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FICTION / You Can't Get There From Here / Megan Gordon

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You look out the window to the ground below, a patchwork of neat green rectangles with houses that look like they came from a Monopoly box. Homes. You eye them absently and think it would be nice to have a home.

You suppose that, depending on your perspective, you did have one a few short hours ago. But, you reason, that was just a house. A space you occupied with a family you created but never seemed to fit into. They will be better off without you.

"What can I get for you?" asks the flight attendant, a faded blonde woman who probably once dreamed of wearing that uniform and jetting around the world but now spends eight hours a day going back and forth between Atlanta and Cleveland, serving Coke in tiny cups to business travelers who wonder why in the world anyone would voluntarily go to Cleveland. 

You decline the offer of a beverage and put your head against the window. You are voluntarily going to Cleveland, at least in theory. Just hours ago you climbed in a cab that would take you to the airport, where you vowed to take the very next domestic flight available. Cleveland, the overly cheerful ticket agent had offered, by way of Atlanta. No, there are no non-stops available to Cleveland. Not from here. You paid cash. You brought no luggage, just your favorite hobo bag and an extra pair of underwear. A new life will require new accoutrements.

It's your own fault, you understand, that this life didn't work out the way you wanted it to. You had such plans, dreams for the future. You laid on your back in the yard, hands cradling your head, and told the stars you’d see them up close soon. You stood in front of the mirror, accepting your Academy Award as the director of the latest blockbuster. You practiced your acceptance speech for your Nobel Prize in medicine. Be practical, your father said. You saw your future self as strong, independent. You would adopt needy children and raise them on your own. Don’t you want to be married?, your mother asked. They told you often, without ever saying it, that perhaps you were not good enough. Not a good enough student, not a hard enough worker, probably not pretty enough, either.  Mary Jones down the street is so smart, they would remark. Mr. Pliner’s daughter is such a beauty,you’d hear once in a while. You took their lack of praise for you to mean that they saw nothing worthy in you, and you could feel their disappointment waft off their skin like drugstore cologne, sharp and cloying. It settled into your chest, became an essential part of you, and all you wanted was to be something, anything but ordinary. 

Then David entered your life, and he fell in love with you. Handsome, ambitious David, with his curly brown hair and warm brown eyes. A man like him looked at you as if you were something special, told you were beautiful and smart, and you wanted to believe him so you disappeared into the life he imagined for himself. You painted his dreams over yours and the next thing you knew there were babies and a dog and a pool in the backyard and you didn't know who you were, just that you were ordinary, not the shiny, beautiful unicorn you’d wanted to be but a worn-out brood mare with stretch marks and saggy tits.

So you began desperately searching for the person you were meant to be. You went back to school to earn your master's, but there was barely time to attend class between soccer practices and piano lessons and room mother duties, let alone time to work on your thesis. You joined a book club but quit after the second bodice-ripping period romance.

The affair brought you closest to the real you. He was a stay-at-home dad who'd decided that raising his twin daughters would be more fulfilling than designing houses for people who had more money than taste or common sense. His wife was a prominent attorney whom he was afraid to leave because she would destroy him in the divorce. He knew this because she'd told him so after his first affair. 

He'd made you feel smart, he asked your opinion on things and actually listened when you answered. With him you were seen, heard—you were there. Somehow you’d forgotten that in the beginning David told you were smart and talented and beautiful, but you never believed him. You never quite understood what he saw in you no matter how many times he tried to explain it. Attraction is about subtleties, things that dance out of our grasp when we try to put words to them, and propping up someone’s ego is exhausting, so eventually he stopped trying, which only confirmed what you’d suspected. How do you continue to love someone who doesn’t love themselves? The attention of another man while you were searching for the real you made you feel worthy,  but the deception was too much, it pulled you away from who you had decided to be. The you in your head was virtuous, above reproach, not someone who snuck around and quietly fucked someone else's husband in various bathrooms around the neighborhood during PTA committee meetings.

You look out the window again, but there is nothing to see, just miles of blue sky. You are suspended in mid-air. That seems about right. You pull down the shade because you can't keep staring your emptiness in the face. The woman in the middle seat gives you a sour look so you push it back up. But you still don't want it up so you put it back down and close your eyes, pretending to sleep so you don't have to see the expression you know she's making.

