Monday, April 27, 2015

                                                                        by Sandra Moulin

      It started in the pit of her stomach. Within seconds it spiraled wildly up to her chest. “Am I having a heart attack?” she gasped. “What is this?” she murmured, as she wrapped her arms around her trembling body as if by doing so she could hold herself together. Lying in her bed alone, she opened her eyes to the darkness forcing herself into consciousness. She tried to remember what had happened before she went to bed and wondered whether it was still the middle of the night. Raising her head to see the digital numbers on the clock, she read 4:18 a.m. “Oh, God,” she cried. Forcing herself to a seated position on the side of the bed, she thrust her toes into the carpet below hoping that by planting her feet, she could calm herself. And then, she remembered, and panic consumed her.

      He was gone. Gone. Her best friend, her soul mate, the one whose funny expression in the morning made her approach each day with a cheerful heart. How would she survive without him? Who could ever again have that effect on her? She swallowed, trying unsuccessfully to get rid of the lump in her throat , for she knew that once she allowed the dam of tears to leak, she would drown in the pain. For him, she had to be strong; she had to act “as if” he were still there. She would talk to him with the same lilt in her voice. She would get his breakfast, set down the paper and brew her coffee just like always.

     Her hand felt like cement as she brushed her teeth and combed her hair. Every routine movement felt like a heavy burden this morning. She took deep breaths to relieve the anxiety, letting the air out slowly. She stretched and touched her toes a few times to limber up before facing the workday. The show had to go on--no sad face for her students. They looked to her for joy and strength, and she always gave it sincerely and generously. She made teenagers laugh, taught them to focus, inspired them to succeed. None of that could change regardless of the dark abyss that had dug its way into her heart. Yes, the show had to go on. For the next several days, she knew that her smile would not be quite so sincere, and her voice might quiver at times, but her classroom was her safe place, and the connection she had created there would get her through the pain of her loss.

      Sitting down before her cereal and coffee, she sighed, “Another day in Paradise, Jack.
How will I inspire the youth of America today? Hmmm. Shall I make them perform? Shall I introduce the next project? Shall I . . . “ Suddenly tears filled her throat, choking her as she realized that Jack was not there. He would never be there again. Her mornings would be spent alone pretending.  The morning routine always gave her comfort and energized her for the day ahead. His being right there next to her provided an emotional security blanket especially in the darkness of winter.

      As she left for work that morning, her heart was heavy, yet she felt hollow. She never realized how much Jack was a part of the momentum that ushered her into each day.

Her students seemed to sense her pain. One who was always gregarious and pushing her buttons came up to her after class and asked, “Did you have a bad night, Mrs. Dumas? You seemed different today.” She brushed it off as being tired, and smiled as sincerely as she could, thanking him for his concern.

      On the way home, every traffic signal seemed too short. It was as if she just wanted to sit at every intersection as long as possible to avoid the inevitable emptiness that waited for her. Stores, houses, parks, pedestrians along the way seemed surreal as she approached her neighborhood.

     Opening the garage door, she pulled in slowly beginning to feel yet another wave of panic wash through her. She knew that it was going to take time, but time was standing still. Piling up her books and papers, she climbed the two steps to the back door feeling as though she were about to fall off a cliff. Once that door opened, the pain, the quiet would entrap her, and she didn’t know how she would even endure the first five minutes, much less a lifetime without him.

     Laying her books on the kitchen table, going over to the radio to put on her favorite disc, she could not bring herself to look down at his empty cage, the tiny wheel now still. “Hello, Jack,” she whispered. “I’m home.”