“Can I help you?” the salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret enquired with a friendly smile.
“Yes,” I answered awkwardly, avoiding her eyes. As I did, I caught my own in a nearby mirror. I barely recognised myself. Then, with sudden resolve, I turned and faced her.
I can do this.
“I’m looking for lingerie,” I mechanically proclaimed.
My discomfort was obvious. Never before had I bought myself something so… lascivious.
As fate would have it, that day would be no exception.
“Do you have something specific in mind?” the bright-eyed young woman pressed on with overemphasised cheeriness. She must have assumed I was shopping for a romantic night planned for me by my loving husband or doting boyfriend.
“Yes,” I continued with the deliberateness of a woman on a mission. “It’s red satin with black lace trim. High above the knee.”
“Oh, yes!” she squealed with delight, confident she knew exactly the piece to which I referred.
Was that because she’d recently sold one just like it to another customer before me? I wondered. As quickly as it had entered, I pushed the thought from my mind.
Focus. Just focus.
“It’s right over here!” the salesgirl pointed excitedly, ushering me over to the wall where that now familiar nightie hung triumphantly in the open. “Would you like a to try it on?”
I shook my head. No, that wouldn’t be necessary. After all, I wasn’t buying it for me. I was buying it for someone else. And I already knew her size.
My husband’s open suitcase had sat on the floor of our master bedroom where it always did while he was home, waiting to be unpacked after weeks, sometimes even a couple of months, spent away. Business trips I used to call them. Instead of admitting what they were — a geographical separation — with him working on one side of the world and me living on the other.
A strain on our marriage no doubt. But when we agreed to this plan, we likened ourselves to military couples that spend long periods away from one another while still remaining committed.
Yet somehow during these “furloughs” home, my husband’s suitcase would never be unpacked. Instead, only its contents rotated, and preparation made for the next “business trip,” surely a statement — his — that our house was no longer home base.
During this last visit, the one that would mark the end of our marriage, I had walked past his open suitcase for days, annoyed as I always was that not only had he not unpacked it, but that he hadn’t even moved it into our walk-in closet.
Unlike those other visits, right before this one my husband had announced that he was “done with our marriage,” leaving me to question whether or not he had already met someone else. My husband vehemently denied any such involvement, and I chose to believe him. Never before did I have a reason not to.
But on that particular evening, the appearance of his suitcase struck me as odd. Initially, I couldn’t quite place my finger on why. It was only when I walked past it for what was probably the hundredth time that week that I stopped dead in my tracks.