Charlie. Your wife is fat.
She is unpleasant, spoiled, rude, manipulative, and generally not liked by anyone. And now she’s going to have a baby that you aren’t ready for, that she pushed and begged for.
You have become a slob, leaving things all over the place, leaving messes when you visit family. This is your life now.
You’re studying sciences again, at Obscure Science University or some such place out there, getting a Master’s degree, and it’s about time. You always thrived in Academia, and I can’t believe it took you this long to go back. Thank God you finally did. You will need this to hold onto, to make you feel strong, good about your life.
Your sister Sally is sad, and disgusted. She loves you, but she is disappointed in you. To hear her talk, it sounds like everyone is disappointed in you. Your mother has admitted that she always made excuses for you, allowing you to blame others for your problems. She apparently won’t be doing that anymore. How will you handle that?
“Weez, you are light-years beyond him,” Sally said to me, visiting me at my Mom’s house. “He’s pathetic. He’s underachieved. His wife… Oh, Weez, be GLAD you didn’t end up with him. You are SO much better off - even with all you’ve lived through.”
Sally complains about your fat, rude, unpleasant wife all the time. She can’t help it. She is so disgusted that she unloads on me for an hour at a time. I have never heard her so condemnatory. ‘That woman doesn’t respect anyone, doesn’t care about anyone but herself. She pretended to be what she thought Charlie wanted, so she could get him to marry her, and it worked.” I nodded, knowing, sipping my tea, looking sympathetically at her angry little face across my mother’s kitchen table. She is so disappointed. She wanted to badly to have a real sister, and she got… this.
Sally was at it again, just last September. “My husband was the first one to see it,” she said. “‘That girl’s a user,’ he said.” We sat at Jimmy’s Pub on a weeknight, and I let Sally talk, her shoulders slumped, her fingernails idly scratching the bartop like she was trying to claw her way out of something. “The first time my husband ever met that woman, he knew. He saw it right away. He has experience with manipulative women, he knows.”
So does Charlie, I thought ruefully, and she managed to fool him anyway. “It’s such a waste,” I said, sipping my bourbon, as the blues man played the guitar, and I swayed on my barstool, staring into the golden brown of my drink, letting it warm me, letting thoughts and visions fill me from top to toes.
“What’s a waste?” Sally asked me, a wary look in her eyes.
“All of it,” I said. “Everything could have been so different.”
She was quiet. “So much better,” I said.
“Weez, tell me you still don’t think…” She gripped her glass a bit too hard, and her slender knuckles whitened, while the delicate skin between her brows furrowed, and her blue eyes darkened.
I looked at her… and sipped my whiskey.
“I’m not a fool anymore,” I said. “I live in reality. My life is wonderful. I have achieved. I don’t settle for percentages of men. I know what I can have, what I can’t, and that’s all that matters.”
“What you can have?” Sally asked. “How about what you want?”
I just looked at her and smiled. “What I want is to get by. Nothing more.” A harmonica wailed.
I thought of you, long-haired, sneaker-shod, khakis and casual shirts. Graying. Balding. Sloppy around the house. Wondering what it is you retreat into when you want to escape your wife’s prattling and guilt trips. Wondering if you’re getting fat too. I imagine your house, crap lying around, dishes in the sink, unhealthy food on the table every night, if she bothers to cook at all.
I tell myself that, most likely, none of this is true. You probably live just fine, that Sally is painting this picture for me, and she is angry and disgusted, so I shouldn’t take it at face value… yet, the image persists. I see you surfing the internet, face hard. A mask.
Sally’s partly right. You’d be terrible for me, if you’ve grown that slovenly, if after all these years of Prozac and no therapy, you’re still not healthy, and still have all those issues. You’d be… just like my ex-husband was. And that is a road I damn well won’t go down again.
I wonder if I really don’t love you anymore.
I wonder if I love anyone. If I ever really can.
I wonder what love is.
I wonder why I didn’t finish that bourbon, and why when I got home, I drank hot chocolate, and chose to wear the green nightshirt, and slipped into sleep filled with memories of our adolescent lovemaking.
I sit in the middle of conflicting visions of then and now, swirling around me, letting myself be confused, and forgiving myself for not understanding. I close my eyes and let my memories blur into Sally’s images. I balance my abandoned dreams against my recently adopted hope and plans for a simple, independent life. I watch all this swirl together into something unrecognizable, some sort of brownish-grey, smelly soup with too many ingredients.
Then I shake my head, let all that drain away, and go back to my life.
I wonder if it’s really so wrong that, against everyone’s best judgment, I still wish you had been my husband.
November 2004 was one hell of a month.