An excerpt from RECOVERY:
Corrina had no idea how long she’d been holding the knife over the red bell pepper. A couple of minutes? Twenty? An hour? It wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had happened lately. A few days ago, it took her more than ten minutes to get out of the car, and the other morning, the water in the shower ran for something like forty-five minutes before she got her hand on the door to enter. There was nothing to signal the onset of these events – at least nothing conscious – nor was there anything in particular that snapped her out of them. Was she going to lose an entire day to this kind of thing sometime in the future?
Corrina didn’t want to become comfortable with the idea that these “fugue states” were becoming a regular part of her life. She realized, of course, that they weren’t actual fugue states. They were moments when she simply couldn’t get moving because her entire body – her entire being, it seemed – was focused on the stunning events that had swept her husband out of her life.
Gardner had seemed fine. He was working too much and he was stressed over the case he was prepping, but those circumstances were business as usual with him. Corrina couldn’t easily recall an image of Gardner when he wasn’t at the very least preoccupied with his legal career. The day of the last annual Gold Family Halloween party, he’d complained about headaches and overall malaise, but she was sure he was setting her up, making excuses about not feeling well simply so he could spend as little time at the party as possible before he got back to his office. Corrina was very surprised to find him in bed that night when she returned home, but she thought nothing of the fact that he didn’t budge when she got in next to him. On the rare occasions when he crashed before she did, he never moved when she got under the sheets. Consequently, she rolled over and fell asleep quickly.
The next morning, though, he still wasn’t moving. That’s when she jostled him and realized that Gardner was gone. She had no idea if he had already been dead when she returned the previous night, but the suddenness wrenched her. Just hours earlier, her biggest concern had been whether the food was coming out of the kitchen quickly enough to keep the guests happy and make the final party an indelible memory. That morning, she was a widow in her thirties.
The weeks since had been a combination of befuddlement and mystification about the future, punctuated by the moments when she found herself simply stopping. She was like the spinning rainbow wheel on her computer; every now and then there was more to process than she could handle, and she just ceased to function. Maybe it was time for her to click “force quit” and just reboot. There would be files to recover and maybe some things lost forever, but in the end everything would be moving again. Too bad no such function was possible. Computers didn’t know how good they had it.
Realizing that the knife was still poised above the pepper half, she took the proactive step of cutting a slice. There it was; her life was going forward again. If the past few weeks were any indication, she would be able to finish making dinner and even eat the food she made without any further incident. She had yet to experience two of these shutdown moments in close succession, so the upside was that she was probably clear for the night. Nothing but vivid moments from now until bedtime.
She was in the middle of sautéing the pepper with onion and some chicken breasts she’d managed to cut before she locked up when she heard the front door open. This was followed seconds later by the familiar sound of Ryan running up the stairs without acknowledging that she was in the house – or even that they lived in the house together – in any way. She and her stepson had barely spoken since Gardner died. Corrina had no idea what normal was under these circumstances, but she was relatively certain this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Shouldn’t two survivors of the untimely death of a close family member be able to share their experiences, especially if they had been together nearly every day for the past six years? Corrina had tried a variety of approaches, from pinning notes to the door of Ryan’s room to making his favorite meals to leaving books on grieving on his dresser, but he didn’t seem interested in turning any of those gestures into a shared experience.
Corrina would have taken this personally – and the truth was that she was taking it at least a little personally – if not for the fact that Ryan didn’t seem willing to talk to anyone. At least not anyone she knew. He’d sat off by himself during the funeral, offering barely a sentence to any of the rest of the family and unwilling to speak during the memorial service. Without question, Ryan was going through a lot. A month short of his seventeenth birthday, he’d already lost both of his parents. Corrina could barely imagine what such a thing could do to one’s psyche. Still, she would have thought that Ryan would have wanted to open up to someone. He had to be incredibly confused, and keeping all of his thoughts to himself wasn’t healthy. In one of their few exchanges, Corrina had even suggested to Ryan that he talk to a therapist. His response was simply to shut up and walk away.
It was difficult to know exactly what this was about. Until Gardner’s death, Corrina believed that she had a relatively healthy relationship with Ryan, healthier than many in their situation. He was a teenager and there was certainly plenty of teenage angst, but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary, and only some of it directed specifically at her. Meanwhile, there were plenty of times when they talked easily about things going on at school or with friends, though matters got dicey around the subject of girls. They were far from “best buds,” but she would have expected them to handle something this enormous together, at least somewhat.
Dinner was nearly ready and Corrina pulled a plate out of the cupboard. As she did every night, she wondered if she should pull out two plates. Setting the first down on the counter, she looked toward the front hallway. Before Gardner died, she and Ryan had nearly every dinner together, quite often without the person who’d brought them under the same roof. They had a regular, easy rhythm with those dinners, talking about pop culture, local events, or maybe something in the news. The conversation could get more strained if Gardner were around and in a prosecutorial mood, but when it was just Ryan and her, they passed the time casually.
She knew this was an exercise in futility, but she decided to go up to Ryan’s room anyway. The door was of course closed when she got there. She knocked softly.
“Yeah,” he said without opening it.
“I made chicken. Do you want some?”
A full ten seconds passed, and Corrina thought for a moment that Ryan might be coming to the door to join her since she couldn’t imagine he’d just ignore her now that he’d already answered once. Instead, he said, “I’m really not hungry.”
What a surprise. “Okay. Let me know if you change your mind. I made plenty. I’ll keep it in the fridge in case you want some later.”
Corrina knew the drill. An hour or so from now, she’d hear Ryan come down the stairs. He’d grab his coat and head out the door. Maybe he’d bother to tell her he was leaving but probably not. Somewhere around midnight, she would hear him come home as she lay in bed trying to get to sleep.
How was he getting by? It was possible, of course, that he was talking to someone. There was the girl that Corrina had seen him with on the street back in October, though Ryan had never admitted she was his girlfriend – in spite of some very compelling evidence to the contrary – and he hadn’t mentioned her name once. If not that, he had some good friends. Corrina hoped at least one of them had been able to coax more out of Ryan than she’d been able to do. It simply wasn’t healthy for him to shut off his emotions like this. As bad as Corrina’s “fugue states” had been, she was at least facing reality the rest of the time, and she’d kept the lines of communication open with family and friends.
She stood in front of the closed door for a few more seconds, though she knew that her “conversation” with Ryan was over. Then she went downstairs, spooned some food onto her plate, and ate on one of the kitchen stools. She’d had many meals at the dining room table without Gardner when he was alive, but doing so felt emptier now, so she tended to eat in the kitchen.
It took three bites for her to notice that the chicken seemed tasteless. It took another two for her to remember that she’d forgotten to season it.
She reached for the salt and pepper, wishing that everything was this easy to fix.