Behind your eyelids the movie of your life flickers. The sorority you rushed but weren’t invited to join. The PR internship you loved but couldn’t turn into a job. The birth of each of your daughters, eager, fat babies, one who rarely cried, one who rarely stopped. First steps, first periods, first dates. Now waking up to their first hours without a mother. You left them notes, scratched out on the kitchen counter by the light of the range hood, but a sheet of weighty paper embossed with your initials is a poor substitute for a mom. But then youare a poor substitute for a mom. The words you wrote are far better than any you would have said to them, the comfort more sincere than any you would have given them after a heart-wrenching breakup or the receipt of a thin envelope from the college she’d had her heart set on since she was six. Your whole-hearted absence is far better than your half-hearted presence, of this you are certain.

And what about David? It occurs to you that he might miss you, once he notices that you are gone. Yes, you left him a note, but you, maybe subconsciously, placed it in the kitchen, a place he rarely goes. He'll get hungry eventually and wander in there, you think. Any time before that happens, you can't be sure whether or not he'll notice your absence. These days he barely notices your presence. That, too, is your fault. Your bigger-than-life husband deflated when you finally admitted your adultery. He'd suspected, maybe noticing a patch of razor burn on your neck or catching the faint scent of unfamiliar cologne on your clothes. You’d suspected he'd suspected, catching a glance at you held longer than it should have been, an awkward question about what you did one day, but because he never said anything to you, you'd assumed he couldn't have cared less. But you were careless and after a while it became so obvious that there wasn't anyone in your life who hadn't guessed what you were up to. David realized everyone thought him a fool; he had no choice but to ask you flat out. To your credit, you didn't lie. You didn't even hesitate. Of course you were under the impression that it was of no consequence, so there was nothing to lose from your honesty. Until there was. Once your words hit his ears and their meaning registered in his brain, the man you'd spent every day of your life with for the past 20 years didn't look like himself anymore. Your betrayal and the casual way you seemed to regard it extracted something vital from him, tamped down the light in his eyes.

The word divorce never crossed his lips. Marriage counseling, he'd said, was the way forward. He still loved you, he'd said. We can save this, he'd said. You nodded mutely, wondering if that were true. It took only minutes for you to know, in the depths of your soul, that it was not true. Not at all.

But you faked it, as much as you were able to, until you knew you couldn't walk into that dull, brown room with the comfortable leather chairs and the box of tissues on the coffee table next to the statue of some long-forgotten fertility goddess and pretend you wanted what your husband did. You couldn't look at the counselor—a sweet, shy woman who always seemed startled when you spoke—and say what you knew you were supposed to say, what she wanted you to say and what David needed you to say. Last week's session was your last, you'd decided. But you didn't know you were going to leave your life until early this morning. 

It was some sort of dream; you can't remember exactly what it was about, but when you woke from it, sweaty and short of breath, heart pounding as if it meant to break free, something fundamental had changed. All you could remember was how you felt, like you were choking, and no one noticed or perhaps they simply didn't care. You knew, for sure this time, that you were alone.

So now you are here, thousands of feet above the ground, hurtling toward northern Ohio and a fresh start. 

Except.

Except that you are still you, with all your deficits and defects, the same person who just yesterday spent an afternoon wandering around the men's department in Bloomingdale's, watching that cute young sales guy in his tailored grey suit. God, he smelled good. He caught you looking at him and you slid your eyes toward the fitting room, your expression and body language an invitation. He gave a half smile and went off to help an unenthusiastic teenager with an acne-ravaged face choose a suit for “some stupid wedding.” You decided that he didn't reject you, he simply hadn't understood. You drove home feeling old, unappealing, and only vaguely guilty. Maybe a little relieved.

There is no reason to believe that anything will change except your location. But maybe that's enough, you think, as the pilot informs you that you are beginning your descent.


Megan Gordon is a former copywriter who decided to chuck it all and run away with her first love, fiction. Her work has been featured in Red Fez, Not Your Mother's Breast Milk, and The Flexible Persona.