I laid it in my hands. I looked at it, clutched it more tightly and turned it over, then turned it over again and again. Then, all at once, I opened it. I opened it like opening the refrigerator when you are so very hungry, starving even, and have no idea what you want to eat or what you will find, but you know it is something. You know you will find something.
Having the wallet open suddenly felt urgent and I began rummaging through it quickly with no system, passing briskly over his license, the slots for cards and the pocket that held one and five dollar bills. I came to the same size and shape pocket behind the one with the money and saw that it was filled with relatively small papers of varying shapes and folds. I rifled through them and saw business cards and coupons, thirty percent off vitamins at the local nutrition store we frequented, and I found receipts, a lot of receipts. There were receipts for Wegmans, Old Navy and CVS. There were gas receipts too, and a receipt for Subway, for a Verizon payment and for our dinner out last month. I went through them all. Then, I went through them again. I saw them all again, all of the same ones, but I knew one was missing. I knew, and this time, in the very back of all the others that I had just gone though, I saw one I hadn’t seen before. I saw a receipt I had not seen the first time. It was for Motel 8.
Act normal I told myself. Act normal. Not everything out of the ordinary is an emergency. The other shoe doesn’t always have to drop. Someplace deep inside though, in a place I could feel like a dull ache on a rainy day, I knew that things were not right. I started to kick and struggle, like always, kick and struggle, kick and struggle, even though I knew it never worked. It never fucking worked.
I pulled it out, the receipt from Motel 8, and I took it all in with one sweeping glance, frantic, panicking. Slow down, I thought. Slow down. I steadied my gaze then and looked first at the bottom, looking for what I didn't know. I found his name signed in that familiar scrawl. I looked at the top next. It read October 15, 2005, the day before. So far, this was everything I knew. Last night he had stayed at the Motel 8 with a bunch of buddies before a Buffalo Bills game. There were no surprises as my eyes read and reread these things: his signature, the date, the name of the motel. It was always like this, no surprises until suddenly there were.
Time seemed to stop as my eyes found the middle of the receipt, the middle. Just for a moment, my breath stopped too and maybe the beat of my broken heart as I thought that if you could float up and away from your body and look down on your life laid out all flat and rectangular like a road map, there might be a thin red line that divides before and after. Thats what it had felt like in that instant, like I’d been standing on that thin red line caught between those two times, before and after. After was about to happen. Before had passed.