How I Came to Sparkle Again

Kaya McLaren

St. Martin's Griffin

Prologue

It was fair to say Jill Anthony’s first day back at work had been a disaster— so much so, in fact, that her supervisor had sent her home early. She just wasn’t ready to be back. Enough time had not passed.

She was still crying when, just four blocks from her house, her car died. Perfect, she thought. Just perfect. She shook her head in disbelief and then got out of the car. Usually she changed into street clothes before leaving work, but because she had left quickly today, she now found herself walking down the street in stork scrubs that looked a lot like pajamas. The combination of the scrubs and the crying left her feeling like quite a spectacle, exposed and vulnerable as she made her way home on foot through her affluent neighborhood.

She approached her big, beautiful Bavarian- style brick and- timber house with relief, despite the fact that it recently had held so much grief and sadness. It was still her sanctuary.

She crossed the street and paused where the path to her house met the sidewalk. There, she opened her mailbox and pulled out a handful of envelopes. At the top of the stack was an envelope with handwriting on it— an actual personal letter! It was from her old best friend, Lisa, and postmarked Sparkle, Colorado.

Sparkle—it was home to her mother’s brother, Howard, who had taken her in during a difficult time in her teen years. How long had it been since she’d been back for a visit? She tried to figure it out, but could figure out only that it had been well over a de cade.

As Jill walked from the mailbox up the path toward the door, she counted down the eighteen steps she knew it took to get there. The embarrassing weepy walk in scrubs would be over in five steps, four steps, three, two, and one. She put her key in the lock, eager to get inside, turned it, and opened the door. She stepped in, shut the door behind her, and exhaled. It was over. She was home safe.

Then she heard them. Noises. It sounded as though two people had broken into her home and were having sex. Jill reached in her purse for her phone to call the police, but then she heard David’s distinctive moans.

It couldn’t be, she thought. It couldn’t be David— her David, who had held her hand in the hospital during her complicated miscarriage just six weeks before. It couldn’t be her David, who had said wedding vows to her and bought this house for the family they would have. It couldn’t be.

A terrible doubt propelled her. She had to see. She had to see it for herself.

Creeping up the stairs with her phone, she rested her hand on her abdomen, still tender and loose even after six weeks. At the top of the stairs, she walked slowly and silently in her soft nurse’s shoes past the closed door of the baby’s room. They had found it easier to keep the door closed until they were ready to decide whether to adopt or change it back into a guest bedroom.

She walked a little farther, stopping right outside the bedroom door, then peeked around the corner of the open door and saw long dark hair falling down the back of a voluptuous woman who was straddling her husband in their bed. Jill pulled back in horror. It was true. How could it be true? Even as that new level of shock began to wash over her, disbelief still reigned. She noticed the cell phone still in her hand and knew that she would need a picture of this to help her through future moments of disbelief and denial. She peeked around the corner again. At least one of her husband’s hands groped the woman’s breasts as she bounced wildly on him.

"Fuck, yeah. Fuck, yeah!" he cried out.

Jill couldn’t see his eyes, but she saw the very top of his head, his curly brown hair cut short and the places at his temples where his hairline had begun to recede dramatically.

She reached out with her phone and pressed a button, then pulled back to her place around the corner and looked at the picture she just took. It was undeniably real.

Slowly she began to absorb the parameters of her new reality. It stung her eyes and pierced her heart to its core. She tried to decide what to do, whether to confront him in the act, but she couldn’t think over the loud voice in her head repeating over and over: Run.

As she clambered back down the stairs and opened the door, she made no effort to be quiet.

She walked the four blocks back to the Lexus, called a wrecker, and waited for it under a tree in a nearby yard.

When the wrecker finally arrived, the driver misinterpreted the horrified expression on her blotchy face and said, "It’s going to be okay, ma’am. It’s probably just your alternator. We can fi x that. We can fi x anything. So the real question remains whether every problem is worth fixing. That answer to that I no." Jill thought he bore a striking resemblance to Willie Nelson and contemplated how what he said applied to her marriage. Just as she was coming close to reaching a conclusion, the driver said, "The Lexus is a nice car. It’s still worth a lot. When a car has that much value, it’s always worth fixing."

She contemplated that too as he pulled into the shop. But maybe her marriage wasn’t a Lexus. Maybe it was a Pinto— one of those cars famous for blowing up when rear- ended. As she waited for the mechanics to fi x her car, she walked out the back door to the wrecking yard and through the aisles of totaled cars and pickups, vehicles that other people had decided weren’t worth fixing. She felt just like them. She felt like that Buick with the driver’s-side door so crushed that the driver was undoubtedly hurt, but from the look of the other side, the passenger likely skated through unscathed. She felt like the Saturn with the shattered windshield through which no one could see what lay ahead. It looked as if it had been sandwiched in a multicar pileup. Jill knew exactly how it felt to crash into one thing and then get smashed from behind. She studied the Saturn and wondered whether it would have been salvageable if it had only been rear- ended instead of sandwiched, and she wondered if the same was true about her marriage.

