It was the first of September and she was fifty-five years old. That was when she realized what was happening. It was a slow revelation, almost like the dawn that never seemed to come. Or perhaps it came when she was sleeping in and she had just missed it.
It started with the empty nest syndrome as each of her children departed for college.
The sudden euphoria of not having such a jammed schedule slowly turned into a wistful remembrance of those same times.
Now, her car did not move out of the driveway. The dogs went to their pens in the large farmyard each morning. No one was there to run up and down the driveway carrying buckets and fresh eggs from the chicken coop. No one skipped breakfast and no one tattled on each other.
The house was now immaculate. Perfectly clean. No one left laundry in piles or spilled crumbs on the floor. There was no one to complain to or about. Just the dogs, and they were, of course, on a schedule.
The sound of the silence was deafening. The music and TV shows were now just a droning sound in the background, sayingthe same things over and over. Weather, politics, and occasionally a good series in the evening. Her husband was still around, even if just a body on the sofa, snoring nightly by 9:30 pm.
Her children had married and gone. They had jobs, stress, kids and their own issues. No one called. No one picked up the phone or even answered her texts. Yesterday her youngest finally picked up and snapped: “Mom I’m busy. I’ll call you back”, and of course the call never came.
Friends retired one by one and some had even passed on. Cancer, or heart attacks. They were the ones who perhaps were fortunate to have departed early. She was in good health. Her labs were fine. Her body ached at night from the arthritis of the cold climate but that was normal said the doctors. Aspirin. Daily.
Aspirin and alcohol. Vodka to be precise. She noticed vodka was good with many things from juice to ginger ale. No one seemed to mind or care. The vacation house they had for eight years was empty save for a few weeks that they could squeeze in. Her husband’s self -created business was not getting any easier. Judgements and jealousies, and back biting over money seemed to be the order of the day. It had spread to the family like a cancer. Relationships and conversations now revolved around money and position. Her children discussed all of these thingswithin the business. Days went by and she never heard their voices. How are the kids she asked her husband. Oh fine, he replied as he clicked the remote buttons. He did not even pause to look into her face.
Now she was dreaming again. The voices in the dream said: “Hi Mom. Love you Mom. Great food Mom. I did great at school today Mom. I had a hard day Mom. Thanks for driving me to dance Mom. I love my classes. I won the wrestling match today Mom.”
Snippets of life that had vanished like the sun setting over farm fields. She knew she had lost her joy. In the dream she cried out loud. She saw herself filling her time with church and hobbies. Floating through these recommended motions with a fake smile pasted on her face. Except for those who noticed her affluent husband during the offering times, and when it came time for fundraising, no one seemed to care.
“Stay busy dear” was the counselor’s advice. “Humph”. shethought, easy to do when you’re forty and feeling good. Not so easy with legs and hips that ache every day and a growing midsection.
She wanted to move to another state and see her grandchildren. Her spouse would not hear of it. “I have a business here he said. I cannot pack up and just move.” “Not even to retire?” she asked? Retirement was not too far away. “We will see he said.”
Each week she noticed the lines on his face got a little more pronounced. His stature was shrinking with age. Her few lady friends seemed to be in the same boat when on occasion shewould talk with them. Aches and pains and children that never called or really seemed to care. Well they did care, of course. They were all just “busy.”
It was all very depressing, like a black cloud that never went out to sea. She was not getting any better, just more immobilized. I need a change for sure she thought.
Their neighbor had hung himself in his barn a few years back. She thought about that.
It might be easier than using the gun that she knew was in the garage. No one ever knew why he did it. She seemed to know and understand why. It was loneliness and financial hardshipalong with strife and stress. Dreams that had died a painful death.
No one really knew for sure except maybe his spouse. It was quite shocking at the time since the man had a successful business and was known by many in the community. A real shame.
She recalled the business dinners, luncheons and more upbeat times of just ten years ago. Friends who were once there, were no longer married and had moved away. Their lives and familieshad been shattered by adultery. She had things to be thankful for certainly. No one had to remind her of that.
However, the loneliness of an empty life in her rural community was overwhelming. She thought about exercising more often and maybe taking some herbal mood enhancers. Yet, none of it really seemed to work.
Finally, on that September 1st at age fifty-five, she realized she was dying. A very slow depressing death. A downward spiral into the abyss of a life of nothingness. Meaningless. She did not want to call anyone. They did not want to hear her problems. She did not wish to go anywhere except as was absolutely necessary.
The gun was still in the garage. The muzzle was cool against her face. It would upset her husband she thought. It would be messy. It was still a better option than to just continue to die a slow depressing death in the middle of nowhere. It could take hours for anyone to know since no one would hear the gun shots. Just the dogs. Her kids would just go on with their lives.
The doorbell rang and the gardener stepped in. “How are you today ma’am? he asked. Peering into his eyes she saw black coals. It was just a job to him she thought. “I am just fine Juan “she lied.
“Ok “he said “I am going to work on the leak in the gutters today. You will hear a lot of noise, okay? I just wanted to warn you”. “OK” she said and closed the door behind him. That would be even better. The sound of the power washer would drown out the gun shot. Yet it was possible he would perhaps stop back in and find her alive. She shuddered to think what life would be like… probably handicapped, if she survived. Best to wait until no one was around.
Just then the side door was shadowed by a large man. It looked like the UPS delivery person. “Hello”, she said opening it up. “Is there a package?” “Yeh, there’s a package alright lady!” he said with a toothless grin. Just at that moment the gunshot hit her stomach and she looked down in horror as her own blood spewed all over the foyer. She screamed as the man forced hisway into the house and ran to the upstairs. She hit the floor in pain and thought This is not the way this is supposed to end!
Red blood continued to seep through her clothing. She reached for her cell phone in the jean pocket. She could hear him rummaging through the bedroom as she dialed. “Operator.” She whispered. “Help. I’ ve been shot.”
“Hang on said the 911 operator. Help is on the way. “
She passed out on the floor. The last thing she saw was the man’s black shoes quickly moving out of the door. He peered down at her and muttered “Dead, good.”
As he vanished the sound of the ambulance was the last thing she heard.