A year before I really asked for a divorce I asked for a divorce for the first time. A practice run that ended in tears and begging. It was also August. Summer has always brought me loves and deaths. A marriage and divorce.
Up in the mountains, we spent two weeks every summer at the old and welcoming farm house of my closest friend. There the kids went to camp and the ladies did yoga and then retreated to our separate spaces to work. Closest friend makes a glorious detailed, dark yet whimsical animations. Closest friend’s husband makes films. Husband himself was researching or writing something or other. His dissertation had yet to be published so perhaps that is what he was tinkering with. And I’d paint in the old chicken coop. In between painting I’d sit in the doorway, bare feet on pine needles and smoke a cigarette. I’d listen for the sound of the creek. I’d soak it all in the way the meadow rippled and the dusty line of the driveway. Each year their trees taller. The children would come home, and we’d play badminton or hike up to the pond. And Closest friend’s husband would make banquets. Interesting friends would drop in with tales of projects involving movies mostly but books too. In the evening we’d play charades and hope that my then son wouldn’t cry. Everyone seemed to glitter a bit in the Catskills light. Even the mosquito bites didn’t irritate.
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. Not the aftereffects but that it was possible. Up until then no one I was friends with was divorced. It was early days yet and middle-age hadn’t taken root fully.
The writer crying in the vegetable garden. The husbands watching from afar. I saw that it could be done. And I wanted out too. I didn’t want to go back to the suburbs or to a life seeming so cramped and unsatisfying. I believed that it could be civil and that the children would adjust and in the end we’d all be happier for it.
My husband used to say, “my next wife will have lower self-esteem.”
And I used to say all sorts of things. He also used to go around the town telling people how much he loved me but what a trial it was dealing with me. Our therapist used to say, “where will you find another woman like her?” We went to therapy for years. When we fought, we’d meet at the good doctor’s office and he would mediate. We’d make promises to each other. I tried to keep my end of the bargain. When I had to give up my online flirtations. I gave them up. And he in return was to be kinder to me. He was supposed to give up pot and drinking.
The doctor told me it was a mistake to let the husband play poker once a month. Perhaps I could have stopped that, but I liked having a night alone. Once a month. The doctor who was a psychoanalyst though he talked far to much to be a strict Freudian knew us before we were married. My husband before he was my husband and when he was just the man I lived with had phobias.
The only man I have ever lived with was afraid to take planes or subways or elevators. He traced this back to things that had happened in his family when he was a child. To his older brother who had abused his sisters and tortured him in their Beverley Hills houses. The one with the guest house he was supposed to share with his brother but instead he took up residence in a closet in the big house. His family had secrets that fascinated me until they bored me. All three sisters were homecoming queens at an exclusive private school where people who were in sitcoms and ran studios and had fame for various reasons like being the voice of Linus or Chief from Get Smart. Husband was homecoming prince.
You’d go to lunch with is family at the Beverly Hills Country Club (or tennis club or something) and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthieu would be complaining about things at the next table. Tennis rackets propped beside them. The content of the grousing never floated over but you felt it and it was familiar and splendid. In husband’s family people had fights and you never even knew that they had. Except one by one they’d leave the room. Then the sisters would whisper about it.
I, in contrast, great up in Rochester New York.
At first his family pathologies seemed interesting and exotic while mine seem completely pedestrian and predictable.