While You Were Out

While he was out, the bombing started. She was at home because that's where women always were when such things happened. He, on the other hand, was out because that's where men always were when such things happened. While you were out — that was how the note she would leave him would invariably have to begin now. While you were out the world exploded, and I, at the time, was home, so I will be gone by the time you return.

When she was young, and as entirely impressionable as the age had dictated, she had watched a television program about life as it would have been in the town she grew up in had someone somewhere managed to deploy a nuclear bomb upon it. She had found the experience, appropriately, affecting, and she had never forgotten what she had seen, or how it had made her feel, or the image of the mother wrapping her dearly departed child in a sheet. It depressed her before she was even grown up enough to do depression well.

Although it could not, in all likelihood, be wholly attributed to the simple act of her having watched a television show, something like twenty years of intermittent bouts with depression had followed. It was not until three years ago, when she had met her first, current, and, as of today, very likely last, husband, that the gray cloud of depression routinely exploding around her head had finally lifted to float just above her eye-level.

Now, though, of course, with this mushroom cloud detonating over and over again across every television screen in every living room across America, her husband was, in fact, out. Initially, and perhaps in hindsight somewhat unrealistically, she had tried to deny the cloud's existence. But every time she had changed the channel, the cloud had come back, reintroducing itself into her evidentiary file. There was no denying a rerun, she realized.

She had to admit, this was not what she expected. She had envisioned something more like a slow car's quite glide across the black ice of a nighttime street, the slow fall of a supine body onto a hospital bed, the poetic righteousness of a personal eclipse among concentric circles of family members. For her, this endless time between the beginning of the end and the end of the end, with no hand to hang from, was utterly unfathomable.

Right then and there, she decided, she would not have it. Instead, she vowed, there would be a brisk gathering up of keys and purse, a savage putting on of a crisp blazer, a near dog-like shaking off of every drop of doubt and fear to send them all flying out into the unacknowledged nethers of her carpet. She would, in a sort of Gloria Steinem meets Madeline Albright type of way, divorce herself from every victimhood, ever, everywhere.

Unfortunately, though, that was not her. She was the kind of person who needed days of prep time and hours of coaching conversation before she could make any major move. She didn't live in a constant state of paralysis, she was just highly aware the sludge the human brain floated in was composed of quicksand. Therefore, she watched her step. Thankfully, most of the time her husband stood nearby, holding out wooden planking.

Under these circumstances, she considered, wooden planking would only serve her as a stretcher. She wished she had a groin that made her want to run out and buy a shotgun and a flag, a chest that made her long to organize smaller women and even smaller children into protective lines behind her, a mind that propelled her into buying copious food supplies while digging the perfect bomb shelter and simultaneously barking orders.

She didn't. Her usual approach to life's crises, which typically took place somewhere between her kitchen and her desk, was to retire from her current position and go to bed. There was nothing more therapeutic than fifty minutes of "Ricki Lake" or a session with "Jenny Jones." Those people made her brain feel like Wonderbread topped in Velveeta.

What did women do in wartime?, she wondered. Angela Davis had hid a gun in her afro. Patty Hearst had picked up an assault weapon-although, she was brainwashed into doing so. Her mother, for her part, had read "The Feminine Mystique" while vacuuming. She held her hands in front of herself and tried to imagine what she might hold in them.

She wished it was 1942. She wouldn't have had to draft a plan back then because the country drafted one for you. She would have been terrifically happy to spend her days making cans in a factory, terribly overjoyed to spend her nights growing vegetables in the yard. Life was simpler when the world was anything other than an omnipresent fog from which you could not escape. What kind of blueprint were you supposed to draw when all the paper had been exploded? Even now, with the world awoken, there was no answer.

She thought of all the things she had never done. She had never organized a fundraiser, or a food-drive, or a not-for-profit event. She had never become a supermodel. She had never run naked through Harvard Square, and, of course, she had never gone to Harvard. She had never even produced a small, fleshier version of herself upon which to dote.

However, she had once allowed her husband to lead her down a horrifyingly steep cliff in the middle of a black night to a secret natural hot-springs that only he knew about, somewhere in the middle of a huge forest at the end of a long road, at the bottom of which was a rock pool so old that probably Indians had made it, whereat the cold river water and hot spring water mixed, and right there she took off every stitch of her clothes, which was quite unusual for her, and then she held her husband close to her in the water.

But was that enough? She had so many of those. Christ, she had kept every last one of them in a locked box on top of her dresser to enable re-visitations. And she had tons more too, involving convertible car-rides and rock-bedded oceans and small pup-tents and handholding street sprints and teeter-tottering sex-acts. But what if no one ever stumbled upon the box, and opened up the lid, and saw what was in it? Was it, alone, enough?

Today, she thought, maybe it was. Truth be told, she thought, if it was not, considering everything that was happening, now it would have to be. Maybe, really, the point was that if you had a box filled to overflowing, and, at this point, she had to admit, a little shyly, it was, and not just a bunch of old jewelry and some dust, that was not a bad haul. Maybe, she thought, it was a fine catch. And she hadn't even had to hold-up a bank.

A long time ago, when she was very, very young, younger than watching the TV show even, her father had died. One night, he was there. The next morning, when she woke up, bloop!, he was gone. After her mother had come into her room and told her what had happened, she had walked down the stairs to the living room. She had expected to find a chalk-outline in the middle of the room to show her where her father had fallen. There he was, she could think forever, and be careful not to erase it or tread there ever again.

That was not, she saw, the way life worked out. At that moment, she decided she would wait until the orange explosion came searing through her home, and when the cloud of dust settled, she would still be here. She went to the front window and pulled back the curtain. "Fuck you," she said to the world. She didn't need it. She had everything already. She went to the kitchen to write a different note for her husband. Posted to the door, it would read, Welcome home, dear, I am here, waiting for you, and I can hardly wait to hold you.

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