When the phone rang, Lynn was not ready for it. She stared at it as it rang again, and she debated whether she should answer it. She'd had a horrible fight with Tom earlier that day, and with the divorce proceeding taking place tomorrow, she really didn't want to have to deal with him any more that she had to.
By the third ring, she had decided that Ray and Rachael's answering machine would be her knight in shining technology, screening the call. If it was someone she wanted to talk to, she would pick it up. However, she really couldn't think of anyone she would want to talk to right now.
The machine picked up a little after the fourth ring, and played the music from Darth Vader's entrance in the Star Wars movies. After a little bit of music, Ray's deep baritone spoke, trying hard to sound like the character from the movie, "You have reached the dark side of the force. If you don't leave your name and number, I will have Boba Fett hunt you down and encase you in carbonite." There was a series of clicks as the machine finished the outgoing messages and set its tiny tape heads to record. "Lynn, if you're there, pick up...it's pretty important."
It was Sharon Bloom, her lawyer. Lynn picked up the receiver, shutting off the machine by doing so and said, "Hello?"
"I just got off the phone with that worthless scumbag Tom is using for a lawyer, and they've faxed me an agreement. They say that if we can get it all worked out before we go to court, they'll give you shared custody."
"I just got off the phone with Tom, and he said that there was no way he would allow something like that. He said that because I was crazy he would make sure that my little girl never got to see me again...." Lynn said, trying to hold back the tears. Of course, there was a lot more yelling and threats than that, but there had been so many in the last couple of months, she really didn't feel like going though them all again.
"Yeah, I know. That's the way these things always work, trust me. While the lawyers work to finish all the papers, the scumbags try to get in one last shot while they still can."
"What all are they offering?"
"Not a very nice package, but it's all we're gonna get without taking it to the judge. He will pay child support while Rachael Jean is with you, and alimony of about $350 a month. We might be able to get the judge to up it, but..."
"But then the whole custody thing would be thrown out as well, and we'd be rolling the dice. And you know that the social worker's report didn't reflect to well on you."
Of course Lynn knew it. Reading that twenty page document was the hardest thing she'd had to deal with since she got out of the hospital. Twenty pages that said why she was not a good mother; and Tom and his live-in were Ward and June Cleaver. Of course she hadn't been in the best of shape when the inspection had been held, she'd only been out of the hospital for a month. "Not a stable home environment, still trying to put her own life together," that's why they said she wouldn't be able to raise her little girl.
Never mind that she had raised her and bathed her and fed her and walked the floor nights with her while Tom was out either working or setting up his nice new life.
"I know," Lynn said in a small, quiet voice. She just knew that if they went to court, she would get roasted again.
"What he's offered for the next few years is a six months on, six months off schedule. Where Rachael Jean is with you for the first six months, then with him and so on, until she reaches school age. Then, you two will enter mediation and have to work something out."
"So, he'd rather just share things until a later date when we have to go through all of this again."
She could hear the tsk-tsking in Sharon's voice as she said, "Look, after a couple of years, the fires of battle will have toned down and he'll give up on this fight. Trust me, I see it all the time. Rachael Jean loves you and knows who the person is who takes care of her."
If what Sharon said was supposed to make her feel better, it didn't. The last three months after getting out of the hospital had been horrible when it came to her relationship with her two year old daughter. At first, Tom still refused to let her visit. Then, her and Sharon got a court order to make sure that she could see Rachael.
Then, after the report came in, Tom was a lot nicer about letting her see Rachael Jean, eventually giving in to a schedule where she had her through the day, and then Tom would take her at night. Weekends were still a mess when they tried to figure out who would get to have her. Finally, they switched off Saturdays and Sundays. It seemed so orderly now, but getting the arrangement had been one fight after another, leaving Lynn so broken and so tired inside that she would go back to her dark gloom.
It was not as bad as when she was in the hospital, before Janus had shown her that there was light. But, still, it got pretty bad.
"Should I come down and look at the papers now?" Lynn asked, wanting to get this stuff done as quickly and painlessly as possible.
"No, we have to be at the courtroom at 9 tomorrow, so we can meet for breakfast and go over them then."
