To say I was dreading the dinner party, would be the understatement of the century. I was already sweating, one of my many postpartum perks. I could feel my makeup threatening to smear as sweat started to bead on my nose. My hair, already damp at the nape of my neck, was starting to frizz. This is exactly why I stopped bothering with things like showers and makeup. My hair dryer was as shocked to see me as I was to see it. Why, why, why did I agree to this? Why did I say yes?
As I sat on the bed to wrestle myself into my Spanx, I could hear Addy crying. Addy always cried, and Caleb always tried his damnedest to comfort her. But we both knew what she wanted. She wanted me, always me. No matter the time of day, no matter the situation, Addy always wanted me. It was never ending, and I was suffocating. Her crying only added to my anxiety as I pulled and tugged the beige spandex. Was it possible that I was so out of shape that Spanx were going to do me in?
No, this dinner party would be my demise. But I had no choice. Melissa was turning 30, and that in itself was a crisis. She was the last to hit the big three-oh, and had been having a daily meltdown since January. In the last 3 months she had received 2 botox treatments, a chemical peel, and for tonight's party, a spray tan, a Brazilian wax, and new highlights. She was also back to her prebaby weight, her baby (a month younger than Addy) was sleeping through the night, and was exclusively breast fed. She was a walking advertisement for perfection, just as I was a walking advertisement for failure. But she was my best friend, so I had no choice. Oh yes, this was going to be a great night.
Looking into my closet for the umpteenth time, I again realized that nothing I owned would do. In this closet were the clothes of a size 6 person. She was long gone. Thrown out with the placenta just over six months ago. How could we have lost her so quick and so suddenly? Replaced by this zombie in spanx and heavy eyeliner that would hopefully give off the impression of well, happy, content. Hopefully. I looked to the closet door and saw my newest enemies. One red dress, one black dress, both sized 12. Double digit enemies bought at bargain basement prices.
Black dress, red dress, fat, fat, fat, I sang softly in my head.
"Jenn, where are the bottle liners?", Caleb bellowed from downstairs.
"In the pantry, second shelf, left hand side, next to the formula", I bellowed back, which only tipped Addy to the fact that I was still in the house.
"Thanks", from a frustrated sounding Caleb.
Caleb was dreading tonight as well, but for different reasons. Caleb had to put on a happy face. Caleb was going to have to lie. For me. For every How are you, we would, conspiratorially, say Fine. For every How is Addy, we would nod in unison Perfect. It would be a Christmas and Anniversary present rolled into one. I had asked him, no begged him to do it. Please for the love of God, don't admit that we co-sleep. Please say we are still breastfeeding, please say she sleeps through the night, please say... So Caleb, with nothing left to lose, was going to lie for me. Because we had stopped talking. Because we hadn't had a night out in, how old was Addy? Because Caleb, I was convinced had given up on me.
Black dress, red dress, fat, fat fat.
I longed for my sweats. Couldn't I just wear sweats? I mean my hair was freshly washed and combed. No, sweats would not do. Melissa had sent me a text of the new dress she bought from Banana Republic. Tara would wear something that looked like something her mother would wear. Nina would wear jeans, because Nina always wore jeans. And yet all three of them would look flawless and comfortable. I was pretty sure I was going to look like a sausage, screaming to break out of it's casing. Hopefully I'd look like a pretty sausage though. Black dress, red dress, fat, fat, fat... I grabbed the black dress just as the door bell rang.
"Jenn, are you ready? Mandy is here", Caleb, his I'm tired of waiting voice.
"Five minutes, give Mandy the rundown and the numbers", me in my hold your effing horses voice.
Tonight. A dinner party for someone else's life. Certainly not mine. A dinner party for someone without 15 pounds of baby weight. A party for someone who had slept more than four hours a night. For someone who could wear a dress in a single digit size. For someone with a baby who didn't cry all night, for someone who did feel like and look like a Holstein cow. A party for put together, well adjusted people, who were not Caleb and I.
"Jenn are you ready?", Caleb, I'm ready to kill you voice.
I looked in the mirror. I'd never be ready. Certainly not tonight, and maybe not ever. I wasn't looking at Jenn, I was looking at someone new. Someone named Mom. And just like my new black dress, that name didn't fit either.
