Stephanie's T-Mobile Phone 120

Do you know that two-thirds of all the divorces that are filed in our country are filed by women?—Michelle Weiner-Davis[1] 

 

Do you know how fast I got married? Less than ten minutes. Six of those minutes involved me standing at the back of the “aisle”—we were married outside, upscale casual—with my dad. When I was younger, I always said I’d walk my own self down the aisle because I was the one who earned the privilege, not my dad.  Too chickenshit to go through with a statement like that so when the time came, I opted for tradition. My dad wore a suit jacket over a nice pair of pants and made a joke he didn’t look this nice for his own wedding. He married my stepmom on a beach in San Diego. She shared the same first name as my mother prompting the family to refer to her as Linda 2. My cousin and I drove to the Linda 2 wedding together, and on our way to California, we stopped off for tattoos. We smoked cigarettes and listened to Madonna and stopped at every rest stop to peek inside our bandages. When we arrived, my soon-to-be stepmother greeted us and suggested we store our suitcases in the closet because her family would be staying at the house, and she didn’t want our things in the way. Linda 2 didn’t have children, and at the rehearsal dinner for their wedding, her sister told me she didn’t like them. I’d just turned 21, so I bought a bunch of booze that weekend—in that gross, blustery way most 21-year-olds on the brink of being out of control do—and drank until I couldn’t walk. My dad’s only response to the tattoo-binge-drinking-too hungover and sick to go out to dinner with them on the last night-attention-seeking behavior was to remind me not to drive when I was fucked up like that. Growing up under the umbrella of alcoholism means eventually those who you enable will come to enable you.  Circle of life.

My dad, six years later and teary at my own wedding, told me he thought I’d make a good wife. This was his way of telling me he thought I looked nice. We side-hugged. He walked me down the aisle and handed me over to my soon-to-be-husband. The ordained minister asked us if we did. We did. It was over.

“May I present Mr. and Mrs., etc., so on,” the minister said.

My husband leaned over to kiss me, and I turned away. Why did I do that? My husband asked the same question. Everyone was looking. My nerves felt like they’d been chewed up. I said I was sorry, and I laughed, and said sorry again. It was hotter than it was supposed to be that day, and I was thirsty.

We didn’t have one of those big “and here’s your maid-of-honor, she likes riding horses and scrapbooking” DJs because that wasn’t our style. My husband’s friends played music separately, but on that day they played music together. While people were finding their seats—open seating because putting together a seating arrangement felt like punishment for both me and my guests—we took our first pictures as husband and wife over a faux bridge around the property of the hotel where we had our reception. Due to budget constraints, I’d only hired the photographer for a two hour block. We smiled fast. We hustled from one side of the bridge to the other. We smiled faster. After, we slipped into the reception while the band played light jazz. An aunt asked if we’d gone for a nooner. Silly. No.

My friend handed me a glass of wine. The alcohol filled in the places the anxiety had taken hold. I hadn’t eaten in hours.  Later in the evening, when we were alone in our honeymoon suite, my husband said to me, “I wish you didn’t drink so much.”

“I guess I’m like my dad then, huh?” I said.

“I’m expressing an opinion. I’m being honest.”

The patio had a hot tub. I filled it with a bottle of bubble bath. The suds spilled out into the rocks, and I started taking buckets into the bathtub inside. He took pictures of me doing this, and we laughed, argument over.

Our wedding didn’t have an open bar, but I was the bride. People brought me drinks before I’d finished the previous one. The bartender was young, blonde, and pudgy. He reminded me of an overgrown ten-year-old. He overfilled the mixed drinks.  A girl threw up in the men’s bathroom. Someone tried to get in a convertible that didn’t belong to them. Dinner was pasta and chicken. Instead of cake, we had cheesecake, and our guests complimented our choice.

