Far in the distance, the rock disappears before I see it hit the water. It had taken all my might to throw it, but now it was so small and insignificant. Would it be the same for me?
The ocean breeze reaches under my clothes and over my body like probing hands. Warm, curious, soft. Safe, like the play of sunlight above me. How long has it been since I’ve felt that? I breathe in the clean, strong scent, and try to envelope myself in the embrace of the wind. I feel the edge of the cliff with my toes, feeling the roughness of it, stable under me yet hard and sharp enough to cut, if I make one wrong move. Just as the rage begins to leave me, the breeze dies down, leaving me cold and empty. And vibrating with anger once again.
Oh, wait, that’s just the vibration of my cellphone. I don’t bother checking it. I do not want to talk to my husband right now. Not ever again.
Yep, there it is. There’s that bubbling fury boiling up from the depths of my soul again.
Who does he even think he is? Right, so he’s a big star now, running his company and being all important. I suppose I should have seen it coming. It’s what happens in all of the books. The guy pursues his dreams, starts making it big, and the woman starts to worry that this will consume him. He insists that nothing will ever be more important than her. He insists that she just needs to be patient a little longer and then things will settle down. I love you, he promises, I’m doing this for you, he reminds her. For our future.
And then, before you know it, he’s never home and starts an affair at work.
I pick up another huge stone from close to my feet, and send it flying. A little closer this time, and I think I maybe make out a little upshoot of water among the waves crashing below. I look back behind me to see if anyone is watching, or coming, or caring. No, it’s just me, alone, like always.
To be honest, some days I almost wish he would have an affair. Then we could be done with this miserable marriage and I could move on with my life.
Or maybe I should have an affair. Would that get his attention? People don’t pay attention to your problems until you’ve made your life into a complete pile of garbage. They don’t care until you are literally on the edge. Or over it. And sometimes not even then.
I definitely didn’t plan on being a single mom. I had planned on making a close-knit family with Tav. Maybe four or five kids. Both of us working simple, well-paying jobs that allowed us to be home before the school bus dropped them off. Or, when he started having dreams of having his own company, I dreamed that we would be living high on the hog while he delegated and ran things from home, with us. Either way, I just wanted to spend my life with my best friend.
I’m not sure when this changed for him. It’s a gradual thing, I think. Maybe you know what I mean. One minute he’s obsessed with you, pursuing you like he’ll die if he can’t have you, and you’re consuming him too, and it’s just the two of you in your own little world. Of course, eventually you have to start acknowledging other aspects of your life, like work, family, friends, and time itself. And that’s fine. A little outing there, a little missed date there. Nothing too serious. While things are feeling good, you get married. And for the most part things are still fine, because he generally still thinks he needs you.
But then things start piling up. The thousand-and-first gentle request to take the garbage out turns into a snapped order, and that’s the one he’ll remember. He starts to feel controlled, and trapped, and just needs a little space, just a little, babe. The cracks continue to snake around and choke you both, and neither one of you knows what to do to bring the magic back from when you first fell in love. But it probably isn’t possible, anyway, because you know each other now, in ways you just didn’t back then. You both start doing more and more things apart with people who don’t know you in that way and therefore still think you’re amazing. You and he give each other the side eye when you get home, and small comments might turn into big fights. Then finally, you realize you and he haven’t actually done anything enjoyable together since who-knows-how long.
Maybe suddenly he realizes that you’ve got this. You’ve got the kids, the housework, everything. He pays the bills, and the rest is up to you. If he’s got that covered, what does it matter if he needs to take an extended trip for work? You don’t need him, anyway. You don’t even really like him, probably, anyway. What does it matter if he needs to stay over night at the office one, two, three, four nights a week? And go away on business the other three? It’s better for both of you. It’s better for the kids, he tells you, that they don’t see the two of you fighting. This is better for everyone. What? No, of course you can still have sex sometimes. Of course!
And suddenly, your family is an option to him. You, my friend, have become obsolete. He sees it as his right to only come around when it suits him. And how dare you try to suggest that he step up and take equal share of everything, because that’s not what you agreed to, and anyway, he’s tired. He just needs time to himself, babe, time with his friends. What about you? Well, you’ve got all the time in the world during the school day.
