I stood on the deserted beach watching jagged, angry shards of ice, deposited by the waves, stack up on each other.
Like brittle, living panes of glass just waiting for a pair of feet to shred.
It was brutally cold and every breath hurt to take in. The thick velour scarf my mother had given me before she died sat frozen at my lips. My fingers inside my wool mittens had gotten too stiff to feel.
I worried for a moment that I might not make it back inside.
But I had to see.
His ship broke open the cove just as the sun made a sliver of fire on the horizon. The ice cover on the bay wasn’t thick, so I knew they would only make one pass.
He stood, behind the rail, alone. A lantern hung by his side. His breath sent plumes of vapor up into the first light of morning. And the breaking sun made the sliver of skin visible around his eyes glow.
My heart pummeled against the inside of my breast.
He lifted a gloved hand to his mouth, pulling the fabric loose so that I might see his smile. It was too far to see properly, really. But my memory colored his lips and made the silver in his whiskers glimmer.
I waved and giggled. I wonder if the sound made it to his ear. I imagined it could, somehow, and whispered my love into the wind.
I watched until I thought I might break.
But I knew I would do it again tomorrow, if it wasn’t too cold. A glimpse was better than nothing. It was enough to stoke the fire in my belly.
Analise stepped into the waiting room, feeling a bit lighter than she’d left it. She exhaled weeks of anxious waiting, and her sigh shifted her husband’s gaze from the tiny screen in the palm of his hand.
Curt slid the phone into his pocket and straightened in his chair.
“Well? What did he say?”
She sat down next to him holding the papers out for him to read. He frowned before taking them.
“I’d rather you tell me.”
His tone was soft but firm, the gravel in his timber stealing any emotion from his voice.
She’d loved that stoic depth when they were dating. He’d seemed impenetrable, unshakable. She didn’t witness a crack in his armor until their wedding day, but once she saw it, she desperately wanted what was underneath.
He was never prepared for that, though.
It had taken him two months to ask her on a date, but only four to propose. And after they said their vows on his 29th birthday, he’d whispered a hundred times that night that she was the best present ever.
Her sister had warned her not to expect the honeymoon to last forever. But when she woke, naked and tangled in hotel sheets two days after her wedding to find him showered and dressed, reading a newspaper and guzzling coffee, she hid her disappointed tears beneath the shower.
It wasn’t that he was ever unkind. In fact, he was the perfect gentleman. But she rarely got the glimpses of that man who was so smitten he couldn’t take his eyes off her on her wedding day. She could probably count them on her hands.
She sighed, looking up into his bright, cool eyes.
“Well, he said I need to have a procedure to remove the growths, but he says it isn’t cancer.”
In a flash so fast she almost missed it, his face crumpled with relief before settling back to his normal, stony expression.
“So they are growths, but not tumors.”
A statement, not a question. But not without a tremor in his voice.
She’d lived too long with the desperation to make him feel, and had been defeated too many times by his dismissals and robotic responses. So she hadn’t tried to see beyond his shell for a very long time.
Suddenly, it was all she could see. “Were you worried?”
His eyebrows knitted together, for a moment glaring at her furiously. But his words came out in a choked whisper. “Of course.”
Twenty-four years, two kids, two houses, a dozen cars, a handful of tragedies, and she’d never seen tears in this man’s eyes until today.
“I’m not a boulder, Ana.”
It wasn’t the first time he declared this, pointing at his chest in defiance. She’d said to him a few times during the first few years of their marriage that he must be made of stone. The first time he’d said he wasn’t, they were watching Titanic. He’d wrapped his arm around her as she sobbed, staring at the screen in disbelief when Leonardo DeCaprio froze. She’d looked up at him, startled, and his face blanched as if she’d struck him.
She realized now that it had always been those moments where she experienced some significant emotion that she caught those glimpses inside his heart.
He smiled so broadly the day she first held her son that she thought his lips might crack. He shook with fury the day a drunk driver had sideswiped her, forcing her off the road and into a ditch.
When she’d stood on the kitchen table, shaking in terror as a mouse raced across her kitchen floor, he’d stalked that pest like a lion hunting prey to feed his family.
And when she told him she had been to the doctor for a biopsy, he held her so tightly that night that she had to tell him she couldn’t breathe.
“You’ve been a bundle of nerves for weeks, of course I was worried.”
