Before the alarm had time to blare, Sarah sat up and switched it off. A heavy sigh escaped her lips as she contemplated the upcoming day. I wish I could just stay in bed and skip this day, she thought.
She pushed her body up and out of bed with the grace of a hundred year old woman instead of the 39-year-old that she really was. She padded down the hallway with bloodshot eyes and somehow found the energy to fix a cup of coffee. Stepping out on the back porch with a steaming mug, she sucked in a breath of the warm, humid air. “Welcome to Florida”, she muttered. “Home of the hot and humid at 5:30 am.” She sank into her favorite Adirondack chair and sipped from her mug. She was not looking forward to this day.
As she drained the last of her coffee, Sarah debated getting another cup. Realizing she was just delaying the inevitable, she sighed again and decided to just be done with it. Today was the day, like it or not. “Just get over it”, she stated out loud. She jumped out of the chair and flung herself into preparing for the day.
After showering, styling her hair, and applying a bare minimum of makeup, she stood looking at her reflection. Not too bad, she thought. A little pudgy around the middle, a few fine wrinkles around her eyes, but overall, not too bad. She stuck out her hand, as if shaking hands with someone. “Hi, my name is Sarah, and I am divorced.” The words sounded foreign on her lips. She tried again, this time with a forced happiness. “Hello, my name is Sarah, and my husband walked out on me. Today we make it final: our lives together are now over.” She dropped her hand as tears threatened to spill from her eyes. No, she thought, not today. No more tears.
Sarah grabbed her purse and keys from the nightstand table. On the table by the front door sat a packet of papers. Divorce papers. Sam’s lawyer had sent them over for her to preview but she had not been able to open the packet. Instead, she had placed the packet in the exact spot that Sam used to place his briefcase. But that was BEFORE. When she thought of her life now, she thought about it in two parts: BEFORE, and AFTER. Her mind drifted as she remembered how life was…BEFORE.
BEFORE, her life had settled into just what she had always wanted: she and her husband, Sam, had dated for 2 years before getting married. Sam worked as an insurance agent and she worked as a receptionist at a day care. They bought a newly built three bedroom house with a two-car garage. Life was grand. Sam golfed on Saturdays and Sundays, and she would go shopping or meet friends for lunch. At night, they would go out with other couples. Most of the couples were Sam’s business associates, but Sarah got along well with most of their wives.
They were in their second year of marriage when Sarah began to notice a change in Sam. He seemed a little less attentive, somewhat preoccupied. She thought that maybe they needed to get away alone together and rekindle some romance in their marriage. Sex was good, but a little predictable. So she arranged a surprise romantic getaway for a weekend trip to Miami. She booked the Honeymoon Suite for two nights and bought sexy new lingerie to wear. She sprung the surprise on Sam that Wednesday night.
“Honey, I have a surprise for you!” she told him as they sat together in the living room. Sarah sat curled up on the loveseat, while Sam lounged in the recliner with the day’s newspaper. Sam continued to read the newspaper as he absently muttered, “Huh?”
“Put the paper down and talk to me. I have a surprise for you that you will love!”
Sam peered at her over the top of the paper. “What?”
“Well, I decided that we needed some time alone together, so I booked the Honeymoon Suite at the Heavenly Inn in Miami. We leave on Friday night and return Sunday.” As Sam frowned and started shaking his head, her voice began to falter. “It’s just….you know…we haven’t spent much time alone lately….I thought…” her voice trailed off as he sighed heavily.
“You decided? Sarah, you know that I golf every weekend. I can’t just go running off because you have some stupid romantic idea. Besides, we spend every Friday and Saturday night together. I take you out to dinner; what more do you want?”
Her eyes filled with tears. “But we are not alone! We are always with other couples. And it’s not a stupid romantic idea! I just thought it would do us some good!”
“What would do us some good,” Sam replied in his I’m-being-patient-and-you’re-being-ridiculous voice, “is if you just cancel those reservations and let me go golfing, because THAT is how I make business contacts, and THAT is how we pay the bills, remember? You’re little “meet and greet” receptionist job certainly doesn’t pay for this nice house you live in, now does it?”
Sarah knew better than to argue. Anytime she pushed things with Sam, he gave her the silent treatment for days. She wanted to tell him that she was not the one who wanted this large brand-new house. She wanted something small and cozy that she could furnish with yard-sale finds. Sam was the one who insisted on this house because “it makes us look successful.”
As Sam went back to reading his paper, Sarah grabbed her cell phone and went out on the porch to cancel the trip. After the call, she sank into her chair. She really thought Sam would like the idea, and it stung to know that he had no interest in spending time alone with her. She knew how important his business golf outings were to him, but she didn’t realize it had become the most important part of his life.