“It’s not that I don’t want to see you guys,” he told me before we left today. “It’s just that I kind of wanted to hang out at the office tonight. I’m going to see you Sunday, anyway.”
“What do you even mean?” I asked, trying to keep my voice low. “Arian has been asking for you. You told me that you would give me an answer yesterday, and you didn’t. You said just a few hours ago that you would come by this evening.”
“I just want to try to find a balance,” he said, quite reasonably.
Stay calm, I told myself. Just stay calm. “Tav, what do you mean? We see you once or twice a week, maybe. You see your friends and coworkers more than you see us.”
“It’s not the same, Ro, and you know it.”
“What’s not the same? You mean you don’t get to live the bachelor life when there’s responsibility at home? Tav, you promised you would stay at the beach house all week with us – ”
“Romona, I told you, something came up – ”
“ – and then one thing came up, and another, and another, and now we are halfway through our trip and I’m tired of telling Arian that I don’t know when you’re coming! You’re her father, Octavius, you have a responsibility to be here too. Who do you think does everything when you just don’t feel like it? And I have to stay home alone all the time taking care of things while you get to do absolutely whatever you want at a moment’s notice.”
That was calm, right?
“Right. What a martyr. You don’t seem too keen to go out when it’s my night with her, Ro. And you’ve got all day to yourself while she’s at school.”
This again. “Just never mind, Tav! You’ll never get it. The point is, you promised you’d come, and even if you hadn’t, you’re Arian’s father and you should want to spend as much time with her as possible!”
“Well, I did try to say that I would come today, Ro.”
At the kitchen table in the beach house, I clutched my glass of water in my hands, and didn’t notice the cracks spidering through it. “Yea, Tav,” I retorted sarcastically. “You said ‘you guess’ you’ll come. Obviously you didn’t really want to.”
“I’m getting sick of this, Romona. I’ve been out of the house for over a year now, I’m not just going to suddenly start spending every night with you. Just because I don’t come to visit at your beck and call doesn’t mean I don’t love you or Arian or don’t want to spend time with my family. I’ve got a life outside of you and – ” Thankfully the rat stopped himself in time. I didn’t bother to address his near miss. “You know what? Fine. I’m dropping everything right now, and I’m coming. You happy now?”
This time, I felt a deathly calm come over me. “No. You know it will be just as bad if you come because you have to. It’s not the same, and you know it.”
Now he sounded like he was clenching his teeth, something he did when he was trying not to lose it on someone. Lately, that someone was usually me. “What do you want from me, Romona? You’re angry when I say I don’t want to come, and say I should come whether I want to or not, and then when I say I’ll come, you’re still angry. You see what I mean? I just can’t win with you.”
Tears started to build, and I knew it was time to go soon. I put the glass down and went to the window overlooking the cliffs. Usually they scared me, but at that moment I realized how inviting they looked. I was so tired. There was just no point anymore. This man, who had once held me and wiped my face when I cried, could no longer even stand to be near me. “Tav, I want you to want to come. For me. For Ari. Why don’t you just want to? Why do I have to ask, or beg, or force you to spend time with us? You spend more time out having fun then with us, and when you are here, you spend half of that time on the phone. You only come home when you want sex. You only come to bring toys for Ari so she can forget the fact that you don’t actually play with her.”
Annoyance studded his voice. “Romona, I don’t just come home for sex.”
“And that’s the only thing you heard? Tav, we said we would give our marriage another try. I know I move faster than you most of the time, and there are days I wish you would just move right back in. But it seems like you want to be a bachelor forever, and only see your wife and child when it suits you and your schedule. I’m trying to be patient, Tav, but it feels like you don’t care about me at all.” Finally, I had said it. The thing I had been so afraid to say, but was the cry of my heart every day. Surely, he would listen.
