If someone had told me six months ago that going off-grid would make the perfect vacation, I’d have considered them crazy. Off-grid meant off-everything. Away from civilization, cable TV, and worse, Wi-Fi. All right, I’m exaggerating because I do have Wi-Fi, even if it’s very spotty. And none of my friends picked this damn place out in the middle of nowhere; I did. But still, how on earth was I supposed to know how my patients were doing? Were their new kidneys getting used to their new bodies? What about the antibody counts? Were their sodium-potassium levels balanced? What about their blood pressure?
But that was six months ago, back when the only thing that mattered to me was being one of the top pediatric kidney transplant surgeons in the country, authoring countless medical papers and taking wide-eyed doctors on surgical rounds at Miller General Hospital, a top medical and research facility in Manhattan.
I take a sip of my wine and lean back in my chair, gazing out at the vast expanse of sagebrush outside the double-pane glass windows. It’s dark outside my sustainable home-away-from-home, and all I see are the moon and the thousands of stars in the sky. It’s a breathtaking sight, one I haven’t seen before I came up here, not when I’ve lived most of my life in the big city with most of my waking hours spent inside the hospital treating patients or holed up in my office typing away research papers.
I can’t remember now what possessed me to stay on the outskirts of Taos, New Mexico, but here I am anyway, away from it all, just the way I’d planned it—or not planned it. At least, the part where I’m sitting alone in the dark, drowning my anger and grief in my third glass of wine.
It had started with the newspaper announcement that Jeff was getting married in three weeks. Friends back home were so shocked with the latest development that they forgot themselves and just had to call me.
Was the divorce even final?
Good question. But I wasn’t about to tell them anything, not when I couldn’t call a single one of them my friend, definitely not after they showed me just how much more important their reputations were when it came down to deciding who they’d rather be seen with. Of course, they had to pick Jeff, the Director of Transplant Surgery at Miller General Hospital, and not his emotionally unstable wife, even if she happened to be the Assistant Director of Transplant Surgery.
This is what I get for not venturing outside of our old circle of friends. I should have worked harder at making friends on my own, especially after Jeff filed for divorce. But it’s too late to worry about such things now, not when the friends had already made their calls, pretending to act concerned about how I was taking the news of his impending nuptials.
Did you know he’s getting married to his secretary? And she’s pregnant with his baby! And hadn’t Jeff and I been trying to have a baby for the last five years, and even after all the IVF treatments and acupuncture, nothing happened? Nothing that meant a successful pregnancy, anyway?
Learning that Leilani was pregnant definitely hurt, especially when I knew it was the one thing Jeff always wanted—a child, preferably a son who would carry his name. And for five years, after every implantation and their corresponding failure, I finally accepted that it had to be my fault like he always insisted. After all, I was hitting forty, and the old eggs must have long shriveled up, even though all my medical training told me it wasn’t possible, not when my estrogen levels and other numbers were fine.
But that’s all part of the past now. The venerated transplant surgeon, Jeff Gardner, M.D. filed for divorce eight months ago, and life went on. Unfortunately for me, it meant life inside the same hospital where we both worked as transplant surgeons until one of us had to leave. And it certainly wasn’t going to be the Director of the Department of Surgery. Nope, not in a million years.
I slip half a teaspoon of rich fudge between my lips and chase it with a long sip of red wine. It’s something I learned during my first and only trip to Napa Valley so many years ago. Being a chocolate girl, it’s a habit that stuck, especially when I’m stressed. And boy, am I so stressed that I’m despondent. I don’t know why, or that’s what I tell myself because I do know why I’m feeling this way.
I’m a fucking failure.
I take another sip of wine, forgoing the fudge this time, and then another before I pick up the gun next to the half-empty bottle of Bordeaux. I rise from the couch, feeling the room sway around me. I take a deep breath and stare straight ahead, determined to finish what I’d started.
With the glass of wine in one hand and the gun in the other, I make my way towards the front door with its tempered glass insert, probably useless in a zombie invasion, and stare at the darkness beyond it. For a moment, I can’t figure out how to open the door with my hands full. Still holding the gun, I set the wine glass on the floor next to me and pull open the door, step outside and turn around to pick up the wine glass. The hell if I’m wasting any of this wine. At two grand a bottle, the landlady can use the rest of my deposit to cover the cost.
