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My husband tells me he isn’t going to try medication. A doctor or therapist isn’t going to help. He tells me that he will exercise away his depression. That’s what fueled his running for all those years, once for more than 500 days in a row. His knees are bad now, but the bike has been good. He just needs to get a new one, he tells me, though he doesn’t like the guys at the bike shop.
I remember the late nights when we are living in New York City ten years before. How I sometimes wake up to him panicked and angry. How I feel a rush of panic, too, my chest tightening, saying anything I can to get him back into bed. Sometimes it works. We curl back up into each other and tuck under the covers. I kiss his tears. Others, I listen to him leave – heavy down the steps, front door slamming, out of the building and into the nighttime street. Still other times, I hear him come home late, clumsy from beer. Those times I pretend to be asleep.
Now, ten years later in Baltimore, he gets a deal for a titanium road bike online, but the disc brakes won’t line up properly. He finally takes the bike to the bike shop, but their repair doesn’t hold. He comes home puffed full of hot fury. He pulls the bike apart, and stuffs it all into garbage bags, piece by piece. He drags the bags to the dumpster in the alley behind our three-story Victorian townhouse.
My heart pounds. My words are scattershot. I can’t find the right thing to say. I watch him throw away an expensive bike and, with it, his promise of getting better.
That evening, I am still jittery. My socked foot slips down the back staircase, those narrow, steep stairs built for servants in 1899. As I fall, I hear my friend telling me she broke her wrist when her marriage was ending. I land hard on my tailbone, bouncing down several more stairs. The dishes I was carrying are now pieces around me. The bruises last for weeks.
Around this same time, I begin to sneak on to his computer and read his emails when he showers. I know I have only about ten minutes before he’s finished. When I hear the water stop and shower curtain slide open, I hurriedly put his computer into sleep mode. I do this every day. I tell myself that I want to be prepared for any bad news, for anything that will set him off. I tell myself that I need time to figure out what to say to calm him down. I tell myself that I need to be vigilant.
I start running. I run all over Baltimore. I run through Remington, where the hipsters now live side-by-side with aging grandmothers, and up into Roland Park, the genteel but now frayed neighborhood where I was born. I run by my family’s old house on Woodlawn Road, with its dumbwaiter inside and massive porch out front, where my brothers and I used to play hide and seek, where my mother was happy. I find footpaths behind houses and barely-marked trails along the creek. I run through the expansive campuses of the tony private schools. I run around the buildings of Roland Park Country Day, over the footbridge across Northern Parkway to Bryn Mawr. I time myself on Gilman’s track.
I begin to pay attention to the huge trees behind Johns Hopkins. I hear the notes of their leaves in the wind. I see dead branches high up, ready to fall. As the road slopes and curves along a low, stone wall, my tears surface. Sometimes they are quiet and gentle. Sometimes they blind me and I have to stop, my throat aching and clogged.
Once, I see him park the car and walk into the house as I finish a run. I turn back and do another loop. I am not ready to go home yet.
It is our Tuesday afternoon marriage counseling session. My pouring tears warm my face and I tell him I am sorting myself out. I turn to face him and finally I ask him directly, what are you doing? It has taken months of courage to utter that question.
The therapist tells him that his silence is controlling.
Don’t follow him, the therapist tells me after he shouts at her and leaves the room. She raises her hand. Let him go.
Later, I find him waiting for me in the parking lot, the car idling.
At home, he sobs, hands to face, knees curled into his long torso. I can’t go back there, he tells me. I kiss him. I stroke him. I hold him. There are lots of other therapists we can try, I tell him. I’ll start looking again in the morning, I say.
When I say those words to him, I believe I will find us another marriage counselor, though the next day and the days and weeks after that, I don’t even look.
Instead, I go to a lawyer a friend recommends. I visit apartments where I might live. I buy an accordion file for all the papers. I am thin from all my running. I wear my favorite grey trousers and a silk, orange blouse. I wear heels. I wear bracelets, earrings, and a necklace. I tuck my blunt French haircut behind my ears. I know that I am going to the movies right after I tell him I want a divorce. Snow White and the Huntsman at the Movieplex.
