Asha's wedding was on Saturday. He sent me a curt text message on Thursday while I was at school, so I called him between classes and asked him to tell me why he was upset. He begrudged that he was angry with me because I wasn't around. How were we supposed to heal as a married couple if I wasn't even going to be physically present?
I said, "Don't you think this is kind of what you always do? You pick a fight with me for no good reason a few days before a big event and then expect me to go anyway. I told you what to expect from me during this separation. We see each other plenty, and we talk every day. I'm not moving back in yet. This is what a separation is."
He went on. It wasn't fair of me. It was my fault we weren't doing well.
"Well, you know, there's two sides to every story," he said. "You've done plenty wrong. And now you're not even around to fix it."
"And yet I've apologized for the things I've done wrong. I've gone to therapy and worked hard on myself. I've held up my end of our agreements. When I left I didn't ask you to do anything that wouldn't directly benefit you." I paused. He was trying to make me concede for Asha's sake. This happened before every birthday, every holiday, every time my sister came into town from Texas, my mother's graduation, every time we had plans with friends: A fight, and then I'd have to concede for the sake of the people we loved, suck it up, and go with him, sweeping his behavior under the rug. "You know what, I think I need a few days to myself to think about things. Please don't call or write. Tell Asha I'm sorry I had to miss the wedding."
He proceeded to call and write. He called me at work, on my cell, at my mom's house; he texted me several times an hour, he wrote e-mails. I was appalled by this: Not even a few hours to myself? Not even a few hours without him interrupting? My mother was less surprised.
On Saturday I finally gave in to the waves of his persistence pounding against my walls of silence and picked up the phone.
"Why aren't you getting ready for Asha's wedding?" I asked.
"I'm not going," he said.
"How would I even get there? You were supposed to drive me."
"Ask your mother! Call a cab! It's just up the road!"
"I'm not going to go to someone's wedding while my marriage is falling apart."
"She's your oldest friend. You've known her since you two were three. You're being selfish! My cousin came to our wedding while she and her husband were splitting up."
"I'm not going."
"You can't put yourself aside for one measly afternoon? It's her day. You're her friend. You should be there for her."
"You should be here with me!"
That was it. Me. Me. Me. "You know, I asked you not to call me. You called me. You called me at work. I asked you not to write me. You texted and e-mailed. I told you to go to your friend's wedding because I wanted to know where your priorities were. Your priorities are yourself. I'm done. I want a divorce."
He called and called and called. Finally, I picked up. "What?"
"Just go out on the front porch."
I looked out of the third-floor window of my bedroom. "Why? What's there? I don't see anything."
"Just go outside."
I sighed and went downstairs with the phone in my hand. I looked out the large glass pane of the front door. "There's nothing there. What are you doing?"
"Go out further."
I took pause at this. Was he there? Was he watching me? I opened the door and tentatively stepped outside, looking in all directions - both ways down the street, down into the yard.
"There's nothing there. What's going on?"
"There should be a package. Look down the stairs."
Did he plant a bomb?
"Would you just tell me what's going on?"
He sighed. "I ordered you some flowers. I ordered a rush delivery. They're not there yet?"
My fury grabbed hold of my ankles and wrists. "Flowers," I repeated. "Your oldest friend's wedding was today, and instead of spending money on a cab to go and at least witness the ceremony and wish her well, you spent the whole day moping, harassing me, and trying to rush me flowers. I'm done. I'm done!"
Well and truly and thoroughly and completely done. Layers and layers fell off of my body: I had no obligation to this man anymore. I had asked him to get his driver's license, and he had not done it. I had asked him to go to therapy, and he had gone to two sessions, decided it was too expensive, ignored my suggestions for sliding-scale clinics, gone to self-help books, and insisted that we had to see a marriage counselor before he would work on his own individual problems, as a way of changing the terms of our separation to fit his convenience. I had asked him to try to stop being racist, sexist, and homophobic, and when I told him about a Black friend of mine at work, he sneered over the phone, "Oh, so you love Black guys now?"
No more tip-toeing around his insane idiosyncrasies, no more worrying about what he thought of who I hung out with. No more dancing around names that he didn't like, no matter who they belonged to. I was free to do as I wished.
And so on Sunday I went on r4r, and on Monday I had a lovely one-night stand with a beautiful half-Greek, half-Englishman. The tattoo I'd gotten with my ex's name on my wrist made me withdraw my wrist across the table at the café where we'd met for coffee after my shift. "It's OK," he said, smiling.
And later, because I couldn't really make eye contact with him, "You really don't know how beautiful you are, do you?"
