This was not how Steve’s life was supposed to turn out. What happened to the picture perfect image of a rewarding job, loving wife, and a happy kid? Guess two out of three isn’t bad, he thought.
His job paid well even though the hours sucked. The brilliant and beautiful wife was unfortunately not interested in parenting. But his daughter, she was worth everything. More than everything.
Steve stood by the front door at two am, waiting once again as his wife, Susan, packed her bags to leave him. In the past five years this drama had played out several times, but she always ended up coming back.
But now we have two-year-old Mariah. How can she possibly be doing this? he wondered. The sound of the zipper securing the expensive suitcase seemed to echo off the pre-dawn bedroom walls. Susan Rubik, mother, wife, and physician was resolute. After five tumultuous years, she could not continue living this way. She had begun a promising medical career and had only had two years under her belt when she became pregnant much sooner than planned. Over the last three years, she had grown increasingly resentful at postponing her professional career.
Perhaps time would provide a clearer perspective. But right now, she needed her life back, and being with a two-year old was not one of her priorities.
Her conviction grew as she packed. By the time she put the last of her things into the suitcase she knew she was doing the right thing. She wasn’t so sure it was good for her husband and daughter. But they were only a small piece of the bigger picture.
People are dying every day from starvation and illness in this City while I stay home behind these walls of privilege. I need to be of service. And not just to this little girl but to the wider community. That’s why I became a doctor! she thought.
Her patience was at its end and she was leaving. As Susan zipped the suitcases she mentally prepared to close this chapter in her life. She placed two large suitcases on the bedroom floor, extended the retractable handles and headed for the front door.
Dawn was hours away but many in the City were already going about their work. The sounds of cars, trucks, voices, and barking dogs floated in through the open window of the penthouse apartment. As usual, a light and gritty drizzle fell from the slate grey sky.
The relentless summer heat was rising. As the North American temperate zone moved north, high humidity and hot days had become a regular part of City life. Most residents were forced to open their windows rather than turn on their air conditioners due to the high cost of electricity. Constant noise was a familiar backdrop for the teeming masses living near the City center.
Moving swiftly out the bedroom, Susan quietly wheeled her luggage down the long carpeted hallway toward the front door. She paused briefly when she reached her daughter’s bedroom.
Inside, Mariah was sleeping soundly under a night sky canopy filled with moving holographic clouds, twinkling stars, and the Milky Way silently floating across the ceiling. Mariah turned her head toward the door, unconsciously sensing her mother’s presence. The dim light on Susan’s face revealed a large tear rolling down her cheek.
“I’m sorry Mariah. I love you. One day I’ll come back for you …” she whispered, her voice breaking with emotion. She pushed down her maternal instincts and continued down the dimly illuminated hallway.
“You can't just leave,” Steve proclaimed as he stepped forward to block the front door. She stopped in her tracks and looked up at his anxious expression.
He had a handsome face, warm eyes, and a surprisingly fit physique for a man with a powerful City job. Moreover, she still loved him.
“Steve, we know this is not working,” she responded in a firm, controlled voice.
“Come on ... I know I’ve been extra busy these last few months...” Steve started.
“Stop it Steve. It’s bigger than that. I could live with your work-a-holism as long as I could work, too. Now I spend my days talking in three-word sentences to a baby. People are dying because they don’t have doctors to treat them. I can’t do this anymore!”
Steve knew that arguing with Susan when she had made up her mind was a losing battle. Yet he couldn’t just give up.
“What about Mariah? I can’t take care of her alone. She needs a mother,” Steve pleaded.
“Steve, you love being with Mariah. And she loves you. You’ll work something out,” she said in a voice laced with years of anger and resentment. Not my problem any more.
He paused for a moment before he stepped back. Feeling defeated by the finality in her words, he slowly opened the door for her to pass. She strode into the brightly lit hall, then turned on her heels to face him. The look of sadness in her eyes told volumes. Her words were coated in a softness he now rarely heard from her.
“Steve, you will be fine. Mariah will be fine. I will call when I'm settled.”
“Where are you going?”
“To my mother’s home in Knoxville.”
She walked forward and planted a tender kiss on his cheek, then started back down the elegantly appointed hallway letting go of the life behind her.
“Get a nanny,” she called over her shoulder. As she neared the elevator she could feel waves of relief sweep over her. A sense of conviction covered the earlier doubts in her psyche. Her steps were more determined and had a spring to them she hadn’t felt in years.
I’m leaving. I’m free.
As Susan approached the elevator, she heard the friendly voice flow out of the speaker embedded in the wall above the elevator doors.
“Good morning, Dr. Rubik, your elevator is arriving. Have a wonderful day.”
“Thanks,” she replied to the synthesized female voice.
The elevator arrived at the penthouse level and the doors slid open to reveal the modern stainless steel and glass décor so popular in the early 21st century. She walked into the small space, pulling her life behind her.
As the elevator door closed and began its descent to street level, she gazed out at the City skyline through the floor to ceiling glass windows. Extending as far as the eye could see were the many darkened buildings of downtown and the never-ending rings of suburbs that stretched off into the distance.
At one point, living in the middle of the City was wonderful. During the past decade that had all changed. The City was plagued by growing health issues. Malnutrition, poor water quality, airborne diseases, depleted immune systems, and new epidemics were rampant.
As a caregiver, she felt her place was living near those most in need. But that was turning out to be a dangerous idea in the City. People who were hungry were starting to congregate in small groups outside the apartments of the more privileged members of society. She was pained by their situation and was going to a place where she could finally be of help.When the elevator reached the ground floor, Susan stepped out and walked into her future.