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SANDY TURNER sat on the toilet seat lid and opened the newspaper to the sports page. The article she’d hoped would be there even had a photo with it. She whispered, "Bingo,” and took the cuticle scissors from the overnight case to cut out the newest addition to the half-filled 1949 scrapbook. It was really the latest addition to those her mother had clipped over the years and kept—secretly, as far as Sandy could tell—until she died.
Sandy studied the picture. It was one the papers ran often, a close-up three-quarter shot with his racing helmet on. The angle of its bill against the dark background echoed the outline of his high cheekbones and strong jaw line. His eyes were so blue they photographed like pale rings around the pupils, and there were fine sprays of laugh lines in the outer corners. In all the pictures she’d secretly pored over the past month, he was smiling like that, the relaxed grin of a born winner. . . .
It’s possible that for 34 years the thought of ending it all never enters your head and then one day the idea presents itself, like a strange new entrée on an otherwise familiar menu. You’d think there’d be foreshadowing—an early inclination toward the dark side. Not necessarily. Sometimes it just gets shuffled into the mix as you sense you're about to reach the end of your rope. Letting go is another option in the sequence of bad decisions that nudged you over the edge and left you dangling there.
Here's one way it can happen. By mid-November, you’ve almost gotten used to waking up cold and disoriented in the back of your black Dodge Caravan in the parking lot of a third-tier grocery store. It’s a place to hide when the local shelter is full. The streetlights are dimmed by sheets of snow driven by a frigid wind that rocks the car. You’d think you’d hit bottom. You’d be wrong.
Fear of discovery has kept you desperate to avoid anyone who’s ever known you as the spouse of a successful lawyer, hosting many of Wichita’s movers and shakers. You keep up appearances, it’s become your main job, but you spend most of your days hiding in plain sight. Then one day you find a letter in your PO box from your ex’s law firm, only three pages long, but two words fly off the first page and hook like barbs in your eyes, stopping your heart—sole custody. Of all the words you’ve slung at each other—all those left unspoken for better or for worse—finally only those two matter, stretching like razor wire between you and the world you once took for granted.
When the only other option is to lie shivering in the back of your car with cheap vodka to dull the pain, wondering if it’s even possible to put a stop to the freight-train-out-of-control disaster of your life, it feels almost rational to also wonder if packing a wad of snow into the tail pipe can deliver you from despair to who cares.