Alana’s mother had warned her about the rocks covered in ice near the edge of the lake. The Johnson boy had slipped and tumbled headlong into murk. In 40 degree water, he quickly sank in his heavy winter coat, started to hyperventilate, and drowned before anyone knew he was gone.
“He’d only have lasted fifteen minutes or so before his muscles weakened. Blood moves away from the arms and legs towards the center of the body. Everything to protect the heart,” she said, touching hers. “The Johnson boy would have lost all coordination and strength,” Alana’s mother said. “He wouldn’t have known which way to swim until it was too late.”
Alana still found comfort standing, gazing out the windows with a picturesque view of the lake. All seasons had their best features. In winter, black branches and twigs poked angrily through a pristine white blanket of snow; multicolored rocks jutted at odd angles, looking like old men trying to get up. In summer, the smaller rocks were splendid things to skip across the glassy surface of the lake and to inspect for sedimentary properties.
Her mother would say, “Detrital sedimentary rocks result from erosion. Chemical sedimentary rocks result from dissolution.”
Erosion and dissolution, Alana thought with a grimace. Like her marriage.
She’d come to heal from her nasty divorce in her childhood home. Perhaps her mother, fount of wisdom and patience, could give her the means to go on. It all seemed so hopeless with her angry ex. Every conversation was a minefield.
As for her lover? Upon their affair being unceremoniously discovered, her lover simply called and said that his wife was willing to keep him and work on things for their children’s sake. And that was that.
It wasn’t until much later that she realized that her lover had begged his wife to stay.
As for Alana? Her lover hadn’t chosen his wife over her; he had clearly chosen his life with his wife over starting a new life with her. Better the devil you know. Either way, his sudden absence left her in bone-rattling withdrawals. Like a junkie, fresh out of dopamine. Her therapist flatly said, “Just as you were a projection of something he is trying to work out, he was a projection of something you are trying to work out.” What did that even mean? But by then and in short order, her life was in carnage.
She hadn’t meant for it all to go so wrong. Her marriage had been happy. Her adolescent girls, three emotional pink pom poms that bounced seamlessly from hysterical laughter to Greek tragedian tears, were with their father for the long weekend. In the new land of Acrimony and Weaponized Parenthood that she lived in, even this small favor of a weekend alone entailed half a dozen calls to lawyers at their exorbitant fee.
This is not where she wanted to be. Sequestered. Isolated. Mulling over her place in the universe in the same living room where she pondered the existence of Santa Claus. She rested her forehead on the cold glass of the double-pane storm windows. It was the wee hours; she couldn’t sleep these days. Her mother would not be up for quite some time.
Alana wanted to work through her talking points before letting her mother deconstruct her arguments, showing Alana carefully her flaws in logic and reasoning, the confirmation bias that made Alana believe things she knew to be untrue but held onto out of pure emotion. Was this really all her fault? Her ex kept telling her it was. And besides her mother—he’d been the only honest person in her whole life.
The idea of being single again after being married for so many decades started like most bad ideas—with too many bottles of wine with other bored wives at a baby shower.
“I heard Michelle Pritchard is getting a divorce—”
“It’s about time. Her husband is such an ox.”
“We went out line dancing with Michelle and her friends and I couldn’t believe how many men asked us to dance. I felt like I was sixteen—”
“My husband won’t go to counseling and I’m so fed up. I sit in the driveway and cry. I hate going home sometimes.”
“Michelle Pritchard’s best friend from high school is getting a divorce, too. Her lawyer should have given them a 2-for-1 discount. You know how these things go.”
Alana did. She saw Michelle Pritchard—newly shed of thirty pounds—dressed in tight jeans and make-up at the grocery store at 8:00 a.m. Right after the morning car loop at school! Who was she trying to impress—the butcher? Alana watched Michelle Pritchard go out on dates, picked up by a variety of fairly attractive men, fresh off the It’s Our Time! dating app. Michelle Pritchard seemed to luxuriate in her newfound freedom—with the bonus of every other weekend off, as her boys were packed up for her ex-husband to deal with.
Alana watched Michelle Pritchard closely, envying her new wardrobe and dazzling smile. While Michelle Pritchard went to happy hour with her new friends, Alana returned home to try out a new chicken recipe that her girls would hate and wear a new blouse that her husband wouldn’t notice.
But her lover noticed her blouse. He had been a friend at work, really. Then more of a friend. Then an obsession. She had wanted them to get caught—to force his hand to do something. A grand gesture. Her therapist unemotionally chastised her: “Your affair—or what I like to call a distraction—purely gave you a sense of relief from the loneliness in your life. You chose not to take responsibility for filling the enormous hole that you created by having unrealistic expectations.”
She quit going to counseling because her therapist was right.
Her forehead was cold, as she continued to press it against the glass. She looked at the blanket of white outside, quietly muffling the normal sounds of the woods, the dead leaves rustling in the wind, the water of the lake.
The holidays would soon be upon them. The first season with the girls shuttling between two households, playing parents against each other in a guilt-inducing trial by combat. She closed her eyes and wondered what Michelle Pritchard was doing for the holidays.
Alana thought of her own childhood, her own adolescence, her own parent’s divorce and how deeply it hurt her. The sins of the fathers.
And much like the Johnson boy who didn’t notice the glazed rocks, using magical thinking to believe that his actions had no consequences, he boldly climbed all over the rocks covered in ice near the edge of the lake.
If only Alana had remembered that she had vowed to protect the heart, not the extremities, which had caused her to step tentatively on the frozen surface of a very dangerous lake—a lake that’d she’d tumbled headlong into, not knowing which way to swim until it was too late.