My aunt asked me if I was going to dance with my dad, and I hadn’t planned on it because my dad’s emotional range often rivals that of a stray cat and by age 27, I’d been through enough therapy to know my role as a child was not to Stephanie's T-Mobile Phone 123worry about a parent’s feelings when making choices in my own life. But she said it’d make him happy, it was a special occasion, so I told the band leader/my husband’s friend to play something danceable for dads and daughters.  We danced awkwardly and without looking at each other like junior high kids. I don’t remember the song. When we finished, he smiled at me and thanked me for the dance.

My husband and I danced to “Say Yes” by Elliot Smith played by the band. My husband loved Elliot Smith. Elliot Smith, allegedly, stabbed himself in the chest with a kitchen knife.

 

During the early years of marriage, a woman tends to be the emotional caretaker of her relationship.        

 

Before we were married, and while my husband worked toward his Master’s degree, he worked a second job in retail. I’d drive out to the mall to see him on his dinner break. Ron Goldman’s dad, Fred Goldman, who was familiar and unmistakable from his TV appearances during and after the O.J. Simpson trial for the murder of his son and Nicole Brown, worked at a department store in the same mall. We’d sit in the food court with Ron Goldman’s dad sitting near us, and we’d pretend we didn’t see him but later we’d talk about how nice he looked, how if you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t know, how people hide. We thought he always looked lonely. We wondered if anyone approached him. We never did.

There’s more. My husband and I traveled to Rhode Island together. We walked through an old mansion and took pictures on a cold beach. We had a weekend at a bed and breakfast in Bisbee, and we went on a tour of an old copper mine. Another tourist snapped a photo of us together in a mining car. We went to the San Diego Zoo, and the sun was in my eyes, and my husband bought me a hat. We were both readers, and at night, we’d sit in bed and read together, and he said to me, “This is nice,” and I’d say, “It is.” He was an artist, and I asked him to paint something for me, so he took a small canvas (because I said small canvases were cute) and painted a cupid pointing an arrow at a heart with both our names in it. The painting hung in our bedroom for the remainder of our relationship.

I said I love you first, but it’s not a competition.

 

Most women believe that they have tried everything humanly possible to turn things around before throwing in the towel.

 

A year after I’d asked and been denied a separation, six months after counseling did nothing for us, I told my husband I was moving out for real this time. His initial response was to ask me about the house we’d just refinanced. His second response was to get up and take a shower. I called my dad who said yes I could move in before I’d finished asking.

A week later, I stood in my dad’s house receiving keys and instructions for the irrigation system. A painting my husband had painted for my dad, the outside of an old grocery store in south Phoenix, still hung in the living room over his couch.  I left it but took down our wedding photos in the hall.

My husband and I only talked on the phone late at night. I was a new adjunct teaching composition, so my schedule was wonky, and he was a workaholic who brought work home and worked late.

“The baby didn’t happen,” I said. “Maybe that was just telling us something.”

“But you couldn’t get pregnant,” he said.

Rage. Immediate switch. He did not go to the first appointment at the fertility clinic with me. I sat in the office chair jittery from coffee, worried about getting to work on time, going over my sexual history with a woman I’d never met but who was supposed to help me get pregnant. My husband had to work, I said. He has the insurance.

He’d been to the urologist who told him he was fine, perfect, unremarkable. The urologist’s parting words went something like, “Your wife’s doctor will put her on Clomid.”

Clomid is the devil.

The fertility doctor wanted my husband to send over the results. My husband called the urologist and put in the request, but they never sent the records. I asked my husband to follow up. He said he would. He didn’t. The fertility doctor wanted him in for a second analysis. My husband said he didn’t see the point of doing it twice.

He did not go to the second appointment with me because he had a board meeting. Alone, again, I waited my turn at the office and had dye injected up into me and watched my insides light up.

A baby would have put something between us. Babies shouldn’t function in that capacity. Babies should get to be babies. I knew that. But his implication that it was just me, that I carried it alone was like jellyfish grabbing hold and injecting poison.

