It’s my therapist’s fault, really.
She asked if I’d ever thought of hurting myself. I got that lump in my throat and that burn in my eyes. I didn’t want to identify with the Robin Williams and Sylvia Plaths of the world, or with the teenagers watching 13 Reasons Why and blaming emotional instability on the social hierarchy of high school. I wasn’t mentally ill, nor was I depressed. I just wanted a Mulligan.
When I was young, I read this story about a period of time in the19th century when there seemed to be an epidemic of spontaneous combustion. Men would come home to the strange crispy burnt-in shadows of their wives on the bed or in the chair in the sitting room. Women would return from the market to find their husband transformed into a pile of smoldering ashes as if he had been swallowed by a solar hot pillar of fire. I don’t remember if they figured out why it was happening, or if it was real.
Did I want to hurt myself?
But I did think about the blurry black-and-white crime scene photos that illustrated that book. I thought about what it would be like to walk into your kitchen to get a water out of the fridge and whoosh, you’re just a hot white flame of flesh and bone, burning so hot and so suddenly that you’re just gone.
If I were honest with her, I would have told her that what I want is to do the opposite of whatever it meant to spontaneously combust. What I wanted was for that pit that forms in my stomach to eat at itself until it forms a black hole where my diaphragm is. I want my body to break up into the tiniest fragments of itself, the matter that is neither created nor destroyed, to return to whatever it was long before my soul inhabited this body. I want the gravity at the center of my being to pull everything in until I’m inside out and there’s nothing to miss. Again...
Do I want to hurt myself?
But I do want to disappear.
Lucky for me I’ve seen enough Dateline episodes and read enough emerging fiction to know that if you want to disappear, you should do some planning. And it’s better to be prepared and not have an opportunity than to get an opportunity and not be prepared.
That’s why, when I saw the girl’s wallet in her bag in the locker room, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
She looked enough like me. I looked enough like her.
She stood at the counter every Monday and Wednesday in her bra and panties, a towel wrapped around her waist as she meticulously applied her makeup and then dried and curled her hair.
Our routines were both predictable; I always came in as she was putting the finishing touches on an airbrushed look. I’d be pulling off my sports bra and over-priced Lululemon crops and jumping in to the shower as she started the process of drying her mane. I could sympathize. Mine was of similar length and tenacity. And color.
So today, I stood still staring at her gym bag, around the corner from her and well out of sight. No mirrors reflected the view of her locker back to her. I’d often taken extra care to secure my own things when in this section of the locker room and never left anything out- It had crossed my mind that no one would ever see anyone rifling through things back here.
The hair dryer clicked on.
I listened intently for steps that might belong to other feet; for a shift in the air. I waited for a moment for the idea in my head to exit it as suddenly as it popped in. Surely, taking someone else’s driver’s license was a crime with deep penalties, but my brain had synapses that fed on lies. Little lies had been my gateway drug, my foray into tunnels of consequence. Little lies turned into big lies, and secrets became my heroin. I felt myself grinning as I realized how we’re all really just one good impulsive decision away from a criminal record.
Her purse was a wreckage of gum wrappers and business cards and receipts. I could see the corner of what was presumably a wallet, so I checked one more time to make sure I was alone, and then I dove for it. What a mess... I fanned through the continued chaos of credit cards and cash until I located her license. There was a receipt to the dive bar just down the road wrapped around it. This was good, hopefully she’d think she lost it between there and here and think nothing of taking a trip to the DMV to replace it.
It was the only thing I was taking from her. I didn’t want her identity, definitely didn’t want her money or credit cards. I just wanted to buy her a plane ticket. I crumpled up the receipt in my fist and swiped the license, telling myself that this wasn’t really all that bad. In fact, it wasn’t even the weirdest or most potentially illegal thing I’d done lately.
But I was a planner.
And so I planned.
Hello, Rebecca Blanchette. Where would you like to go?
When I got to my office that morning, I went about my normal routine.
Fire up the laptop.
Go get coffee.
Pass Eddie in the hall on his way to get coffee and respond to his Uber-annoying “Hi-YA, Emi-LEEE! Good MORNING!” with a semi-grunt, a fake smile and a low, “Hey, Eddie.”
Get back to my desk, sit down, and fish for the little silver key I keep hidden under my WORLD’S BEST MOM coffee mug that holds all my pens and my scissors.
The key opens the drawer to my right, and I do what I do every morning.
I inventory my future.
I unzip the the leather iPad folio case, which houses my device on the right.
In the slotted organizer to the left, I count eight $500 Visa gift cards, all purchased at various big box stores.
There were gift cards to Amazon, iTunes, Starbucks, Wal-Mart.
There was $1,000 in cash.
I added Rebecca’s license, zipped the leather folio back up, and hugged it tightly to my chest, breathing freedom in. As if to tell it, and myself, that it wouldn’t be much longer...