I blushed, I was overwhelmed. "Well, you know, you're a four or five at best," said my husband's memory.
The half-Greek, half-Englishman gushed over my eyes and the shape of my body; the half-Greek, half-Englishman drew me in to him, and we paused with our mouths apart and opposite for half a second, feeling our breath with our breath, before we closed the last parts of our lives, together.
On Tuesday, I returned from school through the back door, the door that leads into my mother's kitchen. There was a short fuschia vase on the counter with yellow, fuschia, and white flowers - in it, standing maybe a foot tall - our wedding colors, a way of saying "This is your obligation, your duty, you must live up to your promises" that was louder than the gesture itself of buying the flowers. My mom's tenant was in the kitchen. "Yeah, those came for you today," he said, smiling, because he knew what had happened on Saturday and in less detail what had happened on Monday. I read the card. Dear Becky, something something something something, Love always forever, Bear. Becky. I always hated being called Becky. I ripped up the card and threw it in the trash. I looked over the flowers. For that shape, and those flowers, with a vase and a delivery fee, it would have cost him about thirty dollars.
"I'm sorry, could you throw them out?" I asked the tenant. "I don't even want to touch them."
"Well, I could see if my girlfriend wants them," he offered. "Might as well not have them go to waste."
"Sure," I said. "If she wants them, consider them a gift from me."
I went upstairs and dialed my friend Rick. He teased me about the flowers for a little bit, but then when "Late" came on and Ben Folds sang to me, "Someone came and took away your hard-earned peace of mind," I cried, and I cried and cried.
"I'm a thirty-dollar wife," I cried.
Before I left, I had fantasized about leaving. I fantasized about traveling to Greece, or to Germany to really and truly study the history I loved studying. I fantasized about learning Japanese and about Japanese film. I fantasized about grad school, I fantasized about making art and singing, I fantasized about moving to the city, and I fantasized the most, the most vividly, about saying I was sorry; it wasn't so much that I fantasized about it as the fantasy invaded and possessed me. To my mother and sisters for asserting the priority of my relationship so loudly and so adamantly that I'd hurt them, to my father for asking him to constantly mediate my relationship, to my friends for letting them fall by the wayside, and to one who had become, over time, a myth and an idol: P, P who was the art kid, P who made witty, abstract jokes and watched cult movies in his basement with all his friends and a Costco bag of gummi bears, P who created things, P who didn't scold me for crying, P who was always just a little cooler than I could hope to be, P who didn't make fun of my hair or my clothes, P who welcomed me, P who included me, P who freed me up to be whatever I was, when I was a teenager; P who loved me, P who I loved; P who came back; P who never, never, never put himself out there to be hurt or rejected, and I knew it, P who lived behind very thick walls, and yet P whose voice - "Can we talk about it?" came rushing back into my brain in the middle of my eighteenth-century economic history course, made me scribble out a long screed as if I was possessed by the Holy Spirit itself, that basically just said: "I lost you, you lost me, I lost myself."
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave her boyfriend the instant he called her a whore, but I didn't leave when I was called a whore, even when I was called a whore for having been raped, because he explained to me how much it hurt him that he had waited for me but I hadn't waited for him, and although I'd be able to proudly say for the rest of my life that my husband had waited for me, I had denied him the same privilege.
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if she had been raped, and then her current boyfriend pinned her on the bed while she was having a panic attack because of the things he was saying about her, to her, and covered her mouth the way he knew her rapist had, and said, "Isn't this how you like it?" But I didn't leave when that happened, because he explained to me that he knew I was scared, but I had scared him, too.
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend told her she was "asking for it" by wearing spaghetti strap tank-tops and shorts at the age of nineteen, but I didn't leave, because he told me that his thoughts about my clothes were in line with his Christian values, and I should respect his religion.
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend insisted on watching porn together, but then told her that she was a pervert and a sexual deviant for getting aroused by it. But I didn't leave, because he told me it was my fault that it was so hard for me to get aroused otherwise, because I had permitted my rapist to rape me.
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend insisted on having sex every day, whether or not it hurt her, and got angry at her when she wouldn't. But I didn't leave, because I was a teenager and he was six years older than me, and when he told me that this is how normal relationships worked, and I was the one who was abnormal, and all he wanted to be was normal, I didn't know better, and I believed him.
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend told her to go ahead and kill herself and then got angry at her when she tried to. But I didn't leave, because he told me I was manipulating him by making suicide threats.
