The Threepenny Review

The Great Unknowing

...woman is her body as man is his, but her body is something other than her.

—Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

THAT SPRING I walked into the hospital for a minor procedure and walked out with a handful of balloons into the strangest six weeks of my life. At forty-four, I thought I knew the contours of the possible. But standing at the curb, squinting in the afternoon sun, I knew I’d been thrust into something else. I stood with my balloons, dazed into silence. My husband drove up in our truck. I reached for the door and climbed back into our life, taking care not to let anything pop.

Before that spring, winter had taken its toll. November to March had been five months of darkness and enclosure. My part-time job at a college an hour away was going nowhere. To address that dead end, I spent my mornings writing painful cover letters for jobs in other fields for which I was both overqualified and unqualified. My husband was working seven days a week to cash in on overtime, analyzing data from samples at the local nuclear clean-up site. The post-election season of 2016 had left us stranded in the wilderness of Eastern Washington, where the president-elect had won by twenty-six points. The inauguration had been followed by a winter of record snowfall. For a minority of us, hell had frozen over. Our anticipatory dread got pummeled by snow and freezing rain, apt preparation for what lay ahead.

My commute became a white-knuckled voyage through a muffled landscape. The snow and ice reduced the highway to one lane in each direction. Semis careened over the road like an ice-age, post-apocalypse video game. I’d chip two inches of frozen sleet off my windshield before I drove to work, asking myself whether it was worth all the risk.

Snowmageddon was relentless. By March, I’d decided to take advantage of one of the few perks of my meager position at the college—spring break. I needed to kick the thaw of winter into a higher gear. I pulled up Google Maps and consulted weather reports to see how far south I’d have to go to get some blasting sun. One night of fantasy web surfing told me it was southern Arizona or bust.

I lucked out and found a cheap ticket from

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The Threepenny Review is supported by Hunter College, the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Campizondo Foundation, and the George Lichter Family Fund. Our writer payments are underwritten by our Writers’ Circle, which includes Robert Bauer, Richard V. Cl