We sat in silence as Caleb drove. Melissa and Ed only lived a mere fifteen minutes from us, but it might as well have been fifty. The silence was excruciating. It was heavy, it was humid, it was strangling me. The only sound was the ping from his phone. Ping. Ping. Ping. As usual his phone was inundated with text messages. According to Caleb, always work. Always an issue at the office. Always an issue with a client. And since his work, paid my bills, he had to take every call, and I had to remain silent. Or so this was the routine that we fell into. Ping. Ping. What was so damn important?
I could have broken the silence. Easily. I could have asked about the messages, but like everything with Caleb this was another battle. Another contest in who could be the more stoic spouse. The unhappiest spouse. I would not be the one to break the silence and lose. How had it come to this? When did we turn into two people who just tolerated each other? Did we even tolerate each other anymore?
In the silence that held me tighter than my seat belt, I tried to remember the last time Caleb and I were in the car alone. The day we brought Addy home? Could it be that we had not been completely alone for six months? Then I remembered the Christmas party. His company Christmas party. Back then we were still in high spirits. When we still said I love you, and had conversations that were important to both of us. We were dressed up, even me, in a maternity wrap dress that thank God didn't look maternity. I wore perfume and he told I looked beautiful. It was going to be a great night. A night for reconnecting. A night for wine, a free dinner, and hopefully some amazing desserts, before and after the party. I'm sure it would have gone, just as I had imagined if not for Claire McGill. Claire McGill, beautiful, childless, and apparently my Husband's work wife.
Sure Caleb had talked about her, but he called her McGill, which lead me to believe that she was a man. McGill called all the time. McGill sent text messages by the hour. McGill, always bought the first round on Friday night. So at the Aaron and Associates Christmas party, I was shocked to find that McGill was, not only a woman, but a blond, twenty four, and no more than ninety five pounds, kind of woman. The icing on the cake was her ringless finger.
Caleb backtracked, swore, on nothing short of the Bible, that he had told me that McGill was a woman, but I could see it in his eyes. A deer caught in headlights. That look of utter terror, that now all his secrets were spilling out and he could do nothing to stop it. He knew that I knew, this was why he was never home on Friday nights. This is why we had fought every Friday night since Addy was born. McGill was his Friday nights.
Just as I was angry all over again, Caleb turned onto Melissa's street. Mini mansions all in a row, only deviated by color.
"So, we're going to keep to the original plan?", Caleb said, breaking the silence and declaring me the winner of this round.
"Yes, please. Just say it's all perfect. Addy is perfect. We are perfect. I can't have it any other way tonight. This is going to be a category five shit show", I replied, the anxiety threatening to come up the back of my throat.
"Jenn, it's ok you know, it's ok that Addy doesn't sleep through the night", Caleb countered as he slowed to the curb across the street from Melissa's fortress.
"I just don't want Melissa to know. She'll try to fix it, with a book, or a website or..."
"Fuck her", Caleb said and it cut right into me.
Caleb took the keys out of the ignition and turned to look at me. His eyes were sad and angry at the same time. He looked like a stranger. I don't remember the last time we looked directly at each other.
"Seriously, Jenn, I mean it. Don't let her make you feel like shit. Now let's get in there and lie about our life and drink all their good booze. And if we are lucky Mandy won't call".
I nodded and took a deep breath as I opened my door. Caleb waited for me and we crossed the street together. I was just about to knock, when Caleb took my hand.
"You look really great tonight. I meant to tell you earlier", Caleb said, almost shyly.
I smiled, without looking at him and knocked on the door.
A rosy and rambunctious Ed answered the door with a grand slosh of his highball glass. Whiskey I assumed, and it wasn’t his first.
“Well it’s about damn time Witter, where they hell have you been?”, Ed boomed, and slapped Caleb on the back, knocking a bit of air out of him.
“Sorry, sorry”, I apologized as I walked in behind them, and stopping as I came into the living room. Tara and Mike, sat side by side, like matched set. Nina was on the chaise, with Peter at her feet. They all looked up, and smiled. We hadn’t been together like this in months.
“Don’t you apologize. We thought you’d changed your mind”, Nina said, waving her hand as if she owned the place. That was the thing about Nina, she always owned the place, whether it was her’s to own or not.