My dad did contract work that took him out of town the majority of the year. He used his house one or two weekends a month, but otherwise it sat empty hence my idea of oasis. I had this notion of a quiet, spiritual retreat. A place to think. A place to write. flowers 017A place without emotional entanglement. My friend borrowed her husband’s truck and helped me load up my dresser, a few suitcases, and the dog. Because the house had been, for all intents and purposes, vacant for four years, I spent the first week vacuuming dried cricket parts from the corners of every room, tossing expired medication and condiments, clearing cobwebs and four years of dust, and trying to figure out how to work around a leaky refrigerator. Instead of writing, I spent time on the computer learning how to avoid hiring a divorce attorney by drafting my own legal documents. We didn’t have children, and our only asset was the house. Seemed like I could pull the paperwork together on my own. I tried to read but couldn’t make it all the way through anything. Sometimes, I sat outside in the lounge chair and stared out into the night. Sometimes, I stood waiting for my dog to feel comfortable enough in her new surroundings to go potty. My dad would text me ahead of time to say he’d be in for the weekend. I’d make sure to have all my laundry done, so he’d have free range of his machine.

My dad didn’t have Internet or cable. I toted my iPod and dock from room to room binge listening to Otherppl with Brad Listi, which is not a plug but just how it was. You know you associate certain songs or bands with different eras of your life? I had Alanis Morisette my senior year of high school. OK Go during my early relationship and marriage to my husband. And then Brad Listi became the voice of my divorce.

 

She begins to find fault with many other aspects of their relationship. Suffice it to say, these complaints hardly prompt him to want to spend more time with her. 

 

Before we started counseling, I cut my finger open while slicing a bagel for an afternoon snack. My husband was at work. When the bleeding didn’t stop, I thought maybe I should go to Urgent Care. I called him. He didn’t answer, so I left a message. I didn’t need stitches. The doctor convinced me to get a tetanus shot. When I got home, my husband had made himself a bagel and cream cheese with what I’d left out on the counter. He’d used a new knife. I screamed at him, like literally yelled that I couldn’t fucking believe his lack of fucking care about me. He wanted to know why I was upset because it was just a knife. It was just a bagel. This is the best illustration I can give for the later part of our relationship. I hurt myself, and he was just unavailable.

 

It is said that people don’t change until they hit rock bottom and I can tell you first hand that the bottom doesn’t get any lower than the earth beneath these men’s feet.

 

Stephanie's T-Mobile Phone 124Our cell phone bill revealed that my husband handled our separation by reaching out to his ex-girlfriend. He also passively answered the complaints I’d had and replaced several broken appliances in our kitchen and hired a woman to clean the house every two weeks. After I moved out, a woman he’d found on Craigslist moved in. He couldn’t handle all the bills by himself, he said. He didn’t like to be alone, I said. She moved into the back bedroom, the one for the non-baby, and when I’d go over to pick up stuff or drop off the dog for the weekend, I’d have to knock on the door to wait for her to answer. She was older than us by maybe ten years, and had some kids, and once I showed up when they were all over having a pool party. She’d stand at the door and hold it open while I moved boxes. She made small talk and said she’d also been through a divorce.

“I’ll be back to pick up the dog,” I said.

“My husband and I tried to share a pet,” she said. “Kids are different, but people can let go of pets.”

 

These are the men who readily schedule appointments for therapy, sign up for marriage seminars, read every self-help book they can get their hands on, seek spiritual connection and even risk vulnerability by discussing the f-word (feelings) with friends and family.

 

My husband and I talked more after I moved out than we’d talked in months, even more than we’d talked in counseling.

“I miss you,” he said.

“What do you miss?” I asked.

“I miss seeing you when I come home.”

“That’s all? I mean, you could be describing the dog.”

“It’s been bad for a while, hasn’t it?”

“A long while.”

“Can you pinpoint where it turned?”

“Did your counselor ask you to ask me that?”

He was quiet. “Yes.”

“You were stable,” I said. “You’re funny. You’re a good person. You were fun to be around. I cared about you.”

