Featured in Colorado Review
Published Spring 2012
Of all natural disasters, landslides are more devastating than most people realize. Worse, they are often triggered by other natural disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Scientists refer to this as the multi-hazard effect. In one of the deadliest landslides of the last century, in the Ancash region of Peru in 1970, the multi-hazard effect was responsible for the burial and death of over fifty thousand people. Of course, in most circumstances, death comes before burial. Where there are multiple hazards occurring nearly simultaneously, however, it is likely that even if you survive the first disaster, there is another on its way to bury you alive.
Ten years ago, as I was in my new-motherhood panic with an infant baby boy, I met her. I was taking my son out for a walk in the neighborhood with his baby jogger, doing one of my early impressions of an enthusiastic young mother. I was walking past as she called out, “How old is your baby?” It was the pickup line for the stay-at-home-mommy set, women desperate for any kind of adult interaction. “He’s four months,” I said as I approached. She was holding her son in her arms, standing on her perfectly manicured lawn. He was dressed as a professional golfer.
As she explained that her son was six months old, I noticed that she had not allowed herself the personal-hygiene hiatus that most new mothers, including me, had granted themselves. My hair was falling in clumps from my limp ponytail, and I had stains of breast milk and rice cereal drying on my T-shirt. Her shoulder-length light brown hair was neatly combed beneath her wide-brim sun hat, and she appeared to have just come from the dressing room at Anthropologie.
After introducing our sons, we stood there, watching them and waiting, as if they were going to exchange pleasantries. Then and suddenly, she invited me and my son to join a playgroup. I accepted the invitation, although I did not seem to have a lot in common with her, or anyone else who had a baby. I was a lawyer. She gardened. Not that those things were mutually exclusive, but I know that only now. At the time, I thought we were quite different; the only way it seemed we were alike was that we enjoyed the same movies—I had seen her before at the video store and we had spoken there a few times.
But we were not fast friends. Even after meeting in the same playgroup once a week for several years, we were not friends. At first, if I am honest, for those first several years, she was not interesting to me. She was boring, in fact. Boring in the “My life is perfect, and my son is perfect, and my marriage is perfect, and my house is perfect, and my garden is perfect” way. Boring in the way that only perfect can be, and not worth investing any emotional energy, until one summer—the playgroup’s fifth summer.
Her heart had been broken that summer by her lover, an old high school boyfriend who, she had desperately hoped, would help her escape. I could understand what she was hoping to escape from: the idea that this is all there was. This life of wifedom, motherhood, laundry, sex on Saturday mornings (if then), and playing trains on the floor for hours on end. That this was all there was or would be—where time moved so fast that it made us old overnight, but where each day, hour by hour, moved so mind-numbingly slowly.
But he would not help her escape. She somehow managed to keep her heartbreak about this fact contained, and thus her marriage intact. But she had to tell someone, if only because a broken heart is too much for anyone to bear alone.
We had run into each other unexpectedly one late afternoon in the parking lot of the neighborhood grocery. As soon as she saw me, she broke into writhing sobs, the tears from her eyes and the fluid from her nose running together, down her chin and onto her blouse. She could not help herself from repeating, “Why doesn’t he love me?” I was shocked and discomforted by her grief and that she would allow me to see it. I said, “Of course he does,” thinking that she meant her husband, who seemed too afraid of her not to.
Unfairly frustrated, as if I were somehow to blame for not being up to speed, she bawled, “Not him.” As she continued crying, I felt a pull to embrace and comfort her, but I did not do so, fearing that she would judge such an act too intimate, not yet within the repertoire of our relationship. So instead, I tried to soothe her from a distance, “Everything will be okay. Don’t cry.” But she was disconsolate, and I could see for the first time that neither she nor her life was as perfect as she’d wanted everyone to believe. And as things went, her imperfections made her human, and interesting, at least to me. Because I did not have a perfect life either.
