As Karen packed up the information for the campaign she was assigned, she thought back on the past twenty five years of her life. Some would say she grew up too fast, but Karen liked to believe that she was simply more mature than her peers. She was of average height, slender, and an attractive young woman. She had married at nineteen, and had her daughter at twenty three.
She thought to herself, how am I going to get through this? The news had hit her like a brick. She always supposed that, should something like this happen, she would fall apart, and be inconsolable. But Karen felt nothing. She was shocked, but she couldn’t cry. Not one tear fell.
As the awful news spread through the office, her co-workers urged Karen to just go home, she needed time to herself, but she refused. She needed the distraction of work to keep her together, at least she thought so. Karen’s mother always told her the ad game would kill her; the stress and cynicism would take its toll in just a few short years. She began to think there was some truth to what her mother had said. As she drove home, bleak rain drizzled over the dark streets, and she thought, why can’t I cry? Why don’t I care? Perhaps the life of an ad exec had turned her cold and heartless. All of the lies, just to sell the product, to sell the company, to sell herself. Had she become so jaded by the business that such a tragedy couldn’t faze her? She dreaded the possibility that this could be true, but even that thought failed to rouse her emotions. She drove home quietly, staring at the road ahead of her; the only sounds were those of the rain and her tires on the road.
She arrived home shortly after ten pm, apologized to the babysitter for working late, and paid her. Tina was a good babysitter; Emma loved her. Tina grabbed her coat and headed for the door before turning to Karen. She tentatively asked her, “Mrs. Canter, are you okay? I know what happened and if there’s anything I can do…”
“Thank you, Tina. I’m fine, I’ll be fine,” Karen tried to reassure even herself. “Just help me keep Emma happy. That’s all. Goodnight, Tina.”
“Alright, goodnight Mrs. Canter,” Tina said as she opened the door and walked to her car.
Karen set her things on the kitchen table, as she did every night, and she quietly went into Emma’s room to kiss her goodnight. As she approached her daughter, she thought how precious she was, a sleeping baby cherub, with her pale blonde curls framing her pouty face. “My angel,” she whispered as she pulled the covers up over Emma’s shoulders. Emma’s long eyelashes batted as she opened her tired, blue eyes. She yawned and smiled at her mommy. She raised her arms so Karen would pick her up, and she did. Karen held her tightly, and Emma snuggled her little head of curls into her mommy’s neck.
“Da-da?” Emma’s tiny voice inquired.
“No sweetie, Daddy’s not here.” Though Karen realized the gravity of this statement, she was glad Emma did not. She laid Emma back in her tiny princess bed, tucked her in and kissed her goodnight.
“I love you, Emma.”
“Iloveyou Mama,” Emma replied before quickly yawning and going back to sleep.
Karen fixed herself a cup of hot chai and went to bed. As she sat in bed, reading over her ad materials, she realized that this was the first of many nights she would be spending alone in the stark room. Karen shocked even herself that she had no tears for that depressing thought. What was wrong with her, she wondered… What would she tell Emma? How could she explain why Daddy wasn’t coming home? And why can’t she feel anything?! Her racing thoughts did nothing but give Karen a headache, so she took two Tylenol and lay down. She awoke at six, as she usually did, to fix breakfast for Emma, and to give her a bath before Tina got there, so she could be at work at eight. As Emma ate dry cereal with her fingers, Karen noticed that the baby kept looking at her father’s empty chair. She didn’t know what to tell her daughter, so she said nothing.
Tina had arrived on time, and was unable to offer any sympathy as Karen rushed to leave for work. Karen drove carefully, two miles under the speed limit, and obeyed every law. She even stopped at yellow lights. She realized that following little rules made her feel like she was more in control. Not that she was a control freak, but there were things she wouldn’t ever be able to control, things that she could never change. The minor details were her specialty, and they kept her from dwelling on the recent troubles. She thought back to the fight they had two days before. Of course, they never fought in front of Emma, and they kept their voices down, but it was the same fight they’d always had. Mark thought Karen spent too much time at work; he accused her of having an affair at the office. That night was the worst, though.
“Whore!” Mark shouted as he spat in her face.
Shocked and disgusted, she slapped him across the face. This only enraged him more, and he shoved Karen against the wall and grabbed her throat in both hands. The guttural sound Karen made gasping for air made him release her, and she dropped to the ground. His eyes had a look of dread; he couldn’t believe that he had done such a thing. He ran outside through the pouring rain, to his car and peeled out, tires squealing as he raced down the road. Though she didn’t want to believe it, Karen knew he wasn’t coming back.
She loved him, but she couldn’t cry; she couldn’t feel anything. It didn’t hit Karen until she got to her office. As she got situated, the secretary knocked on her door and informed Karen that she had a phone call. Hesitantly, she answered the line. “Hello, Karen Canter,” she said.
“Mrs. Canter,” started the man on the other end, “This is Pastor Johnson. I’m calling to further discuss your husband’s funeral arrangements.” At those words, “your husband’s funeral arrangements,” Karen dropped the phone and collapsed to the floor. Not only isn’t Daddy coming home, she thought, my love isn’t coming home. My love is…gone.