“But what was the exact moment?” He was begging. Near tears.

flowers 013What I could have said: When I jokingly asked you if I was the prettiest girl you’d ever been with, and you said no, and tried to make up for it by buying me a potpourri and candle gift set from Pottery Barn. When you said there was more than one person out there for everyone and choosing a partner had more to do with circumstances than romance. When I asked you out to a nice dinner and made the case for marriage, and you nodded and agreed like we were making a business plan. When we sat in the car before our first counseling appointment, and I told you not to try to hold my hand because it would give off a false impression, and you sighed and got out of the car and slammed the door. When you leaned over to kiss me after we said our vows, and I realized I didn’t want to kiss you back.

What I said: “You’re like a really good friend—”

He stopped me. “Don’t say anything else.” Silent for a long time, he finally found his voice. “That’s the worst thing I ever heard.”

Then my dad’s contract ran out early. His contract had been stead for four years, and now, two months after I’d moved in, he moved back. Permanently. Piece by piece, I watched him bring his life from his small apartment in California. Clothing. A box loaded with canned food. A toaster oven. A tiny TV. My place of spiritual retreat, my divorce residency, a place where I didn’t have to answer to anyone, now meant I had to co-exist on a surface level with my dad, a man who’d been, at best, a dark, peripheral figure in my life who I talked to every few months about the weather and news in the greater family circle. I didn’t ask him about the candy wrappers all over the counter some mornings and empty cans of beer in the recycling most nights. He didn’t ask me about the wedding photos or why I’d left the single one of just me in his room.

We began having meals together. Chicken and potatoes and some sort of steamed vegetable. I’d set the formal table. Water glass for me. My dad might drink boxed wine. I’d walk outside while he was pulling weeds and say hello. Instead of meaningful conversation, he asked me to photograph all the cactus flowers and put them in a frame, which I did, which he hung in the front entryway. My dog trotted around happily but would sit and stare at him when my dad was in the room. Sometimes we hiked together. For Father’s Day, I didn’t get him a gift because I didn’t know what to get him, but I made him biscuits and gravy. He sat at the counter and cut open an avocado.

“The Big 5,” he said. He held his hand and ticked off reasons. “Money. Cheating. Drug Abuse. Alcohol Abuse. Physical Abuse.”

“Money was kind of an issue,” I said. “His money was his money. We struggled to share financial stuff.”

“Money is always an issue,” he said. “There has to be more.”

“We wanted to have a baby, but couldn’t,” I said in an attempt to be honest and open.

While my mom never bugged me about grandkids, my dad always did. I guess so he can have more family members with which to have a vague and awkward relationship? My husband and I wanted to have a baby though maybe not together, I didn’t add. Stopped giving a shit is not a reason for divorce. I used “irreconcilable differences.”

spring cactus 015

For what would be our last Christmas together, my husband and I opened presents huddled in sweats and socks and hats. Our heater was out. I had adjunct teacher income. He had full-time salary income, so he decided when things got fixed. He gave me two small space heaters, and a necklace rack I’d seen on Etsy. He’d asked for an event as a gift. I gave him tickets to see Zoolight, which is just going to the zoo at night when they have their holiday lights up but it costs extra. When he opened the box with the Zoolights tickets, he looked like he’d gotten a bunny suit instead of a Red Rider BB gun. I like the zoo, and I like Christmas lights, so I guess I gave that gift to myself.

Instead of answering my dad, I turned the question on him. “Why did you get divorced?”

He finished the avocado and starting spreading it on a piece of bread. “Do you know how to really tell if an avocado is ripe?”

“No,” I said.

“I don’t either. I was seriously asking,” he said. “This has been a nice Father’s Day.”

My dad is not one for deep, moving metaphors, at least none that most people could understand, and I knew he’d moved on from the divorce conversation because he was getting uncomfortable.  For my birthday, a week later, he left a hundred dollars in cash wrapped in a piece of paper with a note: I’m sorry we moved you out of Illinois when you were 10. I said thank you when I saw him, and he nodded and looked away and said he wanted to make sure he said that to me because he’d meant to say it for a while.

