Home > Feels Like Falling

Feels Like Falling
Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey




gray: perfect island blonde

I had always been a planner. My calendar was filled a year in advance, vacations chosen from a well-curated spreadsheet of bucket list destinations ranked in order of interest, and my son’s potential summer camp options were mapped out for the rest of his childhood, categorized by activity and color-coded by region. My company’s succession plan should I (a) die, (b) retire, or (c) never return from one of the aforementioned bucket list vacations had been detailed since the day I filed for my first LLC.

Needless to say, when my startup took off, and I got married, had my son, and bought my dream house all in very short order, I thought my hard work had been worth it. The hours spent goal setting, evaluating, strategizing, and visualizing had come to fruition, bloomed into the beautiful garden that I had been seeding, sowing, and watering for the past several years. I thought I had this adulting thing in the bag. I thought I was set.

Life had other plans.

I put the car in park, took a deep breath, and stepped out. The heat rose from the asphalt of the parking lot as I hoisted my rattan beach bag onto my shoulder. Cicadas sang in the tall sea oats, and the dunes in front of the beach club rolled like hills, their valleys revealing a spectacular view of the ocean. The hazy sky went pink, yellow, or orange depending on where I looked, blending to a seamless blue over the ocean at the horizon line.

I gave my outfit a final once-over in the car’s reflection. Large floppy hat, huge Jackie O sunglasses, vintage pareo tied around my neck, and plain but chic flip-flops. I stood up straighter and cleared my throat. It was going to be okay. On a day as spectacular as this, it couldn’t help but be. I had gone over the plan at least a hundred times in my head: Park car on the far side of the lot, directly opposite the pool. Exit car and veer left of the octagonal patch of grass visible from the terrace and outdoor dining area. Walk briskly but nonchalantly straight into the protective watch of my best friend, Marcy, who would be waiting for me poolside.

My flip-flops traveled in measured steps across the concrete pavers as Step on a line, and you’ll break your mama’s spine came to mind, reminding me that, always and forever, we are children at heart.

No matter our age, first days back are never easy. I was a grown-up now. I could have avoided this first day. But I refused to hide out in the shadows as though I had something to be ashamed of; I refused to sacrifice a summer at one of my favorite places in the world because of a little scandal. On this opening day at the beach club, members from near and far who called Cape Carolina—this little slice of sandy paradise—home each summer would gather together again for three glorious months by the shore. They would be chattering excitedly, catching up on everything that had happened over the past nine months while they were apart. Suffice it to say, I would be a hot topic.

As I turned the corner, I gave my friendliest wave to the brunchers on the terrace who called out greetings. But I passed by quickly. For every person who would give me a hug in true concern, there were four who would try to gather dirt and then whisper about it behind my back later.

My plan didn’t account for the fact that the teak lounge chairs between the terrace and the pool deck were teeming with sunbathers, mimosa sippers, and bridge players.

I had almost passed through unnoticed when Mrs. Jenkins, a remarkably agile octogenarian whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer, jumped up from her chair and stopped me in my tracks. “Gray, darling,” she said dramatically, her bright abstract-print caftan blowing in the breeze. “I am so sorry…”

Here it was. I nodded in polite recognition and braced myself for the blow. I knew it was inevitable, but I wasn’t ready to hear how sorry everyone was about my impending divorce. I knew they were, in their way, even the ones who weren’t as charitable about their delivery. But they were also relishing a new scandal to discuss this summer.

But then she continued, “I am so sorry I didn’t make it to your mother’s funeral, sweetheart. Burl was in the hospital, and I simply could not leave him.” She took my hand, making the bangles on my wrist jingle, and I was grateful for my huge, tear-concealing sunglasses. I gave her jeweled left hand an understanding squeeze, my ring finger conspicuously empty in comparison to hers. This was how it was when we came back together, as though the past few months had never happened, were suspended in time. I usually loved that. But this year it meant rehashing things that had happened almost nine months earlier, including my mother’s funeral.

“It was a beautiful service,” I said. It had been. I had enlisted my favorite florist to make the arrangements nothing short of spectacular. Mom had specifically told me not to waste money on flowers. They weren’t a waste, though. They were glorious, the backdrop of the church’s stained-glass windows making them even more so. Those flowers brightened one of the darkest days of my life. No one in the church except for Marcy realized that I was grieving the loss of three people. My mother, of course. My husband, who was next to me in the pew but no longer next to me at night. And my sister, whose brand-new husband, Elijah—who, to put it mildly, I believed was a cult leader—had brainwashed her out of our family. To add insult to injury, he had performed the service, per my mother’s request. I hadn’t had the heart to tell her in her final days that the man she thought had saved her wild child, Quinn, and brought her to Jesus was nothing like he seemed—much less that Greg had left me.

Mom had died in September barely seven months after her February diagnosis, after a swift but valiant battle with a cancer that seemed determined to take her from here, from me, from all of these earthly problems. It was a blessing; I knew that. But it still hurt like hell. She had left when I needed her the very most. I needed her today, to help me face this firing squad head-on.

“It was magnificent,” Mrs. Stoddard added, standing up to join us.

I was trapped. The plan had failed. I quickly scanned the property for Marcy, but she was nowhere to be found.

“And congratulations on your sister’s wedding,” Mrs. Stoddard added, raising her wrinkled hand to shield her face. “I only wish we had been invited,” she said lightly.

Wow. I felt like I was getting away with murder. The first dig of the day didn’t have to do with Greg. Even still, I couldn’t help but imagine everyone around me whispering about my marriage. If she hadn’t worked so much.… If she had cared a little more about the man being the man.… Did you see her travel schedule?… Poor little Wagner.… It is the worries that plague us the most that cut the deepest when other people call them to the surface. Because this year had been difficult for my son. He had adjusted remarkably well to his new circumstances, but that didn’t keep my shame and guilt from being very real.

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