It was New Year's Day, a time for fresh starts. The sun was slowly climbing above the horizon. A gentle breeze rustled the palm fronds outside my bedroom window. And there on my screen was a text message.
Happy New Year, Paige. Think of you often. -A
Words that once would have lifted my heart and warmed my skin were now nothing more than a tedious annoyance. A gnat buzzing about by my ear. A lone strand of hair somewhere on the back of my shirt, completely unreachable but irritatingly brushing against my arm. Sun glare after a rainstorm when you've left your sunglasses home.
I set my phone back on the bedside table and stepped out of my bedroom to join the rest of my family. My mother was stretched across a living room sofa with a mug of mediocre coffee in one hand and the latest issue of Garden & Gun in the other. Leslie and Anders focused on the 1000-piece puzzle we had started a day prior. Olivia was in the kitchen eating a bagel.
Though I didn't look at the text again that day, I found myself taking moments to digest this new perspective. It was surreal without being unsettling. I felt like an actor in a long-running play for which I'd always been a lead character. Yet now I was seated in the audience. And from this view, it was a completely different story unfolding before my eyes.
Throughout my time with Alaska, I stood center stage. Yes, twice I caught him tangled up in lies that, upon untangling, indicated the presence of other women. One time he told me he was in Michigan visiting his sister. Another time he was fishing out on the Kenai Peninsula. It wasn't until I discovered crumpled up boarding passes, papers long forgotten, that the truth surfaced.
Now, somehow being expected to play the part of the other woman, my heart ached. Not for me, but for Alaska's wife. She was likely awakening in his Hawaii home, ignorant to the intimate note he sent a few hours earlier to a former love. She would brew coffee, run her fingers through his hair, suggest they run into town for breakfast. He'd kiss her on the lips, tuck his phone in his pocket, and wonder why I hadn't replied.
Five thousand miles away from me was a complete stranger living a life I once wanted. She married a charismatic man so easy to adore. She lives in one house with a view of Cook Inlet, in another perched on a cliff in paradise. It is a glamorous life that she has yet to learn is unbelievably fragile. Except there on my phone was the first crack. A sliver separating the ground beneath her flip-flop clad feet. An earthquake so gentle, she probably failed to even feel the shudder.
Running on the treadmill, lying by the pool, connecting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I found myself pausing to reflect. Having grown so far beyond the anger and heartache, I know exactly what comes next for his wife. There will be moments of sadness and fear, hurt and frustration. She will sob so hard her bones ache. She will attempt to forgive, though will struggle to forget. Eventually she will settle into a distrust that will blanket every movement Alaska makes.
Knowing this path slowly unfolding before her, being so familiar with the events to come, my heart broke for this woman. It was the only feeling I had in response to that text message. Well, that and utter disgust for the man who sent it.