-- Ta-nehisi Coates
The card came to the house, so the wife felt justified opening it. That it came to the family home addressed only to her husband and penned by a woman (the wife surmised, based on the penmanship) felt unremarkable at the time. But then, very little was noted by the wife-cum-mother of three young girls, then ages two, four and six. They’d moved to San Francisco from Chicago a year earlier to flee the weather, the provincial suburbs, the lame clients with shrinking ad budgets (his), the career (hers) that no longer worked for their family. They’d moved to the land of opportunity and vitality to pursue their outdoorsy, eco-dreams, etch their mark into a world unknown, seek succor from like-minded tribesfolk with like-minded politics.
She’d been in a cataleptic state ever since.
Her husband’s dream job ejected him daily from the never-ending laundry, diapers, tantrums, spilled everything, lost shoes, school forms. Domestic vassalage was her vernacular, wholly foreign to him. A divide only visible to her; they made sure of it. Unalloyed brand was everything (foreshadowing).
“We’re fine!” they’d report to his extended, Irish Catholic family in Chicago. It’s what they wanted to hear. That or “we’re moving back.” As time passed, they heard neither.
She knew no one when they arrived in the mecca that is Marin County, having left her high school and college posses behind, which would explain why, when her trusty/pain-in-the-ass Volvo XC broke down on an on-ramp to the 101 on a 90-degree summer day with all three girls lined up in bathing suits melting in their carseats, she called her real estate agent—who lived in Pt. Reyes Station 40 minutes away—in tears. She had tried her husband first, but he was, per usual, on a plane or not answering his phone. (Sometime later, she was instructed not to call him during the business day; emergencies excepted, she was to email so as not to interrupt his meetings.)
Dozens of dozens of cars passed them on that on-ramp. Mostly SUVs. Landrover drivers, late to a gifted-child extracurricular pick-up, assiduously locking their gaze on the road ahead rather than acknowledging the mother with distressed kin. Pause not for underperforming humankind, was a hard truth she would come to understand acutely in this entitled county of choice. Six minutes of panic passed before a young Mexican immigrant, covered with the dust of a 13-hour day, helped push her car out of harm’s way. She was embarrassed that she only had a $10 bill to offer him, which he graciously declined.
It was the immigrant she was remembering when she ripped open the envelope.
The handwriting was indeed perfect, distinct, confirmed feminine.
“It’s rare in this universe to meet someone who gets you. You really get me. You landed in the cubicle next to mine, which reinforces my belief that there are no coincidences. We were meant to be … co-workers.”
The wife was shoved hard to the right along the love-fear spectrum in that moment, a la game-piece, well into the realm of fear. There was dropping of the note, a slow motion slide from her grasp. She can feel it to this day. No throwing, just dropping. The throwing would come a half decade later when they were in the tortured, combative throes of divorce.
In the meantime, they had three daughters to raise.
** It's probably important to start at the beginning of the end, which is relatively close to the beginning.