An Excerpt from 'As Fast As It Is Gone'
Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - The Explosion
The avocados were of little comfort. The parmesan cheese cubes did not ease her tension. Nor the Moroccan oil-cured pitted black olives, so shriveled and so tasty; she did not even pay them a visit. Sara Riggs normally cherished the decadent free taster outposts scattered throughout Nature's on a Sunday afternoon. The healthy living grocery was her community meeting place, though she rarely attended any events. She liked to see things were happening, though, and know she could go if she wanted. When she'd cajole David into coming down on a Sunday, they'd sit at the café and make her feel at home. But today David stayed home in self-imposed, ostensibly recuperative confinement.
"Come on honey," she'd pled. "You haven't gotten out all week."
David's face betrayed his fear. He stared at her angular face and her deep green eyes, which looked at him down her narrow nose. "Sara, what if something went wrong with my syndrome?" he whined. Guillan Barré had caused David to swim in a corner of his mind in which he only used to wade. "What if I start convulsing on the floor of Nature's, scaring children; it could get ugly. I shouldn't be out in public." David flailed his arms to simulate the potential scene.
"You'd scare them anyway!" Sara answered, knowing David was looking for an excuse. David smiled despite himself. Sara knew how to defuse his dramatic rants with wry humor.
"I can take care of both of us, OK honey?" she advised.
Though she couldn't, and her certainty of that was confirmed at Nature's. She felt like she was going to lose it right there at the salad bar. She wanted to berate the broccoli and fling watery beets at passersby. She didn't get mad often; in fact many of her friends described her as even-keeled. She couldn't pinpoint her sudden rage, but David's whining was growing intolerable.
Between the deli and the salad bar Sara ran into Katie Lawrence, a fellow Commax Timber wife. Mated to another vice-president, maybe of operations, to whom she had been introduced by David at some stuffy CTC dinner at the Hilton last Christmas. Katie had stuck in Sara's mind due to her exposition upon the virtues of living in a gated community. Sara immersed herself in plants at the Portland Botanical Center partly because she could not understand people. Take Katie Lawrence, for example. The fear she must have to relish walling herself away from the world.
Sara rounded the burritos as Katie came down the salsa section, and they made eye contact. Any sly exit strategy vanished. Sara made a minor wave, her thin fingers half unfolded, and she hoped she could leave it at that. But Katie looked away, pretending to be engrossed in some garbanzo beans. Getting the old look-away from Katie Lawrence was just too damn much today!
Her husband was afraid to rejoin life. He was going to have to go back to work soon, or somehow reclaim a measure of his faded exuberance.
"David," she'd said with folded arms. "What is all this?"
David opened his arms wide; stretching his malleable smile as far as it would go. It quickly faded. "This is me, babe," he said. "I'm not OK on my own. I'm not ready to get back out there."
"Where, the grocery store? Yes, you are David."
David felt rejected by the whole conversation. Before his sickness he'd just been bored. Now he needed a plan.
She guessed she hoped, as she passed the fresh bakery breads, that David would just snap out of it. But Sara worried about David's return to the Commax Timber Concern. She didn't want him to simply revert to the preoccupied man he was before he'd gotten sick. She'd never seen David not want to go to work. In five years he'd become quite attached to the place.
CTC had been a step for David that turned out to be a platform. To recall David's wilder moments, Sara had to think back to Ann Arbor, to Ashley's wooden backroom booths and David's Bells Amber filled oratories to his girlfriend to entertain the patrons that did not care. She married him wanting to reach his theoretical milestones. She thought it was ambition, but David's desires could not be understood as ambition, because he had no professed desire to move up in his profession. Since business school, David had observed the gospel of Charles Butler as a reckless young capitalist. But now security was all he craved.
Since David lost his parents, he'd felt an ever increasing burden. His choices were always resigned. Even CTC had become a taboo conversation topic. David's loyalty to CTC didn't bring the couple Riggs together, it pushed them apart.
So maybe it was positive of his syndrome that David got away from CTC, even if it was only a while. They had great insurance coverage, Sara had to admit.
A Katie Lawrence look-away! At Nature's! It was the summation of her greatest fears.
Sara left gray Astoria, Oregon for gray Ann Arbor primarily because no one else was leaving. Michigan was a top-notch school with a reputation even out as far as the Oregon coast. But it was somewhere different. The way it worked out, however, she boomeranged right back to Oregon only four years later due to David's job opportunity, her feet dangling out the passenger window of David's Blazer. Nearly eight years after that, she bicycled David's legs in the evenings, hoping to reincarnate, via pedaling, the strong-willed fool who'd swept her away and took her back home.
Sara had pictured the rest of her life as a beautiful unfolding tapestry. Moving to Portland had felt like a new chapter, but now it felt like the never-ending dribble of a boring novel.
Julien Crenshaw, four years David's senior, had been integral to David's promotion. The two bonded; especially after David lost his father. Julien had also lost his father, but he was single and power hungry. It led to David's constant carousing, despite Sara's protests. The past year had been a painful re-march of the previous. Though it took her two years to realize, the window of her ideals had finally shattered. But then David came down with a prolonged case of bronchitis and here they were.
