leaving shouldville

June 2003

All those wild, carefree dreams are now within my grasp.

 

After seven careful years, after 2,567 days of meticulous planning and research, I have placed myself at the point of no return. I have signed the papers. In ink. In front of an attorney.   

 

There’s no etiquette book, no roadmap.

There’s just white fuzz in my head. Like in the 1970s when the TV went off at night and you were left with a fuzzy white dot in the center of the TV screen.And with the white fuzz and the ringing in my ears and the dry mouth and the feeling that I might cry, vomit or laugh hysterically, I do not know what to do.

 

Post Signing Check List

Now what? Dance a jig?  Call Frannie? Cry? Chocolate? Heather to tell her she was oh-so-right ten years ago? Burn something in effigy?

Effigy is right out. The woman at the permitting office was too snippy for my tastes. I thought it was environmentally nice of me to ask if I’d need a burn permit, you know, to celebrate one’s impending divorce.  She handed me a laminated FAQ card and, without a word, tapped her shellacked purple nail on the sentence stating only tree branches three inches in diameter may be burned without a permit.

When I ask what happens to tree branches two inches in diameter, she yanks the card from me and walks away, wordless. (I thought it was a very valid question.)

I drive then, slowly, to the mall. At every crossroads, I find my way to the Chanel counter. At least if I smell like No. 5, then one thing in my life will be constant.   Everything else is about to go ass-over-teakettle. But not my scent.

I feel secretive and slinky.  He’s been in Japan and Australia for eleven weeks. He’ll return home Sunday night, do laundry, repack and then leave Tuesday for another long stint in Europe.  Once I knew it really was over, the hardest part was planning the when. 

Darling Ken dislikes facing anything head on, so if he had any idea that I was really doing this, he’d just not come back into the country. Ha! Try serving someone with papers when they are “on an Asian island.”

Also, he had the gal to say, to my face “Naw, you’ll never have the guts to leave me, you are too old to start dating now."

 

Mustn’t tell a soul. But I have to tell someone. Well, I have to tell mum. And Frannie must be informed pronto.  But then, no one else. 

As I zig and zag through the food court, I run smack dab into Vivian.  Damnit. She’ll sniff it right out of me. 

Vivian and I have been friends since the 1987. Raised by haughty Harvard professors, she thumbed her nose at them the soonest possible chance: ditching Kappa pledge night to abscond with the visiting Austrian artist-in-residence.

When the Austrian said he wanted more of a ‘pluralistic relationship,’ Viv met a freelance photographer who loved his Harley and convinced her to wear a spiked dog collar. This is when I met her, at the salon with the angry Russian facialist that worked wonders on tetchy skin. Ken and I are just friends during Viv’s dog collar years. She endured her fair share of nights at the dart pub, me trying to figure out how to get Ken to notice me.

She finally ditched the dog collar when a Canadian chef coaxed her to move in with him on the lower east side. Ken is dating the one with the big boobs, the one from Chicago, and I’m putting all of my energy into landing a job on the trading desk.

Viv waits tables for the chef, she wants to be part of his world.

Ken finds out the big boob gal is married. He swears off women. I’m on the trading desk and am having fun with a currency trader named Jim.

Viv follows through on a flirtatious dinner customer one night and, voila, moves into his Park Avenue pied-a-terre, ditching the chef and the waitressing in one fell swoop. Viv finds out Mr. Park Avenue has a wife and four kids in Westchester.

She’s at the airport, picking up tickets to a family reunion, she’s been without a man about 47 minutes, and who is there at the airport but Wick, her childhood chum. All that impulsive bed hopping and she’s rewarded with a handsome trust fund guy, the man everyone said she should have married in the first place.

Viv and I run through the basics: hi, howareya, airkiss, airkiss, beensolong, sobusy, metoo.  She invites us to dinner.  I demur, I say he’s out of town, Japan. Then after that, a night of monopoly and pizza? I don’t have my calendar … she starts to look hurt. I can’t keep this facade up, she’s a friend. She will understand.

“Viv. We. Um. Divorced. But... “

“Oh, no, that’s awful!  Everyone hits a bad patch, is it really that bad?” 

