On Monday night, the bar was crowded. Twenty something’s piled in for $1 Pabst and karaoke. I waited for a beer near the bar as a scruffy red head moaned through Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, changing the word years to beers.
The witty sap wore a blue zip up hooded sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off over a t-shirt. I would never be that hip. I thought back to the last time I had actually listened to music. Most of my time was spent watching podcast or Netflix while Melanie was at the gym, or at work, or at home.
The bartender pointed to me and being put on the spot I ordered bourbon. The plan had been to stick to beer, but after the incident at the house I could use a shot of something strong. He returned with my drink and I started a tab.
The talk had been a mess. Pulling into the driveway, I parked behind her car, just as I had done countless times before. I took a deep breath before getting out and climbing the flagstone path to our front porch, keeping my strides loose and casual while my heart raced.
I knocked, on the door to my home. Melanie let me in, quiet and solemn as I took a seat on the LL Bean couch that was supposed to be Sea Grass but due to a shipping error had arrived in denim. Melanie liked it and in turn repainted the walls to accommodate. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake after all.
I fought the nagging urge to pull out my phone, instead tugging on my foot that I pulled onto my lap. I had been nervous, anxious rather. We used to talk at length about topics unique to us. Inside jokes, secrets, mannerisms that would cause us to giggle like schoolchildren. A stranger’s ill fitting shirt, a family member’s accent, my mother’s make up, all of it became our little secret jokes, where we’d laugh until we cried in the kitchen. I looked to the fireplace, noticing a few glass shards glittering on the floor. Then I turned to Melanie, who swallowed hard before clearing her throat.
“I can’t be in the same house as you right now.”
Melanie never wore makeup, maybe some eyeliner when she was getting glitzed up for a dinner or party, but she wasn’t the type to smear on the goop. She didn’t need it. But as we faced off, with her on the love seat (yes denim), and me on the couch, I saw for the first time the slight, fine wrinkles near her eyes. Mel was still beautiful and her figure hadn't softened since the day I met her. Perhaps it was the crying or it could have been the angle of the sun, but she bore a faint burden of age.
This coming from a man who was shaped like a pear.
She was still talking--with her hands like she does when making a point--and I picked up at the end. I usually caught the beginning of what she had to say and the end, skipping the middle entirely. After a while you know the routine.
“I just feel like I don’t even know who you are anymore…”
The last sentence hung in the room. The words, the tone, the tremble in her voice, it was all new territory. Her face was somber, as though she’d just read a eulogy. I wasn’t prepared for the emotion. She stared at the wall and the bulky silence intensified the mundane sounds of the household. The ceiling fan screamed with each rotation, the refrigerator groaned from the kitchen. Outside, a mower grumbled about its business. I had planned on coming by and offering a half-assed apology and then maybe squeezing in some World of Warcraft before dinner.
But things were different.
She sniffed, awaiting a response. I sat my phone on the cushion, stubborn and proud. And for reasons I’m still unsure of, I shrugged and said,
“If that’s what you want.”
She closed her eyes. The frustrated Melanie smile peeked out, making its first and only appearance of the evening.. After nearly 15 years together I could muster only five words--a lame response that didn’t measure up to the weight of the situation. But I was unprepared, ambushed by her demeanor. Her eyes charged with vigor and I could tell she wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easy.
“There’s nobody else Mark. It’s us…we are the problem…”
I felt my head shaking as I let out a heavy sigh. My face must displayed my disbelief because she stopped midsentence and hardened to stone. The eyes, the twinkling eyes I had stared into during our vows, on dinner dates, after making love in bed, were now alive and glowing, narrowed, flinty and harsh.
“Do you want to say something?
“So just like that you want out?”
My words surprised me with their rancor, spilling from my mouth without thought. I plodded ahead, fearing only silence more than her rebuttal. I continuing onward as I’d done before, repeating her words, mangling them with sounds and emphasis to make them sound silly and pointless. It was something I’d always done yet never noticed how juvenile and predictable I had become. The room had shifted. I was overmatched. My snide tone and head shakes weren’t belittling her, but instead only making her angrier. I was no longer talking to my wife, instead an adversary who was strong willed and ready for a fight.
“Just like that? What is it we do here Mark?” She pounced, flinging an arm into the air, shifting to the edge of the loveseat as though she were on the verge of lunging over the coffee table and strangling me. I felt blindsided, and went on the offensive before I could think better of it.
“Well, I’m not the one cheating, over there with our neighbor. Couldn’t you have at least been a little less obvious?”
Her mouth fell open. She brought a hand to her forehead in disbelief. I felt the gravity of my accusation becoming heavier with each spin of the fan. I wanted her to speak, just to cover the pressing echo of my words.
“Back to that. Of course. I’m cheating on you with the neighbor. “
Her hand fell to her lap, exhausted and weary. She turned to me, her eyes a flash of gold that used to remind me of leaves changing colors in the fall but were now cloudy and dull from the years of monotony. I used to get lost in her eyes, now I passed them in the hallway without a second glance.
“That makes it easier for you, I suppose. After supporting you for over a year, paying the bills only to come home and find you wearing jogging pants and playing video games, I have the nerve to go out and cheat on you. You lie to me about money, contribute nothing, and now you accuse me of having an affair?” She was standing, pacing the room. “We have no friends, we do nothing. Mark you’re almost 37 years old. Get a job, stop being a child. Sometimes I feel like I did become a mother.”
For a fleeting moment—a mere heartbeat— I saw the regret on her face, piercing the numbness. Her lips parted as though she were on the verge of an apology, but then snapped shut. In all of our fights over the years we had few unspoken rules. The fact that she disregarded the sacred topic of children let me know that it was over between us.
This was real.
Perhaps it was the panic, or the fear of what I saw in her eyes. I went berserk, yanking out my wallet and fumbling through the plastic.
“Here, I’ll make this easy for you. Take the cards!” I whipped the bank card across the room, its flight curved towards the wall and hit a picture of her parents. “and the credit card,” I slung the flimsy plastic as though I were dealing a poker game, it hit the floor and slid under the door into the closet. “I’ll go get my things and be out of your life!”
Storming out of the house I realized the car was also in her name. I jabbed my hand in my pockets and then slung the keys at the front porch, hitting the storm door with clap. The ferns on the porch, the welcome sign, the wind chime ringing in the wind, it was all a sham. I slung my two bags slung over my shoulders and started up the street.
Just like a man.
Another bourbon. I hoped to drown out Melanie’s crying on the sofa. Real crying, vocal and messy, like after a natural disaster crying. I could still hear it over a drunken rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer.
A burning swallow. I knocked into the crowd looking for a place to sit. I had $100 cash in my wallet. My things were back at the hotel. I had maybe $800 in old bills in my backpack, mostly in blue seal $5’s and 10’s from the thirties, a couple red seal $100’s, and a roll of 1976 bicentennial two dollar bills. They were a gift from my grandparents when I was a kid and now they were all I had left, along with a bag full of clothes and two pairs of shoes. I was homeless and alone, and with each sip of bourbon I couldn’t have cared less.