“That’s a great dress”, Tara said from her place beside Mike. They looked blissful sitting next to each other. They were holding hands, like newlyweds, even though they had been married for close to six years.
“Thanks, it’s…”, but before I could finish I heard her voice.
“Well I hope you brought me one hell of a gift to make up for being so late”, she too was booming tonight. I suspected there was wine behind this cheerful taunt, yet I could feel a darker tone in her voice.
“Oh shit”, I said as I started to blush. “It’s…” on the kitchen counter.
“In the car. I’ll get it”, and with that Caleb was out the door. I almost cried with relief that he remembered to grab it.
As we waited for Caleb to retrieve the gift, I sat next to the matched set of Parkers (Tara and Mike), while Ed, poured me a glass of Merlot. I didn’t have the heart to tell him Merlot wasn’t my favorite, but I took a sip and smiled anyway. Melissa just stood there, expectantly.
Oh, right, it’s her birthday.
I stood up and made my way across the room.
“Happy Birthday Mel, you look amazing tonight”, and with that I hugged her.
“Well Thank you Jenn, you look pretty good yourself. New dress?”
“Yes, I was just telling Tara...”
“Finally’, she said, but then I realized she was talking about Caleb’s return.
Melissa took the bag from Caleb and set it on the coffee table with the other gifts. Caleb joined me and the Parkers on the couch. Melissa and Ed stood in front of their fireplace.
“Let’s have a toast to the birthday girl, my beautiful wife, Mel. Mel, happy 2nd 29th birthday”, Ed bellowed as he raised his glass.
“Cheers”, we replied in unison.
“Are we doing gifts now?”, Nina asked.
“Yes, because you have to see what Ed got me before we get too drunk”, Melissa replied.
We watched as Melissa made her way through tissue paper and custom gift wrap. A spa gift certificate, from the Parkers. A pound of gourmet coffee and a French press from Nina and Pete. Did Mel even know what to do with a French Press?
Mel came to my gift. I held my breath. It wasn’t extravagant, but it was thoughtful. She carefully opened the pink zebra stripped bag that I bought at the store along with formula, diapers, and a People magazine. It paled in comparison to the fancy wrapping of the other gifts. This was my life now I thought. Drugstore gift wrap.
Mel lifted the bottle of wine out of the bag. She looked at me in confusion, and then looked at the label.
“Four Corners Vineyard. 2000”, she whispered.
“The one and only”, I said.
“Where we met those Canadians and we got in a fight about California wines versus French wines?”
“Yes, but that was all you. I still don’t know anything about wine”.
“Four Corners. That was a trip”, Mel said, placing the bottle on the table. “It feels like a hundred years ago”. It was actually twelve. To celebrate college graduation. I bought that bottle of wine back then. I had yet to find an occasion to open it. It seemed to special. But now, with no money for a proper gift, I gave the only one I knew I could afford. A happy memory.
“Those were the days”, I replied back. And they were. Before careers, before husbands, before babies. Before the two of us had to grow up. Before the two of us became strangers.
Mel stood for a moment quietly. She didn’t say thank you. She didn’t make eye contact. Finally Ed broke the silence.
“Now show them what I bought you, beautiful”.
“Happy Birthday to me,” Mel sang, anxiously holding out her hand.
It was the biggest damn diamond that I had ever seen. Like the Queen of England big.
“Wow, that’s beautiful”, from Tara.
“Holy shit”, a breathless Nina.
“Oh my God”, me, a little too loudly.
“I told him it was way too much, but it’s gorgeous, right?”, Mel said with almost an edge.
Yes. Yes. Yes. The three of us women couldn’t agree fast enough. We continued to ooh and ahh over a diamond as if it were an infant, until a stranger entered the room. A middle aged man, with pressed chinos and a black apron, emblazoned with A Movable Feast. Clever, I thought.
“Mrs. Miller”, he interrupted, “Dinner is ready to serve”.
“Thank you Steven, Let’s move people, dinner is ready”, Melissa said, her mood more relaxed.
“Wow Mel, way to class it up. Servers and all”, Nina laughed as she walked into the dining room.
