By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Fill in the blank to start your story. “Seven days ago, _____________. Now, no one will talk to me.”
Seven days ago, I got into a car accident. Now, no one will talk to me.
I had left Peter’s house and pulled onto the highway. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t see properly. I didn’t check the blind spot. I glanced in my rearview mirror, looked in the mirror on the door, and just jerked the car to the left.
Rash, you say? Would you believe that until six months ago people would have used every antonym in the dictionary that contradicted that word, “rash,” to describe me? I had always made the safe choices, the “right” choices, and everyone had always said they could “count on me.”
Until I met Peter. When I met Peter, nothing about me, inside of me, around me remained safe. Everything had turned into a risk. And I felt alive. Giddy, even.
By normal, bookish standards, I had made a simple choice: one of infidelity. Marrying Stephen had come at the top of the list of my “safe” choices as an adult. Having three children within a span of five years also joined that list, especially where my mother was concerned. She had agonized over the fact that she had had children later in life, and she didn’t want me to make the same “mistake.”
I got married at the right age, I had children at the right time, I joined the right civic societies, and kept up social appearances the way any proper wife and mother should. I received verbal pats on the head and several nods and smiles of approval for crossing every turnstile in life that a woman should. Those turnstiles led me to the slow-moving donkey cart of the benign life that I now lived. And in accepting that life, I had nodded off. I had forgotten that on the other side of the track a train of excitement zipped by. One that offered choices less safe, less promising or accepted.
Then I met Peter, and I didn’t want to ride that stupid cart anymore. I wanted to get on the train that would take me anywhere, would zoom me away from this ridiculous excuse that I called my life. I wanted to find out for myself what other choices existed, what options others took.
Our relationship began innocuously enough. We met in the book club, and we began bonding over books. Sounds safe, right? Who would have thought that John Grisham and Jodi Piccoult could spark a romance?
We talked about books at the book club meetings. Then our conversations started lasting longer than the meetings. We would linger in the library, and after the third time the librarian had to ask us to leave because they were ready to close we decided to go to a coffee shop. The coffee shop conversations ran into closing hours more than once too.
With two children in high school and one in college, I had free time for the first time since I had first had them. Stephen’s law practice kept him busy and me lonely. And Peter looked at me appraisingly…the way Stephen used to and no longer did.
On that Friday evening Peter had asked me to go from book club at the library to his house. He had made dinner for us, he said, and he wanted to share the evening with me. Divorced for many years, he had taken cooking courses in the previous year and wanted to experiment with some of the recipes he learned. Would I be willing to subject myself to what he’d learned, he’d asked with a nervous laugh?
I laughed just as nervously and tried to act casual when I said I wouldn’t mind at all. Stephen had to work late on an upcoming case, and he said it would take all weekend. The girls were at a sleepover. My son wouldn’t be home that weekend, deciding to stay at the university to study for midterms.
We reached his house, and he surprised me with a wonderful dinner. He really can cook well. And he even made dessert, which surpassed my low expectations. After all, a single guy cooking. Who would have believed he could have gotten past the frozen dinner aisle?
I’m sure it’s obvious what happened next. When I began crying, however, I think I scared Peter. I tried to explain to him how I felt—how I had always made safe choices and he represented a departure from my normal life for me; how I felt like a freer version of myself but didn’t know if I had permission for freedom; how I didn’t know if I had the courage to make this choice and to proceed with it.
Peter hugged me and said he understood that we needed time, and that only made me cry harder. I tried to smile but knew that I had to leave. He walked me to the car and handed me a tissue he’d hastily grabbed at some point on the way out his front door.
The tears continued to stream down my face as I backed out of his driveway, down the street, and guided my car to the main road. As I took the ramp for the highway I thought my tears may have abated, but then I thought of Peter standing at my car door and the tears began streaming down my face again.
Then I got into the accident.
Later at the hospital, my horror at getting into an accident and sending someone into critical care only increased when I found out that “someone” was Peter’s ex-wife.
Now no one—not Stephen, not my children, not even Peter—will speak to me.