About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The pain shot up Ginger Wall’s left arm, a jolt that rendered half of her body immobile. Her heartbeat was rapid, even though it felt like her chest was collapsing. Breathing was a chore. She was sure she was going to die.
No one was around to help her. No one was around because there was no one in her life. Her husband was her husband, but pretty much in name only; their marriage was on a spectacular descent. And he was in the house, anyway. Her daughter, whom she had smothered like a blanket, was just off to college. The few friends she maintained were kept at a distance. She was alone, and that thought pushed her to the edge of death.
Unable to move and desperate for air, Ginger resigned herself to dying—right there behind the wheel of her Lexus coupe in the garage of her modest townhouse near downtown Atlanta.
Seconds went by, then minutes, and finally she passed out. When she came to a few minutes later, the pain was gone. She could breathe easily. There was relief of the pressure she felt on her chest.
It almost seemed like a dream, like she pulled into the garage and passed out from exhaustion, and that scary moment came to her in her sleep. The reality was that the thought of entering a loveless house paralyzed her with anxiety and fear. She knew it was not a dream because her face was damp with tears.
Ginger had recently returned from dropping off her only child, Helena, at college. Paul, her husband, said his goodbyes to his baby girl at the airport, a fear of flying keeping him from making the trip to Washington, D.C.
But not her mom. Helena had become Ginger’s everything. Right around the time Paul was laid off from his job as a heating and air conditioning repair specialist was when their marriage turned into an eighteen-wheeler going downhill with no brakes. He lost his self-esteem and she, eventually, lost interest. The combination made for a mundane existence and rapid fall over an eleven-month period.
This was not easy to accept for Ginger. She was crushed, crestfallen. It was if someone had died. As if she had died.
Only she hadn’t. She was alive, but not living. To breathe, Ginger threw what was left of herself into Helena, serving as mother, chef, security, fan, chauffeur and anything else that kept her occupied and gave her some sense of fulfillment. That was why she pleaded with her child to attend a local college; her going away was akin to pulling the plug on the activity in Ginger’s life.
“Mom, you know I love you and I’m going to miss you,” Helena said when she decided to attend college in Washington, D.C. “But I’ve got to get away. Not from you, but from Atlanta. You are the one who told me when I turned fifteen that I should go to school out of town, that it would help me to grow up and be responsible. Ever since then that has been my goal. Plus, you have Dad.”
Somehow, through the strife, they managed to shield Helena, to, indeed, fool her. She thought her parents were in a fulfilling relationship. If she had taken the time to really pay attention, she would have noticed that all the cheery conversation around the house was between her and her mom or her and her dad. There was only token dialogue between her parents, and none of it loving.
But she was merely seventeen when the downturn began; her life was the focal point of her existence. She simply did not notice.
One night while Helena was at a school play, the troubles in the marriage reached a crescendo.
“I thought about it. I thought about it a lot,” Paul said, rising from the dinner table with Ginger. “I’ve got to go.”
Ginger had a forkful of risotto headed toward her mouth when he said that. She dropped it into her plate below. He said it so casually, as one would reveal it was raining outside. The words registered with Ginger instantly, but for a nanosecond, though, she thought he meant he had to leave the dining room because there was a game on television he had to see. Or that he was tired and needed to go to bed early. Or that he wanted something from the store and had to go and get it. It could not have meant what it really sounded like he meant. It was not what he said; it was the way he said it that clued her in.
So, she did what anyone would do: She asked for confirmation. “What do you mean?”
Paul continued toward the kitchen. He did not bother to turn around.
“Divorce, Ginger,” he said, again so nonchalantly that it was staggering. “Divorce.”
Ginger reached for her glass of homemade tea and knocked it over, spilling its contents across the table and onto the hardwood floor. She was frozen there, unable to move until her emotions switched from confusion to anger. It was not April Fool’s Day and Paul was not a joking kind of man. He, in fact, had become so serious, that Ginger and Helena privately called him “Heart Attack,” as in “Serious as a heart attack.”
Her anger allowed her to rise from the table and storm her way to the kitchen, where Paul was uncorking a second bottle of Malbec from the vast collection of wines he coveted like rare coins. He did not share the first bottle with his wife.
Ginger was five-foot-six, but appeared smaller when side-by-side with Paul, who was eight inches taller.
Looking up at him, she demanded: “What are you talking about, Paul?”
