Stages of Grace - By Carey Heywood


a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal

problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality

-Merriam Webster

Sometimes I wonder if the past I'm trying to preserve was even real. That it actually happened and I haven’t created this fantasy in my head of what we were. We were good. We were happy. I believe it so fully I can almost taste it, like that one perfect bowl of ice cream topped with whipped cream and pears that I shared with my father at an out-of-place French-style bakery that closed its doors only months after opening. Jon and I were happy once, and the certainty of that fact, the memory of what we were, was the only thing keeping me from…From what? Leaving? I had nowhere to go.

It was a Thursday, the day the doctor’s office I worked in stayed open until seven. That with my forty-five minute commute gave me the hope that maybe, just maybe, Jon might be out when I got home. Five minutes from home, I turn the radio off. I'm not sure when I started doing this, but the silence calms me, helps me prepare. After maneuvering into our assigned spot, I glance up at our second story apartment. My shoulders sag when I see the light on in the front room. He's home.

After killing the engine, I sit for a moment, listening to the random pop and hiss from the engine as it stills. Maybe tonight will be different, maybe he'll be back. It's cold out, and the inside of my car is already noticeably cooler. Collecting my things from the passenger seat, I hurry up the walkway to the stairs that lead to our second story apartment. I take the stairs slowly, looking out for any slick spots.

Before putting my key in the lock, I force a false smile, opening the door with a cheery, "Hello, honey."

"You're late," Jon is sitting with a book in the leather armchair by the sofa. The TV is on, but the volume is barely a hum.

My smile falters. "It's Thursday, Jon."

"I know what fucking day it is, Grace." Why does my name sound like a curse? Jon stands quickly, forgetting the book in his lap.

I watch it as it falls to the floor, his place lost. "I only meant—"

"Oh, I know what you meant. You think you're so much smarter than me." Jon reaches down to retrieve his book and storms back to our bedroom.

I stand there, the pounding of my heart a roar that slowly fades as my breathing stills. I hang my purse on a hook by the door before walking into the kitchen to rinse my Tupperware lunch container. I keep one eye on the bedroom door and the stream of water low as I do this in case Jon comes back out. As I set it on the drying rack, I catch myself looking around the apartment, thinking back to a time when I was so happy here. Jon had been let go from his job the year before. Before that, I had been so certain we were happy. Now I wasn’t sure if I knew Jon at all.

He was originally from New York, that's where his family still lived. After he lost his job I know he wanted to move back, but he stayed in Cleveland for me. We met at a bowling alley. I was on a disaster blind date and was trying to figure out a good excuse to end the date early. That's when I saw him. I can still remember how handsome I thought he was from that first moment. He was tall, with wide shoulders and short dark brown hair. He had a strong jaw and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. He was captivating. He had been bowling with a group of friends a lane over from us. When my date got up to go to the bathroom he caught my eye and said hello to me.

The maroon and gold plastic chairs of his lane backed up to mine. He was sitting in the corner chair, the one that looked straight out at the pins. I was sitting facing the other chairs. His arm was slung over the chair behind mine. When he said hello I jumped, and his fingers touched my arm as he apologized for startling me. The heat from his touch felt like a brand, like he had marked me. When he asked if my date