Although I did not want it to be true, I was not happily married. I had known this since a few hours after my wedding many years before. My new husband and I were in the presidential suite of a lower downtown hotel after coming from our wedding reception. He had helped himself to both of the chocolate squares that had been carefully laid on the bed next to the towels twisted into swans, their tails forming the shape of a heart appropriate for most wedding nights. He said, “Well, I just made the worst mistake of my life.” Confused, I said, although it was not true, “I wasn’t going to eat mine anyway.” But he clarified: “No, I mean marrying you.” I was still in my wedding dress.
And, just like you’ve heard on daytime talk shows, it got worse. His violent, episodic rages began on our honeymoon. They were terrifying and unpredictable. They were not rational. One night I was taking out my contact lenses, the disposable ones that I had always thrown in the trash, and my husband said, “Hey, you’re going to clog my sink with those.” Caught off guard by what I had confused as a joke (the sink?), I laughed. Although it would have been an equally big mistake not to laugh had it actually been a joke, it was not.
He erupted, storming toward me and shaking the floor under my feet. He screamed within inches of my face. And I froze—which means, simply, that I mentally shut down and physically became paralyzed, losing all feeling in my arms and legs—becoming so lightheaded that I felt like a yellow balloon, slowly floating away from myself, at risk of popping at any moment. Within moments his voice had gone hoarse and my cheeks were covered with his saliva.
It is not uncommon for people to remain in disaster-prone areas even when it is ill-advised. The reasons people stay vary, but often have to do with underestimating the level of risk, the inability—financial or otherwise—to do anything different, and family ties to the area that make it difficult to leave. I stayed in my marriage for many of the same reasons. The risk of disaster was always present, but the eruptions and upheavals were not predictable enough for me to appreciate the danger inherent in staying.
In any event, after my son was born, it seemed there was no way to extricate myself. I was not in an economic position to walk away, even if I thought my husband would let me. Even more, I was not in an emotional position to accept that I would likely be forced to abandon my infant son in the danger zone, at least on Wednesdays and alternating weekends. Of course, in retrospect, it doesn’t make sense to stay in a marriage like that. All I can say, for the defense, is that it is so hard to believe it is happening that it becomes easier to pretend it is not.
At its inception, playgroup had just five kids—three boys and two girls. But none of us stopped at one baby, so by the end of all of our childbearing years, there was a total of eleven kids: three girls and eight boys. Two of those boys were mine, and two of those boys were hers. When people think of a playgroup, they likely think of a horde of kids playing together, and that’s what it was. But that’s not all it was, at least not to me. Over those years, it became my single emotional escape, a lifeline saving me from the disaster of my marriage and the aftershocks of sadness and grief that I was sure would overcome and crush me amid the wreckage.
I don’t think that it is altogether uncommon. Finding happiness outside of marriage. You’re lucky to find it at all, really.
At least one afternoon a week, we gathered in one of our kitchens and dispatched the kids to the basement—or if it was nice, outside—to play. Then the wine was opened, and playgroup started. On one of those afternoons, we were in my kitchen. Although I had spent hours cleaning in preparation for hosting playgroup, oatmeal was still stuck to my countertop. As soon as she noticed the hardened clumps, she did not just politely ignore them like the other moms. Instead, she helped herself to a sponge from my sink, sniffed it, and scrubbed the counter spotless.
As she often did, she brought a discussion topic for the afternoon.
She said, “So my new rule is that I won’t give my husband a blow job unless he finishes reading a book.” We all knew immediately that he would never get another one. Turning to me, she suggested, “Maybe you should try that, too.” I shook my head slowly, taking a long sip of wine, and said, “No, sweetheart, bad idea. If I adopted that policy, I’d end up giving more rather than less, up from none to one or two a year.” I directed her: “Under no circumstances are you to mention your ‘new rule’ to my husband.” Laughing, her tiny crow’s feet revealing themselves, she said, “I’m not promising anything.”
