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My belly is full with greasy Chinese food. The sky is painted navy. I am driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. My husband is sitting next to me. The city where we met, lived and fell in love some 15 years ago twinkles behind us, waving.
We are quiet, unusually so.
"I don't want to do this anymore," he says, breaking the silence.
I am fairly certain I know what he is saying, but it seems impossible. Impossible because we are on vacation. Because we are finally getting help. Because we agreed not to make any decisions for six months, and six months have not passed. Impossible because I thought I would be the one to say it.
"Ride bikes together or be married?" I ask, holding myself still, praying he is referring to our earlier conversation about cycling, about the chasm that remains between our skills all these years later — him, a former racer and me, a former smoker — still a source of contention.
I am not ready for this.
"Both," he says quietly, looking at his shoes.
With a single word, my marriage is over.
It has been less than a year since my husband finished his medical residency.
I am a cliché.
I've seen this happen before: Husband leaves wife after earning fancy initials to tack onto the end of his name — on Lifetime and in my own life, in reverse. My cousin Stan, baffled and broken-hearted, has been raising his three daughters alone after his wife, a freshly minted attorney, filed for divorce.
I did not think it could happen to me. I am smart. I am strong. I am feisty. I am not "that kind of woman."
But none of that matters. And perhaps I knew this, and this is why I said, "I do not want to be the girlfriend while you are in medical school," when my husband broached the subject of embarking on this path at age 40. I laughed, listening to the words tumble out of my mouth. I thought of my cousin Stan and realized they are true. I repeated them: "I DON'T want to be the girlfriend while you are in medical school." My tone was serious — both vulnerable and threatening.
A year later, we were married.
Our marriage is good. We genuinely like and respect one another. We have a large circle of friends. We are both independent and entwined.
My husband is a good man. Loyal and honest. I trust him implicitly. He adores me even when I am not adorable. And, healthy or not, he needs me. Or he once did.
But that was 15 years, four cats, and two cross-country moves ago. Before Chicago and Seattle. Before medical school, two surgeries, and new sobriety. Before I reunited with my biological parents. So many changes. So many times when we both were needy but neither of us had anything to give.
We have grown so far apart that we cannot see the road that might lead us back to one another, let alone consider traversing it. Our conversations have been reduced to talking about what we eat each day. Hollow. Neither of us has been happy for a long time.
Only my husband has the courage to speak it. It rattles me to my core.
Nobody lied. Nobody cheated. Nobody stole all of the money. Still, friends and family ask, "What happened?" They're hungry for a simple answer that assures them my fate is not their own. That allows them to rest easy in a false immunity from becoming a cliché.
People who know nothing of our finances point out, "You supported him through medical school," as if to encourage anger and resentment. As if I have not had this same thought myself. It is only partially true. They do not know he secured loans for us to live on, loans that kept me from being saddled with the burden of supporting us both while he was in school, loans I walked away from in our divorce.
More than once, my father asks, "What do you know about the girlfriend?"
There is no girlfriend, I tell him, adding, "It hurts me when you imply that there is."
He does not ask again.
It's been nearly three years since my husband dared to speak what had so long been unspoken. Enough time for well-meaning friends and family to let go of any need to protect or defend me. Enough time for the earth to stop shifting under my feet and for me to see the truth about our marriage and its dissolution.
To know that no one goes to medical school with a plan to leave his or her spouse when it is over. To know that people will not understand, and that it is not my job to educate them. To know that love does not conquer all, no matter how much I might want it to. To know that I can take care of myself.
Since leaving our home in Washington and returning to the Midwest, I've yet to secure full-time work, have a romance last more than four weeks, or even buy throw pillows for my couch.
But I am writing, following a nearly 15-year hiatus. I am publishing and performing. Dancing. Traveling. Cobbling together a life and a livelihood. In a few months I will be moving to Madrid to teach English and study Spanish.
Perhaps I am a cliché — or at the very least living one.
"One door closes and another opens."
"Endings are really beginnings in disguise."
Take your pick. I'm choosing both.