Lifting her fingers to his cheek, she longed to push him for more. To let her tug off that armor and snuggle into the softness she so desperately had hoped was underneath. Or warm herself against the fire he kept secretly to himself.
But, as her heart pummeled against her lungs, she knew that would only encourage him deeper into himself. So, she kissed him quickly before taking back the papers and folding them into a little packet.
“Ok. Well, the biopsy came back clear. But the growths are fibrous polyps and my endometrial lining is very thick. They will have to do a D&C, do you know what that is?”
“That’s what you had after Joel.”
The memory of Joel’s birth and the hemorrhaging that had followed burned behind his eyes.
“Yes, but this will be scheduled in advance and without all the hysterics.” She giggled, covering her mouth with her fingers. “Quite a bit less dramatic.”
He slumped and laid a hand on her knee. “Less scary, you mean.”
Lifting her eyes to meet his, she held her breath for a moment.
“I thought I was going to lose you that morning, Ana.”
She’d never thought about what that day had been like for Curt. Her whirlwind first pregnancy filled with difficulties, followed by an emergency cesarean birth. She barely remembered the bleeding or the surgery that followed. She barely remembered any of it, truthfully. The memory of Curt handing her Joel 24 hours later overlaid everything else. The bliss of motherhood giving her amnesia to everything that had happened in the days and even weeks leading up to that moment.
She stared at him for a long moment. “You’re not going to lose me now, either.”
His face went slack before his eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “Good.”
It was hardly a word, more of a release of breath pushed through the crack in his facade. She dropped her fingers to wrap around his in her lap, then drew her leg up beneath her so she could lean into him.
She thought about the way she’d always examined those cracks in his exterior, as if through a microscope. Trying to find a way in.
She’d been missing the fact that she was already in.
Every morning, he rose before her, showered and dressed, then waited for her to wake, ready with a cup of Earl Grey with two sugars. She focused on the fact that he wasn’t in bed with her instead of the big picture.
He held both of their babies for days before she could, but handed them over without question once her body and heart could handle it. She’d envied how they idolized him as they grew, and spent countless hours quietly at his side building, fixing, and painting. But if she’d just stepped back, perhaps she would’ve understood that he was keeping them out of her hair.
He never wanted to take exotic vacations, always opting for weekend trips to the country or the beach. But maybe it was never about the money or time off work. Maybe he just wanted to keep them safe and close.
Everything she ever saw as a dismissal could’ve been his simple way of showing how much he cared.
Reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear, she watched his eyes follow her fingers, and she saw the same glow in his eyes that he’d seen on her wedding day.
“They will call me to schedule the procedure.”
She went on in a soft voice, to explain the surgery center and the outpatient procedure that should only leave her a bit sore for a few days. She slipped her hand under his arm and pressed her cheek against his shoulder. After she’d finished, he sighed another affirmative and pressed his lips against the top of her head.
“Let’s go somewhere nice for lunch. I’m in the mood for pasta.”
She looked up at him, her forehead lined with confusion. “Don’t you have to go back to work?”
Curt shook his head and kissed her again, this time on the bridge of her nose. “No. You’re stuck with me for the whole afternoon.”
“But- You don’t have to do that. I mean- You never miss work.”
“Yeah, well. I don’t always find out if my wife has cancer or not, either.”
Scanning his face, Analise grinned broadly as tears pricked her eyes.
He shook his head again as she hugged his bicep again. But then he stood, pulling her into his arms and holding her there long enough that she heard the nurses sigh and whimper behind the counter. He pulled back and cleared his throat, wiping his eyes with his thumb.
Raising up on her tip toes, she wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Let’s go home instead.” Pressing her lips to his ear, she told him she would make him pasta.
There used to be a time when people worked for something greater than money. Something akin to fame, with the same kind of pride but more divine. Something that cannot be faked or bought. But once you feel it, you want more and you want to try to make others feel it too.
It also used to be easy to find people who wanted to work for the accomplishment of working. The world was simpler and the fruits of labor were sweet.
I paid fair wages and even offered benefit packages to my full-time employees. But the truth is, working for me was far more about the accomplishments than anything else. I wasn’t looking to replace anyone but walked through life with an open mind and a craving for something more, someone great.
Daphne was just that.