As the afternoon sun went down, it was eventually time for everyone to go home to make their respective dinners. As children’s shoes were gathered and tied, my husband walked in the back door, home from work. She was standing next to me as she turned and said to him, “So, have you finished any good books lately?” I looked up quickly, in time to catch her wink. I reached to grab her head, gently shook it, and covered her mouth with my hand. We bent over with laughter as I pushed her toward the front door and out.
In the Ancash region of Peru on May 31, 1970, most of the people in the picturesque mountain town of Yungay were indoors, socializing and watching the Italy-Brazil World Cup Soccer match on television. About three hundred of the town’s children had gone to a circus just outside of town.
At 3:23 in the afternoon, there was a loud rumbling and the ground shook from an earthquake off the coast, many miles away. The tremor passed quickly, but the quake caused a large section of glacial ice to dislodge well above the town. In less than three minutes, the town was obliterated by the resulting landslide, buried by the accumulated earth, ice, rock, and debris that had gathered momentum on its violent race downward. Everyone in the town was buried alive, except those few who had managed to quickly climb, ironically, to the cemetery, which overlooked the town, and the three hundred children who had been led to safety by the circus clown. The entire town was swallowed up by the slide, the tops of four palm trees the only visible markers of the town’s former life.
During those years, my husband’s violent and explosive outbursts caused periodic instability and tumult, but the playgroup provided a safe haven from those upheavals. Early on, most of our conversations were about how gifted our children were and which new word or trick one of them had learned. Later, she and I traded advice and ideas on toilet training and upscale kindergartens. Later still, we exchanged advice and ideas on how to balance the demands of motherhood against everything else, both of us trying to maintain ourselves amid the mayhem and wonder of these little boys we loved without condition one minute and disdained the next as we were forced, inexplicably, to clean urine off our respective kitchen walls. Over those years, she and I gradually revealed ourselves to each other, building layer upon layer of confidences and shared experiences.
She had trusted me with her secret in the parking lot that summer day, and at some point I had also entrusted her with the shameful truth of my marriage. We were the same in that sense, each outwardly pretending our marriages were better than they were. We had other similarities as well. We were both smart. We had both married men who were better looking than we were, which brought out similar insecurities in each of us. We were both good boy-moms, healthy and outdoorsy. We liked to snowboard, mountain bike, and camp, but, because neither of us liked to be uncomfortable, we decided to buy a pop-up camper together.
We took all four of our boys with us to purchase the camper. The saleslady at the RV outlet approached us and asked timidly, “So, will the camper be for the two of you and your sons?” We both spoke quickly, and over each other, “No, no, we’re married. We’re not together.” And we joked, “Not that there would be anything wrong with that,” because we thought of ourselves as liberal and open-minded and we had watched Seinfeld like everyone else.
The years and the weekly playgroup meetings went on, and, by the time nine years had passed and our infants had become young boys, I thought she and I had become as close as sisters. “We might as well be.” She said that at the doctor’s office, where we were finding out whether the cancer had spread to her other breast. She said that to the nurse who’d said we looked like sisters.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer less than two weeks after our annual playgroup trip to the mountain house. We had all chipped in to rent the house for a long summer weekend. The moms and kids arrived at the house first, late on a mid-July afternoon, the husbands not scheduled to drive up until the next day. The wine was opened, dinner was made and devoured, and the kids fell asleep together in the basement watching a movie, their small arms and legs intertwined.
After we had emptied the third bottle of wine, she opened the tequila. As our friends succumbed to liquor and sleep, eventually only she and I were left awake, reclining in our chairs out on the expansive deck. As the full moon lit up the surrounding peaks and valleys, we listened to her iPod playlist repeat again and again. A song about a sweater poorly knit, playing over and over, forever becoming the soundtrack to that night: I do not exist, only you exist. I do not exist.