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if he kicked her in the stomach, onto the floor, and knocked the wind out of her. I would've told a friend to leave if he pinned her against the floor and put her in finger locks and arm locks while she was having panic attacks. But I didn't leave, because he told me that when I pushed him on the shoulders - because I wanted to be alone and calm down by myself, and he wouldn't leave, wouldn't stop talking, wouldn't stop telling me I was crazy and making a fool of myself - that I had abused him, and so it was only in self-defense that he had hurt me.
In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend sullenly glared at all of her friends and family when they all got together, whispered insults about them, in their presence, in her ear, and so made it impossible for her to spend time with the people she loved without both hurting them and making him angry. But I didn't leave, because he told me that I was hurting him by associating with people who didn't like him, and he loved me so much, why couldn't they see that? Why couldn't I?
I dated some very nice men who, yes, were also coming out of long relationships, but who had a sense of self-assurance I didn't have. The divorce was not going through yet. All I knew was that whatever I had been, I didn't want to be anymore. I didn't have a great job and I couldn't define myself by that. I had gathered a few new friends, but I didn't really know who they were. I had no space of my own, not really, living in my mother's converted attic, across a wall from her. I had ideas, and I didn't follow them. I was simply not that woman anymore.
"Not that woman anymore" left a wealth of other options that were all foreign to me. All right: now, I am a woman who drinks. Now, I am a woman who talks to strangers in other countries on Skype. Now, I am a woman who takes pictures of herself in her underwear for fun. Now, I am a woman with a new set of clothes. Now, I am a woman who stays out late with her friends. Now, I am a woman who looks for studio apartments on the North side. Now, I am a woman who takes a pay cut to get a job in a better location. Now, I am a woman who dates men with handlebar mustaches. Now, I am a woman who talks philosophy. Now, I am a woman who goes on four-hour walks through the city with her new friends. Now, I am a woman who urges people to come to Chicago to visit. Now, I am a woman who sleeps with a man in the back seat of her car and then doesn't sleep with him again, but attends, and enjoys, the plays he's in. Now, I am a woman who gets five tattoos at once. Now, I am a woman who goes to bars after work. Now I am a woman who buys art supplies. Now, I am a woman who is alternating between alcohol at night and coffee in the morning. Now, I am a woman who buys cult movies. Now, I am a woman who goes to two different house parties on New Year's Eve and stays up until 6 am in bed with her date. Now, I am a woman who signs up for advanced non-fiction workshops. Now, I am a woman who meets up for coffee with an old acquaintance from my former life. Now, I am a woman who has been rejected quite badly. Now, I am a woman who makes friends with a dominant and lets him choke her out just to see what it's like. Now, I am a woman who takes satirically violent nude photos. Now, I am a woman who forces a man to be her friend so that he'll stop isolating himself in his apartment. Now, I am a woman who has been raped again, at 25. Now, I am a woman who doesn't drink so much. Now, I am a woman who bleeds her heart into words. Now, I am a woman who breaks down. Now, I am a woman who stays home. Now, I am a woman who loses bad friends and gains good friends. Now, I am a woman who bikes. Now, I am a woman who loses her job. Now, I am a woman who takes photographs of street art. Now, I am a woman who falls in with anarchists. Now, I am a woman who breaks up with a wonderful man. Now I am a woman who loves him too much to stay away. Now, I am a woman who loves her family. Now, I am a woman who has a bad job. Now, I am a woman who travels. Now, I am a woman who is resigned. Now, I am a woman who writes. Now, I am a woman who works. Now, I am a woman who goes to therapy. Now, I am woman who takes medication, now I am a woman who doesn't. Now I am a woman who is successful. Now I am a woman who can't sleep.
But what do those things all mean about me? Are doing and being the same thing? Are doing, and being, and wanting then same thing?
When I left, I divested myself of predictability, of guilt, of shame, of isolation, of limitation, of obligation, of duty, of presumption, of terror, and of seven straight years of one very particular kind of pain, and I had nothing with which to immediately replace those things. I was empty and I was making guesses, and the guesses were sometimes wrong. When I left, I experienced new kinds of pain that I had no pre-set system to cope with. When I left, I failed miserably over and over and over. When I left, I depended on other people telling me that my failures were normal, because I didn't know what was normal for a twenty-five-year-old woman in my position. When I left, I sacrificed the control I had asserted over my surroundings by choosing to stay for so long, and I let chance offer the course of my life. When I left, I accepted that I was falling backward blindfolded, that I didn't know what was going to happen next.
When I left, it was years before I learned how to control my own life, before I learned to control who I was, but when I left I didn't know that it would ever happen at all.