Sara loved her green home town. Portland was not a college town in the Bostonian sense of the word. Though there was a post-college-wooden-bookstore-stoned-casual-socially-responsible-West-Coast vibe the city captured well. Sara also enjoyed the numerous ethnic eateries, the co-op groceries and people who worked independently, be it in art or business. Her respect for that particular aspect of living had grown over her years of searching.
David Riggs didn't have time to grow independent of the Commax Timber Concern. He didn't have time to think about leaving Oregon or to think about who he wanted to become. Though he had mentioned more than once that what he was did not equal who he wanted to become. He just couldn't fill out the next sentence. His first priority was taking care of Sara, more than she wanted to be taken care of. It was endearing and it was disheartening, because Sara came to sense the fear underlying David's focus. It became a mantra for him; he could control his life by staying in line. That he would avoid the accident that befell his parents. David had been talking to Sara about a family. Sara hadn't yet acquiesced. The thought of children made her think of a different lifestyle, a place like where she'd grown up. But she didn't want that right now; not like David wanted.
And it seemed just like that David got sick.
Katie Lawrence! What was she doing at Nature's? Why did Sara hate her? She did not hate her. She hated that she saw herself in Katie Lawrence.
"Our kids will need to grow so that they understand how the world works," David had opined at Ben's Bento picnic table. "I don't want them to think their parents didn't prepare them for the world."
"I grew up in a hippy tourist town on the coast," she replied. "Did I turn out all right?"
"OK, OK. I get it. But our kids will eventually go to college, and at that point we could retire to the country."
"Re-tire to the country!" she shouted to the startled patrons. "When do we get to live?"
That conversation transpired two years ago, the week after she turned 28; the day they closed on their home.
During winter in Portland, the rain is persistent. If you can't hear it, you can still feel it. In the verdant vast valley of the Willamette, the trees grow higher and larger than anywhere in the world to sip the rain out of the cloud tops.
Sara walked home from Nature's through an invisible winter rain at five-thirty. It was pitch black and it felt more like eleven. Back at the casa del Riggs on Sherman, Sara bicycled David's legs as he lay on the green carpet. She'd honed her technique: keeping her hands up by her shoulders with her elbows bent at her side. Wrapping her fingers around his bushy toes, she pushed from her shoulders and then moved her arms down to complete the pedal. She kept it up, as she'd noticed David's frame had recovered some muscle tone.
"Soon you'll be doing this yourself," Sara snapped. Her speech was choppy; she was upset. David's thick eyebrows narrowed with anxiety. He was already embarrassed watching his wife manipulate his appendages. David awkwardly grabbed her hand by the bottom and kissed the top. It was more fear than romance, but it sufficed. "Thank you," he whispered.
Sara curled the edges of her lips into a smile despite her frustration. Sara's eyes, David knew, could open so wide and green that you'd have to focus to find her cornea. Her extra large eyelashes bunched together in alternating fat and thin accents.
"Are you doing all right?" he asked playfully.
"It's cool. I was just thinking…about traveling again," she said, looking up at him.
"With me like this?"
"Well then, maybe not with you," she said, raising her eyebrows in what she considered a playful tone. But David stopped playing.
"Maybe next year," he conceded.
"I've heard that before." She stopped pedaling and got up to turn off the computer. She sat at the armoire, watching David, who closed his eyes. The medications still tired him out.
"Commax called again to ask what your return date was, you know that right?"
He opened his eyes and turned toward her. "They called again, huh?"
"Don't I get twelve weeks?"
"You've had them." She counted on her fingers, "November, December, January…" She looked to see his reaction. He nodded his head and leaned back.
"So I have."
"You don't want to go back?" Sara said, turning her head to signal her frustration. She shook her head, which infuriated David. Sara wasn't sure of the man with whom she spoke.
David avoided eye contact. He didn't understand himself why he didn't want to go back to work. Those were the only guys he knew in Portland. Not only that, the house was closing in on David. He wasn't inclined to make house repairs, but he needed to have something to work on, a project he could say was successful, even if he wasn't at work.
David had a deep intuition he didn't want to recognize that it was his work that had made him sick. He wasn't sure if that was worth returning to. He hoped for a sign that things would improve, though he'd already surmised that the world had turned on him.
Sara raised herself from the computer with a slow creak of the desk, checking the screen to make sure it went off before she turned and watched the now swollen rain drops bang on the stone steps and shake the porch light.
"I'm getting sick of the rain," she sighed.
"After thirty years of this place anyone would," David stoically replied.
"Yeah," she said, turning back to David. "I've never minded it before."
Sara thought about just going upstairs and avoiding the thoughts that had plagued her. Instead, she stepped back to David and laid her chin in the space between his bent knees. She looked down at her husband's face. To David, Sara's face formed a perfect wide 'V' at her jaw; her long neck framed by her straight hair dangling to his stomach. Her head sat on top of it like it was designed to fit. She curled her lips sideways. He noticed he could support her body frame easily even in his weakened state.
"I'm proud of you," she whispered.
