Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
TW: This story involves a miscarriage. I tried to show as little as possible but if blood isn't your thing and you're sensitive to those sorts of things, I would click away.
It was as dusk fell on my second day on the road that I met Jay. Leaving my marriage had been something I’d considered almost from the day Simon I tied the knot three years earlier. We’d met only months before, at my sister Jean’s twenty-first birthday. I was eighteen and he’d approached me as I sat on our balcony. The Beatles “If I Fell” played from within, and in that moment, he swept me off my feet. It was 1965 in San Francisco, two years before the Scott McKenzie song would make our city a Mecca of the counterculture. Jean was more involved than I was, and she often confessed to me privately that she thought marriage was an outdated institution invented by men to deny women their freedoms. I didn’t agree. From the time I was a little girl, I’d dreamed of the perfect wedding, of having a big family and living happily ever after. So when I met Simon and he proposed to me on New Year’s Eve, the only choice seemed to be to marry him.
I was in love, but it went beyond that. I’d hit puberty earlier than most girls and I was still very young when men stopped and looked when I walked down the street and still very young when they would stop me and say things that were far too forward. Still, I wasn’t a girl that had dated around a lot. There were boyfriends, but none that lasted longer than a few months months, and none who I’d felt as much for as I did for Simon. He constantly told me how lucky he was and how beautiful I was. That first summer he’d even surprised me with tickets to The Beatles for my birthday. We sat near the very back, but it was amazing. As we drove home, I thought that we would be together forever.
Still, the fights started almost immediately. It was little things at first. He wouldn’t do the dishes or take out the trash. Then, they grew. He would grow impatient with my long shifts as a nurse at the hospital. We’d both come from privileged families and never learned how to properly manage money. The truth was that we were both very young and there was a lot we still didn’t know. Still, at least I thought, we loved each other enough that we were going to make it work.
The short version is that in July of 1968 I’d finally become pregnant after we’d been trying for a year. For three months, I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life. That October, I began feeling faint during one shift the hospital. I’d woken up that morning with severe cramps, but I took a pain pill and didn’t think too much of it.
Once I arrived, I’d gone to check the vitals of a patient that was in recovery. “M’am, are you okay?” He asked when he realized I was having trouble holding eye contact with him.
I didn’t know what he was talking about at first before I realized I bloody spot on my uniform. In that moment, I suddenly felt dizzy. I made a beeline for the bathroom, but the blood was too fast. I realized what was happening but I didn’t want to admit it. I noticed a blood stain on the floor. I collapsed into another nurse’s arms, and the next thing I remember was waking up in a bed, Simon beside me.
It was explained to me that I lost the baby. That there was nothing I could have done, that these things happen sometimes. I cried into Simon’s arms all night. He told me that it was all right, that it wasn’t my fault, that we would try again.
But the truth was that nothing was never the same. When I lost the baby, I lost a bit of myself. Simon had seemed to forget almost immediately. Within a week he’d donated all of the parenting books that we’d bought. It was still too early to have bought anything else, but after a month I’d found the toy catalogs I’d bought and everything started all over again. After two, I was in an especially depressive episode. It was December and the holidays just weren’t what I had been hoping they’d be. We came home from a party late one night. Simon wanted to make love and I wasn’t in the mood. He pressed.
“Don’t you want to try again? Isn’t that what you want?”
“I’m not in the mood,” I snapped.
“It’s impossible to make you happy,” he said under his breath before burying his face into his pillow.
We fought well into the night. And for a seemingly endless amount of time, it went on like this. Some days were fine, and then I’d see a baby book at the store or a happy family or hear that a friend had just had their baby and then it would start all over again. But what finally made me leave was when he blamed me for the miscarriage and for not being able to move on. “Everyone else has. Why can’t you?”
