Mornings Are Hardest
Dolores watched as the gray light of dawn began to filter through the bedroom curtain. Now – finally – she could give herself permission to rise from her sleepless bed.
Glancing over at Dave’s side, Dolores’ heart began to beat an anxious tattoo. Business had taken him out of town. She never slept well when Dave wasn’t home. She needed him. His presence kept the sadness and confusion at bay. It made her feel she could cope.
Struggling to sit up, she swung her once-trim legs over the side of the bed.
Dave used to tell their friends it was her legs that had grabbed his attention those many years ago. First time he’d noticed her, she’d been standing in front of the old Majestic movie house, surrounded by a group of giggling girlfriends. Years later, he couldn’t remember the name of the movie, but he still recalled her short white skirt and the long legs that were tanned and slender. “All it took to steal my heart,” he used to say, “was one look at the laughing girl with the gorgeous legs.”
She’d always loved that story. She liked the way his eyes softened when he told it.
She’d maintained those legs so loved by Dave well into her fourth decade thanks to a stringent running program. Staring at the pockets of fat that now surrounded her knees she wondered what had become of the woman who used to run half-marathons.
Now the only running she did was from memories.
The extra layer of flesh around her middle reminded her that a woman’s metabolism slowed as she aged. But Dolores knew she couldn’t blame the extra pounds on the 50th birthday that had come and gone. It went deeper than that.
She just ate too damned much.
In their last session, Dr. Hammond suggested she used food as a crutch, a way to fill the emptiness in her heart. Clever man, Dr. Hammond, the way he tried to set a trap for her. Sensing pride in her once good looks, he used it against her.
“Why don’t you and Dave start taking a nightly walk on the street in front of your house? Think of it as small steps,” he said, grinning.
Small steps back to who she once was…
This is what things have come to, she thought, trying to force myself to take a walk down the street.
Once Dolores’ calendar had been proof of a busy life: luncheon engagements, shopping dates with friends, theater matinees. There had been high school sporting events, church on Sundays. And, of course, holidays.
Lovely summer holidays spent by the ocean, watching Teddy and Sarah splash in the surf while Dave lay by her side, snoozing in the sand. Sweet days followed by jolly nights in which the four of them strolled the boardwalk. Amidst the confusion of happy crowds, their laughter competed with the loud carnival music and spiel of concession stand barkers.
Closing her eyes, Dolores could once again feel the pressure of Teddy’s small hand, see again his eager little face aglow with excitement… feel him leading her toward the rides, begging for one more turn on the Ferris wheel.
Busy times back then. Always something to do, something to look forward to.
Sometimes Dolores dreamed she was again by the seashore, looking out toward the ocean, watching her boy frolicking in the waves. In those dreams, Teddy never turned to look her way, no matter how urgently she called his name. The crash of the surf drowned out her cries, and Teddy continued to play in the foamy waters, his face pointed toward some destination Dolores couldn’t see.
Then she’d awake, shaken, her face moist with tears, and head for the kitchen. Sitting in the dark, she’d hold a tub of ice cream, spooning its creamy sweetness into her mouth. She’d eat straight from the carton, silently, her tears drying stiffly on her face.
How much time does it take for a broken heart to mend? Unable to answer that question, Dolores continued to eat – and hide inside her house.
The only time she left it was for the sessions with Dr. Hammond, appointments that Dave insisted she keep. Except for those, she never ventured out. It was Dave who did the marketing, who accompanied Sarah when shopping for her prom dress. Dave did everything – and Dolores continued to hide, getting fatter, growing sadder.
It wasn’t fair to Dave. She knew it. She saw the unhappiness in his eyes. One night, while they lay close in the darkness, he whispered, “I feel like I’ve lost you both. Please, Dolores, come back…”
But Dolores had lost her way. She’d once been the laughing girl with the pretty legs; she didn’t recognize this new Dolores, a stranger who hadn’t the tools to navigate her way through the fog that surrounded her.
Dave didn’t understand. He needed the comfort of family and friends. This difference stood between them like a wall. She didn’t want the well-meaning advice or condolences of friends. She was relieved when people stopped calling; glad, even, to finally have some peace. It required too much of her, being cheerful all the time. It was exhausting to pretend she was still the woman who once shared amusing anecdotes about Sarah’s high school dates or Teddy’s genius with old cars.
A wave of pain threatened to engulf her, and she rose awkwardly from the bed. Pulling on an old, faded robe, she headed down the hallway and into the kitchen and began to make coffee. How many times had she stood in this room, performing just this task? Every morning for as long as she could remember.
Even that morning the black car had pulled into their driveway…
Dolores froze for a moment, disturbed by the memory. Taking a deep breath, she pushed it back.
She suddenly found her attention fixed on a piece of cracked tile in front of the sink and frowned. How many times have I asked Dave to replace this tile? But just as quickly as it surfaced, Dolores’ annoyance faded. It wasn’t Dave’s procrastination that bothered her. It was her fear that she was like that tile – damaged, perhaps irreparably.
Reaching into the cupboard, her hand fastened on a small bottle with miniscule print on its label. As water streamed from the faucet into her glass, she looked out the kitchen window. There were still patches of snow on the ground and the skies were a leaden gray.
It was in winter they’d gotten word about Teddy.
Grabbing the pill bottle, she stumbled clumsily onto a kitchen chair, trying to push back the dark tide of feeling.
Dave! Please come home now, she thought, I can’t be here by myself!
But Dave wasn’t there and this time the memory held, and Dolores felt the room begin to spin.
That winter, a man in uniform had emerged from the black car and knocked gently on their front door. He’d removed his hat and sat down at the kitchen table and said the words that forever changed their lives.
“…Ted was out on patrol, a skirmish occurred… stress, confusion… he went down… I’m afraid the shot was from one of our own… friendly fire…”
Dolores had barely heard the kindly captain, his voice low, regretful. She just registered two words: friendly fire. Such a gentle term for something so cruel.
And now her boy was gone, dying in some village whose name she couldn’t even pronounce.
Her Teddy, whose eager young eyes had once looked expectantly into hers…
With shaking hands, Dolores jerked the bottle open, accidentally spilling its contents onto the table’s surface. How many of these would it take to end the pain?
Woodenly, she gathered up the pills, dropping all but one back into the bottle.
Not yet… She could make it through one more day. And the one after that. She knew she could.
Swallowing the pill, she waited for it to do its job. Mornings were always hardest – before the medication kicked in.
Moments later, Dolores walked over to the refrigerator and took out the tub of ice cream.
© 2015 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer
Photo credit: ‘Depression’ by Swiniaki, Deviant Art