“I fell asleep during sex once,” she said in the dark, “and when I woke up I realized he hadn’t noticed.”
After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and seeing one of them off to college and the other two in High School, she and her husband sat down on night and divided the assets. She got the house, the place where the kids would all return to, like ghosts with growing pains, who were the first to notice their family was dying. She had been an eighteen year old, right out of high school and he was the boy she fell in love with. They spent four years in poverty with two kids until he graduated from college with a degree in business and he did well for her, and the kids. She wanted the big house by the man made lake with the man made cookie cutter subdivision, the soccer mom thing, and that was exactly what she got. It was perfect. Or at least it looked perfect, and that was, after all, enough.
They both agreed, no dating until everything was final, and no bringing home one night stands around the kids. It was a surreal conversation she told me, because it had been nearly twenty years since anyone but her husband had seen her naked. After three kids and twenty years of going to the gym a few times a year, she realized there was a lot of work to be done before she could think about a lover that didn’t have a wall charger.
He was cheating, had a girlfriend, she was certain of it, but he was discreet as hell, and never brought it home with him in any way. He was a good father, and a good person. They still went to church together, still socialized with the same people, still attended school functions as one, but that was going to end, and this was his way of telling her he would be taking someone else to those events. She wanted to care. She wanted to be hurt by being replaced. She wanted to feel something, rage, anger, sorrow, anything, by losing this man, but there was nothing there at all.
She had cried, silently, alone, while sitting in the minivan. It had been their first family car, twenty years ago, and it had lasted five years, but it was time for an upgrade. But this vehicle had been solid and reliable transportation for all the kids, even the newborn, her last, she knew, and this car bore witness to her transformation from a young woman to a mom. He never noticed the tears or if he did, knew better to ask unless he wanted to hear about it, and he didn’t.
They approached child raising as two people committed to crisis management. The constant pressure of food, clothing, waste, entertainment, training, education, and the limited amount of time in each day left them both seeing the other as a co-worker, or wait staff, someone friendly only because that was part of the job. It wasn’t always like that, she said, her voice catching on words she had never spoken aloud before, but it sank, slowly, no matter how hard they bailed the water out of the boat. Bills, school programs, sleep overs, the never ending need for more stuff and more room, and suddenly, he was sleeping on the bean bag in his office a couple of times a week, and to her this was glorious. She had her tubes tied after the last child, and he had a vasectomy. She knew what it meant, but she didn’t care anymore. Tying her tubes mean she would never have to go through this again, after this kid was old enough, her time as a mom to little kids would end. That was something she looked forward to, with glee, and dreaded.
Emily, the youngest child, a strange creature who entered high school with perfect grades and a love for Saturday morning cartoons, was a year younger than her classmates, jumped two grades, but light years ahead of everyone. She was the one who sat her parents down and said, “Fix it or fuck it, but don’t fucking rot for it.”
But it was already gone, and it had been. They sat down one rare night with all the kids gone and drank two bottles of wine. They split up assets and decided he would leave, take his truck, take the guns, except her pistol, leave the two dogs and the cat, take the boat, please for the love of God take the fucking boat, and then it was a question of small things, who got the good cooler, and who would get the nice plates. He was a nice person. He would get a place of his own, big enough for the kids to come and go, and he wouldn’t take anything she needed, he would get new stuff, and she was good with that. The old stuff comforted her. She didn’t like change, and realized that was part of the reason he was still in the same house as she was but then suddenly he was gone.
Her friends threw a party for her. It was fun. She had forgotten fun. She laughed and drank too much, and listened to women who had gone through this process describe what sex was like the first time after the marriage was gone. After everyone had left she looked at the woman standing naked in front of the mirror and wondered if she could get a man drunk enough to sleep with her. It was time to start training her body to do more than drive a taxi for the kids.
The younger women had perfect bodies and merciless souls. All of them were molded from the purest clay, and some of them, even those who were still in their late teens, had implants. Or at least they looked like they did. Most of them shaved their pubic hair, and she still looked like she was giving birth to a wooly mammoth. There was spin classes, and boot camp classes, and Yoga classes, and she threw herself into fitness as an escape from her life, which still required her to be the mom, but now with one kid who had his own car, and another who was independent of all things human, she had time. But she didn’t know what to do with those hours that occurred when she was alone.
“I think you have my keys,” she said to me. I was on treadmill # 8 and she was standing here beside it, looking a little embarrassed.
“I have your keys?” I asked, slowing the machine down to a walk. “Did you leave them at my house last night?”
“God no, I mean I think they’re in the cup holder of the machine,” she laughed and blushed.
I looked in the cup holders. No keys.
“You have beautiful eyes,” I told her, “and a good laugh.”
“Thank you, may I have my keys?” she said, but she was smiling.
“They aren’t here,” I told her.
“You’re messing with me,” she laughed, “come on, I have to pick my daughter up.”
“Here,” I said, and I cut the machine off and stepped to the other side. She got on the treadmill and picked my keys up but hers was not to be found.
“Are you married?” I asked.
“No,” she said, looking at her left hand. The smiling stopped. “I have to go.”
“I’m pushing forty,” she said the first time we were alone. “I’ve had three kids, eaten junk food for dinner three times a week for twenty years. There’s a dozen women in that building who are my age that look a lot better. You’re going to get scared off once you see me nude.”
“So you’re telling me I’m going to see you nude?” I leered at her, and she laughed hard. More than anything else, she told me later that night, she missed someone who could make her laugh.
“I met my husband’s girlfriend at his place one day,” she said, the flickering candle the only light in the room. “She wasn’t the young bimbo type at all. I feared that. I was afraid he’s go out and find someone who would take him for a ride. But she was about my age, and had been around the block once or twice. It was a little awkward, to see the two of them sitting together on the new sofa, and I could tell she had spent the night. She was really civil to me, very well mannered, but this was her turf, and that was her man now. She asked me if it was okay if she got Emily a leather bound set of Harry Potter for Emily’s birthday, and I told her I thought it was perfect. That was when I decided to start looking for someone, too. If he could do that well, hell, there was no telling who I might find.” She put her hand on my shoulder and kissed me.
“I’m moving,” she told me a few months later. “My oldest got a job in New Mexico, and his wife is pregnant. Emily is going to stay. It’s time for me to get out of this part of the world.” We went out for dinner one night and then went back to her place, which was filled with chaos and packing boxes. Her ex had gotten married, and finally, she felt something, something akin to loss, something that was a sharp stick, and it hurt.