Ginger raised her voice when her husband did not answer. “Paul, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Don’t act like this is some surprise,” he said, finally. There was an edge to his voice—and a coldness, too. “This has been building for a while now. I’m fifty years old. You’re only forty-seven. And—”
“Are you drunk? I’m forty-three,” Ginger interrupted.
“No, I’m not drunk. And, okay, you’re forty-three,” Paul went on. “Anyway, we have some time to live still. Face it: We’re not good together anymore.”
“And this is the result?” Ginger asked. “You making a decision for both of us? No discussion about it? No counseling? Nothing? And what about our daughter, Paul? What about her?”
“Helena is a smart girl and she’s strong,” he said. “She will adjust. She’ll be fine.”
Ginger was not so sure about that. She and her daughter were close, but she was a daddy’s girl. This news would rock her.
“Well, you tell her why you’re breaking up this family,” Ginger said. “You tell her that she and I are not good enough for you.”
“This is not about Helena,” Paul said, and a chill ran through Ginger’s body despite how heated she was.
“So, it’s about me? You don’t want me anymore?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question because she knew the answer. But Paul answered anyway.
“I’m simply not sure about this marriage anymore,” he said. He sipped his wine. “I’m sorry. I really am. I can’t make you happy. And you don’t try to make me happy. We’ve had sex one time in the last nine months. One time, a few weeks ago. And that was because we both were drunk.
“So why should we stay in a marriage for appearance sake? Or even for Helena? It wouldn’t be teaching her the right thing.”
“And it’s teaching her the right thing by breaking up her family?” Ginger asked. She wanted to continue, but it suddenly hit her that going back and forth with Paul would give him the impression she was trying to convince him to stay, which she did not want to do. No doubt, she was devastated and hurt; she had built her life around her family. But she was prideful, too, and somewhere in their back-and-forth she decided, “Fuck him.”
“I only ask that you do two things for me,” she said. “Pick up your daughter from school and explain this to her.”
“I will talk to Helena,” Paul said. “But not tonight.”
“You bastard,” Ginger fired back. “You had it all planned out, huh? So who’s your woman? Who’s your side chick?”
Paul studied his wife, scanned her from head-to-toe and back again. There was a time looking at her smooth skin and full, pouty lips and dark eyes would mesmerize him. Not anymore. He held animus toward her that he did not bother to explain.
“Believe it or not,” he said as calmly as one would give driving directions, “it’s not about being with someone else. It’s about being away from you.”
And as tranquil as Paul was, Ginger turned equally irate. “I have done nothing but love you and be here for you and provide a nice home for you,” she said. “You’re such an egomaniac to try to belittle me. That’s very hateful of you. But it shows you don’t deserve me. You have been depressed since losing your job and I have been supportive and encouraging. Since we’re being honest about everything, let me tell you this: You’re a selfish pig. All you’ve ever thought about was yourself. You never considered how hard this whole thing has been for me. And that makes you a selfish pig.
“I’m woman enough to admit that I’m hurt by all of this. But the more I talk the more strength I get. I don’t mean to call you names, but you’re a loser. And whatever God has in store for you, well, good luck with that because He does not reward selfish pigs.”
“Yeah, that’s really mature, Ginger,” Paul said. “You wishing bad on me. I won’t stoop that low.”
“You’d have to cut off your legs to get any lower than you are,” Ginger said.
“I could say something, but I’m not,” Paul responded. “But I will say this: You call being a nasty, mean, cold person supportive of me? That’s all you have been. And that’s not supportive.”
Paul looked at Ginger with a strange expression. “I’m going to pick up Helena,” he said. “I’ll explain everything to her, but not now. She’s happy. I will, though, in due time.”
“Yeah, right,” Ginger said. “You’ll explain what you want to explain—not the truth, I’m sure.”
Paul finished his wine, corked the bottle and placed it in its proper place among the alphabetized collection. He looked at his wife, who could not detect the pain that engulfed him. He hid it well, but inside he cried. Finally, before tears seeped from his eyes, he turned and walked away.
Ginger was left standing there to struggle with an influx of emotions that came crashing down. She waited until she heard the garage close, indicating Paul had gone.
It was then that she was overcome with a confluence of pain, shock, hurt, disappointment and failure. She cried. She laughed. She perspired—all over a three- or four-minute span. Ginger thought she was having a breakdown. “I’m OK,” she said aloud. “I’m OK.”
But she wasn’t.