The chill from the cool mountain air quickly forced us into our thick bulky sweatshirts, and eventually under the single heavy blanket on my deck chair. And, admittedly, I was tired. And, admittedly, I was drunk. And, admittedly, I was not perfect. And because it seemed somehow inescapable, I covered my eyes with the heels of my palms and said, finally, “I think I might be attracted to you.” And she said, too quietly, “I know.” And then, after too long, after the humiliation started to settle in my chest like a rock, she said, “I think I feel that way, too.”
I reached to grasp the front of her sweatshirt to pull her toward me, but my fingers did not catch, and instead skimmed over the slick decal on the front of her shirt. But the intention of the motion was clear, and I leaned forward and kissed her, our teeth striking hard and awkwardly. She seemed stunned, as if she had not imagined that moment before. But when I leaned forward again the next moment, her mouth willingly met mine.
We stayed out on the deck for some time, too distracted by the maneuvering of our tongues and hands to notice the parts of our bodies that were pressed painfully against the hard wood of the deck chair. We stopped to ask each other, repeatedly and too often, “Are you okay?” The answer each time was an audible but inarticulate murmur of assurance and a deeper, longer kiss. Because she was experienced, and she knew that I was not, she asked me, “Doesn’t it feel softer with a girl?” I stopped long enough to answer, “It feels the same.” Although it was true that it didn’t feel softer, it was also true that it did not feel the same. Instead, in that moment, it felt better—kissing someone I liked and who seemed to like me.
As we started to shiver, as much from anticipation as from the cold of the night, she said, “Let’s take this inside.” Up in her room, she pushed me down on her bed—the bed she would share with her husband the rest of the long weekend. She asked, as she unfolded and tucked herself beneath my arm, “When were you first attracted to me?” I answered honestly, “I think when I grabbed your head at playgroup that time.” I gently grabbed her head between my hands, to remind her, and she slowly lifted her lips again to meet mine. She stopped then, slowly pulling away, and said, “I thought this would happen before now.” I asked, “When?” As she gathered strands of my falling hair and moved them behind my ear, she lifted her eyebrows and said, “You know when.” And I did.
The entire scene had already played out in both of our heads, months earlier, late one night in an empty parking lot where her car was waiting, awash in the harsh light from the nearby streetlamp. I had given her a ride to her car after a red wine dinner at an Italian restaurant. We were sitting in my car, facing each other, first laughing and then too quiet. Because I was afraid of what was about to happen, I started talking about our husbands, sabotaging the moment. On this night in her bed, so much time having passed since the parking lot, I was still afraid, but I did not mention our husbands.
As she reached up again to touch my breasts, I resisted and gently pushed her hands away. But she was determined and persistent, and ultimately I didn’t want to push her away. Alternating between tender affection and breathless lust, with the light of the full moon bending through the long windows, I surrendered to my attraction for her.
After, she said that she wished we could travel around the world together. And again after, feeling a sudden pull to escape that I did not fully understand, I started to get up to go to my bed—the bed that I would share with my husband. As I gently pushed her hair from her face and reached around to move her arm from my back, I started to stand, saying, “I should let you get some sleep.” She pulled my arm toward her and said, “Stay and hold me?” I stayed and held her until she fell asleep.
The next morning, the playgroup moms made pancakes for the playgroup kids. As we cracked the eggs, mixed the batter, fried the turkey sausage, set the table, and poured the juice, she and I avoided looking at each other. And although I wanted—-at that moment, in that kitchen-—to reach out and touch her and tell her that everything would be okay, that we would be okay, I did not do or say anything.
Later that afternoon, the husbands arrived. As her husband came through the door, she moved toward him and kissed him warmly. I had seen her and her husband together many times over the years, but not once had I ever seen her French-kiss him hello. Taking my cue from her, I did the same with my husband. Through the early evening, her displays of affection for her husband became more and more exaggerated. I initially tried to keep pace with her, but I soon gave up, recognizing that I could not muster the energy nor feign the affection for my husband that would be necessary to compete.
After we had made and eaten dinner, and sent the kids off to the basement to play, we all went out to sit on the same deck, under the same full moon, to listen to the same playlist, repeating over and over. She was sitting on the same deck chair, this time resting against her husband’s chest, once again in the arms of her seemingly perfect marriage.