“How the hell were we going to eat? Mel only knows how to make eggs,” Ed snarked. Oh, Ed. Slow down on those whiskeys fella.
We took our seats, which were marked by severely white place cards with our names in an font I didn’t recognize. Steve returned with wine, and two young women, both blond and solid, served our salads. Baby arugula, red onion, almonds, apples. It was almost too fancy for my goldfish and chicken nugget palate. I savored every bite, as if it were my last. Reminding myself that it was just the salad.
The conversation continued about Mel’s ring, Ed’s newest sale at his commercial real estate business, Mike’s new job as head of inventory at the newest superstore. Nina talked about her classes, her new promising students, and the creation of a new creative writing degree that she was going to lead. Tara went on about carpool catastrophes, and Caleb talked about baseball with Pete, since opening day was a month away, and they liked opposing teams. Mel chimed in time and again with her own opinions and suggestions. I sat, eating my salad, drinking wine I didn’t like.
Steve and the Blondie twins returned with our main course; roasted asparagus, pasta and chicken in a pesto sauce. Once the eight of us were served, Steve went around with wine again, and then returned to the kitchen. Conversations continued and I thanked my lucky stars that none were directed at me. I was quite happy stuffing my face with gourmet food and guzzling wine that suddenly tasted good. I was getting a nice buzz. A halo, I thought to myself. A nice warm halo to shield me from the others.
“Hey, earth to Jenn”, Nina teased from her spot. “What’s up with you?”
“Nothing. I’m fine”, because I was always fine. “I’m just enjoying food that doesn’t contain red dye number five.
“Amen sister”, Nina retorted, as she forked more asparagus, looking satisfied with my answer.
“So Jenn, will you be returning to work? Aren’t you sick of that kid yet”, Ed said with a smile, but I could hear the taunt in his voice.
“No, I don’t think just yet. I’m still trying to get my bearings. I couldn’t even get to this dinner party on time”, I said this a little harder than I had planned.
“Don’t you think it’s time?”, this from Mel, her back so straight, it appeared she was trying to levitate out of her seat. “I mean six months, can you afford it?”. I hadn’t noticed, but A Movable Feast had served condescending questions as a side dish.
At this point, I should have very well lapsed into shades of the old me. The old me who had an answer for everything. But I was numb. I felt nothing. Because this wasn’t anything that I hadn’t already thought about myself. I should have stood up for myself, or just stood up and walked out of the room. I couldn’t. I was numb. I was paralysed.
“Whoa. We’re good”, Caleb interjected. I looked up, to see his jaw clenched, and to see him fork his pasta as if it were Ed’s face. Breathe Caleb I willed. Now is not the time.
“There is nothing wrong with staying home, Jenn”, this from Tara, the calm voice of reason. Thank Jesus for Tara. “I’ve been doing it for three years. It’s fine. As long as that’s what you want”.
“Is it what you want?”, This from Mel, but this time her eyes betrayed her. Was she sad, empathetic, or indifferent? She had been all of those things for months .
“I don’t know what I want”, I said, talking to my lap, since I had lowered my head. “No one ever asks what I want”. And with that said, I finally found my legs and walked out of the room.
I could hear them arguing as I laid on the bathroom floor. Perfectly white subway tiles as far as my eyes could see. Tiles so perfectly cool against my cheek as I willed my dinner to stay down. My first hot meal in months and I was about to lose it. I could hear Caleb, I could hear Nina, and I could hear Ed. But I couldn’t hear Mel. I closed my eyes and let my tears create black puddles in Mel’s perfectly placed and gleaming tiles.
Caleb was the first to knock.
“Open the door Jenn”.
I remained silent.
“Jenn seriously, open the door. Let’s go home. Let’s go for coffee. Let’s go for vodka. Let’s just go”. He sounded angry and worried. The angry was familiar, the worried was new. It sent a dull ached through me.
I remained silent, even holding my breath for a beat. I closed my eyes again, blinking the tears away. Letting snot run down the side of my face. Fully aware of the mess I was making of my face and the tiles. Get that out of the grout, Mel.
Mel was the next to knock.
“He didn’t mean anything by it Jenn. You know Ed. He’s always trying to get a laugh. Come on open the door it's time for cake”.
