The Day My Wife Left Me
I knew she was gone when I pulled into the driveway. The storm door was open, just a crack. Enough to tell that the bracket had been adjusted to allow for moving. I killed the engine and sat in the car, staring at the porch, watching the hammock swing sway in the wind. While I was at work, taking mundane phone calls about insurance premiums and rate increases, my wife had made her escape.
Her move wasn’t a complete surprise, it had been discussed in quiet, defeated voices. Preparations had been made. Terms of surrender, like the generals at the courthouse. The fights were frigid--without the passion to yell or emotion for tears--leaving the house still with a silence that seeped through the cracks at night. A haunting, pensive reminder of our failing relationship. It was only a matter of time.
I lumbered to the front steps like a man twenty years older, thirty. Two lines of matted grass in the yard told the tale of a truck being backed up to the house and my mind performed a quick inventory of who brought what into our failed union. The worn and frayed couch was mine, the coffee table hers, the television mine. What did it matter?
Inside I was greeted by our lab, Wrigley, and I was thankful he had been left behind. I wondered what he'd seen. The old wooden floors creaked and groaned as I sat down and grasped our confused pup with heavy hugs and desperate praise.
It was a most impractical house, and for a while I included it on my list of reasons for my situation. Blame was easy. It was better than the alternative. We had moved in over a year ago and began playing house. At 30, I was ready to settle down. At 23, Marci was mature beyond her years. She wanted this house, I wasn't sure. But in the end we made an offer.
I signed papers and forms and waivers until my wrist ached. We took the keys, our smiles beaming with excitement. A new chapter. We painted, we moved, we had friends over and enjoyed sleeping without neighbors above and below us. We got a dog. We were distracted.
The next logical step was the ring. Things were falling into place, or maybe just falling. This is how it worked, I reasoned. Our marriage was an ocean front ceremony in North Carolina. Friends and family stayed at the beach house. A week long party ensued. By the time it was over we had hardly seen each other. Even after pledging our vows, we were both pulled in separate directions and spent most of the evening apart. The glare of the ocean was blinding, we couldn't see the red flags.
I first noticed something was wrong only three months into our experiment. We were still finding beach sand in the car and our marriage was already drifting apart. As a bartender at a popular restaurant, my wife's hours were late and mine were early. We became roommates, passing each other in the hall and going our separate ways. And now she was really gone...
I searched the rooms, my steps heavy with jealousy and shame. The computer and desk had vanished, along with her dresser, a mirror, clothes. I figured some guys from the bar where Marci worked had done the heavy lifting. There was no note. I let Wrigley outside and stood in the living room. What now?
I wasn’t sure what I felt. Relief? Depression? Fear? Kids played outside, squealing and laughing. A car whizzed past on the street, its speakers thumping with bass. The evening sun streamed through the large window. It must have been a great day for moving.
That night I sprawled out on the couch with my head aimed at the television, lost in a world of my own. Wrigley sighed heavily, his saddened, copper eyes following my restless shifting.
I was bitter. She had the easy role, making a break for it to start anew. I was left to wander the half empty rooms of our past, where her ghost remained in the house, her pictures still haunting the walls, her clothes mixed with mine in the dryer. Even the scented candles on the mantel brought a whiff of memories. The house was in my name, my burden to bear. We had been married for seven months.
What I remember the most about that first night were the gaps. Gaps where a bookshelf had stood, a framed square on the floor where a rug had been lifted. I climbed the stairs to to the ransacked room, where the bed remained along with a lonely dresser. The closet doors were splayed, revealing a few scattered hangers, a pair of flip flops, a curling iron that had survived the raid. I fell into the bed, reaching for the lamp out of habit, but there was no longer a table. Wrigley remained downstairs holding a vigil, creeping up the stairs in the early morning hours. Neither of us slept that night.
Today I'm happily married to the beautiful mother of my 8 month old son and everyday I'm thankful to have her in my life. I don't think I'd be the same person without this experience, so I wouldn't have it any other way. To me, it doesn't matter how I got here, just that I'm here.
I canceled cable to save money and with no distractions I fell into an unhealthy habit of retrospection. After our evening walks and disastrous attempts at cooking, Wrigley and I sat in uneasy silence. I replayed the pivotal events of my failed relationship. What I should have said or done differently. Where did it go wrong?
On the weekends--out of stubborn pride, I visited the bar where my estranged wife worked with the expected results. We were cordial to each other during these late night interludes, the bar between us acting as a buffer, identifying our roles. She’d close her eyes, offering a sympathetic smile. I’d laugh and play it cool, benumbed by the beer and attempting to appear unmoved by our split. No one was fooled.
Friends slapped me on the back, their way of asking if I was okay. I assured them that I was. She gave me a beer on the house and part of me thought that we just might work things out. Then I found out she was sleeping with her new neighbor. That one hurt. I started going to a different bar.
Over time the blame lessened. I stayed busy. I repainted the walls of the house, I walked with Wrigley. I biked, I even played tennis. I bought new candles and even cleaned once or twice. I laughed at myself. Time brought patience, along with experience and age--perhaps the greatest teachers of life.The seasons changed. At some point when I wasn’t paying attention, I crawled out of my shell and quit feeling sorry for myself.
And then on a cold winter day she returned. There was a light tap at the door. I invited her into the house she had fled months ago. For so long I had dreamed of her homecoming. But the want was gone. I had changed. I let her speak her part, but to me she felt like a guest, no longer a ghost who tormented my thoughts at night. She signed the papers and our mistake was undone, at least legally. (It seemed all of our milestones required signatures). I wished her well with the rest of her life and she turned for the door, downtrodden and slow, slinking down the steps towards her car in the driveway. It was a walk I recognized.