Jeanine’s finger traced a small, thin border along her right temple stopping just shy of her jawbone. Following the river of blue and purple, a single tear floated down her cheek. She knew if she allowed more to flow then the day would be wasted in self-pity in lieu of parenting. Better to shake this off like the rest and push forward.
At age 37 she was embarrassed and felt certain that she should know better than to tolerate this. How the intellectual and the emotional and the reality of a situation all meld together can create a toxic brew. The line in the sand that she had mentally drawn so many years ago kept shifting and keeping her off balance. The fact that she no longer loved Mitch was crystal clear, but when she factored in 3 year old Tabitha and 14 month old Braden even the best of plans for self-preservation head off course. No one but her mother knew the secret and even she had only the sketchiest of details - enough to capture her concern but not so much that she feared for her grandchildren. Mom also knew enough to be ready to accept her much loved daughter and two precious grandbabies into her spacious suburban home at the very instant that Jeanine came to her senses. In fact, the spare bedrooms had been ready for that moment for many months.
Jeanine glanced once more at the tiny mirror before pulling her shoulders back with determination and tenderly applying a second layer of foundation. With the precision of a plastic surgeon she disguised the trauma behind Cover Girl and smiles. When the kids awakened they would know nothing of this incident. The maintenance of their seemingly peaceful and joy filled existence was paramount in Jeanine’s life and she was resolute in not letting anything spoil that.
She had lived this scene a hundred times before and quite honestly it became rather perfunctory through the years. Mitch will stay gone now for 7 or 8 hours, either at his mother’s house over in Oak Lawn or at his brother’s place up north. He’ll call a handful of times before Jeanine bothers to answer, then start the requisite speech.
“Babe, I don’t know why you set me off like that. You know just how to push my buttons and it’s like you don’t even care what comes next. Do you even think about how this looks to the kids, the fact that you disrespect their dad with them right there? You and your big words, you know damn well what you’re doing!”
Jeanine didn’t even hear the monologue anymore and just silently waited for the bottom line. What time would he be back? Would he be drunk? Had his temper cooled? Would there be flowers or candy that she will need to feign enthusiasm over? For now, though, she knew she had several peace-filled hours before that phone call.
Waking the children and herding them to the family room, she smiles as she offers them juice and animal crackers. Normal Mommy here, nothing for the babies to worry about. Clicking on the television before heading to the kitchen Jeanine is annoyed at being unable to find a single kids' show being broadcast. Channel after channel is following some crazy car chase in southern California.
With the kids insistence she sets off again for the snacks leaving them to watch a few minutes of helicopter shots of a Mercedes speeding towards Mexico. Faintly listening as she pours tiny plastic cups of apple juice she hears that the car contains a movie mega-star and he is fleeing after the police found that he had stabbed his much younger girlfriend in their Hollywood home. The reporter describes a horrific scene of blood and despair, all cautiously hidden behind the clean gates of a spectacular estate. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that there was rampant speculation in the tabloids that the girlfriend was pregnant and this chronic playboy may finally settle down?
Back in the family room preschooler Tabitha was enthralled with the news report and resisted Jeanine’s efforts to locate family-friendly fare. As Braden drooled and fingered a plastic race car his sister sat on her hands and stared at the screen, seemingly trying to reconcile the scenes that cut between the gruesome and the elegant. With the most earnest voice she had ever uttered, Tabitha barely whispered, “Why would he do that when she loved him?” Glancing down at this angel, Jeanine was without words. Feeling the breath fall out of her as she steadied herself near the doorway she simply stared first at her daughter and then at the television. Jeanine leaned there for minute after minute, even as Braden whined for the animal crackers.
With a final long look back at Tabitha’s awestruck baby-face she walked to the bedroom, slowly at first and then with the insistence of a woman driven. Madly she scanned the room for the cell phone, finding it near the window where Mitch had thrown it.
“Mom,” Jeanine announced into the phone, “it’s time. Yes, today. Now.”.
With the proclamation that had been years in the making, Jeanine sat on the disheveled queen size bed, closed her aching eyes and took her first deep breath in years.