I wanted to scream, but knew if I started I’d never stop. Ed didn’t mean it? Ed never meant it. Ed was a capital A asshole. I wonder if Ed was laughing now. I didn’t want cake. I didn’t want apologies. I didn’t want anything.
I said nothing. I pressed my lips together. I ignored the box of Kleenex on the pristine counter, waiting to rescue my make up. I ignored life outside the bathroom door just as I had ignored life every day since Addy was born.
I could hear Mel’s footsteps as they moved away from the door. I closed my eyes again, and when I opened them, I heard new steps, a different click on the hardwood floors outside the door. A soft knock, followed by a slip of paper under the door.
The paper said,
Open the door.
I have cake.
Open this door or I will kick it the fuck in.
I opened the door.
“Do you want to talk about it?”, Nina said as she sat next to me. I didn’t get up. She did have cake and wine, but my dinner was still debating it’s next move.
“Not really”, I whispered.
“I think you should”.
“And say what?", I replied unsteadily, "That I’m a horrible mother. That I think Caleb is having an affair? That I had to recycle cans so I could buy formula? Who wants to hear that?”,
“I do”, Nina said as she handed me some Kleenex.
Time passed, but no one knocked. I told her everything. The co-sleeping, the formula, the Friday nights without Caleb. She listened, and nodded, and poured me wine. She took bites of cake and forked bites for me. When I finished my story, I realized that I was again upright next to Nina on the bath mat. I looked her way, as she took a long swig of her own wine. Then she let out a deep breath.
“Motherhood is a bad bitch”, she said.
“Amen, sister”, I replied finishing my wine.
“Have you told Mel any of this?”, Nina asked.
“Nope. Would she even get it? Look at this place. Look at Max, he’s perfect. He sleeps, he eats, he probably knows the friggin alphabet”.
“I doubt five month old Max knows the alphabet, but she is completely confused by you. I can tell. She has no idea why you have one foot in the loony bin. She has no idea what to say to you. You have to tell her”.
“Oh, right. Let me lay it all out tonight. On her birthday”, I said, sniffling.
“She already knows somethings wrong. Why wait?”.
I didn’t want to leave the comfort of the tiles, but I knew it had to be done. Nina walked out first and I followed. She purposely left the dishes in the bathroom. They have people to do that she said, even though they didn’t. We walked into the sitting room. The Parkers were in the exact spot on the couch, as if the night had suddenly started over. Ed was pacing, Mel was sitting stick straight in a chair, and Pete and Caleb were absent. Noticeably absent.
“Where’s Pete?”, Nina asked no one in particular.
“He’s on the deck with Caleb”, Mike replied.
“Smoking most likely, I’ll go and join them”, and Nina walked towards the French doors.
“Mel, can we talk?”, I croaked, throat swollen, nose stuffed.
“Sure, In the kitchen?”
“Ok”, and I followed her. We left the Parkers with Ed.
In the kitchen we awkwardly sat the kitchen island. The kitchen was state of the art gourmet, which was odd since Mel couldn’t cook. It was also immaculate. How long was I in the bathroom. No sign of Steve, the blond twins, the beautiful dinner. Not even a stray dish in the sink. Impressive.
Mel poured herself a glass of wine, and offered me one by tipping the bottle in my direction. I shook my head no. I needed to be clear headed. I needed to be focused. Wine would only make me more drunk, more emotional, and quite possibly combative.
“Mel, I’m sorry I ruined your birthday dinner”, I said as I looked past her to the kitchen window.
“You didn’t ruin it, you just over reacted. Which is the most emotion I’ve seen or heard from you for months”.
“I’m sorry about that too, but I’m not handling life very well at the moment”.
“Well who is?”, she replied and finished her glass.
This time the tears were not mine. Mel let her tears run down her cheeks, in a way that was very unlike her. I told her about the recycling. I told her about the formula. I told her about Addy wanting me and only me, twenty four freaking hours a day. I told her about Caleb and Claire McGill. I told her how I hated that motherhood was going so fabulously for her, and so devastatingly awful for me. I told her I couldn’t stand to hear how wonderful her marriage was, and how perfect her son was. I told her I couldn’t stand it anymore.