I solved my dad’s leaky refrigerator problem by taking the refrigerator from my old house. We’d bought it new only a year or two earlier. The first refrigerator we owned as a couple my husband bought from his ex-girlfriend who’d kept the thing in storage for an extended period of time. Despite hours of scrubbing, the yellow tinge of age and neglect clung to every shelf.

“Since you’re getting the house,” I wrote in an email, “I’d like the bedroom set and the refrigerator.”

“You’ve already taken the bedroom set. If you take the refrigerator,” he wrote back, “then I will not have a refrigerator.”

My logic at the time? My husband had the house. He had the better end of the deal. I wanted to walk away with more than a bedroom set and old photos he didn’t want. I rented a truck with a lift gate. My dad helped me move it. He turned his old fridge over to the electric company, who issued him a $30 rebate.

When I moved out a few months later, my dad said I didn’t have to go. He said he’d miss having a dinner companion. No one likes to be alone.

backyardtwo

 

They typically make great second husbands.

 

My ex-husband married his new wife in Hawaii.

 

There is one particular situation that [is]… particularly challenging. I refer to it as, “The Walkaway Wife Syndrome.”

 

SCENE:

This kid in a red polo shirt and cargo pants wants to know how long I’d be parked.

“An hour?” I say.

“I can save you some money,” he says.

No thank you, Kid in Cargo Shorts. Valet. Hustler. Potential car thief.

Who would steal a car in front of the Superior Court complex? I don’t know, but people get desperate.

The guard at the courthouse pulls me aside and asks if I have a combination lock in my purse. I do. I use it at the gym. He said combination locks aren’t allowed. He takes it out of my bag, logs it into a book, tears off a piece of paper, and says I can collect it on my way out.

Information tells me to file papers in the room across the hall. One man stands in front of me. He wears a business suit and a wedding ring. The big, blonde woman behind the counter asks him to step forward. He says he’s filing a Response. He looks like someone’s dad. My parents got divorced, not only from each other but from their second spouses as well. After their divorce, Linda 2 became Linda Too. But it’s not just my parents and me. I’m not part of any special legacy. Jesus. Everyone gets divorced. This guy in front of me. He’s getting divorced too. He’s got kids. Those kids will spend the next ten years listening to their parents passively blame every problem on the other. They’ll split birthdays, holidays, and weekends in their teens. They’ll alternate between resentment and sadness for their parents. They’ll believe they won’t make the same mistakes then they’ll mirror every single one of them.

 

Cost of my wedding: $10,000

Cost of my divorce: $1,500

Cost to park downtown for an hour: $5

 


 

[1] Weiner-Davis, Michelle. “The Walkaway Wife Syndrome.” Psychology Today. N.p., 30 Mar.  2008.

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STEPHANIE AUSTIN's short stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, American Short Fiction, Washington Square Review, the South Dakota Review, Eclectica, fwriction: review, and Extract(s), among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in the New England Review,'s Digital Series "Secret Americas" and at Used Furniture Review. She is a Community of Writers at Squaw Valley alum and has an M.F.A. from the University of Nebraska.

3 responses to “The Walkaway Wife”

  1. Patrick Moloney says:

    Love your writing. I don’t know when an avocado is ripe either, but I know good writing when I hear it. Thanks Stephanie

  2. Stephanie says:

    Thanks Patrick.

  3. CC says:

    sadness is what I hear you feel…from the get go. You settled and eventually scuttled. You’ve become a rumner. Without a lot of self awareness and counseling you will ‘ rinse repeat’. That is whats sad and sadder the persons you will probably damage along the way. Your writing is ecxellent and much appreciated. Several insights well worth the read. Good luck…try and be less selfish and maybe you can break your WAW syndrome. CC

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