errantly negative, and especially unsupportive lately, and she couldn’t bear to be his target.
Her fingers drummed on the steering wheel. Lips pursed. She couldn’t get her mind around how it all might work so she stopped thinking and started driving. Her mind was too active to cooperate, so she was thinking again. She was oblivious to the Hispanic radio station playing in the car. Katie had found it on the way to school. Megan hadn’t noticed it then either, or how lovely the Baltimore morning was, and what a beautiful, soft breeze whisked across the sky.
She was on Roland Road unaware of its prettiness, and then on Route 166 moving away from home towards Ellicott City, and then the village there, not a concern toward what was going on around her. The apple blossoms had finally sprouted along Main Street, and their beauty was lost to her.
Nagging thoughts about an easy dinner, and what she might be able to pull from the freezer filtered through her thoughts. She couldn’t bear the thought of from-scratch cooking today.
She was on Frederick Road, and had already passed the train station.
She might pull one of the casseroles everyone liked when she returned to the house, and let it thaw on the counter for the afternoon.
She didn’t notice the sign for BWI Airport, or even that she had crossed a lane of traffic to follow it.
A sign heavy enough to echo through her, escaped her furrowed lips. She didn’t notice that she’d pulled the ticket from the machine in front of the parking garage, and that she was driving into the long-term parking area. She was unaware of her difficulty in finding a parking spot before she finally pulled in to one and parked the car.
It should all be easy to let go of, she reasoned to herself, if I’ve never really been happy with it. She turned the ignition off. She was trying to figure out what had kept her all this time. Paul was unsupportive, the girls a blessing, certainly, but she’d never wanted a family, never wanted to be married. How had she been talked into so much? And why had she played along for so long? Had the high-ticket neighborhood in Canton, and Paul’s promise of a comfortable lifestyle persuaded her that much?
She was haunted by what the girls would wear to school tomorrow if she didn’t do their laundry today. And what Paul would do when he realized she’d not replenished his supply of coffee at the grocery store when she didn’t make it there today. It was on the list magnetized to the front of the refrigerator where she’d forgotten it this morning along with a bunch of other things she’d just as soon forget.
Had she been at home, she’d have answered his call, asking for some of the things he craved to eat to be added to the list. She would never have been charitable with her concern for her desires, hers had been starved for so long, but she would have pretended to care, and added the items anyway.
She noticed she was nearly out of cigarettes when she reached for another one, and that could be a big problem. She lit up, taking in her surroundings. She noticed the parking garage was stagnant, dark, unmoving, not unlike her spirt had become. She rested her head on her headrest. She closed her eyes, and went over it again in her mind.
She’d been so busy trying to keep up appearances. Days had turned into years so fast, and without any warning, they were gone forever. Single moments of regret were left in their wake, stacked up on each other until they’d filled her with the constant dread that brought her to this moment.
When she thought she had it figured out, she peered at herself in the rearview mirror, hoping she’d recognize something she’d left behind long ago, and might still be able to salvage.
She opened the car door, dropped the cigarette to the pavement, and crushed it with her foot as she got out. She felt taller when she stood up. She placed the parking ticket on the dash board, closed, and locked the door. She took a few confident steps towards the terminal, stopped, and returned to the car. She unlocked the door, threw the keys haphazardly under the seat, pushed the lock button again, pushed the door toward its frame, and walked away.
She began to feel the breeze on her face in the open parking area, and noticed the warmth on her skin as the sun kissed its light into her eyes. Once in the terminal, she watched other travelers entrenched in their own travel experience, waiting in lines, browsing in the bookstore, and sitting in the bar, the noise of their progress bumping up against her, the sounds entering her ears, and registering on her own experience. She stopped and drank it in. She was aware suddenly, of her own hunger. She’d not managed to eat more than a forkful of leftover birthday cake before the girls wanted her attention earlier this morning.
She stood in front of the departure screen and watched for the domestic departure options, tapping her foot in rhythm to her inner song-eeny meeny miny mo, where on earth should I go? A short walk to terminal two would give her international options, but her passport was in their safety deposit box at the bank. She had liked the feel of the sun on her face so much she chose Hawaii, the big island, because this was a big step for her. Shirking her family like a bad dream, shaking them from her waking sleep.
She was at the American Airlines ticket counter, marveling at how many others were exercising their free will, and getting away, whatever their reason.
“I’d like a ticket for the 12:50pm flight to Hawaii.”
“Just one?” The man typed, and clicked on his keyboard taking her information one piece at a time.
“Baggage to check?”
“You’re going to save my back.”
“You’re going to save my neck.”
“There’s a change in Dallas, and a stop in Los Angeles.”
She didn’t say a word.
The house without its occupants lay like a moratorium, quietly in wake of its living parts. She knew it would still hold remnants of that morning-the burnt crusts of toast, the coffee grounds, the smell of the egg salad she’d made for the girls lunched. Without any of the windows open, the mingled odours would be trapped as she had been day in, and day out until Paul came home with the girls, angry she’d not stuck to her routine, and picked them up from school, annoyed his calls to her were going unanswered.
The ticket agent returned her credit card, and passed the purchase slip to her for signature. She was afraid she would die a slow death without the help of a full life to be remembered, and she was afraid she might be happier without them.