Mel listened and cried and drank more wine. When I finished, she remained quiet for a long time. Then in a hoarse voice said,
“I’m cheating on Ed”.
Mel told me all about Vince, the senior partner at her firm. He was newly divorced. He was almost fifty and distinguished. He had a condo downtown, and he took her to lunch every Thursday at the luxury hotel in the city. Last month when she had a meeting in Chicago, there was no meeting. Vince decided he wanted to get away, and he was taking her with him. She was in love with someone who was not her husband, and she wanted out of her marriage and this life.
"What does that mean Mel, this life?", I asked with shock in my voice.
“I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be Ed’s wife anymore. I’m not sure I want to be Max’s mom”.
“Wait, you don’t mean that, you love being Max’s mom. It’s what you pride yourself on”, I pleaded with her. What was she doing? Sure I had thought about it, but I’d never leave Addy. I couldn’t. Could I?
“I’ve been lying. This whole life is a lie. I hate it here. I can’t focus at work. I can’t focus at home. I don’t even miss him, Jenn. I felt so free in Chicago. Like a weight had been lifted. I was happy and fulfilled and I didn’t feel guilty, not even once”.
“Is that what you want Mel?”
“No one bothers to ask me what I want”, she replied, with a hint of sarcasm.
I grinned. Leave it to her to be condescending at a time like this,
“But seriously, what do you want?’
“I want Vince, I want freedom. I want me”.
“Mel, are you serious about this? Look at that diamond on you hand, doesn’t that mean anything. What about Max?”.
“I want to be happy again. Vince makes me happy. Ed knows something is wrong. Just like you did. I’ve been trying to appear as perfect as possible so I wouldn’t have to admit the truth.”.
Mel very calmly told me about her first week back at work after Max was born. She worked 60 hours and held Max twice in that entire week. She told me about the time he cried for twelve hours on a Saturday, until she called the Nanny on speaker phone while changing his diaper and he immediately calmed at the sound of the Nanny’s voice. She told me about the time Ed, coming home late and finding her eating ice cream at the counter, told her not to make a habit of that, because her ass was still fat. She said that was the moment she knew, she was done with him.
“But you are done with him, not Max. Max is your son”, I said almost sternly.
“He doesn’t feel that way. He doesn’t feel like my son. I just need some time. I need to think. I need to breathe”, and from the tone in her voice I knew her mind had been made long before she decided to tell me.
“When. How long before you leave?”
“I’m filing on the first. Eighteen days and then boom”, and she threw her hands in the air.
“Eighteen days? That’s too soon. Don’t you want to think about this? Are you thinking of Max?”, I pleaded.
“I am thinking of Max. That’s why I’m doing it”, Mel declared in nothing more than a whisper.
The Night Cap
Mel and I sat at the counter in silence. Ed waltzed in and declared it was time for a nightcap. It took him a moment to realize that Mel had been crying.
“What happened Mel? Did I interrupt some girly female bonding?”
“You could say that”, Mel said exasperated. She used a dishcloth to wipe her face. She didn’t bother to reach for a mirror or retreat to the bathroom. Her confession had changed her. It deflated her, but at the same time it had revived her. Her secret was out. Eighteen days.
“How about some coffee?”, I suggested. “I’ll get the Nina, the coffee guru and get it started”.
I found her on the deck with Pete and Caleb. I asked her to come with me, avoiding eye contact with Caleb. I wasn’t ready to talk to him yet. Caleb needed more of my attention than I could give at the moment. Like with most things, confessing to Caleb would have to wait. Nina agreed that coffee was the way to go. Ed on the other hand already had a fresh glass, and the Parkers were getting their coats.
Now a party of six, we lingered in the Immaculate Kitchen. Drinking French pressed coffee, and finishing off the Red Velvet cake with forks. No plates allowed Nina said, and to our surprise Mel obliged. It was like old times. A celebration among friends, but when I looked at Mel, I knew better. We had changed. A metamorphosis had occurred.
The clock was nearing midnight, and I realized this was the latest I had been up without a baby in the room. The mood remained light, but I could feel the tension rolling off Caleb. He was still pissed at Ed. He could still throw a punch if provoked. It was time to go. We said our goodbyes. I hugged Nina and thanked her, while she slipped me a cigarette into my coat pocket. I hugged Peter because Peter gave the best hugs, and it was just what I needed to end the night. I hugged Mel and whispered for her to call me. She nodded when we broke, and I knew at some point she would. I didn’t even look at Ed. Asshole.
