Note: This is a recent piece that got a little polished this week. I’m still not calling it a final draft, but it’s a tad better and (I hope) clearer.
I appreciate any and all critiques. I want to do this well…I’m too old to get defensive about my amateur work 🙂
The moment my marriage changed, my husband Marv was snoozing on the beige felt couch we picked out together over twenty years earlier. I think it’s in fine condition, but our children are ready to buy us one if we don’t do it ourselves, or so they say. Granted, he had woken up only a few hours earlier that morning because, as he always says, he can’t stop being an early riser. Let me tell you, when we were younger, that expression had a completely different meaning!
I had just finished the previous night’s dishes. I had made him pork chops, but I had also taken a late-night call from Debbie Wasnidge, who had no one else to talk to about what she and her therapist discussed.
The nature of this marital change was one that would make his father—God rest his soul—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 and accurately. Marv has had commitment issues, but then again, what man hasn’t? Whether it be with me or his work; he has always seemed to lack follow-through. 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 the first word I used to describe him to my father the week before Marv’s first Thanksgiving at my parents’ house back in 1977.
As a young father, Marv immersed himself in our children. 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.
Before he actually retired, he began talking about it whenever our children were all home. He didn’t do it in hopes of having some grand, celebratory send-off or anything; he probably just liked hearing 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 three of them–were relatively indifferent toward his choice to let go. They certainly didn’t care about the financial rationale, which evolved as the overwhelming theme of his narratives.
Also, before he stopped working for good last spring, I began to see that old spark. Until then, our entire relationship had accumulated decades of normalcy. The old spark to which I now speak contained messages of road trips, new hobbies, extravagant dinners–the things we did before having children and responsibilities.
However, over the last seven months, I have realized they were just words. Then I began to reflect throughout our marriage how often he did that. Simply put, he has always calmed me down with words, filling me with so many hopes that never took flight. Do I feel manipulated? A little. However, did I adopt and use 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 still struggle with putting those words in a sentence like that. Part of me would have rather said “Marv has Stage IV testicular cancer.”
It began that morning with me answering the phone, even though those large white words “Unknown Number” appeared clear as day. Debbie Wasnidge’s 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 had been up for his daily walk but had come back only to fall asleep again while watching one of those silly small claims court programs. He had been sleeping more and more, and I had been having trouble doing as much as I would have liked to do around the house. With the dishes finally finished and my feet encouraging me to rest, I thought about reading. I’d donated my Mary Higgins Clarks to the church rummage sale two weeks earlier and had not found anyone else worth reading yet. When you age, you tend to worry about odd things connected with your mortality such as “What if I start a book series and never get a chance to finish it before I die?” Debbie Wasnidge had tried to force one of her trashy naked cover books to me, but I had respectfully declined.
So after I answered the unknown number and had listened to that nervous young woman speak, I only remember staring into my cooled chamomile tea.
“Ma’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.
She breathed deeply. “I can only imagine how upset this makes you. Please know this was a call I’d hesitated making for some time.”
It didn’t help, but I was glad she said it.
“You have to know, ma’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 had any reason to doubt my mother. Who does at that age, you know?”
I thought of our kids and the few white lies I had dispelled whenever I was forced to field life’s tougher inquisitions. I had to agree with her.
“Yes, I’m here. I’m sorry. I’m…”
“I understand,” she said.
She didn’t—no one who has not gone through this could—but I stayed mute and examined the arrangement of tea grains at the bottom of my #1 Mom mug.
“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 mere idea that Marv had had a whole other marriage to attend to tackled my ticker, which Dr. Patel said needs “nourishment” and “rest.”
“Yes, I’m here.” I swallowed and rubbed my free hand along my thigh. “You were saying?”
She was crying. I had no idea what she looked like, but for reasons I cannot still fathom, I pictured a thin woman beside a window–perhaps in a hotel–putting the phone to her chest to mute her uncontrollable bursts of emotion.
She sniffled. “My fiancé,”
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. 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. She said she only heard 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.
“Ma’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, ma’am. I know it’s…well, this whole thing for me has been…”
She eventually got around to explain her rather rudimentary detective skills. Marv, unbeknownst to me, had succumbed to our children’s request for us to join Facebook. The woman with whom I was now speaking had found him in a matter of moments.
I stood to take my mug to the sink when I heard Marv stretch. Men his age are incapable of stretching soundlessly. I stepped out to the sun room and glared at the empty grass where our children had played and yelped.
“You make coffee?” he asked. I had assumed he was still on the couch but upright and probably doing that thing with his mouth that he knows I hate.
Then I listened to him ease to the kitchen. I didn’t have to turn my head to know he was staring at the empty carafe.
“Miss?” I whispered.
“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 hotels provide.
“I want you to 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 while you explain to him what you’re telling me.”
“I’m…I mean…okay, but…”
“It’ll be fine dear. I have to do a little acting here for him to pick up.”
Marv cleared his throat and hollered, “You want some?” I heard 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 End without saying anything formal and walked into the kitchen. “No, hon. None for me. I had tea earlier.” He was filling up the carafe at the sink. I placed my phone on the counter at the room’s threshold into the dining room.
“When was the last time you took me out for brunch?”
He smiled but did not look up and stopped the water. “This morning, looks like.”
“Maybe look at some new sofas?”
He kissed my cheek. Leaving the carafe beside the sink, he tucked in his shirt and smoothed his white hair.
He joined me at the doorway. “Need your phone?” he said as he took his keys from the wooden Home key rack by the door.
“Don’t think so,” I grinned. “Nobody calls anyway.”