"I'm alive because of you," David pointed out. He moved his neck out to steal a glance at her eyes. "To be here…" he started, but he could not muster the words. "You're taking good care of me. My hospital room…" he shook his head. "I mean, I can't explain it. It was spiritual."
Sara blushed. "You are letting me help you heal, honey. You know that?"
"I know." David smiled. He stuck his hands in the air and gave his best preacher performance. "We are healing together sister!" he yelled.
"Can I get an A-men children!" Sara waved her hands above her head too. She bent over and erupted into David, tickling his weak side.
Only two months ago Doctor Epstein informed Sara of her impending spinal tap decision. She was told that David could have Multiple Sclerosis or a host of other gruesome possibilities, threatening everything she believed in. Since her mother explained to her the concept at a young age, Sara had built a castle made of karma. Years of kind deeds at the forefront of her awareness would keep her in the flow of energy protecting her. To a certain degree, anyway. She couldn't jump in front of a bus and emerge unscathed with a curtsy, but she could avoid bad vibes.
David's sickness made her question her beliefs.
Her love for David was as strong as her confusion. To stay in control she meditated, she read; she consulted the hospital psychologist, eager to restore calm to her situation. She realized how young she was at 30, but she mourned how incredibly sad her story was becoming. Then, typically, she'd become mad at her selfishness. For now it was enough to concentrate on gazing into his gray-blue eyes.
The kitchen whistled. She got up.
"Tea's ready."
They walked into the kitchen, skating their socks on the wood floors, allowing David to mask his limp. Though David was not very tall, his arms easily wrapped around Sara's slender shoulders. David had lost twenty pounds in the hospital, and the thinness really showed in his neck. David sat at the round kitchen table while Sara tended the pot, two mugs and honey.
"So what's in this brew?" he asked.
"Let see…It's got green tea, with horsechesnut berry, yarrow, some echinacea, golden seal, bee pollen and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. It's a tonic for rejuvenating your energy."
"Rejuvenating, huh?" he responded sarcastically.
David stared at the fine print on the teabag sleeve and chuckled to himself. "Where did all this come from?" he asked.
"All what?" she shot back.
"Herbs, crystals, my energy," he pointed at the cabinets. "All that stuff in those drawers, in my 'treatment plan'. You were never into that stuff before."
"David, this is the woman I've been for years!" she yelled; slamming down the tea. She grabbed hold of the end counter, shaking her head.
"It's just that before you were sick, you were so oblivious to my existence that I stopped sharing my life with you," she said. "And that was a long time ago."
She managed to look up. Her damp green gaze struck David silent. Her long eyelashes whipped and recoiled. There was a distinct pause, as if the energy in the room needed time to stop, realize what was going on and turn the other direction. Sara turned her gaze back to the sink, trying to resume. But she remained motionless. A primal fear raced up David's spine.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry to bring this up now," she trembled. "But…well, there was this David before we moved to Portland, who I married, who went to work to build a home for us. But that David made himself sick." She was trying not to tremble. "Neither of us can handle that David again."
David was in shock. He didn't mean to suggest that he wasn't aware of her hobbies. He loved her, for crissake! Didn't he ask her teasingly, as he often did, based on earlier conversation? This is crazy, David thought. Stand up and talk to her!
David rushed over to the counter and knocked the hot mug. He gazed at Sara's profile.
"Sara," he pleaded. "Where the hell is this coming from? What's going on? Is this about my syndrome?"
"Baby, you've been given a second chance at life. Do you know how significant that is? Do you know what I wonder? I wonder how we got here so quickly. It's not like I know where here is, but look at your health. Look at Commax. I mean just look! The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with you except your acute amount of stress. I know it's true, because I feel it too. I take all your negative energy. You got the physical disease this time, but believe me, if it keeps up, it will be me."
"Am I really doing this now?" she thought to herself.
She inhaled and with the rest of that gasp she pushed off the sink, left the kitchen and walked through their small wood-paneled hallway and sat on her brown chair in the living room. She had brought the chair with her wherever she lived for ten years. David was prohibited from removing it. "It has two cigarette burns and smells like cat piss," he would argue, but in the end the chair stayed and David bought the maroon soft cotton Pier One couch to put right next to it.
"I am sick," Sara spoke to herself.
Sara sat with her hair over her eyes and her arms folded for minutes. David said nothing. He just watched uncomfortably, until she got up to get her coat. David limped across the room and cut her off next to the keys' table.
"Sara, this isn't how I am now. Wait. Come on, Sara Beth, please. Let's talk about it."
"I'm sorry, David." She shook her head. "I'm so sorry I said this to you tonight. I didn't mean to. It just came out." She choked. "But I can't be here right now." She opened the door to the chorus of the February downpour and the applause of the wind and she keeled over and began to cry so hard it took David a second to believe it. Sara was not one to cry lightly.
Sara marched out and into her 1991 Subaru. The car puttered out carefully around David's 1999 Ford Explosion, the one she'd refused as a replacement for her old Ruby Suby with the sticky seats and the manual windows. She backed out onto the road, her headlights glaring off the Oregon rain.

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3