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I killed my husband. I asked for a divorce, and seven hours before he was to sign the divorce papers, he died. It was my fault. If I hadn't rushed him into it, I would have had time to change my mind, and I didn't want to change my mind again. I was sure this time. I wasn't good at being a wife and I was tired. Marcus and I still loved each other, still desired each other, we were still best friends. But in spite of best intentions, after six years, our marriage had become like overworked pie dough. It was tough, difficult to handle and the only option I could see was to throw it out and start over.
I was a free-spirited California girl, trying to mix with a workaholic German automotive executive. Too often, it had seemed like an exercise in futility, like trying to whip meringue in a greasy bowl where, with even the slightest presence of oil, turning the beaters up to a higher speed still can't accomplish the necessary lightness of being. We needed to throw out the dough, I insisted.
Chuck the egg whites, and wash out our bowls so we might fill them again. I was impatient and impulsive, overly confident that there was something, someone better out there for me. I was also mad at him. He worked too much. All I wanted was more of his time, more of him. Asking for a divorce was my cry for attention. And since I couldn't get his attention, couldn't get the marriage to work, couldn't get the goddamn metaphorical pie dough to roll, I was determined to start over. It was my fault. He died because of me. I killed him.
August 19, 2009.
I wasn't even halfway through my morning walk with the dogs, but the sun had already risen high above the mesa of the Chisos Mountains. We should have left earlier, but every morning started with the same dilemma. Make coffee or walk the dogs first? I loved savoring my cafe latte on the front porch, taking that first half hour to shake off sleep and greet the day. But the window of dog-walking time was short, so the dogs always won. It never failed to amaze me how fast the sun rises in this West Texas frontier, how quickly a summer desert morning could transition from tolerable to intolerable, how a ball of fire that was welcome at first light so quickly became the enemy to be avoided, something from which to seek escape.
Other than the dogs' needs, the heat made no difference to me, as I had made a commitment to staying inside no matter what the weather. My plan was to spend the summer in my rented miner's cabin, chain myself to my computer and bang out a completed draft of my memoir about how I quit a lucrative web-producer job to become a pie baker to the stars in Malibu. How I used pies as if they were Cinderella's slipper to find a husband, and finally did fall in love and get married, to Marcus. The book was going to be a lighthearted tale of romance, adventure and pie baking. It was supposed to have a happy ending. As I scanned the path for rattlesnakes while Jack ran ahead on the dirt road that stretched for miles through the empty, uninhabited expanse, I could see that the only thing visible on the horizon was the heat, a thermal curtain rising up from the ground, waving like tall grass in the breeze. I looked for my second dog, Daisy, the other half of Team Terrier, as I affectionately called my four-legged companions, but her light hair was the exact blond color of the desert floor, so she was much harder to spot between the scruffy patches of sagebrush.
I had gotten into a routine of jogging in the mornings, but on this day I wasn't feeling very strong. In fact, it wasn't the sun baking me to a crisp or the sweat running down the back of my legs that made me want to cut the walk short. It was my heart. It was racing, even though I was walking slowlyso slowly my gait was barely a shuffle. This was not normal for me. I have the strong heart and slow pulse of a professional bike racer, so much so that I often get surprised looks from doctors when probing me with their stethoscopes.
Something was wrong with me. Was I having a heart attack? I needed to get home before I collapsed and became breakfast for the vultures who were already circling overhead. I called for my dogs, who reluctantly gave up on their bunny chase to come back to me. I looked at my digital Timex watch before I turned around. It was 8:36 a.m. Central time.
I made it back to my miner's shack, a hundred-year-old cabin made of stacked rocks chinked with mud. It was primitive but stylish, rustic but elegant, clean and sparsely furnished with just the right touches of safari chic. Decorated by my landlord, Betty, a transplant from Austin, who lived next door, the cabin's style was Real Simple meets Progressive Rancher. The place had running water with a basic kitchen, but the shower was in a separate wing, which could be reached only by going outside. And the toilet? The toilet was an outhouse, a twenty-five-yard walk from the house. While I loved this simple living by day, I wouldn't go near the outhouse at night for fear of walking the gauntlet of snakes and tarantulas.
With the dogs safely back in the houseno one was going to get left outside to fry in the ungodly heatI flopped down on my bed. My heart continued to race like a stuck accelerator, and I lay there, alone, holding my body still, thinking about how this was so unusual, so intense, so unlike any sensation I had ever experienced. I remember wondering if I was going to die. Would death come so early in my life? Really? I had just turned forty-seven, I had the heart of a bike racer, I was just out for an easy morning walk with my dogs, and now this? This was how and where it was going to end? I closed my eyes and tried to stay calm. I wasn't afraid of death. I just didn't think I was ready for it. Besides, if I died, who would take care of my dogs?
My BlackBerry in its rubber red casing sat next to my pillow. It rang and I glanced at the screen to see who was calling. "Unknown" was all it said. Marcus called me daily and he was the only person I knew whose number was "Unknown." We were living apart because of his corporate job that had transferred him yet again, this time back to Stuttgart, Germany, where I had lived with him before but I'd refused to live there again. Marcus wasn't in Germany now. He was in Portland, Oregon, taking a three-week vacation that was originally supposed to include coming to see me in Texas. But then I told him not to come. Oh, and then, after telling him not to come, I added, "As long as you're going to be in the States, this would be a convenient time for us to get a divorce."
I didn't want a divorce. I just wanted him to stop working at his job so much and work more at our marriage. I wanted him to spend less energy at his office so he would have some left for me when he got home. I still loved him, we still talked every single day, and I always, always, always took his calls. Especially ever since we'd had the conversation where I let it slip that there had been a few times when I hadn't picked up the phone when he called.
"Only when I'm writing and trying to concentrate," I assured him. His feelings were so hurt I never had the heart to ignore a call from him again. But with my heart racing, my muscles weak and now my head aching badly, I didn't feel up to talking to him or to anybody, so I let the call go to voice mail. It was just over two hours since I'd returned from my walk.
Twenty minutes later, I figured that if perhaps I wasn't going to die, I should at least get my ass out of bed and go see a doctor. Terlingua, a ghost town with a population of 300, didn't have a doctor per se, but there was a physician's assistant at a local resort who might be able to diagnose what was wrong. Before I called him, I checked my voice mail.
The message wasn't from Marcus.
If I could turn back the clock, if I could hit the reset button, if I could change the course of history and the unfolding of events, I would. I'd gladly sell my soul to go back in time to a date three and a half months earlier, the first week of May 3009May 5, to be precise, our final day togetherand start over from there. I was in Portland for a reunion with Marcus, who was about to begin a new one-year contract in Germany. It was the same day I got laid off from the job I had in Los Angeles, the one that I used as my excuse to leave Mexico, where Marcus had been posted for the past ten months. I had tried to be a good wife by following him to Mexico, after having followed him to Germany for almost three years and then to Portland for nearly two.