Alan had hired her during the holidays at his hardware store, but as post-Christmas cleanup drew to a close, he couldn’t keep her on.
“I’d love to have her around just for the cleaning if I could afford it. But she’s better than that.”
We sat in his office upstairs smoking a couple of white owls and knocking back the last of a bottle of Glenrothes, an odd but pleasant combination.
The window looking out over the shop was now free of the twenty-year-old film it used to wear and the arms of the old swivel chair I sat in were polished to a gleam I wouldn’t have thought they could carry. I could clearly see the impact she had engineered all over his place.
Looking down into the empty shop, there were examples all over of her presence, all of which lit up like light bulbs popping to life. Ideas were my business, and someone with that kind of work ethic at a measly fifteen hour a week job was an idea just waiting to be born.
Before she arrived for her interview, I asked Sandra to let her into my office but not tell her where to sit. It’s a tell of a person’s character to have to choose their own seat. Men typically sit down in one of the straight back chairs perched in front of my desk or one of the armchairs to the left of it, obvious choices as suitable places for an interview. Women often perch on the edge of the sofa in front of the window so that they might see the door open and stand to greet me.
I knew Daphne was different right away. When I entered the office seven minutes after her arrival, she was standing before my bookshelf, invested in a pale blue, handbound book of french poetry. A gift from long ago that I could have never forgotten was there.
After I stepped in and closed the door, she turned toward me, but her gaze continued to dart across the handwritten page until she sighed and closed it lightly. She looked up with eyes that gleamed like a woman twice her age, but a smile that I might have expected a child caught in the cookie jar to wear.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Stanley. It just-,” she turned and slipped the book back into its place. “What a wonderfully sad gift, it just called to me. I apologize.”
I was unable to withdraw my surprise. “You can read French?”
Her cheeks warmed like Gala apples, but her voice was clear and unfettered by my shock. “I can and do. I love French novels. Sorel, Voltaire and everyone in between. But a present like that, so personal. So private-,” her voice sank soft and low, “You shouldn’t keep that in your office.”
I looked up at the ceiling, bobbing my head from side to side before looking back down and leaning in, lowering my own volume. “I certainly never expected a stranger to peruse my private library.”
Swallowing and straightening her shoulders, she took a step forward. “Daphne Reynolds, sir. I am simply thrilled to have the opportunity to interview with you. I sincerely apologize for the invasion of your privacy.”
A young woman reading French poetry at 18 is not perhaps the most impressive thing in the world in 1965, but with only a high school education and a mountain of brothers at home, it was intriguing, to say the least.
We conversed for twenty minutes about her skills and experience, and of course the book. Nothing rattled her, she answered every question barely blinking, even when I wondered at her relationship status.
“Well, Mr. Stanley, I am in the precarious position of being too smart for my own good, as my father likes to say. But to be truthful, I’m simply bored by the boys my own age. And since I had the distinct honor to be born into an era where I am not only allowed to, but even encouraged to work, I would like to do something with myself before allowing myself to be tied down to a house and children.”
“You want to find a career? That’s a tall order for a young lady without a diploma.”
She looked down at her hands, chewing on the inside of her lip, then looked up and moved to the edge of the little club chair she’d decided upon once encouraged to sit.
“I want to give myself the opportunity to feel the earth beneath my feet before allowing someone to sweep me off of them.”
I chuckled but she held my gaze. Deep blue sapphires carefully lined and highlighted beneath her tall brassy blond coif, swept across her forehead and flipped perfectly at the shoulders. She had dressed for the part, undoubtedly in her mother’s best suit and heels.
But she was not a child playing dress up before heading home to read bedtime stories to her siblings.
I offered her the position that Friday, and she started on the following Monday.
The newspaper was printed at a press on Suffolk Ave., but the writing and piecing together happened all over the city. It was never about the hours at your desk or word quotas or advertising dollars, not for me. It was all for the exhilaration of going to print.
I rarely ever read my own paper. But the crazy intoxication of getting it ready to read, that was my fuel. Daphne became an integral part of it during the next four months. Sometimes you hire people without a position in mind, and after restructuring the mailroom and assisting with a major ad campaign debacle, it was clear that she was assistant editor material.
She was made from the same stuff that presidents and warlords were made of, but smoothed and softened by the delicious curves of femininity. So when she steamrolled over you, you were left sighing and smiling about it.