The late afternoon air turned a little cold around the edges, so Jill walked back to the waiting area. She sat in a vinyl chair, stared straight ahead, and waited. She thought ridiculous thoughts, like wondering whether all the food she bought for Thanksgiving would go to waste or whether David would try to make something out of it, and if so, whether he knew when to put the turkey in the refrigerator to defrost. She pictured herself running away from David with her frozen turkey, pecans, and cranberries.

Still, over the din of all these thoughts, one thought dominated: Run.

Run.

"Ma’am?" the man at the counter asked.

Jill looked up.

He was Hispanic, with soulful eyes, and he wore a crucifix around his neck. Jill noticed his wedding ring and wondered if he had ever cheated on his wife. Sure, he looked like an unlikely candidate, but she’d thought David was an unlikely candidate, too. How could anyone tell?

"You need a new alternator and I can’t get one today. I’ll have to do it first thing tomorrow morning. Can you call someone to pick you up?"

Run, she thought, run. But she just nodded and walked out.

So that is the verdict, she thought— salvageable, but not immediately.

When she reached the road, she looked both ways and wondered what to do. She was not going to call David, so she decided to walk west because it was late in the day and that’s where the sun was. But she had no idea where she was going.

A quarter mile down the road, she walked by a used- car lot. A Mitsubishi Montero for two thousand dollars caught her eye. She could sleep in that car. She could drive away from here. She could just put it on her credit card. Do it, the voice inside her said. Run.

Figuring that she had twenty- four hours before David could report her as a missing person, she thought about where she could go. She could drive from Austin to the Gulf. She could go to Mexico. She ruled out visiting family right away. Even if her parents weren’t on a Mormon mission in Africa, their home in Midland, Texas, would be the last place she would want to go.

Oh, her parents. Their response to her miscarriage had been an e-mail that read:

Dear Jill,

Your father and I are so sorry for your loss. Our hearts go out to you. The pain of losing a child is unbearable. We know, because it’s what we felt when you told us you were leaving the Church. We lost you to the world, lost you from our eternal family, and that is a spiritual death. We hope you see this as an opportunity to return to the Lord’s fold, and that you find comfort and hope in God’s Plan of Salvation that will so graciously allow you to re unite with your child in the afterlife if only you live the Gospel principles. We pray for you to find your way back now that you know the pain of being separated from your child, now that you know the pain we feel being spiritually separated from you, much like the pain of damnation. Please don’t inflict this pain on us or on yourself. We want to be with you and your child as a complete family for all eternity in the Celestial Kingdom. I cry myself to sleep every night just thinking about the possibility that your choices will prevent that when faith could have saved you. I know with every fiber of my being that the teachings of Joseph Smith are true. Please read the Book of Mormon again and meditate on it. You too will know it in your heart to be true.

Please soften your heart and return to Heavenly Father.

Love, Mom

They meant well. They did. But they never failed to make a bad situation worse.

Jill glanced down at her Chanel bag, a gift from David last Christmas, at the envelope from Lisa sticking out of it. She took it out and read it.

Hey Girl—

How goes it? I had a supremely delightful summer doing the Ranger thing at Glacier N.P. Made some nice turns on my birthday. Gotta figure any August first I’m making turns is pretty much better than any other August first. I met a tasty little morsel I call Ranger Mark. Of course it’s doomed but it was a fun ride— literally. Great to be back in my own house— that is, if you can call it that with this crazy neverending renovation going on and all the riff raff coming and going all the time. So what’s the deal with you staying away so long? I miss you! Come back and visit! My guest room has no walls, but I’ve got a couch and a steady supply of carpenters that don’t work on powder days. Level five eye candy. Just sayin’. I still can’t believe that you, regional skiing medalist, moved back to freakin’ Texas. What in the blue flaming hell? And by hell, of course I do mean Texas. Put down the butterbased foods and the hairspray and come home, girl. Sparkle misses you. You’ve got to miss it too. I mean, seriously, I know those hospital elevators are fast and everything, and sure, that might be fun for a while, but come on, it’s no Southback or Horse shoe Bowl. You know you want to make some sweet turns with your old friend Lisa. You know you do. I know it’s hard for you to get time off , and I know your husband hates the cold and snow (how does anyone hate snow?), but ditch your job and your husband and just come home.