It was a few weeks later when she began to get suspicious. It was a glorious Saturday morning and Sam was golfing at the country club, as usual. Sarah had just completed the last load of laundry when the phone rang. It was Sam’s sister, Claire. She called to tell Sam that her husband, Manny, had fallen from a ladder while cleaning out the gutters on their house. Manny was being stubborn, as usual, and Claire needed Sam to convince him to go to the hospital to get checked out. Claire was Sam’s younger sister and she always called Sam when she needed something. It was annoying as hell, but Sarah dealt with it.
“Call his cell, Claire. He’s at the country club.” Sarah told her patiently.
“I tried, but he didn’t answer. Can you please, please just drive up there and get him? I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
Sarah thought for a second. “Okay, I can do that. I’m about to go shopping, so I will just swing by there on my way. I will tell him to call you.” Claire thanked her and Sarah hung up the phone, grabbed her purse and jumped in her car.
Within fifteen minutes she was at the clubhouse. The first thing she noticed was that Sam’s car was not there. That’s funny, she thought to herself. He usually tells me when he is golfing at a different golf course. She decided to try calling him. After three rings, he answered.
“Hello, Sarah; there must a problem because otherwise you wouldn’t call me while I’m golfing.”
His brisk manner stunned her. She knew he could be short with her sometimes, but he sounded so angry it shocked her for a moment. Finally she found her voice and said, “Hello, honey. It’s just….ummm…Claire…where are you?”
“What do you mean, where am I? Have you been hitting the bottle early today?” Sam chuckled harshly into the phone. “It is Saturday, I am at the club, I am golfing, just like I do every Saturday, remember? Now, what is this about Claire?””
Sarah sat in her car staring stupidly at the parking lot of the country club. Sam was not there. He had just lied to her. Something kept her from telling him that she knew he was lying.
“Claire tried to call you. Manny fell and she needs you to call her.” Sarah heard her own normal sounding voice and wondered where it came from.
“Oh, okay then.” His voice softened. “Sorry, I just thought you were calling to bother me about taking you somewhere. I will call her right back. We are in the clubhouse now taking a break. I didn’t hear the phone ring.”
“No problem, darling. Is Carl working the counter today? I need to ask him if I left my earrings in there Wednesday when I had lunch with Eve.” It was shocking to hear the lie slip so effortlessly from her mouth.
“No, Carl is off today. You can ask him later. I have to go so I can call Claire. See you tonight.” Sarah heard the click as Sam hung up. She sat there for several more minutes, trying to figure out a way to make the pieces of the puzzle fit. Without thinking, she opened her car door and got out. Sarah walked quickly up the path leading to the clubhouse restaurant. Ducking inside, she slid her sunglasses off to allow her eyes to adjust to the interior. After a moment, she stepped up to the front counter. There in front of her, stood Carl.
“Hello, Mrs. Tanner. Will you be alone, or will others be joining you today?” Carl inquired.
“Hello, Carl.” She managed to say. “My husband asked me to stop by and see if he left his sunglasses last time he golfed here.”
“Well, I can check, but as you know, he hasn’t been here in months. In fact, we were going to call to see if there was a problem with the clubhouse. He was such a regular, and now we never see him!”
“Oh, there’s no problem at all, Carl. He has been so busy at work lately. I’m sure he will be back before you know it. Don’t bother calling him. I will pass on the message.” Sarah smiled sweetly as Carl dug through the lost and found basket. He of course came up empty-handed.
Sarah somehow made more small talk and managed to make it back to her car without her knees buckling. She didn’t allow herself to think as she drove to every other golf course in the area. Sam’s car wasn’t at any of them.
That was the end of the BEFORE and the beginning of the AFTER, Sarah thought, as she snatched the packet of divorce papers from the table. She flung open the door and stepped into the scorching Florida sun. Slipping on her sunglasses, her eyes fell on the signpost that still had “The Tanners” spelled out in gold letters. Somehow, just seeing that sign, the sign that they had picked out together, made her furious. The day Sam had poured the concrete and buried the post in the ground had been a fun, silly day for them. They drank a little wine, got giggly, and made love right on the living room rug. Just remembering those details made Sarah so angry she punched the code to open the garage door and tossed her purse, keys, and the divorce packet into her car. She found the shovel she and Sam purchased together at the hardware store, and stomped out to the sign. Without hesitation, Sarah began beating the post. The metal clashing with metal sent vibrations all the way up her body, but that only made her more determined. She continued to pound until the post began to lean heavily to one side. The post finally fell to the ground and the offending sign lay against the manicured lawn. Satisfied, Sarah left the sign lying against the grass, turned around with the shovel thrown over her shoulder and marched back to the garage. She carefully placed the shovel against the wall, then opened her car door and sank on the leather seat. She saw her reflection as she closed the car door: her hair, which she had pulled back into a prim bun (that Sam once liked), had worked loose and now most of it stuck to her sweaty face. What remained of the bun was sagging low enough to touch the back of her neck. Her carefully applied makeup now had smears of dirt from the handle of the shovel and her eyes looked like those of a lunatic. She pulled the rest of her hair loose from the bun and wiped the smudge from her face. That is when it hit her: Sarah knew, in that moment, that she would be just fine.