It was a shimmery first day of May, dew winking in the grass and on every sleek surface as I walked to work at 7am. Daphne, in her feverish need for information, had recently read about the negative effects of sitting all day. She’d already worked her magic over my smoking and drinking, and truth be told, I had no inclination to dismiss anything she brought to me.
She met me on Hudson, smiling broadly as I offered my arm. “It’s such a beautiful day, I’m going to pretend I don’t see the powdered sugar on your tie, Roger.”
“Only tooth powder, my dear. I haven’t touched a donut in at least a day.”
Her laugh chimed through the crisp spring air like the song of a harp. It stole my next step, and when she turned to face me after my sudden stop, I felt the earth slip from beneath my feet.
Her smile softened as her eyes met mine. Concern drew tiny vertical lines between her brows and she let her hand slip from the inside of my arm. Stepping forward and tilting her head, she asked me what was wrong. Or I think she did. I could only hear my own pulse thumping in my ears.
“Your eyes remind me so much of my wife’s.”
Jeanne had been 19 when we married. She was wild and flippant but loved me with a passion that locked down my heart so tightly that I was sure no one would ever break it out. She wanted babies immediately when I brought her to America after I finished my third year in the Army, but struggled to hold a pregnancy.
After each miscarriage, she would huddle beneath the sheets for days, scribbling away in her journal. Or what I thought was her journal. It was two days after losing her fifth pregnancy that I found out what she had been writing during those terrible times.
It was a pale blue linen stretched book. Inscribed with her suicide note. And embedded with a special kind of torture that I would inflict upon myself repeatedly for over a decade.
It would have been such a beautiful gift if she had been there to share it with me all those years.
Daphne stood listening to me blabber about that book that had drawn her to care for me in a special way, to know me in a way most people don’t, to see me like only my beloved ever had.
“I’ve read it, you know.” Her lips quivered slightly at the admission. “I’ve read it and reread it, cover to cover.”
“And yet, here you stand.”
I don’t doubt the world thought me a fool. At my age, some pretty young thing harbors a fascination like hers and longs to take care of me, I could’ve had a whole new life.
After all, Jeanne brought her to me for a reason. In that dusty old blue book, she didn’t just write our past.
She wrote my future.
But I saw a different future for Daphne. The heart of a poet and philosopher with the brain of a businessman and the face of an angel, she didn’t need to be tied to a house and family.
She needed to be free to feel the earth beneath her feet as long as humanly possible.
So instead of giving her my love, I gave her my newspaper. A purpose.
And she never forgave me until she received her own book of poetry, a million years later.
I know what you’re thinking. And yes, I’m one of those girls. The kind who wakes up in random places with random strangers and how in the hell do I never end up cut up in pieces in some guy’s freezer or chained to the hot water heater in his basement.
I could only be so lucky.
It was late August the last time I thought that about myself. I opened my eyes to a vicious sound, whining and rumbling in disharmonic unison that made images of my grandfather’s chainsaw pass through my whiskey clogged brain.
When I opened my eyes, the ever adorable Raina was standing at the kitchen counter dropping rocks into the bowl of her giant Kitchenaid mixer and glaring at me with eyes that could have set water ablaze.
My hands went to my ears as I shouted, begging her to stop.
She pointed to her ear, shaking her head as her mouth twisted upward at the corners. Raina’s smiles cost me a drop of my soul, every single one. But there was never any complaining on my part. She paid her own penance for being with me.
When I stuffed my thumbs in my ears and wrapped my fingers over my eyes, dropping my head against the back of her fuzzy futon, she threw one of the stones at my stomach and turned off the grievous machine.
“I don’t know why I put up with you, Krista.”
The wilted thorns in her voice told me I’d better get up. As I did, the room spun with waves of heat and black baubles of non-light making me wish I’d just keel over and die on the spot.
“Raina. Baby.” Another stone, smaller than the last, dashed across the coffee table and hit me in the thigh. “You’re gonna break something.”
“If it’s your face, I might be ok with it.” Her lips trembled with the ache of whatever I’d put her through. Don’t ask me what it was, I couldn’t have told you my name just then if she hadn’t said it.
I sighed, putting my hands up to simultaneously steady myself and signal the universal sign of surrender. “Then you really wouldn’t put up with me. My face is the only thing you like about me.”
