Fifteen Years Later
“Ocean Breathes Salty” played on the radio above the noise of my cell phone ringing on the bedside table next to it.
I groaned, shifting from my right shoulder and onto my stomach, a pillow smack against my face. My eyelids stuck together as I reached out my arm, clasping the phone. A sharp pain moved down the right side of my back, primarily the shoulder blade area.
Fuck getting old.
“Hello?” I croaked into the phone, trying to ignore the song. Jamie, my ex, popped into my head enough. I didn’t need a song reminding me of him, too.
As my eyes slowly opened, I blinked back the sharp light that spilled in from half-open blinds above the bed frame. On further inspection, I noticed the icicles clinging to the windows had melted away. Leftover from the freak February snow storm we’d had on my “favorite” holiday of all, Valentine’s Day (said me, never). Nothing but damp residual dripped on the outside now.
“Jemma, honey, it’s your mother.” Mom’s upbeat, yet subtextually judgmental tone blasted into my eardrums.
I pressed the cell against my cheek and rolled onto my back.
“Oh, uh, morning, Ma.” I sounded froggy as hell.
“What’s wrong with your voice?” Mom asked. “Were you still sleeping at this hour?”
The clock on the wall read 9:30 am.
“Uh, yeah, I guess I overslept.” I shrugged. Not that oversleeping was even a thing for me at this point. I never had anywhere to be other than my therapy appointments once a week in the late afternoon.
“Again?” Mom’s clicked her tongue in disapproval, and I could feel her shaking her head from the other end of that receiver. “Is it your anxiety keeping you up at night? I should call Paul. Maybe he can up the Xanax dosage.”
Paul. Or, as I usually called him, Doctor Wiig. Somehow Mom ended up on a first name basis with most of my therapists, though, so I was used to her talking about these doctors like they’d been friends for years.
“No, Ma, I’m fine. Really. Just up late… binging a Netflix show, that’s all.”
She didn’t need to know the truth.
She didn’t need to know the truth.
“Alright, well—” Mom cut off abruptly, and we sat there listening to nothing but white noise. The silence was painful. Eventually, in a deadpan tone, she added, “Hope the show was good.”
We both let out a stifled laugh, and I slid my feet down to the carpet, plopping them against the floor with oomph the same way I added the button to the end of a chapter in one of my books. Adding the button, as I liked to call it, meant that extra oomph before the closing of a scene. Except, unfortunately in this case, Mom was still on the line, and I didn’t even exactly know why she was calling.
I crossed the empty room, scarce of mostly everything. Dave had taken almost all the furniture in the divorce. I stepped over bumps in the rug, seeing the ghostly imprints from a bureau that had been here just a couple of weeks ago. These imprints were all over the room. One next to the bed that had been our side table, and another right next to the bathroom where I headed. Those imprints were from a faux fireplace that also served as the mantle for our LED TV. Dave was now the proud possessor of an entire household set of furniture.
And me? Hell, I had an entire empty two-bedroom house to myself. Woot. Life was really looking up.
My free hand reached for the handle to the bathroom, and I looked back at my IKEA bedframe. The one I’d purchased last week so I had more than a mattress to sleep on. Dave was kind enough to let me keep the mattress.
Like me, the flimsy black frame appeared as if it could snap at any time.
“Jemma? Are you listening? Now I’m really getting concerned.”
“I’m here. Sorry.” I flicked on the light switch in the bathroom and stared into the water-streaked mirror above the sink. A row of lightbulbs over the mirror illuminated my face. Two of the five bulbs needed replacements. Something I’d get around to changing eventually. But the light was enough for me to see my reflection. Specifically, the bags beneath my eyes, in the middle of a puffy, round face.
I read somewhere once that a sign of getting old was looking tired all the time. And these bags just wouldn’t seem to disappear. I guess that meant I should start welcoming the inevitable reality of my impending old age.
Everything about me seemed bland now. Neutral face. Faded green eyes. Mousy-brown hair that stuck to my skin like itchy straw.
I poked a finger beneath my right eye. Strange. It didn’t feel any puffier than it did when I was younger. But something internally was hollower than ever.
“Well, since you don’t seem to be here with me this morning,” Mom said, “I’m simply going to come out and say it.”
“What’s wrong? Who died?” I asked jokingly. Mom called me a lot, yeah, but typically she reserved her random checkups for the afternoon. After I’d slaved over my laptop for hours, banging away on my keyboard, attempting to finalize a manuscript I couldn’t seem to complete. You know, the one my agent had been waiting to receive. The next bestseller. No pressure or anything. I merely had to submit a novel that sold more than the first four.
Yeah, life was real great these days.
Maybe I should take Mom up on that offer to call Dr. Wiig. After all, my love affair with Xanax seemed to be the only one that ever lasted.
“Are you sitting down?” Mom asked.
“I think you should be sitting down for this.”
“Uh…” I slowly inched out of the bathroom and found my way back to the bed. Sliding down against the sheets, I asked in a more serious voice, “What is it?”
Mom said the next words as if she were simply giving me a weather report for the day.
“Ocean Breathes Salty” carried me away.