I drove for two days before hit me. As the sun began to set, I realized that I had no idea where I was. Somewhere in Washington, maybe. If there was a sign I’d missed it. It was much colder than I thought it would be, and the heater wasn’t doing much to remedy that. I started thinking about the purple angora sweater I’d left at home. The one he’d bought for my birthday, the one I’d worn the night of our first anniversary, when Simon surprised me with roses and played our record of “The Way You Look Tonight”. I’d left it because it was attached to a million memories of him and I. But none of that mattered then, because it was ungodly warm and I felt like I was going to freeze. What I would have given in that moment to wear that sweater, to sleep in a warm bed. I started to think that I’d made a mistake, that I'd overreacted. Maybe Simon would still take me back if I turned around now.
Driving through the mountains, the sunset was admittedly beautiful. But I couldn’t appreciate it because that meant darkness and another night where I’d freeze and barely sleep. I had no idea how long I’d even been in the road, but before I knew it I swerved sharply to the left. Maybe it was time to pull over for the night.
I drove for a little while longer. It was probably only ten minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Over and over, I kept telling myself I made a mistake. Then, almost like a godsend, I saw an exit labeled “scenic overlook”. There was a dirt path that led up the mountain, and I was curious to see where it went. I drove for about another minute before I approached a small lot. One space was taken by an old station wagon, and there was a small footpath overlooking the snow capped mountains. A man was standing there, looking. He had no jacket and I figured he must be freezing, but other than that I didn’t pay him much mind.
I parked next to the station wagon and took a deep breath. For the first time, it hit me that there was no way I could go back to San Francisco. No matter what, I was going to make this work. Still, I began to cry. I’d avoided it the past two days, and here it was, about to hit me all at once. I decided not to fight it. After a moment or two I became aware of two girls, younger than me, sitting in the back of the station wagon. One, a wide eyed blonde, stared at me. Beside her was a brunette who looked like Marianne Faithfull. They were both in the back seat, looking at a map. After a moment the brunette looked away, but the blonde continued to stare at me. I didn’t realize why until I noticed the man suddenly standing at my window.
I sniffled and sat up, and for the first time I really noticed his face. He was handsome, that was for sure. And the way he looked at me was just how Simon used to, back when things were good. Instinctively, I unrolled the window, and managed a smile.
“What’s your name?” He asked.
“The face that launched a thousand ships.”
“Like Helen of Troy.”
I felt myself blush as I dried my tears. “Haven’t heard that one before,” I said sarcastically.
He simply smiled. “I’m Jay.”
“What are you doing out this way, Helen?”
My gaze shifted away. “Please don’t ask me.” I felt more tears coming.
Then, he knelt down to meet my eye line. “Helen,” he said. “Look at me. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” I said.
This made him laugh, of all things. By then I felt the eyes of both girls on me. “I can tell that you’re a compassionate person.”
“My… ex… husband doesn’t think so.”
“You had to get away,” he said.
I nodded. As odd as this all was, I liked talking to Jay. He made me feel a way I hadn’t felt, well, since Simon. But he was nothing like Simon. After a long pause, he leaned in closer to me.
“You seem like you use a hot meal.”
As I thought about it, the brunette got out of the car and got Jay’s attention. He seemed upset to have been interrupted. “What?”
“We figured it out,” she said. “We should go before it gets too dark.”
He paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and turned back towards me.
“Well, are you coming with us?"
The moment I’ve gone back to in mind a million times. The one where, every time, I’ve made a different decision. Stopped and questioned what was really going on. If I’d been in my right state of mind, I would have realized this whole thing was wrong. But I wasn’t. I’d left and there was no way that I could go back. More than anything, I’d barely spoken to another soul in days and I longed for company. A hot meal, just like he’d promised.
And there was just something about him. I wasn’t sure how old he was, but he seemed so smart, and made Simon seem so immature, so boyish in comparison.
I realized then I wanted to go. But what was I going to do with my car? So I hesitated. Jay never took his eyes off me. “My car?” I finally said.
He paused for a moment. “This is your life, Helen.” After a moment, he added, “start living it.” In that moment, I got out out of my car, drawn to him like a magnet. I left the keys on top of the car, figuring that if anyone passed by, it would be theirs.
I took my single bag of a few clothes and belongings that I'd hastily packed. They all watched me as I got in the back.