Another twitch at the edge of her lips made my heart flutter.
There is lots of beauty in the world, but then there is a rare form of it that is so close to magic, you might not be able to distinguish the difference. Raina had the means to make you believe she flitted between the two like a fairy or angel or siren.
Most like a siren. There was just something dark and dangerous in those fiery eyes of hers.
But this time, the darkness bloomed. It took over the crisp sweet pleasure of her smile. With tiny explosions of thought visibly firing inside her mind, her features muddied into demonic fury. She held the large rock in her right hand and I swallowed hard, gazing at the mud that still clung to its surface and wedged deeply beneath the long white tips of her fingernails.
A surge of something cold and penetrating went through my spinal column, sobering me from root to stem as I stopped my quiet advance toward her and let my eyes waft back up to hers.
I knew I’d taken her for granted. I never told her how I loved her or made sure she felt it. I partied hard and plenty, letting myself become seduced by pretty boys and gruff girls in the toilets of bars or hotel hot tubs. I was 26 and I still thought I was invincible.
Raina was just a girl I was fucking. FWB. My last call.
The realization of my mortality that sticky, late summer morning made my life seem so wasted. So worthless. And as her fist rose in the air, I did not see the past flash before my eyes.
I saw every speck of dust sparkling in the late morning sunlight. I saw the drops of sweat on Raina’s forehead and collarbone. I saw kids across the street running through the spray of a lawn sprinkler. I saw Raina’s kitten with eyes wiser than they should have been watching the scene unfold before her as she perched on the top of the sleek silver curtain rod I’d helped to hang a hundred years ago.
I saw every single thing in the world around me, in slow motion, about to go on without me after the sharp, cold ridge of that rock slammed into my face. But I didn’t see the small stone she had thrown a moment ago sitting neatly behind my right foot as I stepped back away from her.
Holding my breath, milliseconds fell between us like those helicopter seeds that sift below the branches of maple trees in the spring. Her eyes widened and my foot fell awkwardly on something round and rough and out of place. I watched as the massive rock glided past my eyes, mere millimeters away and my frame lurched backward nearly parallel to the floor.
But only a breath before the back of my head skimmed over the solid oak edge of her coffee table.
When I opened my eyes to find her kneeling over me, crying and laughing in some superfluous symphony of irony, she was holding the tiny rock I slipped on.
“Only you, Krista. Only you.”
I’m baffled as to why, as it hurt my head when I began to laugh with her, but I did. I sat up, clinging to her as she dissolved in a fit of giggles before me.
“Where is your shoe?”
Through the tears in my eyes and the pain from the depth of my soul, I laughed even harder.
Because she was right.
Only I would lose a shoe and have it save my life.
I’d heard the rumors. Some of the guys on the force think it’s funny to try to scare the female officers. But, I would say, after seventeen years of experience, women police are far more difficult to rattle than male.
We probably have more fears than our male counterparts, but we simply cannot show them.
Dan was trying to bait me, no doubt. Our afternoon assignment was to clear out the squatters in the abandoned Ramada Plaza hotel. The property owners had security, but once a month, they’d ask for a sweep. And we drew the short straw that day.
“Patterson, code 4.”
The hotel was supposed to be on a low-use power setting, operating hallway lights, exit signs and the fire system 24/7. But even this seemed to be faulty, as I exited the 2nd floor and jogged down the steps in the dark, my feet spotlighted by my Maglite.
“Please answer me.”
My ears rang with the bang of the door behind me as I exited the stairwell and jogged over the matted, thick carpet between peeling wallpaper and doors marked with large, gold plated numbers in the one hundreds. My whispered pleas where only met by the squelching of the carpet beneath my shoes.
“Officer Patterson, please respond.”
The crackle from the two way echoed through the first floor hallway. No power on this floor either. I stopped and started to close my eyes. But the silence around me begged for my full attention.
He’d said we should stick together, but I wanted to get in and out and had felt the vile, moldy stench infecting my uniform before we were even inside. No one in their right mind would sleep here, breathing normally was impossible.
I thought we’d be out in fifteen, so I’d decided to split up.
But as I had kicked around crack pipes and used condoms in my twentieth empty room, there was a laugh through the two way, a gasp and a sigh. Then, complete silence.