I make my way outside towards the fire pit area, ignoring the gravel cutting into the bottoms of my feet. I’m too numb to feel it anyway, and soon I’ll be too dead to feel anything else.
I take another sip of the wine, though this time, I spit it out, feeling it dribble down my chin. From the way I’m wobbling on my feet, I’ve had enough of it even though I’m not quite there yet. I still need one more glass to drown out the rational part of my brain that’s begging me to think my decision through, telling me that things aren’t that bad; that despite what Jeff said over the phone this afternoon, it was a terrible idea to kill myself out in the middle of nowhere.
Who’d find my body out here? Would the coyotes get to it first? Is that why I picked the field of sagebrush and lavender to do the deed while I’m still standing, where no one would notice my body till after the vultures would circle the area days later? I just wish I’d put on some footwear before I’d come out here because that damn gravel is really starting to hurt, breaking through the veil of numbness that I hoped would envelop me till the very end.
But even as I stand out here, my thoughts are getting discombobulated, the rational—albeit drunk—part of my brain begging the emotional, fucked-up part of me to please, please reconsider. You’re just letting Jeff win. And he will win the moment that bullet enters your brain, you know. And what a smart and beautiful brain it is, too, wasted over a man who’s so intent on making up for his tiny dick that he pisses over everyone, even the ones who helped him get to where he is now. And honestly, Harlow, do you really want Little Dick to win? Do you? Do you?
I laugh out loud, my laughter lost in the darkness around me. Behind me, the Earthship I’d rented for the next three weeks stands gloriously lit up with solar lights, like a beacon in the night. It’s one of those weird-looking sustainable homes one sees off the highway just outside of Taos, built with its back against a hillside, or bermed as the landlady, Anita Anaya, told me. Constructed from repurposed materials like crushed soda cans and old tires packed with earth that make up the heavily insulated walls and fences that surround the property, and multi-colored glass-bottled walls that filter sunlight into the rooms, it’s like something out of a Flintstones movie. Solar panels generate more than enough DC power for the whole Earthship, stored in several types of deep cycle batteries next to the garage.
There’s also a cistern the size of a four-person jacuzzi inside the utility room to gather water from the rain and nightly condensation, which is then filtered, so it’s good enough to wash my dishes and do my laundry as long as I used organic detergents. That way, that waste water is then filtered through the indoor vegetable garden and from there, it ends up as the brownish water in my toilet. There’s so much more to the Earthship christened the Pearl, like the beautifully carved woodwork that draws the eye at every turn, accents that only a master carpenter could have made. But that’s as much as I had time to notice during my quick tour yesterday before I said, yes, I want it for three weeks, and paid in cash.
I just hope Anita checks up on me before the three weeks is up. To be fair to her, it’s why I’m out here surrounded by buzzing mosquitos instead of inside the Pearl. It would be such an inconvenience to kill myself in such a beautiful place when I had all of the outdoors to shoot my brains out while I was drunk and beyond caring.
Unfortunately, as another sharp piece of gravel cuts into the skin of my foot, I’m not past that beyond caring stage yet. But I also don’t want to drink another glass of wine to get to that point because I’d probably end up puking my guts out, and that would be so messy. I hate messy. I yawn, not even bothering to cover my mouth since my hands are full. Crap, now I’m also sleepy.
Ah, screw this.
I turn back to the Pearl and stumble my way to the door, fumbling clumsily with the doorknob. With one hand holding the wine and the other, the gun, I’m not quite sure how to grasp the handle and turn it open without shooting myself. And wouldn’t it be a hoot if I did it by accident? And to think I’m a damn pediatric surgeon, able to transplant donor kidneys into my young patients yet here I am, unable to open a simple door. I feel ridiculous. But the moment I step inside and shut the door behind me, I don’t care how I feel (drunk) or how ridiculous I look (drunk). I just want to go to sleep and pretend this craziness never happened.
I mean, if a tree fell in the forest, would anyone know? Or something like that. I can’t even remember how the saying goes. I just want to get my ass back to that king-sized bed and pass out.
I stagger towards the couch and return the wine glass to the table. I rest the gun on top of the note I’d written, barely remembering what I’d scribbled earlier through all my tears. I feel more foolish now than when I started this drinking binge hours earlier, but at least, I’m still here, still breathing, and my brain is still in one piece. And really, who cares if I can barely remember what started this whole thing about killing myself in the first place?
But if there’s one thing I know, I’m going to have a hell of a hangover in the morning.