I used to do this thing where I’d grab my husband by the collar and look deep into his eyes, like I was casting a spell. “You’re the only person I like in the whole world. Everyone else is horrible. We hate them, right? We only like each other.” I’d wrap my arms around him and whisper into his ear, “Never leave me. Promise you’ll never leave me.”
“I’m not going to leave you,” he’d always answer. “You’re the one who’s going to leave me.”
I’ve never been good at guessing the end of books and movies. I guess I’m just not the kind of person who sees things coming.
In the end, it was Bright Eyes and that damn “First Day Of My Life” video that did it.
My husband and I don’t talk much lately. I take care of the kids while he does whatever he does behind the closed door of his office. He’s out most evenings, so the girls and I eat dinner without him. When he is home, I go out dancing with my girlfriends and sing karaoke until the wee hours.
I know things are falling apart but I can’t let myself think about it. I always promised myself I’d never get divorced. My parents’ divorce shattered my world and theirs. So I go to therapy. I join a church. I do yoga. I schedule sex and babysitters, dates and family outings. I feel like a robot doing these things and when I see families who look happy, I swallow back tears of hot rage.
Alone one night, drinking wine and scrolling YouTube, I come across the video of Bright Eyes’ song, "First Day Of My Life." You’ve probably seen it. People listen to the song on headphones. Couples snuggle, laugh, kiss, gaze into each other’s eyes. By the end, I can’t stop crying. That’s the kind of love I want, all I’ve ever wanted. This verse -- this is what I want to say to my husband, but I don’t know how:
“Yours is the first face that I saw
I think I was blind before I met you
Now I don't know where I am
I don't know where I've been
But I know where I want to go
And so I thought I'd let you know
That these things take forever
I especially am slow
But I realize that I need you
And I wondered if I could come home”
I know it’s a stupid thing to do, but I post the video to my husband’s Facebook page, hoping he’ll understand. My mom is the first to “like” it. Then my best friend. Nothing from my husband. A few days later I get up the nerve to ask him about it.
“Did you see the video I posted on your Facebook?”
“Yeah. Was that some kind of joke?”
I bite my lip. I’m suddenly very aware of my heart thumping in my chest.
“I, um, thought it was nice. It was sweet, you know? Those couples. And the song. I liked the song.”
“Oh -- I thought you posted it as a joke. It was so sappy. And that song was awful. You liked that?”
The next day, I call my mom. “I’m getting divorced,” I hiccup between sobs.
My husband’s oldest friend is visiting from our hometown. We haven’t seen him since moving to Brooklyn three years ago. He recently went through painful divorce, and we linger at the table after dinner, drinking wine and catching up. Grave-faced, he tells us how lonely he is. “I’ve been celibate for almost eight years,” he confesses.
My husband laughs. “Eight years! That’s nothing. I could do that kind of time standing on my head,” he scoffs, eyes twinkling.
I get up fast and clear the plates, hustling them to the kitchen where no one can see the humiliation on my face. My husband just told his best friend he doesn’t care if we ever have sex or not. I rinse the dishes carefully, resisting the urge to smash them into a million pieces.
I’m babysitting for friends and their kids are tucked in bed, snoozing soundly. I poke my head into their room and breathe in the peaceful sleepy smell of musky little-kid sweat and baby powder. Gently, I close the door and pad downstairs to nose through their huge book collection. My friend is a poet. I find one of his books and page through it. It’s dedicated to his wife. “You are my life, my love, my everything.”
My stomach drops and I snap the book shut. My husband is about to have a book published. I teased him about dedicating it to me but I knew he wouldn’t.
When my friends return, I don’t go home. I wander the dark streets of our neighborhood for what feels like hours. I stare at the moon. I take off my wedding ring and put it in my pocket. Just to see how it feels.
We sit in a circle in birth preparation class, all giant bellies and nervous faces. Partners rub each other’s feet and backs, hold hands, smile at each other giddily. My husband and I sit stiffly next to each other. Our teacher hands out a sheet of labor support positions for us to practice. None of them work for me. I can’t relax against my husband. We bicker, each blaming the other for doing it wrong. The other couples are finding favorite positions, falling over, giggling. The teacher walks over to us. “I don’t want to be touched when I’m in labor,” I snip. “I can do it myself. I’m better off on my own.” She raises an eyebrow and tells us to practice at home. We don’t.
We’re sleeping in my apartment for the last time. Everything is in boxes. Tomorrow a van comes to move my things into a new apartment with my not-yet-husband. I wake up in the middle of the night, sweating and terrified. I look over at my sleeping boyfriend and know, deep in my bones, that this is a mistake. I know he is not in love with me. But I’m already packed. Our friends are coming in the morning. I wouldn’t know how to back out now. Besides, I don’t want to be alone. If I’m alone, everyone will know how unlovable I am. How horrible, how bad, how dirty. How undeserving of love. Even if my boyfriend doesn’t really love me, moving in together makes it look like he does. And maybe he will, someday. I’m good at pretending -- I have a degree in theater. It will have to be enough.
We’ve been dating for a few months. I’m pretty far gone. I get butterflies when I see my boyfriend, daydream about kissing him, listen to Phil Collins songs -- the whole deal. We’ve gone to Mexico together and done naughty things on the beach, confessed our deepest secrets. Well, I have anyway. There are things he won’t tell me. He gets angry when I ask about them.
At a bar one night, he tells me about an ex-girlfriend who broke his heart. “I was devastated, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do anything,” he says.
I bat my eyes at him, thinking how cute I look in my new dress. “If I left you, would you be devastated?”
He looks at me, eyes flat and unreadable. “No.”
I bite my tongue until I taste blood. I’ll show him, I think. He’ll be devastated. Just wait.
February 14, 1999
I’m at an art opening with my sister. She dragged me here, telling me it will be good to get out. I’ve been a little depressed. My on-again-off-again boyfriend went on a ski trip over Valentine’s weekend and didn’t invite me. I squeeze into a tight red velvet dress and strap on high heels even though I never wear them and can barely walk. The artist is giving out personalized Valentines. He’s short, dark, handsome, walks around like he’s got a chip on his shoulder. Cocky. I’m immediately drawn to him. “What’s your name?” he asks, then picks out a hand-drawn card with a sexy devil and writes “For Elizabeth” on it in thick gold pen.
Later, as I’m admiring my card, one of the artist’s friends sidles up next to me. “You should go give him a little kiss to say thank you.” I look up at him, laughing. Seriously? He smiles at me, nods. I toss back another glass of box wine and wobble my way across the room.
“Your friend just told me to kiss you.”
He leans in.
And I fall.