This was not in my control, not in my hands, I thought, as the song changed to "I Can Only Imagine." What my future held was something I, the woman who always thought years ahead, now couldn't imagine. Could I imagine a life without Mark, the man whose ambitions had been the center of all that we had done as a family for twenty years? Without him, what was our direction? And how did he feel about me now that he had seen her? Once we got through this day, both of us had life- changing decisions to make. I walked more quickly along the shore, smiling when I saw dolphins playing in the surf. At the beach, I feel wondrously small; my problems are insignificant in this big, beautiful world. This would all sort itself out, and at some point, I would know what to do next. I felt certain of that and that only. I breathed steadily, more deeply, and drank in the peace the sea affords, a tremendous luxury in a world and life otherwise very public.
When I returned, I found that Lalla Lee Campsen, one of my oldest friends in South Carolina, had let herself in. Of course she was there. I could have guessed that she would be from the moment I turned up the path home. She sat at the kitchen island with a notepad and a pen, fielding calls. Petite, bright-eyed, and always smiling, Lalla Lee was the first of Mark's childhood friends to embrace me when this Midwestern Catholic girl found herself living in the Deep South. In those carefree days before politics consumed my time, we'd boated together and played many sets of tennis. Our boys had become good friends, almost as close as Lalla Lee and I had. I was grateful for her steady presence. Whatever this day brought me, we would face it together.
I heard the door to the carport slam and went to the top of the stairs to see Frannie Reese, my closest friend on the island, sprinting upstairs toward me, a bundle of energy in her shorts and bathing suit. She had two cups from Starbucks and handed me one. When we first moved to Sullivan's Island back in 1998, Frannie's husband, Tim, was away almost as much as Mark had been during his years serving in Congress. She and I started out as carpool pals, but within months we were picking up each other's kids after school, taking them to appointments and to practices and eating dinner frequently at each other's homes, herding our kids around like one big mob. Recently, when my sister Kathy moved to Charleston and had a baby of her own, she fell seamlessly into Frannie's generosity. Frannie came to see how I was doing that morning. She said she'd be back before Mark's press conference. I retreated to shower and freshen up.
As I finished getting dressed, I heard Kathy's boisterous voice filling the main room as she came through the front door. She's an artist with a wicked sense of humor who, like our mom, knows how to make an entrance. "He wasn't hiking the Appalachian Trail," she announced. "He was getting Argentine tail!" I laughed. How good it felt to laugh!