Their little faces were pressed up against the bus window. It was the end of the first day of school. The perky, bright bows were now wilted and the new, little boy haircuts matted down from sweaty, rough play at recess. Lynn’s twin sons looked a little stunned as they jumped off the bus in their new sneakers. One day they are shooting hoops and flailing their bodies into the pool and the next day they are in a classroom learning that mistletoe is a parasite.
As much as Lynn felt for these little kids and the 180 days of homework ahead of them, she was feeling bad for herself.
Goldenrod budding, trees prematurely yellowing and crisp evening air were signs that summer was waning. But cold air and the start of school wasn’t Lynn’s problem. She was alone again in her house, which was slowly becoming a cell, isolating her from the outside world.
During the summer Lynn had her boys. Ryan and Braeden were her armor, her purpose to leave the house for the pool club, berry picking, roller coaster riding, beach and museum hopping. Her sons were the reason to continue not working, the reason to stay married, the reason for everything she had become. The start of school gave Lynn nine hours to fill, but all the ironing, cleaning and crock pot prepping wasn’t enough to keep her mind off how small her world had become.
“I am feeling a little depressed,” she shared, leering down between her stir upped feet at her gynecologist.
“Are you seeing a therapist,” the doctor asked, poking his head up to look at Lynn’s face. He had receding ginger hair and a matching goatee.
“No. I’ve done that before and it doesn’t help,” Lynn skipped telling her doctor about the days she lays in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to rally herself to do anything.
The doctor nodded.
“How about I give you a prescription for Zoloft. Just 25 milligrams. Maybe that will take the edge off, sound good? ”
Lynn had been taking the pills for three months now and even the sensation of the dry pill scraping down her throat made her feel more relaxed. A little anxiety trickled away and she could comfortably take the boys to tennis lessons and nod at the other mothers huddled in conversation, but never joining their circle.
At the bus stop, Lynn greeted her boys with a big hug and tried to preserve the embrace for a few extra seconds.
“Cut it out mom,” Ryan wiggled out of her arms while Braeden obliged. They were identical twins that Lynn’s husband Darren referred to as his new Jaguar. It took three years of in vitro to conceive the boys who arrived two months early only to live in the neonatal center for a month. It was hard to believe they were big and healthy eight-year-olds who had grown three inches over the summer. Both boys looked like their dad, dark hair, olive skin, big blue eyes and broad smiles.
“I made some banana bread for snack.”
The three walked up their winding driveway to their French provincial ranch that overlooked a peach orchard, tree branches weighed down by clusters of fuzzy peaches.
“Gross,” Ryan grumbled.
“There’s chocolate chips in it,” Lynn hoped to get some kind of positive utterance from Ryan while Braeden gave a thumbs up, re-positioning his backpack on his shoulder.
“Your snack is on the kitchen table and then we have to head to Fall Ball.”
The boys groaned.
Even Darren was feeding into Lynn’s feelings of getting sidelined in her own house.
“Want to watch a movie up in the bedroom tonight,” Lynn would jokingly gyrate in front of Darren as he sat in his leather recliner staring at his laptop. She’d saunter closer to him, her legs straddling his thighs.
“Stop! Don’t sit on me,” Darren stuck his hands out like a cop halting a delinquent, “The chair can’t handle the two of us. You know I don’t like it when you sit on me.”
Lynn obeyed, pulling away.
“I’m trying to be affectionate.”
“Try something else. I am tired of the same old tricks you do.”
Lynn sighed, “Why don’t you and your laptop email me what tricks you want me to try.”
Darren laughed, “Do you know your t-shirt’s inside out? Have you worn it that way all day?”
Lynn looked down at the shirt, not seeing the Superman decal. She had organized matching Superman t-shirts for the boys’ 4th birthday party for the entire family to wear. Her shirt had become her daily uniform, unlike the pressed Brooks Brothers shirts Darren wore every day.
She exited toward the stairs as Darren called out, “By the way, I’m running low on underwear.”
Lynn talked to her gynecologist about the nearly year-long sex drought.
“Is that normal?”
Dressed and siting up right with her purse on her lap, Lynn wanted a man’s perspective.
“A man can oversleep, get in a fender bender, show up late for work, get fired, come home angry and kick the dog. After the worst day possible he is going to want sex. Tell you husband to talk to his doctor.”
Lynn was once a size 6 and had grown to a size 14. When she was a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue in Boston she wore Burberry, Marchesa, and she even had a few Armani and Stella McCarthy pieces in her wardrobe. They still hung in her closet like a shrine to her former self.
At Fall Ball, Lynn parked her fold up chair a few feet from the bleachers and settled in with a paperback novel, her prop to ward off chatty parents.
Lynn was minutes from a quick getaway with her boys when two moms arrived and sat beside her, greeting her with a rare hello. Lynn always recognized many moms, but they never seemed to recognize her on the sidelines.
“Hi Chelsea, your son Hayden was in my son Braeden’s preschool class…” Lynn offered, her stomach in knots wishing she wasn’t in this grassy three woman klatch.