Half an hour later, I wished I’d listened to his sorry, lazy ass.
“Dan, please. If this is a prank, it’s over. I’m calling for back up.”
I stood at the front of the damp, putrid lobby, praying for his laugh to bark through the speaker at my shoulder.
But the only sound I heard was my own breath. And the pop of electricity as the lobby, too, went black.
Reeling into the daylight felt like being born. The front door swung open so easily, I half expected to find Dan standing by the cruiser, eating one of those God awful protein bars his vegan wife makes for him.
But the car was empty.
I fought back tears as I sat in the drivers seat. Pressing insubstantial buttons on the laptop screen, stomach acid rising in my throat and my skin itching with some combination of the late summer heat and the layer of mold spores that must be invading every pore. I could not give myself the opportunity to second guess. It had been nearly an hour.
“Better not be fucking with me.”
I cleared my throat and took a deep breath, closing my eyes to the setting sun glaring across the windshield.
“Tango Echo, officer needs assistance at 4900 Sinclair.”
I waited, an odd light grabbing my attention from behind the glass inside. Green and hollow, like a hot air balloon, but as it grows brighter, I’m fascinated by it. I stand and move toward the door, the dispatcher’s voice chirping over the call, asking me to repeat. The sun seems to be setting too fast.
Stopped, halfway to the door, I felt the ground beneath my feet shudder. The vibration was electric in it’s intensity, invading my skin, penetrating my tissues right through to my veins and nerves.
My vision swam, the light changed, became all I could see.
It is twenty three steps to the door.
I know this because I fought my own feet for 22 of them.
I heard the sirens blaring up the highway that zoomed across the back of the hotel. My puppeteer maneuvered my body as though I truly was held up by strings. I couldn’t stop staring at the light. I wanted to be in it. Under it.
I needed to.
When I found him, in the center of the basement, the light pouring from his pores, I understood why.
The sky rumbles. Villainous chuckles of fate superceding dreams, as I waited, willing the sky to cooperate but grateful for the taught canvas above my head.
The tent had meant borrowing against my 401k, but I’d been unable, or more unwilling to deny her the dream her first husband and lack of parents had refused her. A wedding, after all, is the most important day in a woman’s life.
One of them, I hoped.
It was an impressive sight. Forty feet wide and twice as long. Stillwater was the tent style. Or manufacture. I hadn’t been privy to all the details, only the rental invoice. I remember my stomach lurching when the pretty, strawberry blond printed our final order in the glamorous two story rental showroom after an hour of picking our tent, lighting package, table shapes and sizes, chairs and dishes and fabrics and colors. My head was still swimming, seven months later.
But rain did mean the garden ceremony would be moved into the house.
Thunder might mean we shouldn’t be under the massive tent as well. The installers had provided some warnings.
I ignored the memory prickling in the back of my mind.
Nothing would stop this day.
My phone buzzed, and as I fished it from the inside pocket of my tux, a second message was coming through.
I have handled the disjointed frustration of my mother who had wanted a doctor, but had raised an accountant. I’d dealt with the sadness of my college sweetheart when I’d said I didn’t want to marry her. I’d even muscled through the violent hatred of my first fiance when I realized she was never going to be mother material.
But Jenna’s disappointment was something I knew would crush me.
Please save the peonies We could line the hearth, couldn’t we?
My smile made my eyes close. I loved this women with a fury that caused a simple text about flowers to give me a hard on.
The flowers had been the only thing she could pay for, and she’d made every penny count. I didn’t get the fuss, but the way her face had lit up when we walked into that florist made understanding a frivolous thing.
It took the wedding planner all of twenty seconds to come up with a plan for them, and as she took them from my sweaty hands, I glanced around for what catastrophe I might stave of next.
It’s truly amazing how dark the world can become with heavy cloud cover. A summer storm is not an odd thing in July. And even as the wind picked up, I refused to worry.
Jenna was the most beautiful bride I’d ever been privy to see. Even as she bent over my punctured chest, rain smudged and tear stained, the shimmery white fabric of her dress wicking blood from the wound like tissue paper absorbing watercolors. She was exquisite.
I stood and watched her, rain pelting in from the side of the splintered tent.
I didn’t feel the lightening strike. I didn’t hear the snap of the pole at my back. I didn’t understand what had made my knees buckle as I turned around and watched myself fall.