“That’s not true, Romona. I’m sorry, but there is more to life than marriage. I don’t want to be like you – ”
I gasped. “Like me how? You mean the fact that I don’t have any friends because you moved us to this city to start your business when I was pregnant, and I’ve been spending all my time since taking care of our daughter instead of hitting the social life? Or the fact that when you do so graciously offer me a night off, I’m just too tired to take it? Right, I’m a lonely, shut-in shrew and you’d do well to make sure you don’t end up like me.”
And with that, I slammed the phone down.
Yes, that’s what being married sounds like after ten years. Lots of fun.
Now, here on the beach, I teeter a hundred feet from the rocky shore below, letting my tears drop down to the salty water. My best friend, my world, is gone. Somehow, I have become inconsequential to him. Maybe a pal to drop in on once in a while at best. Not even an occasional bed mate anymore, because he’s probably getting it at work. Or on his many long-haul flights. No, when he’s with me, it feels like I’m the one he’s having an affair with.
The point is, I’m tired. I’m sick and tired of doing this all by myself, and being villainized when I point out how unfair it is. How dare I point out that she’s his daughter too. How dare I suggest that seeing her more than every other weekend and a few nights in between might be nice. Because we are supposed to be working on our marriage. Those extra nights with him make me believe that one day he might decide he doesn’t want to be a bachelor anymore and that being a husband and father mean more to him than showing up out of convenience or obligation. Maybe one day I will matter to him as much as he matters to me.
How can I lock away that part of me that cares about him? The part that comes out, without me knowing, every time he does something sweet, or caring, or just responsible? The part that gets burned and scarred every time he rejects us or overlooks us? I don’t know how to allow him in without him hurting me. How can I really trust him if I’m just waiting for the next blow? I know that I don’t really matter to him. How come I’m optional, and not even a priority, when for me, he’s my number one? I can never compete with others who think he’s awesome no matter what and don’t expect anything, including fairness, from him. Arian and I can’t compete with the freedom of getting to choose when to be a husband and father. We just won’t ever measure up, will we? Every time something gets hard, or boring, or annoying, he’s going to want to leave. And sometimes, like he has before, he will.
But what can I do? He’s my husband. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wanted a divorce, and eventually I was willing to accept that and move on, and build the life I wanted for me and my daughter. I suggested we try counselling just one more time, just to make sure I did my due diligence and there was nothing left between us. Yes, I wanted to see if the man I fell in love with was still there, somewhere, and maybe someone else could dig him out for me. I told him I wanted a final answer about whether he was leaving, because I had things to do. Partially I wanted him to stay. Partially I figured things would end up right where they are now, and I and Arian would just end up being damaged again. But I still hoped. And when he said he wanted to give things another try, I hoped even more. That first time together after such a long time of being alone, was like coming up for air. I close my eyes as a the seabreeze picks up again, remembering his hands…
But of course, it only took a few months for us to be right back where we started. Me feeling like an obsolete burden, him feeling like a wild mustang that someone keeps trying to pen up. Or something.
My phone goes off again, and this time, I check it. It’s a text from him. “I hope you and Ari are having fun at the beach house. I just wanted to say I’m really sorry, but I’m feeling pretty checked out right now. Don’t be mad, but the counsellor said we should take space from each other when we need it. We can talk when you guys come back on Monday. Okay?”
Funny, I actually do see the splash of my phone when it goes in. Just a little plop in a space between two little waves. A bit of sun glints off of it while it bobs once, then goes down. I’m still screaming even after that.
I whirl back to the beach house, where I can still see Arian reading a book through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. That girl’s really going places one day. I’m going to make sure she knows she doesn’t need a man.
I rub my belly as I tromp through the sand back up to the path. Well, fine then, if he’s not coming, Ari and I will have the special cake on our own. So what if he won’t be there to find out whether this baby is a boy or a girl. So what if all my planning to make this gender-reveal, beach house weekend as fun and appealing for him as possible? So what if he has stood us up, again? Even though I was horrified at the results of our one night of passion a few months ago, a secret part of me thought that maybe this was the key to getting Tav’s attention. Now I remember, though. If one kid isn’t appealing to him and his freedom goals, another will be even less so. He’s told me multiple times, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t like kids, and would never, ever want another one. Well, too bad, Tav. It’s time you find out that no one gets everything they want.