Marv Hamblin had a problem–one that would make his father disown him and his children abhor him. Okay, maybe that’s a little rough. He’s my husband, so I should start a little differently. Accurately. Marv had committment issues, but then again, what man doesn’t? When we first started dating–can it be thirty years ago, really?–he was young. I was too, but he was adventurous. He had ambition. Driven was a word I used to describe him to my father prior to Marv’s first Thanksgiving at my childhood home.
As a young father, Marv embraced his children. O f course, I mean more than literally. He didn’t quite live vicariously through them or anything, but he certainly put his own goals aside…for decades..and helped me raise them to be responsible adults. We succeeded as parents, but not as a couple. Does that sound right?
Before he actually retired, he began talking about it whenever the kids were all home. He didn’t do it in hopes of having some grand, celebratory send-off or anything; he probably just wanted to hear himself say it more often. You know, to make it more real. Like when you teach someone else a skill–you tend to learn more about the skill the longer you explain it. Perhaps surprisingly, the children–all of them–were relatively indifferent toward his choice to let go. They certainly didn’t care about the financial rationale, which was the overwhelming theme of his narratives.
Also before he left his job for good, I began to see that old spark. I know it’s cliche to say, but our entire relationship had accumulated decades of normalcy. The old spark to which I now speak contained mixed messages of road trips, new hobbies, extravagant dinners–the things we did before having children and responsibilities.
But they were just words, I learned. Then I began to think back throughout our marriage how often he did that. He calmed me down with words, but he also filled me with so many hopes that never took flight. Do I feel manipulated? A little. However, did I adopt the same behavior and use it toward him–and our children? I’d be lying if I said no.
Marv has had an affair. I don’t really want to find out the exact length because it could be longer and this may not be the only one. I found out over the course of a few days.
It began with me answering the phone, even though either the number was not recognized or was somehow not shown on my screen. My eyes may be bad, but they could clearly see the words “Unknown Number.” A therapist might offer a solid analysis as to why someone my age would wish to suddenly answer the phone in situations such as these.
Don’t you know about telemarketers, Susan?
Are you aware that hackers exist, Susan?
People will go to great lengths to hide their identity Susan. Just don’t answer it.
Marv was sleeping in more and more and I had given up trying to find any good television programs in the mid-mornings. I thought about reading again, but I felt I was getting too old to start reading authors outside my comfort zone. When you age, you tend to worry about odd things connected with your mortality such as “What if I start a series and never get a chance to finish it before I die?” Some of the popular writers my girls and the girls at the office read not only have racier material than I remember, but their series sometimes take up an entire alphabet!
So when I answer the unknown number the first time, I only remember staring into my chamomile tea while the young woman spoke.
“M’am,” she said after a long pause. She thought I’d hung up, I suppose.
“Yes, I’m here.” I cleared my throat but didn’t plan to say anything else.
“I can only imagine how upset this makes you. Please know this was a call I’d considered making for some time.”
It didn’t help, but I was glad she said it.
“You have to know, m’am, that whatever happened between your husband and my mother had to have been short-term at best. For years, I was told my father died in a fishing accident and never doubted my mother. Who does at that age, you know?”
I thought of the girls and the few white lies I supplied whenever I fielded life’s tougher inquisitions. I had to agree with her.
“Yes, I’m here. I’m sorry. I’m…”
“I understand,” she said.
I must say, those two words pissed me off.
But I stayed mute and let her continue.
“My mother and I have always been fairly honest with one another. I’m an only child and she never re-married.”
“Excuse me. No. Never married. Forgive me, I’m so used to telling this story under my previous assumptions of what happened to my father.”
A long pause. The idea that Marv had a whole other marriage to attend to jump started the ticker Dr. Patel said needs “nourishment” and “rest.”
“Yes, I’m here.” Then a short silence. “You were saying?”
She was crying. I had no idea then what she looked like, but I pictured a thin woman beside a window–perhaps in a hotel–and putting the phone to her chest to mute her uncontrollable bursts of emotion.
A sniffle. “My future husband,” she began.
For a few seconds more I listened to her attempt to overcome her obvious attachment to whatever she was about to say. I took the phone away and listened closely for words, not sobs.
“A medical history…” she eventually said. “I was sick a little while ago and eventually ended up talking to my GP about my history.”
Over the next few minutes, I learned that her mother had gone with her, offering the expected level of comfort in that situation. When the more personal questions arose, the doctor sensed something from the mother once questions about the woman’s father–evidently my husband–came up. He casually stepped out of the exam room with her mother. Muffled voices after that. Then, however, her mother came back into the room alone and broke the news about her father not dying years ago as she had described.
“M’am?” she asked.
“I’m here.” Then I interrupted her before she could continue. “Forgive me, though. How did you happen to call me about this?”
She began to answer but I stopped her again. Weirdly, it felt good. I controlled the moment.
“How am I to know any of this is true? What is it you want? Why am I still talking to you?”
She must have sensed my urgent frustration because she pleaded with me not to hang up. “I’m sorry, m’am. I know it’s…well, this whole thing for me has been…”
Unable to finish her thoughts, I was left piecing her frame of mind together.
“You make coffee?” Marv asked from another room. I didn’t have to turn my head to know he was in the kitchen staring at the empty carafe.
“Yes, I’m here.”
“Could you give me your mother’s name? Perhaps where she was living when you were born?”
She provided both, the second as if she were reading from the notes she’d scribbled on the thin pad some hotels provide.
“Call back in a few minutes. Rather, is your mother around?”
“Well, then,” I thought. “Call back anyway and identify yourself as your mother. Say nothing more. My husband will answer it and I’ll watch his face to what you tell him.”
“I’m…I mean…okay, but…”
“It’ll be fine dear. I have to do a little acting here so he’ll pick up.”
“You want some?” Marv hollered. I could hear him unlocking the clasped canister.
“Yes. I’m here.”
“Ten minutes, okay?”
“Okay. But please know my doctor needs my family history this afternoon.”
I clicked the red button without saying anything formal and turned my head “No, hon. None for me. I had tea earlier.” I found him in the kitchen filling up the carafe at the sink. I placed my phone on the counter at the room’s threshold.
“When was the last time you took me out for brunch?”
He laughed and stopped the water. “This morning, looks like.”
“Need your phone?” he said as we left the room.