She signed quickly, her signature unusually sloppy, and handed the slip back to the agent.
“You’re all set. Gate 29 for boarding.”
Was it really that easy? She was tentative, lost for a moment in the crowd that surrounded her.
She knew Paul would have a fit when she realized she’d finally flown the coup. He’d be most upset that she’d taken nothing with her, not caring enough to make the effort-satisfied with a fresh start. He’d remember the girl she was, melancholy reverberating in the rooms without her. These were concerns she would not shoulder today. Her head was already airborne for all the spinning it was doing while she followed these thoughts at the counter, still trying to wrap her head around how effortless this change in plans was. The boarding pass, and her I.D. were heading towards her thanks to the counter clerk, and thoughts of Hawaii and the freedom it eluded to were pushing Paul to the outskirts of her mind. Her own personal power was beckoning with its own haze of melancholy.
Her confidence wavered when she heard the boarding call. She waited her turn to board, surprised to realize she was going through with it. She had a panic attack once airborne, and headed for the restroom at the back of the plane once the seatbelt sign was off. She slipped into the stall, closed the door with wet clammy hands, the taste of bile in her mouth, the high-pitched hiss of the air latrine closing in on her. She splashed cold water on her face, and rinsed her mouth, staring at herself in the mirror, a silent admonition that she was well on her way already.
She returned to her seat, concentrating on her breath, filling her lungs deeply, repeatedly, and fell asleep. She had to be nudged awake to disembark once in Ft. Worth, Dallas. The clean-up crew was already busy in the rows of seats around her. She grabbed a bite at one of the cafes in the Dallas departure lounge to stave off her growing hunger but had barely paid her bill before the bile returned.
She made it to the bathroom in time to empty the contents of her stomach there in one of the toilets closest to the door.
She slept through the layover in Los Angeles, and slept until their arrival in Kona. Once in Kona, she made her way to the curb. She caught the eye of the driver of the Sheraton shuttle and waived him over. The Sheraton in Baltimore was well maintained with reliable service. The shuttle bus drove for miles along the highway with grassy areas, and groves of palm trees, the mountain of a volcano on one side, the sprawling ocean on the other. The driver turned right on Palani Way and then left onto Alii Drive so his passengers could enjoy the happenings along the ocean front.
Megan soaked in the sights and sounds of vacationers, and saw locals wrestling the growing waves. She saw giant banyan trees with their extroverted root system displayed for all to see. Walls of blooming bougainvillea in a multitude of colors that put the Baltimore spring to shame. Her eyes widened with the realization of what she’d been missing, silently aghast that so much might be waiting for her in the discovery of herself. When Alii Drive ran out, the driver took a right on Alii Way, and then turned right one more time before winding up to the Sheraton’s lobby entrance.
She waited her turn in line at the reservations desk while a man near her own age with a cell phone pressed to his ear was trying to sort out the confusion surrounding where his girlfriend was. He had already dialed her cell phone while debating fervently with the Manager on duty. The clerk insisted there was no one under his girlfriend’s name staying at the hotel. Megan watched him get increasingly agitated when the calls to his girlfriend went unanswered. Although he had just arrived, she had checked in two days earlier. He had spoken with her last night. She could see the perspiration break the skin of his forehead when he demanded to know how they were spelling Hendricks. The man was whisked to the side finally so he could continue his cell phone calls to the girlfriend who had booked it, and so the desk attendant could deal with the growing line behind him.
Thoughts of how angry Paul would be permeated her head. She imagined he’d be upset with himself for having listened without hearing. He’d regret his underestimation of her, and he’d have to manage the girls on his own without her capable ways. He would blame her for having to tax two young children with expectations beyond their ages in her absence. He would spread his verdant disdain of her throughout their circle of friends and deep into both their families. She would not be able to defend herself against it-but she had to admit she was too weary to engage. He would only realize once she was gone what she’d been begging for all along, and how simple it would have been to let her have it.
The desk attendant wanted to know what name her reservation was under.
“No reservation, but I would like to stay here if you have availability.”
She was so used to being turned down for everything she wanted, she was almost afraid to ask for an ocean front room, and wondered if a mid-week room rate would apply. She discharged her concerns in favor of thoughts about the ocean in front of her, and the wet black volcanic rock glistening in contrast under the late afternoon sun, and asked for what she wanted.
He clicked and clacked his way through the room inventory on the computer screen in front of him. A smile swept his cheeks upward.
“An ocean front room is available. There is a lanai as well.”
She loved Paul for the high limits on their credit cards.
She poked her head in the hotel’s gift shop, and bought expensive versions of toiletries, a bathing suit, a nightgown, and an island events magazine. She rode the elevator up to the third floor, and found her room at the end of the corridor, slipped the entry key in and out. She gasped audibly when she saw the ocean through the sliding glass doors. It looked like it would fill her room if it got any closer. The sun had tinted the sky, and left a glow of color on the balcony. She dropped her package, and took a seat on one of the balcony chairs. Small, forgotten parts of Megan started to relax, and soften as the minutes passed, and the sun set. Here, in her self-sentenced paradise, the shock of what she’d done oozed around her like the humidity enveloping her skin.