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Home > Leave Me

Leave Me
Author: Gayle Forman

1

Maribeth Klein was working late, waiting to sign off on the final page proofs of the December issue, when she had a heart attack.

Those first twinges in her chest, however, were more a heaviness than a pain, and she did not immediately think heart. She thought indigestion, brought on by the plate of greasy Chinese food she’d eaten at her desk the hour before. She thought anxiety, brought on by the length of tomorrow’s to-do list. She thought irritation, brought on by the conversation with her husband, Jason, who when she’d called earlier was having a dance party with Oscar and Liv, even though their downstairs neighbor Earl Jablonski would complain and even though keeping the twins up past eight upped the odds that one of them would wake in the night (and wake her up, too).

But not her heart. She was forty-four years old. Overtaxed and overtired, but show her a working mother who wasn’t. Besides, Maribeth Klein was the sort of woman who when she heard hoof beats did not think horses, let alone zebras. She thought someone had left the TV on too loud.

So when her heart began seizing, Maribeth merely excavated a bottle of Tums from her desk and sucked on them while willing Elizabeth’s office door to open. But the door remained shut while Elizabeth and Jacqueline, Frap’s creative director, debated whether or not to tweak the cover now that sex tapes of the famous young actress gracing it had emerged on the Internet.

An hour later, the decision was made and the last of the proofs were signed off on and shipped to the printer. Before leaving, Maribeth stopped by Elizabeth’s office to say good-bye, which she immediately regretted. Not just because Elizabeth, noting the hour, remarked how tired Maribeth looked and offered her a car-service voucher home—a kindness that embarrassed Maribeth, though not enough to decline it—but because Elizabeth and Jacqueline had been deep in conversation about dinner plans and had stopped talking as soon as Maribeth entered the room, as if they’d been postgaming a party to which she hadn’t been invited.

At home, she fell into a fitful sleep, waking up with Oscar sprawled on the bed next to her and Jason already gone. And even though she felt worse than she had the night before—exhausted and nauseous, from the poor night’s sleep and the Chinese food, she assumed, but with her jaw aching, too, for reasons she did not understand, though she would later learn that these were all actually signs of her ongoing heart attack—she dragged herself out of bed and somehow got Liv and Oscar dressed and walked the ten blocks to BrightStart Preschool, where she maneuvered the gauntlet of the other mothers, who regarded her with a cool condescension because, she suspected, she only did drop-offs on Fridays. Jason handled the other mornings (something the BrightStart mothers positively lionized him for) so that Maribeth could get to her desk early enough to leave by four-thirty.

“A short workday,” Elizabeth had promised. “Fridays off.” This was two years ago, after Elizabeth had been anointed editor-in-chief of Frap, a new (and well-funded) celebrity lifestyle magazine, and those were the bright, shiny apples she’d used to lure Maribeth back to full-time work. Well, those and the ample salary, which she and Jason needed to pay for the twins’ upcoming preschool, the cost of which, Jason had joked, was “exorbitant squared.” At the time, Maribeth was freelancing from home but not earning anything like a full-time salary. As for Jason’s job at a nonprofit music archive, well, the tuition would’ve eaten half of his annual take. There was an inheritance from Maribeth’s father, but generous as it had been, it would’ve covered only one year, and what if they didn’t get a spot at the public pre-K (the odds of which, people claimed, were worse than getting into Harvard)? They really needed the money.

Though the truth was, even if preschool had been free, like it was in France, apparently, Maribeth suspected she would’ve taken the job just for the chance to finally work side by side with Elizabeth.

The short work day turned out to be eight hours, and much longer during the closes. Those Fridays off turned out to be her busiest day of the week. As for working side by side with Elizabeth, well, that hadn’t quite worked out as expected either. Nothing had, really, except perhaps for preschool. That was just as expensive as they’d anticipated.

At circle time, Maribeth opened the book Liv had carefully selected for today’s reading, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, and blinked as the words danced across the page. Earlier that morning, after she’d retched bile into the toilet, she had suggested to her daughter that perhaps she should postpone the reading until the following Friday, prompting Liv to throw a fit: “But you never come to school,” her daughter had wailed. “You can’t break a promise!”

She managed to get through the whole book, though she could tell by Liv’s scowl that her performance was lackluster. After circle time, she said good-bye to the twins and took a bus the ten blocks back home, where, instead of going to bed, as she so desperately wanted, she checked her e-mail. At the top of the queue was a message, sent to her personal and work accounts, from Elizabeth’s assistant, Finoula, asking if Maribeth could do a crash edit on the attached article. Next up in her inbox was the to-do list she had e-mailed herself from work last night. It contained twelve items, thirteen if you included the article Finoula had just sent. Though she generally avoided putting anything off—when she did, her lists only metastasized—she mentally shuffled the day, prioritizing what could not be delayed (ob-gyn, CPA, meet Andrea), what could be (call with Oscar’s speech therapist, dry cleaners, post office, car inspection), and what might be passed off to Jason, whom she called at work.

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