I dug ponds. He hid bills.
I asked the child who was still considered to be a son about what he thought his parents should do if they could do what he wanted them to do for a living. He said I should be a writer and an artist. He said the husband should be the coach for the New England Patriots. He said this was because he hated the Patriots and he thought his father would be poorly suited to the task.
I started to look forward more to the interactions with my internet boyfriend. He wrote poems to me and told me he could imagine the tragic beauty of a two-step in a roadside bar. I didn’t notice how cliched this was.
One summer day when the rain came over in a sudden dense drenching so thick I had to pull over to the side of the road to wait for it to pass I was hit by an SUV veering into the wrong lane to hit me dead on at fifty miles an hour. It came out of nowhere. There was no visual hint to prepare me for impact. The Crown Vic I had paid my friend 800 dollars for (it was her deceased father in law from Iowa’s car) and only owned for three weeks was crushed. The entire expansive front end collapsed. My door would not open. The rain was still coming down but I could see how the SUV across the road. I should have got out and helped those people I told the cop when they came and I was in the ambulance being looked up and down. I cried then and said I should have helped them. I had not been able to open my driver side door and I hadn’t attempted to do anything else. The other doors probably worked. But instead, I had sad in my own car and waited. I told them cop that I was sorry that I hadn’t helped. He told me that I had nothing to be sorry for.
When the husband arrived moments later he climbed up to me in the ambulance and asked “What did you do?”
That same summer that the Crown Vic which I had loved driving was crashed into. I had skin cancer. I had two different skin cancers---the not to be so concerned about squamous and the more terrifying melanoma. Both were dispensed with and I have scars to remind me but I began that summer to think of the sun as my enemy. I had been told to swathe myself in hats and long sleeves to coat everything with sunscreen and under no circumstances to go outside between the hours of ten and two. Even swathed and coated. If people invited me to their pools it was as if they’d offered me sips of cyanide. I’d react with the same horror and sense of betrayal as if a beloved had endangered me for fun.
I’d been driving the Crown Vic all enormous yet sleek like a stolid shark through the streets. The kids loved the red upholstery, and I loved feeling like a remnant of a different era. It was of those mythic never driven cars that have waited in garages for decades. And it was not the kind of car the other mothers of the suburbs were driving. I was like a cop or Frank Sinatra, and I did not fear. I was safe from the sun and the thick strong body of my shark; the long prow would bend suburban roads to my will.
The ponds presented endless problems. After the first one. I added a channel and then another pond. I engineered waterfalls and piled up rocks along the edges. The fish I bought. Only feeder fish from the pet store. Ten for a dollar. Grew fat. Goldfish take on the size of their containers I read. Despite the heron that showed up on the first day before the pond was even filled and the raccoons who continually scratched through the liner, the fish fattened and slipped between the reeds and lily pads I’d added. We threw parties in those days and other children would come and stand transfixed at the edges. Other dogs would wallow with mine stirring up the mud and scattering the shimmers of gold. The ponds leaked though. Every place where I’d joined the liners and every place where the raccoons had clawed through it demanded repairs and repairs were never successful. I[d come out in the morning and see how low the levels and dropped and then begin the arduous cleaning and gluing (but not between 10 and 12 and not without a hat and a long white shirt to shield me.
A year before I asked for a divorce I asked for a divorce for the first time. It was practice perhaps. Up in the country where we spent two weeks every summer at the old and welcoming farm house of my closest friend. She had married the roommate of my husband but he unlike my husband who acted like a rich person, was genuinely rich. I compared my life to hers often throughout those years between when we all met in our East Village tenements and twenty-five years later. I love her house and those two weeks there were my favorite time of year. I wanted to live in the country and not in the suburbs. I wanted the house they had and when they first bought it I was jealous because it seemed that she had got the life I wanted.
At one of the parties they threw a woman I hardly knew, a writer married to a more famous writer, appeared distressed. We stood in that vegetable garden bursting with the flowerings and fruiting of mid summer all around us. And as she told me her husband was going to leave her and cried because of the hopelessness of it all, I tried to comfort her. I looked across the sunset flecked field to where my husband stood with her husband looking at us.
When I got home I answered the phone at my husband’s desk. As I talked to my friend about something or other. Perhaps the demise of the marriage of the other couple, I idly turned over rectangles of white paper that lay face down upon his desk. They were foreclosure notices. The mortgage hadn’t been paid. It hadn’t been paid for months. My house that I loved. The arrangement of struggling ponds, the ramshackle shed, the pergola my father built, all intertwined with roses and grapes and wisteria, the wildflowers, the bedrooms of the children, the kitchen I’d made out of cast offs from my sister’s kitchen. The piano. We were going to lose it all and in a few weeks.
That’s when I asked for a divorce the first time. I’d seen how a marriage could be broken. The writer crying in the vegetable garden. The husbands watching from afar. I saw that it could be done. And I wanted out.