Love, Lisa

If there were signs, surely this was one.

Sparkle, Colorado

Cassie Jones sat up in bed to flip her pillow. Her tears had drenched the side she’d been lying on. The end of one of her long blond braids stuck to her cheek. She didn’t cry during the day, but her tears often slipped out during sad dreams. Between her brows, worry lines furrowed much too deep for a ten- year old’s face. Instead of lying back down, she petted Socks, her gray cat, and then reached for her mom’s fuzzy white bathrobe at the foot of her bed. She had given it to her mom for Christmas the year before. She wrapped it around herself and walked to her windowsill. The robe was much too large and dragged on the floor behind her.

On the windowsill sat a couple dozen heart- shaped rocks that she and her mother had found together throughout the years. She picked up the big blue one and held it close to her heart and closed her eyes for a moment. Then she exchanged the blue one for a white one with shiny black flecks. She turned it around and around, looking for the side that had looked like a heart when one of them had spotted it. It was the last one they found together. They had been sitting next to the river last spring, watching the high water rush by.

"Look at that," her mother had said. "Look at how bright the sparkles are today."

They’d watched the sunlight glisten on the tumbling water. Her mother was right. The sparkles did seem brighter than usual. Cassie had watched for a moment longer and then asked the question that she hadn’t been able to get out of her head since March: "Mom, are you going to die?"

Her mother had taken a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Oh, Cassie, everyone dies."

Cassie had swallowed hard and blinked a few times when she’d looked in her mother’s eyes and seen something that looked like an apology. Maybe this is the answer mothers give when they simply don’t know, she had thought.

"Look," her mother had said, and leaned forward to pick up the white heart- shaped rock with the shiny black flecks. Cassie had smiled and put it in her pocket.

Now, back in her dark bedroom, Cassie put the rock on the windowsill. She returned to her bedside table and picked up her small flashlight, turned it on, and pointed it to three more heartshaped rocks on her bureau. Each one she had found along the river as she’d walked near the low and lazy water of summer, talking to her mother as if she’d been right next to her, telling her how she missed her and trying to think of something to say that would make her mother feel okay about being in heaven. She didn’t want her mother to worry in heaven.

In her own mind, Cassie had heard her mother say, Look down, each time. She was unsure if she was simply remembering her mother say it. But each time, she had squatted down, surprised and then not so surprised to find a heart shape among so many rocks. Each time, she’d closed her eyes and said, "Thanks, Mom."

She put down the flashlight, scooped up all three rocks just to feel their weight in her hands, and then decided to take them back to bed with her. Outside, snow fell, covering up all the heart- shaped rocks until at least April or May. She took off the robe and spread it with the outside facing up over her bottom sheet and pillow. Then, with the rocks still cupped in her hands, she crawled into bed on top of the robe, where she could almost imagine she was snuggled up on her mother’s lap.

"Sometimes you just endure," she had heard her father say on the phone a couple of months ago. She guessed he was talking to her grandmother, his mother. It had become Cassie’s mantra. Sometimes you just wait for the night to be over and endure.

 

*****

 

Heartbreak settled in Jill’s chest. It felt like so many things. Panic. Heaviness. A giant hole. Constriction. It felt like all of these things at once. It felt like being shot, like lying on the ground while life leaked out of her. She could hardly breathe.

Her wheels hummed on the highway. The heater cranked full blast, but still her car seemed cold. A dusting of powder snow blew across the pavement in waves.

Above her, the stars shone much more brightly than they did in the lower elevations. The heavens seemed so much vaster.

She tried breathing in for four counts, breathing in all the stars, all the expansiveness, all the possibilities, and then breathing out for four counts. In and out, in and out, mile after mile. It took all her concentration just to breathe.

Sometimes she cried. Sometimes she was simply in shock.

She wanted to pull over, lie down in the frigid prairie, and die.

In the hospital, every day she saw people whose lives seemed to have taken an irreparable turn. Some, against all odds, bounced back, slowly rebuilding. And she saw others whose prognosis was hopeless, who somehow kept fighting anyway. What was it, she wondered, that made some people give up and others fight harder? Where was her fight? She was out. She was out of will.

Still, she had the good sense to stall a little longer before deciding to lie in a cold field and wait for her ruined life to be over. She turned her thoughts to Uncle Howard and Lisa, instead, and kept on driving. They loved her, and they had saved her before. Surely they could again— as long as she could get herself to Sparkle. She kept telling herself that— that if she could only get to Sparkle before this heartbreak killed her, she would be okay. Uncle Howard and Lisa would make sure she was okay.