After she was diagnosed with cancer, the playgroup moms went into full cancer-battle mode, using the eight-week, rotating, organic-casserole-dinner defense to ward off our fears about her weakness, a prolonged illness and worse. Because she had cancer, it seemed ridiculous to try to talk about anything else. And what could have been said anyway without risking everything? It seemed safer then to chalk it up to being drunk. So that’s what I did.
I decided to try to forget it happened. Her plan seemingly was the same. Given our common strategy, we never talked about it and instead focused on her cancer treatment. She asked me to go to doctor appointments when her husband couldn’t, and I did. I sat with her on her couch as she doubled over in heaving sobs, holding her hands and confidently assuring her that she would live to see her boys turn into young men. I promised that I would take care of them if it became necessary, although I told her that I was sure it wouldn’t. In truth, I wasn’t confident and I wasn’t sure—about anything.
By the time the nurse had said we looked like sisters, it was true that we might as well have been. It was also true that we may have been more than that. Later, though, I would understand that, for me at least, it wasn’t possible to be anything more than that, that there could never be anything that was more than that.
A few months after she was diagnosed, she and I had our first argument. She was in the midst of radiation treatment and tired, but she had agreed to go to a Halloween party, at the house of a virtual stranger, to which our families had been invited. In the living room, amid the costumed crowd, we started to argue about something of no consequence. Of course, we were really arguing about something of great consequence, but neither of us was ready to acknowledge that. We were arguing, though, and as I had learned to do with my husband, I quickly tried to defuse the conflict. I embraced her and said, “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings” and “I’m sorry.” But as I started to back away, she reached for and held both of my forearms, imprinting her fingertips and abruptly halting my backward motion.
Eye contact with her had always, and particularly at that moment, felt too intense. But her eyes were red and wet, and I could not avert mine from hers. In that moment, I did not expect her to apologize for our argument or even accept my apology for it. But even more, I did not expect her to say then, without moving her eyes from mine, and without blinking, “I love you.” And maybe because I did not expect it, and maybe because it was exactly the last thing I expected in that moment, and maybe because I was afraid—either of what she meant or of what she may not have meant—I did not say, “I think I feel that way, too.” Instead, I pretended that I had not heard her, and I quickly looked away and stepped back. And she did too.
A landslide usually starts with a small incident, a tiny crack in the earth’s surface. A seemingly insignificant fissure can fill with water and freeze, making it vulnerable upon a subsequent thaw. Combined with the force of gravity, this freezing and thawing can lead to a crushing avalanche, the earth’s surface falling in on itself. When exposed to extreme temperature changes, even rock is likely to crack. Given seasonal weather patterns, this freeze/thaw cycle is most likely to cause disasters in the spring.
It is often small movements-—just one rock moving out of place, a small piece of earth shifting after an early spring thaw—-that first suggest that the ground beneath you is about to collapse. If you are aware enough to notice these cues in advance, you can try to minimize the potential losses by establishing protective barriers and reinforcement walls. Scientists will tell you that these efforts are, however, much less effective than evacuating. In short, it’s safer to simply run away.
It seemed like a small thing, not knowing exactly how to act after she’d said something so unexpected. Trying to act normal. But I had not recognized that I was on such dangerous ground or that her vulnerability would cause the ground to become much more unstable. And I had not noticed the subtle cues of the impending collapse that would come from her feeling rejected, in a way that was as important to her as anything else. For these reasons, I did not get my emotional walls up in time to provide any protection at all. And although it would have been advisable to do so, I also did not run away.
Everything was shifting under my feet. The place that I thought I inhabited on the planet, that felt stable, that felt safe, was about to slip out from under me. I did not know how to stop the shifting or how to put everything back in place, back where it was safe. And as I lost my footing and started to slide down, I fell further and further away from everything to which I had ever belonged.
