Home > I'm Fine and Neither Are You(11)

I'm Fine and Neither Are You(11)
Author: Camille Pagán

“I’m going to look into that.” She stopped wiping the counter, cocked her head, and looked at me. “Why, you want to join me?”

“Maybe,” I said.

She went back to sponging the marble. “You’re so lucky, you know.”

I was sitting on a barstool that I happened to know cost more than every single item I was wearing as well as the purse I had left on a hook in the foyer, and sipping fine wine out of an expensive glass that was part of a set that one of Jenny’s sponsors had sent her as a thank-you for allowing them to advertise on her website. (That the company thanked her for letting them pay her still boggled my mind.) “And how’s that?”

She tossed the crumbs in her hand into the garbage and put the sponge in the dishwasher. “Never mind.”

“No, spill it,” I pressed. “I could use a refresher on the perks of being Penelope.”

“Well . . .” She scrunched up her nose for a split second. “It’s just nice that if you want to volunteer, Sanjay will support you.” She quickly added, “Not that I’m at all trying to minimize your issues.”

One of these issues was that while Sanjay would support the idea of me volunteering, when I got home from having done so, the kids’ lunches would not be made, and though I had asked him to pay the water bill, I would sort through the mail that had been left in the mailbox and find a notice informing us that our repeat delinquency would cost an additional twenty-five dollars—and that was provided we sent payment within the next two business days.

There was a reason that instead of daydreaming about my husband taking me passionately against a wall, I fantasized about replacing him with a wife.

I looked at Jenny, and over at the pot, which had the kitchen smelling like a French bistro, and then back at her. Matt was nothing if not supportive. Jenny said he was overly tied to the idea of coming home to a clean house and a hot meal—but I could barely fault him. After a long day at the office, I yearned for the same things, though I would have made do with someone (it didn’t necessarily have to be Sanjay) greeting me at the door with a just-shaken martini.

What I would never dare admit to Jenny was that it seemed to me she was the one who was most concerned with her domestic duties. Instead of grumbling about the house, I heard him crow about Jenny’s success—how she had managed to do what so many people could only dream of and turn her passion for lovely things into a well-paying career. (If the online murmurs were to be believed, her website brought in several hundred thousand in advertising revenue each year.)

I never did have the opportunity to gently tell Jenny I thought Matt supported her, because Miles and Cecily came running into the kitchen to show us the kitten hospital they had just built. I drained my wine as they finished, and then it was time to go home and get on with the less pleasant parts of my day.

Jenny and I said goodbye in the kitchen and that was that; I don’t even remember if I looked at her after I hugged her, let alone noted her expression before I dragged Miles out the door. He was begging to stay, and I said no—not even a little longer. Because it was Sunday and we had things to do, and I had no idea that my friend needed me and that our rushed goodbye would be the last time I would see her alive.

Back in my own kitchen, drinking seven-dollar-a-bottle chardonnay, I racked my mind trying to remember what I had missed. It was a fool’s errand; you can’t hit a rewind button in your head and suddenly spot all the things you had overlooked in the first place.

And yet I tried. Jenny hadn’t responded when I said it was good that Matt was home for the week. At the time, I had barely thought anything of it. Like anyone else, Jenny occasionally redirected the conversation for no apparent reason.

If I had paid more attention, would I have noticed she was grimacing when I said this about Matt? Or if I had looked closely, would I have seen that she had seemed . . . high? That was what painkillers did to you, wasn’t it? (The last time I had taken something stronger than Tylenol was in high school after I had gotten my wisdom teeth out. I could recall the Popsicles I lived on for a week, but not how the medication had made me feel.) Had there been a subtle, drugged glaze to her eyes? Was her speech ever so slightly slurred?

She had looked a bit thin lately, maybe a little distracted at times. But she had not seemed doped up, if that was even what you called it—not on Sunday, and not any other time.

I simply could not imagine perfectly crafted, always-in-control Jenny abusing painkillers. Taking them? Sure—I knew her endometriosis had been hell to live with, even though I had also been under the impression that ibuprofen and the hormones she had been prescribed had been enough. If she switched to a prescription painkiller, why wouldn’t she just tell me that? Had she developed a problem right off the bat? Had she felt ashamed for needing something more than a drugstore remedy? I knew she hated to take pills.

At least, that’s what she had told me.