Caleb and I drove home in silence, as if nothing had occurred at the Miller’s Dinner Party. It was now well after midnight and his phone continued to ping. Did he really have nothing to say? Didn’t he want to know what Nina and I talked about? Didn’t he want to know what Mel and I talked about? Didn’t he want to know anything about me?
Ping, Ping, Ping.
The Goddamn phone.
“Who on God’s green earth is calling you right now?”, I asked, loudly.
“They are notifications. Twitter, text messages, Facebook”, Caleb replied, almost calmly.
“Seriously? I mean that sound is so annoying”.
“That’s the point of a notification”, Caleb, with sarcasm.
“Is it McGill? Just tell me. Is she texting you? Are you fucking her?”
Caleb laughed. “Is that what you think? You think I’m having an affair. That’s awesome.”
“That’s awesome? You’re really laughing at me? I’m not joking!”, now I was screaming.
“McGill works for me. She is an assistant to me and two other managers. No I’m not fucking McGill. She calls and texts all the time because she is cleaning up what those other assholes at work keep fucking up. She’s six years divorced with a new boyfriend who lives in another state. Texas, Arizona, something. She’s planning on transferring when the opportunity comes up. So, no I’m not fucking McGill. And believe it or not, McGill has a son. He’s seven. And seven years ago when she had her son, she fell off the Earth. Her soul, her life, it went away. She was a zombie. She says that she was so emotionally checked out she didn’t realize that she hadn’t paid her mortgage until the bank came to threaten auction. That was the day she got help.”
I sat there for a minute. Speechless, which was a first for me. McGill had a son. McGill lost herself. McGill wasn’t fucking my husband, she was educating him.
“She gave up custody of her son to her ex-husband. She said she was too young to be a mom, and that he needed more structure than she was prepared to give. He lives with his father in LA, she sees him on his birthday and every Christmas. And if she can handle it, Mother’s Day. She’s still in treatment, after six years.”
“Does she know a good doctor?”, I asked.
“I have a card in my wallet.”
“So all this time, all those late nights? Were you hiding from me? Avoiding me?”.
“No, I just didn’t know what to do. It started out with my just having a few drinks with the guys after work. McGill would be there too, asking me why I was out so late. Then she noticed that I wasn’t the same at work. Then she started asking questions about you, so the more she asked the more I answered. Then she told me her story, and I could talk to her about it”.
“Because you couldn’t talk to me”, I said sharply.
“Would you have talked to me?”
“No. I can barely talk about it now”
“Honestly Jenn, I just wanted my wife back”, Caleb said softly.
At home, we lie in bed, where the darkness makes us brave. We hold nothing back and talk about the things we’ve ignored. Addy wakes up twice. We take turns feeding her and soothing her, and soon it’s almost daybreak. We haven’t slept, but there is a peace that envelopes us. He knows that I’m scared, almost paralysed with fear, and finally ready for the help I need. I know that he’s not having an affair, and that he is afraid of losing me. That he has really missed me. We know that this is just another bump in the road for us. We know we can take this journey together. As the light begins to come through the cracks of the curtains again, Addy stirs again.
“I’ll get her”, Caleb whispers, and for the first time since she was born, I allow myself to drift away.
When I wake, I know it’s late. The room is bright, and I find I’m a little disoriented. I look on my nightstand and find my phone. Three text messages are waiting for me. It’s twelve fifty four in the afternoon, and the house is still and silent.
The first text is from Nina:
How much do you think Steve and the blond bitches set Ed back? Do you think Mel found our dishes??? Call me.
Then next is from Mel:
I’m glad we talked, but please don’t try and change my mind. Seventeen days.
The last is from Caleb:
I took Addy to my mother’s. Enjoy the silence. Text me when you get up.
I send Caleb a text:
Hi, I’m up.
Good morning. You never answered the big question last night --- What do you want?
“I want to be asked”, I type, and then hit send.
(c) 2013 Absolute Mommy / Megan Crutchfield