Every now and then, I sit in the crawlspace beneath my house and look through a small shoebox of private things: framed photos of me as a teenager and the kids I used to know; old journals; notes that had been passed back and forth in school, folded into complicated origami; and beer bottle caps and liquor bottle labels that once meant something, now long forgotten. Everything in this box is a secret. I’m not proud of any of it, or of any of the secrets I’ve kept from my husband for the past ten years because I was so afraid to tell him the truth about who I was before we met.
Before I became the girl he’d always dreamed of, before I’d become this reformed version of myself, I was Lindsay Richardson. If I revealed my past, I risked losing the way he looked into my eyes as if I were something pure, as if I were the person he’d been waiting for his whole life.
I lied to him on our fourth date. I had planned on telling him the truth later. As we got to know each other—after he told me of all the times he’d been lied to and cheated on, and seeing the anguish in his face—I couldn’t bear to be one more person who disappointed him.
My husband has his flaws. He’s a bit judgmental, often uptight. But everyone has flaws. I’ve spent ten years loving this man. I know he loves me, at least for who I am now. I can’t imagine the pain I’d cause if he did know who I used to be.
I pull a relic of the old me from the box: a print of a sonogram dated June 2000, right after I graduated from high school. Even though I’d been accepted at Arizona State, I deferred for one year, still unsure of whether I was going to keep the baby or not. I put the sonogram to my lips and wished for the millionth time that Paul knew about him. My precious Thomas, taken from me before I could even decide what I wanted to do.
It’s four o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. Paul rests soundly next to me, a small drop of drool threatening to spill from the corner of his mouth and onto our sheets. It’s rare that he’s even home, so I’m glad he’s here. I just wish I were sleeping. Even the kids are asleep. It seems like at least one of my three children hasn’t made it through a whole night in weeks. If one doesn’t wet the bed, another gets up to get water and wakes the others, or has a bad dream. I hold my breath for a moment and listen for the sound of crying, almost willing one of them to have a nightmare so I’ll have something to do.
I want to crawl into bed with my five-year-old, Lily. I should want to cuddle up with my husband, but it’s my daughter I want. She always smells sweet, but especially after bath night, her hair smelling of her strawberry-scented no-tears shampoo.
I shut my eyes tight, wanting so badly to at least feel tired. I can’t. I open my eyes again. If I turn on the lights, Paul will wake up. Being an ER nurse, the second light hits his eyes, he’s up and ready for action. Maybe I should wake him and we could make love. I consider it, then tell myself he needs his sleep after a thirty-six-hour shift.
God, I love him so much.
I slowly peel back the covers and maneuver myself out of bed, then replace the duvet as if I’d never been there. Paul grunts and jerks, but doesn’t wake.
I shut the bedroom door soundlessly and pad out to the living room. The room is stuffy and hot, the air conditioning turned down considerably to save money. Yesterday the temperature reached ninety-eight degrees. Even though the sun’s not up yet, it feels like its eighty in here.
I check on the kids, hoping one of them is awake. I’m disappointed to find Lily fast asleep, eyelids twitching, one chubby little arm raised over her head, just like Paul. In the next room, my three-year-old identical twins, Andy and Jackson, are both sound asleep as well, illuminated by the Buzz Lightyear nightlight between their beds. Andy is in the bed on the left side of the room, sleeping on his back in the center of the bed, his sheet pulled up to his chin. Jackson is on the right side of the room. He’s sprawled across the mattress, one leg on the wall and an arm dangling off the side. These twins couldn’t be more different.
I shut their door and make my way to the living room again, where I curl up on the sofa and grab the remote control. With a push of a button, the large flat-screen TV slowly comes to life. We have cable, but most of it is trash, so there’s very little I’ll watch. Except every now and then I’ll put my judgment on mute and indulge in a little fun.