“He went to the Goddard School?” Mom Chelsea questioned with surprise.
“Yes, and Hayden played with Ryan in the same soccer team in kindergarten.”
“Wow, you have a good memory,” Mom Chelsea’s expression turned confused.
From the sidelines, Lynn learned a lot about the moms, collecting tidbits of their lives from eavesdropping. But she was never invited to all the BUNCO and candle parties.
“They were in the same class last year as well,” Lynn continued, determined to get a flutter of recognition from Mom Chelsea.
Mom Chelsea’s face dropped, her eyes not registering Lynn or her sons. But she would love it if Lynn would bring a team snack to Saturday’s game.
“Sure I’ll bring little bags of Raisinets.”
“Oh no, only healthy snacks like grapes or tangerines,” she corrected Lynn.
To change the subject, Lynn asked Mom Patty what she did over the summer and Mom Patty answered, listing family activities of camping and visiting grandma in Ohio. Her retort to Lynn was, “Are your boys still going to Catechism?”
“No, no, we stopped after their First Communion,” and for some reason Lynn felt the need to give some explanation as to why the twins were Catechism dropouts, “My husband grew up Jewish and I grew up Catholic so we just decided to skip the whole religion thing …”
As the words came out of her mouth Lynn wanted to reel them back in, reel back time and be pool side again with her boys and not on the sidelines with these women.
Mom Patty gave a quick smile, “well then, good to see you,” and she turned her head to chat up Mom Chelsea, ignoring the heathen who fed her children sugar and that nobody knew.
Maybe 50 milligrams of Zoloft would be better, Lynn wondered.
There were occasional moments of pleasure in her life. The stash of Ben and Jerry pints she’d drudge up under the frozen peas in the freezer. Every spoonful of Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby and her favorite, New York Super Fudge made her little life tolerable.
Weekly visits to TJ Maxx helped as well. It was no Saks Fifth Avenue and in many ways Lynn felt like she was slumming, but it was a few miles from her house and the allure of leather Michael Kors bags, the sound of scrapping hangers on metal racks, the weight of size extra large clothes on the hook of her arm brought her a sense of possibility.
The last time she visited T. J. Maxx Carl the manager approached her.
“What are you doing?” He was bald, thin with a little gold hoop earring in his left ear.
Lynn forgot where she was and who she was. In that moment she was no longer Lynn the 45 year old mother and housewife. She was 28 year old Lynn, living in Cambridge with a view of the Charles and on the floor of Saks Fifth Avenue reviewing the merchandise collection she curated and training the sales staff on key points to help make the sale.
Lynn looked at Carl and then back at the mannequin that she had undressed and redressed with a sexy black Max Marra jersey sheath, a mixed media cardigan, a chunky statement necklace and coordinating shoes and clutch.
“Something tells me you’ve done this before?” Carl kind of laughed and Lynn suspected he was trying to surmise if she was crazy.
“Sorry. Wow, so sorry. I, I saw the mannequin and just didn’t like what she had on.”
Carl crossed his arms and nodded his head, “This is much better. Have you worked in retail?”
Lynn smiled, “I was with Saks Fifth Avenue for nearly fifteen years. Started in sales, became an assistant site merchandiser and then got selected to their executive program.”
“Wow. Well, I have some openings. It’s just minimum wage. But we could use someone with experience and there is a lot of upward potential if you are interested. Here’s my card.”
Lynn didn’t run home and tell Darren and the boys about her job offer. But she did try to savor the opportunity and the notion that some strange guy named Carl noticed her. That for one little moment she wasn’t on the sidelines and that she did something good, something helpful and wanted. Maybe it was just fashion, as Darren had dismissed her former profession, but Lynn knew how a garment, a look, a fabric could make a woman feel strong, beautiful, happy and she was good at knowing what would sell.
Lynn started her new job on a Monday morning. She woke up at 5 a.m., popped in Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred DVD for 30 minutes of cardio and jumped in the shower. She sucked in her stomach and zipped up a size 12 linen pant and pulled over an old Tory Burch tunic that skimmed over her belly. Her chestnut brown hair was pulled into a French twist and she embellished her ears with some diamond studs Darren had given her for Christmas ten years earlier.
“Carl is showing me how to open up the store today so I’ll need you to get the boys on the bus,” Lynn addressed her husband who was just getting out of bed.
“Is that what you are wearing?”
“I think I look nice,” Lynn ignored the jab and stood in front of Darren, blocking his path to the bathroom.
“Compliment me. Say one nice thing about me,” Lynn demanded.
Darren’s eyebrows furrowed, “I don’t operate that way. You can’t force me to compliment you.”
“It shouldn’t be that hard to find something you like about me if you love me. Think about it Darren. What was the last kind thing you said to me?”
For the first time in weeks, Darren studied Lynn’s face, her brown eyes that she framed with chocolate eye liner. He remained silent.
“There’s a pot roast in the crock pot. I’ll get the boys after school.”
Lynn turned from Darren and jogged down the stairs. Braeden waited at the bottom step. He wrapped his arms around Lynn’s waist and hugged her.
“You look pretty Momma. I love you.”