Colleen caught her breath as she lay sprawled on the floor, her head resting against the iron leg of a futon. Why was she on the floor of her daughter’s room at 4:48 AM? She had managed to catch her big toe on the belt loop of a pair of jeans.
She shook her head. Only she could be such a klutz. Well, if she was lucky, the I’m Not Really a Waitress-red polish on her toenails had survived the tumble without even a slight chip.
She should have turned on the light, but she’d gotten in the habit of wandering through the dark house alone when she couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t only that she was restless, either. After four weekends of being without the kids, she had stopped seeing her house as empty and lonesome, and was finding a sense of peace.
She laughed to herself, appreciating the irony: Alone, she was finally settling into the kind of feeling she’d always longed for from this house, the kind she’d never had when they’d all been pretending to be a happy family. The sweet sense of calm and peace that hadn’t seemed to exist when her soon-to-be ex-husband was living there, was surrounding her, now that he had gone.
Their separation and divorce had been anything but typical. Though they had filed the paperwork with the court before the shininess of the New Year had faded, they had continued living together until he found a place shortly before Easter. She kept the house; he moved into a high-rise condo closer to work.
The divorce would be final in just a few weeks, on May Day.
Since his official departure from the house – from her house – she’d been spending all her free time decluttering the sixteen years’ worth of crap that had accumulated. She’d recognized his insistence that the kids would be better “if their ‘primary living environment’ remain unchanged in any way” for the clever ploy that it was. He didn’t really care that every stick of furniture stay intact; rather, he wanted all new furniture for his sleek condo overlooking downtown.
The kid-and-dog-worn crap hadn’t matched his new décor.
She sighed from her position on the floor. “I’m not getting anything done just lying here.” But before she could gather the will to pick herself up, she felt the breath of her dog, Ingrid, on the back of her neck.
Suddenly, she wanted to cry, the first time in months that she’d felt the pinpricks of tears behind her eyes. She hadn’t cried when she’d discovered her husband’s affair, and she hadn’t cried when they’d agreed that divorce was their only option. But with the dog nuzzling her neck, breathing in her owner’s scent in much the same way a lover would, holding back the tears was so hard.
Besides, she thought, facts are facts: she’d never get laid again. What man would want to date an almost-forty-year-old single mother with two kids and a hundred-pound dog?
She tangled her fingers into the giant dog’s curly fur, assuring the animal that she was fine.
Then she shoved Ingrid aside, rolled over, and pushed herself to her feet.
Switching on her daughter’s desk lamp, she saw the note taped to the computer monitor:
“MOM, if you insist on cleaning, can we PLEASE ditch that old bookcase?”
The bookcase. One of the few pieces of furniture from her childhood.
The bookcase. The last factor in Colleen’s decision to divorce him.
She had gotten used to the way her husband spoke to her, making her feel as if nothing she ever did was good enough. She had gotten used to his stonewalling, refusing to talk to her for days and weeks on end because of some imagined infraction. She had gotten used to his unending criticism of what she wore and how messy the house was. She’d even gotten used to the not-so-subtle implication that the disarray meant she was a crappy mother.
Colleen had gotten used to the constant barrage of things she didn’t do/shouldn’t do/wasn’t doing right, but she’d hated it, and when he turned his critical eye toward their children, she’d taken steps to protect them. She had become an adept liar, covering for the girls if there were infractions at school or a less-than-perfect conduct grade on any given day. She’d scurried around, picking up after them, making sure he’d never found a stray shoe or misplaced book in view.
But kids will be kids, and as good as she was at covering for them most of the time, there were always things that slipped through the cracks: a messy room, a late homework assignment, a found note from a teacher bemoaning a child’s inability to sit still and be quiet. And she couldn’t get her oldest daughter to keep her mouth shut when things began to escalate.
Oh, did that girl have smart mouth on her, especially for a thirteen-year old! She was intelligent and more well-read than the average college student, and had strong opinions. The unfairness was that the same words uttered a decade later (or to a stranger) would be considered “standing up for herself. As a child, the expectation was to accept the verbal assaults her father volleyed across the bow as just more rules to follow.
And then, there was the day that he pushed her. Shoved their child so hard she fell against the open door to the bookcase and it pulled the hinges out of the wood.
He had insisted that he hadn’t touched her, that the girl was just backing away from him and tripped.
But Colleen knew that that deep anger of his, and believed her daughter’s version of the story.
That sticks and stones nursery rhyme was a lie. Words did hurt. But the shift from mere words to actual physicality crossed a line, and while he’d never struck her or the kids before, and she hoped it would never happen again, she wasn’t going to count on it.
That was the day that Colleen decided: no more. There would be no more walking on eggshells and no more dealing with the regular verbal assaults. She wasn’t going to allow her children to live like this every day. Always wondering if today, he would get physical.
She waited a few weeks, quietly getting her ducks in a row. She began documenting his affair with the aerobics instructor at their gym. Despite his denial when confronted months earlier, she’d stumbled across their text messages. She also combed through their finances to get a better picture of how things stood.
And three weeks later, the next time he began bitching about her inability to keep a tidy house, and then moved on to her total lack of culinary skills, he drove his own nail into the coffin of their relationship. “If I want a nice home, I’ll have to get divorced first,” he’d said. He always had been a master of the passive-aggressive statement.
Colleen had smiled a sad little smile at him and uttered the words she wouldn’t take back. “Then why don’t we just get a divorce so you can finally live in the kind of home you want?”
Yes, she had waited until things died down a bit because she never wanted her daughter to think she was at all responsible for the divorce. But she’d made her decision on the day of the bookcase.
Colleen brought herself back to the present and took a good look at the bookcase. It was a shame to part with something she’d had since she was a child. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be that difficult to repair it, but she totally understood why her daughter wanted the bookcase gone.
It was the constant reminder that sometimes the people who were supposed to love you and protect you were the ones you needed protection from.
As Ingrid settled in next to her daughter’s bed, Colleen decided: today, right now, she would deal with the bookcase. Looking around the room, she noticed the stacks of books on the floor – Dante, Terry Pratchett, Charles Darwin, Michael Moorcock, J.K. Rowling – and realized her daughter had already emptied the shelves.
A woman with a mission, Colleen ripped the top sheet off her daughter’s bed, laid it on the floor next to the case, and pulled and pushed until the bookcase rested on the sheet so it would be easier to slide across the floor.
More pushing, more pulling, and with Ingrid as a sort of honor guard, she dragged the bookcase down the hall, out the front door, and (though she cringed at the skittering, scraping sounds) across the concrete of the driveway. Making sure the dog was clear, she gave a final heave letting the piece of furniture come to rest on its side, on the curb.
Sweating, she wiped her forward and told the big black dog “Thank goodness trash day is tomorrow!”
Colleen turned back towards the house, only to stop short. The edge of the rising sun was bathing the sky, and her home, in a pale pink glow. She stood watch as the pink shifted to orange shot with gold.
She made one last glance, over her shoulder, at that bookcase, its vacant shelves turned into depthless shadows in the light of morning.
Then she took a deep breath, called Ingrid to heel, walked back into the house – her house – and shut the door.
About the Author: Debra Smouse
Debra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.