They had always had to meet before going into court because Tom's lawyer would always spring something the night before. They had found a little french bakery a few blocks from the courthouse (Lynn always thought that Sharon had feigned not knowing where it was the first time they went so as to make it seem like their little secret) and they had the best creme horns she'd ever eaten.
Tomorrow would be more of the same. The last three times they had gone, she thought that it would be all over. She was wrong. It was more maneuvering and posturing and arguing and yelling and nothing was ever done. Nothing ever got really done.
Lynn went into the spare bedroom, where her little girl was sleeping quietly. She turned on a hall light and sat on a chair next to her bed. In her mind, all the fears of what might happen were going through her head, faster and faster and faster. Her whole life, such as it was, felt like it was coming down around her ears. All she had was her little girl, and now she might be taken from her too.
She shouted "STOP!" in her mind, just like her doctor had taught her to when her thoughts went too fast, and tore her down. She was able to slow them, and quiet them, but she couldn't make them go away. No matter how she tried, the thoughts would just stay there, lurking in the back of her mind, waiting for the opportunity to grow, and put her through it all again.
As she watched her daughter breathing slowly in her sleep, she tried to block out the thoughts with memories. Like the time she took her to the used clothing store with her friend Becky. While Becky was trying on way too many things, her daughter was playing in a barrel full of ties. She then thought about the first time she was able to go out to eat after the baby was born. It was just a little diner, but it was almost her first time out in the world in two months, and the food was the best she'd ever eaten. Not because it was a great burger, but because it wasn't something that she had to make, or microwave.
Rachael Jean laid there on the bed, breathing slowly, sleeping. Her face was completely at peace. She didn't know what was going on around her. Her pudgy little face framed by soft, fine blonde hair. She had her father's hair and his nose, and for some reason, that seemed to hurt most of all.
Lynn sat there for a long time, and went through the memories, rather than the pictures, because the memories were closer. Always closer.
The Night After
Lynn didn't know how long it took her to get here, but she knew that she had been here for a long time. Looking out over the city, high above it all, sitting on the hood of her car.
When she first moved here, she wasn't as rushed as she was now. On one of those long, lazy days, she found this park up on top of the hill overlooking the town. The parking lot for it was on an overhang that let her see everything. Down there was her favorite coffee shop, the photo store she had worked at, Ray and Rachael's house and the courthouse where her whole life had changed.
Once, not so long ago, she shared this place with someone special. She told him that when she was up here, she felt like she had everything under control. The rest of her life, she felt like she was dancing on the cliff's edge, ready to fall into misery and despair at any moment.
Up here, though, being the edge of the cliff, she could see it all, and it gave her peace and perspective. When things were bad, she would come up here and look out over the lights below. When things were good, she would come up here to share her feeling with this place. Her place. Sure, other people may come here, and other people may be around while she was here. But this place was hers, emotionally. She would often visualize this place in her mind to center herself and be at peace with the world.
Tonight, she hoped that it would help do the same thing.
Back when her marriage fell apart, she could see no reason to go on. She had moved out here for him, not because of any deep seated desire to move to California. She was done with school and it was time to go out and get started. Put together a home, a family, a career and a life.
Coming home to her husband leaving with her daughter and another woman ended all of that.
That night, she sat in her bed, crying, holding herself and wishing that it would all just stop. That it would all just go away. If this was what feeling brought her to, then maybe she just shouldn't feel anymore.
Since then, things have changed, and yet they haven't. She made it through all the paperwork, the legal battles and was ready to fight it out in court. But. They didn't.
It was all signed before they got in. The judge looked over the paperwork, asked a couple o questions and slammed the gavel down, granting the divorce.
Like it was some sort of gift or prize. If you are a good enough artist you get a grant. But, you can also get one if you're a lousy wife or husband.
It should be called what it is, an ending.
On her way here, she had stopped at a liquor store. She walked the aisles, looking for something to buy and drink once she got here. Isn't that what you are supposed to do? Her friends who had gotten divorced always invited her out, "Hey Lynn! The papers are signed! Let's go out to the Dirt Works and get trashed! We'll treat men like shit and drink ourselves stupid."
