I USED to be so normal. I had a minivan. I drove children to school and soccer practice and karate lessons and football and ballet. Even though I’m only an okay cook, I did it. I picked up dry cleaning and took the dog to the vet. I have countless videotapes of swim meets and football games, piano recitals and camping trips. There was never enough money to blow, and some things that should have been repaired or replaced were not, the money going instead to pay for braces and prom pictures and saving for college. We turned a blind eye to whatever wasn’t an emergency. As a result, the house deteriorated, the car suffered, and in the end, most of all, a marriage crumbled.
Life is less about time and more about patterns. We step into familiar interactions with people, and regardless of whether they are healthy, we tend to stick with them until the day comes when we can’t stay silent or blow up or yell and scream even once more. On that day you stop, realizing you’re doing things because of comfort and convenience, not because you’re in love. In that moment, you look across the room at the person in it up to their eyeballs with you, throw up your hands, and call it what it is, the end.
“What?” he flared from where he leaned against the kitchen counter.
I felt a surge of feeling for him at that moment. He was my war buddy. “Honey, let’s get a divorce.”
Long silence, and for a split second I regretted my words. We had seventeen years together, after all. We had struggled together, raised two beautiful kids together. We both had known that we were done for so long, but we’d stuck it out for Chloe and Declan. People said it was bad to stay together for your children, but being apart, shuttling them between two homes, didn’t seem like the best scenario either. They’d lived that when they were small, even though neither remembered.
So we had toughed it out through silences that stretched into weeks, screaming matches waged behind closed doors, and an ever-widening gap of intimacy. It wasn’t that we weren’t having sex anymore, but that was the only constant. We didn’t touch or give quick pecks on the cheek for hello and good-bye; we didn’t hold hands. He didn’t need to touch me outside our bedroom, and that in itself was sad. We could both sleep like logs in the middle of a fight, and it became normal for me to fall asleep reading a book on the couch, working on a design on my laptop, or watching a movie with our dog. Being an attorney, working his way up the ladder at the firm, he kept long hours, so it was inevitable that we became those ships that passed silently in the night. It was only when I would need him or he would want me that we felt any connection at all.
But sex alone cannot save a relationship. It was over—we were roommates with benefits, not even friends, and we didn’t have to be. We could afford our own places; we could share our kids and not even have to pretend we liked each other.
I took my ring off to clean the rain gutters six months ago and never put it back on.
I realized my mind had been drifting back over close to two decades.
His sigh sounded long and annoyed. “That’s what you want, you want to end us? You want a divorce?”
So clinical. “Jesus, Walter, don’t you?” I was exhausted. He had to be done too.
He stared at me. “It seems like you need a change.”
I pointed at him. “You do too. Don’t switch this around on me. You know you hate me just as much as I hate you.”
His mouth pulled into a dark scowl. “You hate me?”
“Some parts of you I do. Some parts of you absolutely melt me.”
His face softened.
“You’re a fantastic father,” I continued.
“But a crappy husband?”
“And I’ve been a worse one.” And I had been. I knew I was selfish.
“You never cheated on me.”
“Which makes me loyal, not good.” I exhaled deeply. “You deserve better, and I—”
“You want somebody else?”
“I don’t want to feel bad anymore. I want the weight off. I don’t want to see the disappointment on your face every single day of my life. Nobody hates me as much as you.”
“I don’t hate you.”
I started to walk out of the room. “I think one of us should keep the house… it’s where the kids grew up, and now that they’re both away at school, they need a place to come home to.”
I turned to him. “You can have it. I’m gonna move to Chinatown. Rachel has a loft to show me. I mean, it makes sense, it’s closer to work. The commute from here to the new job every day is a pain in the ass.”
“You love this house.”
I sighed regretfully, because the house in Potrero Hill had been my dream when we first bought it, after he sold his and I was able to come up with my half of the down payment. “I used to. I loved it when we first moved in, I loved it when the kids had sleepovers with their friends here, I loved it when we had family game night or movie night, I loved it when we had parties here and when you….”
“When I?” His voice was gravelly and low.
“I loved it when you liked me.”
“I don’t love it now,” I said sharply, closing the door on the past.
“And I don’t need money. I don’t need half your retirement or any of that crap. We’re good, Walter. We’ll both help the kids with school, all right? That’s all that’s important.”
“And if I find somebody new, you’re okay with me having another man in this house?”
I still had to think about it. “Yeah.”
The truth of the matter was, for all his faults, Walter was stunning and would not be lonely for long. The second we were done, a line of men would form around the block to be the next guy in Walter Wainwright’s bed.
I glanced up at my husband. “We were happy here for so long. Why wouldn’t I want you to be happy again?”
He stared at me and I realized, as I always did, that his eyes were so beautiful. “You don’t love me anymore at all, do you?”
“That’s not true.”
“If you loved me—no other man could ever have me,” he claimed.
“I only want you to have what you want.”
“It’s a cop-out.”
“It’s the truth.”
“You used to be so possessive.”
“I used to be a lot of things.”
It seemed as though he was waiting for me to say something, from the way he was leaning forward like he did when he was listening intently.
The sudden drop of his shoulders signaled defeat, and I pounced, ready to drive my point home.
“You know you agree with me,” I stated.
His mouth opened like he was going to say something, but he shook his head instead. His disgust was obvious: I was a quitter. “Do whatever you think is right.”
“Fine,” I snapped, annoyed and suddenly so sure of my plan. “I will.”
And I did.