Author: Alex Crossman
An ugly divorce leaves Fern wounded and seeking, with an empty heart and a new apartment to fill. She thinks buying the big, medieval bed from the mysterious furniture emporium will cheer her up, unaware that the bed has its own agenda. No sooner does she fall asleep on it than she discovers herself whisked away to an alternative universe full of dragons, ogres…and handsome, seductive princes who know exactly what a girl like Fern is missing.
Usually, when a gal’s divorce papers first come through, she does something wild and spontaneous. Cuts and dyes her hair fuchsia, buys that chic little cocktail dress she never would have worn in any other life, takes a long-anticipated cruise. Unfortunately, I was neither wild nor spontaneous, and my best friends Sierra and Juanita were the first to complain about that.
“You never get out, Fern,” they’d berate me. “You never live, chica!” “You don’t have the salsa, gringo-girl!” This last was said with a great big grin on my friend Sierra’s pretty face, who was, herself, half “gringo”.
Of our little trio, I was the practical one, the one who had gone to medical school and had studied hard, who was dedicated to my job as an EMT First Responder. I had originally wanted to be a doctor, a pediatrician, but I soon learned that I loved the high energy of emergency work. I loved working over a cardiac arrest victim, or the victim of a shooting or drug overdose, and watching the hope in their faces when they realized that because of me, they were still breathing, still alive. For me, that was excitement, fulfillment and joy all wrapped up in one package.
My marriage was another matter. At first I blamed myself, telling myself over and over that the long hours and swing shifts driving an ambulance were driving Chuck crazy, that he was a good man who lived with a crazy wife who worked a crazy job. It was hard not to feel guilty. In some ways, I felt I was putting work before my marriage, something my conservative mother didn’t approve of and complained about constantly.
When Chuck’s drinking started, I felt even guiltier, like it was my fault. I begged Chuck to go to AA meetings, to get a mentor, to get help. I was willing to help him anyway I could, but Chuck was a cop on the Chicago PD, he was a tough guy by nature, and I knew how he and his friends were: any cry for help was a sign of weakness, proof that they were not men. They all drank draft beer, went to ballgames, and talked about how their wives were ball-busters. I took it all in stride, trying to be there for Chuck the way I was there for Clive every night, my First Responder partner.
Then Chuck hit me.
I figured it was a one-off, everything coming to a head like a bad boil and breaking open. I thought we would heal after that, and for a while we did and things were good again. Then we had a pregnancy scare—my period was late and I was sure I had forgotten to take my morning pill that day. I’d been exhausted the day before, my brain muddied by hours of driving an ambulance through endless lower Chicago traffic while a gang of youths who had shot each other in a gang war bled all over the floor of the ambulance. Chuck said I’d forgotten accidently on purpose, that I wanted some brat so I wouldn’t have to work. Then he accused me of having an affair with Clive. I tried to be understanding; I knew he’d been drinking all evening. I tried to take the bottle away and he punched me in the stomach.
It turned out I wasn’t pregnant, thank God. But something about that last night finally got through to me. I finally stopped making excuses for Chuck’s drinking and behavior and swiftly moved out of our little suburban house. I went to live with my friend Sierra for a few weeks until I could get my own apartment in the city. About that time, I started my divorce proceedings.
Chuck showed up maybe a half dozen times, bearing increasingly expensive gifts and begging me to forgive him and take him back. He insisted he was a changed man after that last incident, that it had scared him sober. But I knew better. His dad was an alcoholic who had beat the crap out of his mom for almost thirty years. Well, I wasn’t about to become another battered woman, another statistic to be carried away in an ambulance one day. I sent him away, and when that wasn’t good enough for Chuck, I got a restraining order against him.
The day the divorce papers came through, I called Sierra and Juanita and told them my exciting news. I thought I would feel sad or disappointed that my marriage hadn’t turned out the way I’d wanted, but instead I felt relieved—and incredibly alive for a change. It felt like a black cloud had lifted from over my head. I realized I was free of Chuck, that this was a new start for me. We went out drinking and dancing all night, and my two best Latinas were only too happy to drag me to a series of cheesy pickup bars and salsa clubs.
I woke up the next morning in my brand new apartment, sleeping on my brand new mattress set, sans bed frame (I’d given Chuck all our furniture in the divorce settlement; I wanted nothing to remind me of him or our time together), my head pounding from too many margaritas, grinning like crazy, with the sun in my eyes. It was Saturday, I was off work, and I was a gal on a mission to outfit this sexy new apartment of mine and celebrate my new freedom.