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Today the story continues.
Karen’s confidence in The Plan grew with each passing truck and with each Adele song playing through her headphones.
When will I see you again?
You left with no goodbye,
Not a single word was said,
No final kiss to seal any sins,
I had no idea of the state we were in.
You’ve got to hand it to Adele: if your heart is broken and you are searching for the final impetus to heave yourself in front of oncoming traffic, she is your go-to gal. There should be a Grammy Award for songs most likely to prompt suicide, although winning it could be a bit of a downer.
Just when she was certain she had the courage to make the leap, Karen realized The Plan had a scheduling conflict: her brother Doug was arriving in town that morning and staying at her house for the night. They were having lunch with her son, their sister Melanie, and their dad that day, and dinner was scheduled with the siblings that night.
It seemed rude to not only cancel at the last minute, but also to do so in such a violent manner. Opening the calendar app on her iPhone, she realized she had plenty of openings for the Ultimate Closing the following week, and she resigned herself to making it home in one piece. As she headed back to the house, Adele’s siren songs and Karen’s shock over the sudden loss of her marriage and family seemed unreal. As she blundered home, her eyes were again blinded by the never-ending river of tears: unrelenting and wet as the Pacific Northwest skies in winter.
As she had done so many times before in her life, she engaged in self-flagellation in its most perfect form: the cattails of self-loathing, criticism, and feelings of being unlovable whipped her senses with the ferocity of the most fearful Catholics during the Black Plague. Denial mixed with a self-hatred so perfectly formed as to be almost enviable, and she looked forward to execution of The Plan at her calendar’s next opening.
Didn’t I give it all,
Tried my best,
Gave you everything I had,
Everything and no less?
Didn’t I do it right?
Did I let you down?
Maybe you got too used to
Well, having me around.
Still how can you walk away
From all my tears?
It’s gonna be an empty road
Without me right here.
Less than a mile from home, her phone rang. It was her sister, and while normally Karen would dodge the call during such an important truck-induced self-immolation strategy planning session, Melanie was with Karen’s son. Worried something was wrong, she took the call. Or, she tried to.
“What’s wrong with you?” Melanie asked. “I can’t understand anything you are saying. Are you OK?”
Karen couldn’t get any intelligible words out. She could not breathe, much less communicate in any reasonable way. Melanie had received Karen’s text earlier with the news so she wasn’t too surprised at Karen’s mental state.
“Listen, the kid is sitting here,” Melanie warned. Karen knew her sister did not want her son to worry about her, so she confirmed their lunch date and they ended the call.
“You know, you are going to be OK, so please believe that,” Melanie urged her before hanging up. “You are so strong and smart and loving. He never treated you the way you treated him. Your relationship was completely lopsided, at least as far as I could see from an outsider’s perspective. The immediate future looks dark but I promise you, you are going to be OK. Not just OK, Karen: you are going to thrive.”
Karen couldn’t answer. She gulped for air through her weeping and made guttural noises similar to those made by a turkey being slowly strangled to death with an extension cord.
“This isn’t happening to me. This isn’t happening to me. This isn’t happening to us.”
But no matter how many times she repeated the lie, she knew it was just that: a lie. He had been signaling his departure for some time, then rescinding the message of marital abandonment and professing his love for her and their life together. Little did she know at the time what a lie it truly all was.
If not for her prior commitments to her family, that would have been Karen’s last day. She would have shuffled off this mortal coil, been scraped off the road, identified by her spectacular ankles, deposited into the nearest crematorium, and celebrated at a poorly-attended yet downright rowdy memorial service.
‘Cause there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew,
All the things you’d say,
They were never true, never true,
And the games you’d play
You would always win, always win.
Her phone rang again. “Dad” popped up on the caller ID and she reflexively moved to send the call to voicemail. Just before her finger made the move, she felt instinctively that this was a call she needed to take.
“Karen, are we still on for lunch today?” he asked. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone.”