Ten months pass, he has moved out, and we are not divorced yet. He wants to talk. I suggest a time to phone. No, he texts. In person. But I don’t want him in the house we fell in love with and bought together all those years ago.
I tell him I will come over to his condo after I pick up a refill of my cancer medication. I put on a fleece cap to keep my head warm in the winter cold. My thick, brown hair fell out right on schedule, the seventeenth day after my first round of chemo.
He now lives in the Mies van der Rohe building, which I have always loved. Perfectly proportioned concrete floating in air. We sit at the kitchen table that used to be in our kitchen.
He wants to talk about the end of our marriage. I know that I am going to cut him off, but I wait. I want to hear more. It feels good, the familiarity of his heartache and pain. It feels good, him needing me. I remember the security and pleasure of comforting him. I recognize the false but easy confidence of knowing what he needs, of thinking that I am right.
He begins to cry. If you can’t help me, no one can, he says.
I pull off my hat, my head bare, and tell him that I can’t. You know I am sick, I say. I can’t do this. His face reddens more. He says he wishes he were there to help me.
I don’t tell him that he could quietly take the trash barrels and recycling bins out and back on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don’t tell him that he could bring over the heavy bags of cat litter I need every week. I don’t tell him that he could shovel my walk and dig out my car when it snows.
Our divorce is scheduled for Valentine’s Day the following year, a perverse irony of timing at the Baltimore County courthouse. I caption a photo of Veuve Clicquot on Facebook, “this is what divorce looks like!” I open the bottle with my new boyfriend.
Later in the spring, around the time the nighttime air becomes fragrant, my now ex-husband texts, asking to call if I’m still awake. It is one in the morning. Will I take him to the hospital? His girlfriend is out of town. His friends are too drunk to drive. It doesn’t occur to me until much later that he could have called an ambulance. Instead, when I hear his voice on the phone, I feel the warmth of that old feeling. He needs me. I put on my jacket and get into the car.
When I arrive at his building, he is already downstairs. Standing but bent over. In the ER, I give the nurses his name and medical history. I tell them he is allergic to latex but nothing else. I explain that he has severe, crippling abdominal pain. I request more ice chips and another blanket for his feet.
We talk about all the times we have cared for each other in the hospital – his three knee surgeries, my two stapedectomies. When a moth got trapped deep in his ear canal and all the curious doctors, nurses, and orderlies came by to watch it get extracted.
The morphine calms the spasms of pain. It also loosens him. He tells me things. His girlfriend is seventeen years younger than he is. He feels like a kid again. They have fun. She is also a writer, but just beginning. She wants children, but he’s not so sure.
I tell him that when we were together, I had been softening to the idea of having a child. I tell him I was getting heady with the thought of becoming a mother when we took that beach vacation to the Eastern Shore. I never knew, he whispers back at me.
Neither of us mentions that this was the vacation he threw everything into the car days before we were to leave, his pale skin sunburnt, his mind enraged.
The doctors tell him his intestine is twisted. If it doesn’t relax on its own, they will have to release it surgically. They give him more morphine.
He tells me that he knows he must have been hard to live with. He says that he was angry. He says that he always felt he should have gotten more credit, more fame for his writing. He says that he knows this made it difficult for me.
That afternoon, I run up a dirt path on the edge of the park near my house, ducking under the low branches of the flowering trees. For one week a year, their pink leaves blanket the ground, a slippery spring snow. My toe catches on one of the large, exposed tree roots. I fall slowly and heavily on my knee and my hand, then on my hip. I cry out and, once I land, I cry hard, bruised and aching. To this day, my left knee feels a little weak.
After he is released from the hospital, he needs me to sign one last batch of financial papers. The house is sold and I am leaving, going to London for a year. The movers are coming today, I tell him. Come within the hour, I say. I sign the papers and I ask him to help me put a few boxes into my boyfriend’s SUV. I see that he is hiding his hurt and his irritation.
We carry my things down the stairs and to the street. As we load the SUV, we are both careful not to scratch the leather.