I belonged to my family. The one with brothers and sisters, whom you don’t abandon. Who doesn’t know that? I also belonged to my family—the one with my husband and two boys, whom you also don’t abandon. Finally, and more significantly than was reasonable in retrospect, I belonged to playgroup, or thought I belonged.
Because this is what happened as the earth began to shift: it was nearly five months later and she had been declared cancer-free, her seemingly perfect life restored. She and I were at a basement party after coming from the elementary school’s spring auction, again in the house of the same virtual stranger, where we’d had our first argument. There was a full bar in the basement. This fact was, as it turned out, unfortunate, because she had always held her liquor better than I.
For a few seconds we were standing there together in the basement. Not on the dance floor, but next to it. At least people were dancing. And although apparently it had been building and gathering momentum during that after-party for more than an hour, her rage seemed sudden and came at me unexpectedly. Her jaw was locked in anger, and words started spewing from between her clenched teeth. She said, “You had no right to use my babysitter.” I eventually understood that she was incensed that I had hired our mutual babysitter to watch my children that evening. She glared at me, unblinking, raging in silence, waiting for me to say exactly the right thing to fix everything. But it was too much anger, and my brain froze, again.
I could not move my mouth to say that I had simply needed a babysitter that night, that she did not have exclusive rights to our shared babysitter, that I had not hired the babysitter to make her angry, that I would not intentionally do anything to make her angry. That I was not going to clog the sink. This dynamic felt so familiar, but it had never happened before with anyone but my husband. I expected it from him, but I never saw it coming from her.
I waited for her to say something. I had no choice but to wait for her to say something. That was the nature of it. I could not say anything, right or wrong, to fix everything or even to break it more. I could not think. And then, and suddenly, she was leaving.
My husband did this, too. Leaving. There was an instant thaw. I knew this, so I knew what to do. I followed her home from the party. And I was standing at her door late at night. But it was not only her door. It was their door. And they were both standing there. And suddenly it seemed like maybe this was not the thing to do.
I cannot now reasonably argue that I did not love her, because in truth I could not have loved her more. But I did not follow her home because I was in love with her and willing to abandon my husband and two boys. It might be more interesting if that were the truth; it might have changed everything. But in that moment, she had left and I had followed, in the same way that I had followed my husband after he’d left many times before.
I followed her that night because I had learned early in my marriage that there would be significant consequences for not following, for not seeming to love someone enough to follow them. But unfortunately, with her, as with my husband, there was never going to be an “enough,” no matter how many times I followed or for how long or how far. But I didn’t know that then. And so I was standing at their door, not yet fully comprehending that the disaster of my marriage had already triggered a much larger and much more dangerous threat.
In the harsh light of their floodlit porch, the night air too cold for what had been such a mild spring day, I somehow managed to say, “This is not about the babysitter.” And I was right about that, of course, but I could not then say what it was about. Her husband was standing there, and she appeared terrified that I would do so right then and there, but I did not go there to ruin her perfect life. She took cover from me all the same, moving behind her husband, retreating into an alliance with him that I had never seen before. As she merged herself with him, I did not recognize anything about her, except her palpable fear of what I might say next. But I would not say anything next. I was there, with my imperfect hand on their perfect doorjamb, unable to say anything else and unable to move. She tried to close the door, and when she noticed my hand there, she opened the door wide enough to pry it loose and started to push me out.
Initially I could not move from the doorway of the house where I had spent so many long afternoons in deep conversation and fits of laughter. The house where I had brought her sons after feeding them huge helpings of ice cream and assuring them that their mom, just home from the hospital, was going to be fine. The house where I had brought my own sons so many times when I wanted them to feel safe, and when I wanted to feel safe myself, from the fear and uncertainty that surrounded our own home. After a moment, I gave in to the momentum of her push and stepped back. The door closed with a finality incongruent with all the things not said and done.