Karen made a glub-glub-glub noise and blew her nose onto her sleeve.
“I can’t hear you, what are you saying? Hello? Can you hear me? What’s going on?”
Somehow she managed to choke it all out: the end of the marriage, the terror, the fierce determination not to become a woman twice-divorced.
“I want you to stop right now and listen to me, God damn it. Stop walking, shut up, and listen to me.”
Karen glub-glub-glubbed acquiescence.
“You can be a difficult woman.” With that opening salvo, she began to reconsider ditching, no pun intended, her family plans for The Plan after all.
“You are challenging, brilliant, funny, and wise. Do you understand how unusual you are? How special? Do you hear me?”
She gurgled in the negative. Her response, difficult as it was to ascertain, indicated if she were indeed so wonderful and special, Jim would not have left her.
“No, you are exactly wrong,” her dad insisted. “You are exactly, perfectly, exquisitely wrong. Everything about you that makes you the unique and wondrous woman you are makes you deeply ill-suited for Jim.”
She stopped walking and stood very still, looking out across the valley, as he went on.
“For years, I have been watching you break yourself in half trying to please people who not only won’t, but who can’t love and appreciate you. It has been painful to observe. The very essence of who you are seems to evaporate in the presence of Jim and his family. We only get to see the real you when they aren’t around.
“When you started writing, I knew your marriage was over. Your voice was resounding in its rejection of the woman Jim wanted you to be. You finally became you, Karen. And you are too special for him. You knew who Jim was when you married him so let me ask you this: did you ever try to change who he was or the fundamentals of his belief system and personality?”
“No,” she whispered. “I love those things about him.”
“Well, I’m afraid that love of his core essence was not reciprocated. The novelty of Karen wore off. I like the guy fine but I sensed for a long while that he needed someone very different: someone compliant, quiet, emotionally inaccessible, and ordinary in every way. I’m surprised he ever divorced his first wife, frankly, given how good a match they should have been.”
Just then Karen was struck by the sudden realization that for the first time in what seemed like 12 hours, she was not crying. Her eyes and cheeks were dry. Her nose was no longer a faucet of snotty grief, terror, and disappointment.
“You’re too special for him, Karen. You’re too special for them. And frankly, that’s OK. We all have to find the lids that fit our particular pot. You won’t understand this for some time, but I am happy for you. I am excited for you. Your future is wide open and limitless. Your son would never get over it if you left him. You know that. I will personally haunt you into the next life and the one after that if you leave us. So cry today and cry tomorrow if you must but pull yourself together and get ready for the greatest adventure of your life. This is the final stage of your chrysalis, so why would you miss the opportunity to see how your story ends and just how far you can fly?”
Something happened in that moment that Karen would later describe as not only epiphanic, but life-altering in a way so profound as to shatter the foundation of pain, sadness, and self-loathing upon which she had built her life for so many years. If you think you don’t deserve love, you don’t receive love. You choose to surround yourself with people who cannot or will not give you love, because your pain needs to be fed a constant diet of rejection and apathy from others. But what happens if you change everything about the way you view yourself? What happens if you finally believe someone when they tell you you’re special and wondrous and difficult and worthy?
She was about to find out. And with that, she knew she would survive. She knew the coming months would be hard, although she had no idea just how difficult they would get. She would discover things that tested her belief in love and whether you could ever truly know someone. She would find out that her best quality, a never-ending supply of empathy for others, was also the quality most lacking in Jim. She would be in the fight for her life, on her own, and she would test every limit she ever knew she had.
Karen hung up the phone with her father, promising him that she wouldn’t pick today as her last. As she walked down the hill to the house she and Jim always lovingly referred to as their “Forever Home,” she realized that she had never been more uncertain in her life, while simultaneously sure of one thing:
She and the kid were going to be OK.
Knowing that, she turned off Adele and selected her favorite song from “Hamilton.”
I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot
It’s time to take a shot!