I would have thought her not telling me about the painkillers was an unintentional omission—at least when she first started taking them, whenever that was—were it not for the additional whopper of her so-called blissful marriage.

Aside from her hinting that maybe Matt wasn’t as supportive as she’d like on the last day I saw her, she had never given me the slightest impression there was trouble in their glossy paradise. She hated his frequent absences, or so she said, but she had acted like that was an unavoidable fact of life—not the consequence of a deep rift between them.

In just a few hours, all of the things I thought I knew about Jenny had been replaced with question marks and uncertainty.

I tipped my glass back. The last of my wine bypassed my tongue and hit the back of my throat. I sputtered and coughed, which made my nose burn and my eyes, still wet with tears, water even more.

When I had finally stopped hacking, I slid off the counter and put my wineglass in the dishwasher, because to leave it in the sink was to make twice as much work for myself. Then I walked upstairs and got back in bed beside Sanjay, who was still knocked out. The clouds must have cleared, because moonlight streamed through the blinds. I squeezed my lids shut, seeking darkness.

But a few minutes later my eyes sprang open in defeat; I would not be sleeping anytime soon. I twisted onto my side and then onto my stomach as I attempted to process the truth.

And that was that while I had told Jenny almost everything, she had told me next to nothing. The anger I’d felt earlier was still there, but now it was competing with heartbreak and the shame of having been so naïve—to think what I had been told was the whole story. Really, I felt as low as I ever had, and that was quite a feat for someone whose own mother didn’t love her enough to stick around to see her through childhood.

The last time I’d seen Jenny, she had greeted me by saying she was a disaster. Maybe she hadn’t meant anything by it.

But maybe she had. And my response had been the same as Sanjay’s when he was pretending to pay attention: You look great.

EIGHT

When I awoke the next morning, I was in Sanjay’s usual spot, and he was already out of bed. Panicked, I glanced over at the alarm clock. It was after nine, which meant I was late for . . . everything.

Then I remembered why I had slept so late and what I had woken up to, and my panic turned to dread.

I combat-rolled to the other side of the bed and retrieved my phone from the floor so I could email Yolanda and Russ. I couldn’t bring myself to write out what had happened, so I left it at “major emergency,” with the assumption that Russ would fill Yolanda in on what he knew. He was probably presenting to George Blatner at that very minute, which was problematic for a few reasons: not only would Russ call in a favor later, but I needed Blatner’s donation to strengthen my case for something beyond a 3 percent raise when I came up for review in September. (Like the good Lord Himself, the cost of Stevie’s ballet classes had risen again, and Miles was planning to do soccer in the fall, which was at least three hundred dollars for enrollment and gear he would outgrow before the season’s end. If that wasn’t enough to have me jingling a cup of pennies in front of Human Resources, our hot water heater was not long for this world.)

I retrieved a T-shirt and a pair of shorts from the dresser and put them on. Raises, extracurriculars, warm showers—what did any of it matter now? Jenny was dead.

Sanjay was at the kitchen table, typing furiously on his laptop.

I guess I must have been expecting him to be weeping over a box of tissues, because seeing him tapping at his keyboard sent a rush of anger through me. “You’re working ?” I asked as I walked into the room.

He looked up at me and flipped his computer screen down. “Not anymore.”

“But you were,” I said. “How can you possibly focus at a time like this?”

“I had a few minutes and thought I would use them.”

On any other day, I would have given him a gold star for productivity. I rubbed my swollen eyes. “And where are the kids?”

“At camp. I just got back from dropping them off.”

“Thank you. Did you . . .” My voice caught.

“See Cecily?” he said.

I nodded.

“No. I didn’t tell the counselors what happened, either. I’m assuming they don’t know.”

“I’m assuming no one knows yet,” I said. I would need to tell Jael and Sonia. And our hairdresser—my hairdresser, I realized with a jab of sorrow.

“I made coffee,” he said.

He never made coffee—I always beat him to it. But instead of feeling like a victory, it was one more reminder of what was wrong with this day. “Thanks,” I said.

He walked to the kitchen and pulled a mug from the cupboard, which he handed to me. “How are you doing?” he asked softly.

I didn’t look at him as I poured coffee into my mug. I couldn’t. “I don’t know. Hanging in there, I guess.”

“Are you? Because I feel completely shell-shocked.”

Now I glanced up at him with surprise and handed him the coffee carafe. He did look shell-shocked, and in a backward way that was comforting.

   
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