If you have not evacuated in advance of a landslide, there is little you can do after it starts. Due to its speed and intensity, once a landslide starts, it is nearly unstoppable. The force and momentum generated are simply too great, and thus anything in its path is likely to be taken down. The resulting losses are extensive, the damage total, and the changes to the landscape are permanent. The effects of a landslide are often so large and dramatic that it is difficult to ever stabilize the affected area. And it is not advisable to ever build there again.
There would be consequences for not saying and not doing exactly the right thing, for not putting everything back in place, and for being too afraid to do anything else. And there would be consequences for not running away. Despite everything—our shared lives, our shared confidences and experiences, our shared intimacies—and maybe because all of those things made her feel too vulnerable, too imperfect—she would start to say to the other playgroup moms, to her husband, to my husband, to her children, to the principal and teachers at the elementary school, to our mutual babysitter, to the virtual stranger, to everyone in our shared community, that I had followed her home because I was a lesbian, a stalker, and an unstable and dangerous threat to her, her husband, and her children. As evidence of my dangerous and erratic propensities, she would say that I had even grabbed her head and shaken it. She would never mention the mountain house or tell anyone that she loved me.
She knew that I would never mention these things either, even in my own defense, because to do so would have exposed me and my sons to the dangers inherent in living with and divorcing an abusive spouse. She was smart enough to know then that she could say anything she wanted about me and that I would not be able to do or say anything to defend myself or my children with the truth. I had made my bed by sleeping in hers, and I would have to lie in it.
She never spoke to me or my sons again. If I was walking down the sidewalk in front of the busy school, and she was also walking down that same sidewalk from the other direction, upon noticing me she would veer off the cement, well into the grass, careful to show that she was maintaining a safe distance. Her sons would run in the opposite direction if they saw me in the school hallway. She would not let her boys play with or talk to mine. Our playgroup membership was hastily terminated. At the time, my sons were five and nine, and they did not understand what was happening or why they could not play with their friends. I was forty-two, and I could not help them understand. In this story, not even the children would be spared.
Soon, not having any escape from it, I lost my marriage. Admittedly, that may have been no great loss. But like a natural-disaster victim wandering dazed through the remnants of a former life, I slowly came to understand that there had been enormous losses. I had forever lost my friend—-my sister-—my family with the husband and two boys, and the playgroup. I did not belong anywhere. These losses were very real, the destruction total. The truth would be forever covered by her undisputed accusations. I would be buried alive, with all of her secrets buried with me.
In the end it wouldn’t matter whether I had fallen in love with her or hadn’t. She wouldn’t believe or be satisfied with either. And so my life as I knew it would be obliterated, so much so that sometimes, later, I would wonder if it had ever existed at all. My sons would be the only evidence of my former life. They would be daily reminders of my past, but also of my present and future. And in spite of her efforts to help my husband gain custody from me, I had my boys. They somehow survived the landslide with me, and I would build our lives again, this time on different and more stable ground.
After a disaster, survivors often become numb to a world seemingly oblivious to their suffering. In their disoriented state, they move in slow motion through their newly surreal lives, where not even the air feels familiar. They are dismayed that life can go on for anyone as before, that anyone could be so unaffected by the large-scale disaster that has left them in ruins.
It had been nearly five months prior that she had said she loved me. In every moment since and before, there were things that should have been said and things that should have been done. But they weren’t said and they weren’t done, by either one of us, and so we did not avert or escape the devastation. And although I don’t understand how, the world keeps turning on its axis and the seasons keep changing. My thoughts are in the same place, circling, and circling back, over the vast and battered remains of the emotional landslide. The world goes on without noticing that the landslide has taken me down. And in fairness, it has probably taken her down, too. But it’s like the world is oblivious to the heartbreak of it all. And that is a stunning realization at some level. As stunning as the realization that it is spring again.
Regina Drexler's creative nonfiction essays have also appeared in West Branch and Make Literary Magazine. She is currently working on a collection of essays, Playgroup, and lives in Denver. "Landslide" was recognized as a notable essay by Best American Essays 2013.