She couldn't find anything that she wanted to drink. It would all either taste too horrible, or be something that sounded dumb. "What did you do the night your divorce was final?" "I drank a bottle of root beer schnapps!"
Instead, she sat there, on the hood of her car, not really knowing what she was supposed to be feeling. She thought that it would end with a big emotional explosion, some kind of ugly confrontation. But it didn't. It was a few words written on paper and then it was over.
All her life, she'd been someone's. Her parent's, a boyfriend, a group at school, someone's worker, her husband's. Never really her own person, always kind of an appendage to someone else. Now, she was on her own.
Sure, she had friends, but none of them were close enough for her to feel connected. Janus lived all the way across the country, Ray and Rachael were giving her a place to live, but there was something about it. She didn't know.
It was odd, in that they talked for hours about things, and they helped her so much, but she was scared to tell them what was really going on in her head. Maybe they'd think she was crazy.
Maybe she was.
Lord knows, going to a therapist made her feel like she was still nuts, still lost in that haze of powerlessness and despair she'd found herself in after the marriage was over.
With all the losses in her life, there was an odd sense of freedom. For once, she didn't have to do something for someone else. She didn't have to live in a nice little house because she had to make an impression on her husband's friends and clients. She didn't have to do anything more than what she wanted to do. The problem was, she didn't know what she wanted to do.
She couldn't live with Ray and Rachael much longer. They were nice enough, but she needed to be her own person. No matter how much it hurt, she had to cut all the ties to her past.
She was a part-time mom and a full-time...
A full time what?
Her degree was in business, but she'd tried that when she moved out here, and it wasn't for her. Going into an office every day, talking about what was on TV last night, seeing who got trashed the weekend before or where they were going on happy hour to get trashed this weekend. Decorating the walls of a grey cubicle and making sure that all the cartoons she posted on the walls were business appropriate. No. That wasn't her.
Janus always told her to listen to that little voice inside that sounds like it's being buried by the other voices that say "You can't" and "You'll fail if you try." It was hard, so very hard to listen. For so many years, her mind had told her to keep to the safe, to try and please the people she knew, not to try things because she might fail.
Well, she'd done what everyone thought she was supposed to do and failed at that. Why shouldn't she try what was in her heart.
Friendships and loves were transitory, ephemeral. People left, got bored, or were just too messed up to deal with anymore. Marriages fail, leaving wreckage that we still don't know how to help people with. Children can be taken, and even if they aren't taken by vengeful spouses, they are taken by growth and time. Nothing lasts. All these thoughts spun through her head as she looked over the lights of the city.
"Art remains," she said, quietly to herself.
She thought about her photos, and how much they had meant to her. Some of them were so good that friends of her wanted copies. They talked about how good she was at it, and she told them that it wasn't hard at all.
And it wasn't. She closed her eyes and saw her photo of this view. The lighting was different, but there was something there that wouldn't be there if someone just looked at it from here. There was her interpretation, her way of seeing it. The way she loved this place, this view, this time. It was all there in her eyes. And, in her camera's eyes.
"Art is all that remains."
It was the only thing that time, distance and other people hadn't ripped from her.
Sure, the thought that everything was horrible was irrational, based in bad thought patterns, and her own fear of being alone. But, even though parts of the thought might be wrong, the thought itself was the truth. The little voice in her mind was telling her what she should do.
What she was supposed to be. Maybe she wasn't a wife, or a full-time mother. Maybe her future was frightening and seemed so far out of her reach that she wouldn't ever get it in her hands. Her dreams were locked in snow globes, something that she couldn't quite touch, but still see and enjoy and hope for.
The Art. The way she was able to communicate to people with her lenses and photos and lighting. The art that she was able to create. That's where she should focus her life.
She walked around to the car door and turned the key for the car, turning on the radio. She had been listening to a tape, one of her favorites. Aimee Mann's "Whatever". The songs poured out from the speakers, loud and true.
And as she sat there on the hood of her car, overlooking the city lights below, she knew that no matter what else happened in her life, all that would really matter to her would be the art. Because, in the end, it's the one thing that no one can ever take away from you.