“Can’t tell anyone. He doesn’t know yet.” 

Her warm pink old money cheeks lose their color, her eyes get a little flinty. 

“You are leaving him when he isn’t even home?  That doesn’t sound very nice, Samantha. It doesn’t sound like you.  Why? He adores you.”

I murble my way through a script I had worked on just last night. It didn’t take, we are good friends, we’ll always be there for each other, I like the guy, he’s fun at a pub, I just don’t want to be his spouse any more. 

My heart isn’t in the script.

Note to self: for someone who claims to be writer, I suck at exit scripts.

“Maybe counseling?” she queries, perkily.

“He isn’t home long enough to do laundry, let alone make it to a weekly counseling appointment.  Though he did say that if I went and recorded the session, I could email him the MP3 audio file and he’d listen.” 

Sarcasm and bitterness seep in despite efforts to the contrary.

“Oh, Samantha, see?  That’s just Ken being Ken. What I meant was, maybe you need counseling.  I think it is maybe a sign of you not being well to file papers when he’s not here.” 

I want to deck her.  She’s been such a dear and close friend for nearly twenty years, but I need counseling?  Whose side is she on?

I’ll have to leave the safe confines of the script and tell her the truth. I lean in close and tell her what I learned at the doctor’s office.

She gasps and clutches at her pearls.  My shoulders let go of their tension and I exhale. See? Truth will always set you free. 

“Oh, that’s awful! Oh, that’s just horrible.”

I nod proudly, wearily, with a sense of pride at having endured.

“That is just so sad.  To think you’d leave him knowing that.”  She stops, her chin quivers and it takes moment for me to realize that Eva Peron here is not crying for me or for Argentina, but for Ken. 

“The good news is that one…”

“How horrible. You know, I had thought of you as one of my dearest friends.  But this just goes to show me how little I did know you. I think you are simply wretched to leave him now.”

“But one is …”

“That poor, poor man.  One is bad enough. How is he coping? “  

We talk for a few minutes more, mostly about the sweet, poor, dear, lovely man and how much I need counseling to understand my ruthlessness.  Her cell phone rings and she simply must dash back to the cabin, the tennis court is a wreck!

And I’m thrilled she’s gone. I thought I’d wither and crisp and snap in half under her blazing judgment. 

She walks away crisply, bobbed hair swinging, laughing in that haughty patrician way she does, affecting a slight British accent with her landscaper.  I fight the urge to run after her and tell her everything, there were so many bombshells that day, maybe I buried the lead story, maybe I need to work on my script.  Yes. Script. That is what I will do. 

I had already written a divorcement announcement to send to all our friends. I just had to believe I could control every aspect of this. I promised myself there were some things better left unsaid, no matter how foul it made me look, I was going to stand by that.  I think.

“Special occasion by chance? Want this gift wrapped?”

The honey voice interrupted my internal pep talk.

Her brass Chanel name tag read “Midge.”  I didn’t know anyone named their daughters that kind of name. I thought Midge was Barbie’s friend, the shorter, frumpier one with difficult hair.

 “You okay, ma’am? You look pale.”

“Yes. And then no. And yes.  Yes, an occasion. No, no gift wrap. Yes, I believe I’m fine.” 

“What’s the occasion?”

“I. Um. Divorce. Today. Papers. Signed.”  Me lose verbs. Me lose spouse and verbs.

She leaned forward, this porcelain-skinned former model. She whispered conspiratorially, eyes darting from side to side as though we were two bitches in a jail cell, plotting a daring prison escape.

“Good for you! I always wanted one. A divorce.  Does yours still, you know, canoodle? Mine hasn’t touched me since the Reagan administration. You know? It kills you. I’m too old now. I’m locked in. You, however, are young. You have a chance. You need new foundation and a better dermatologist. But you have a chance.”

She turned her back and quickly marched away from me, to the other end of the counter. She engaged in a hush-hush conversation with another lank, aging beauty queen, occasionally pointing towards me.

My heart pounded. Oh God. He knows. He just does. He knows I’ve signed the papers and he’s cancelled my Nordstrom’s card and I won’t be able to smell like No. 5. 

Midge’s friend walked towards me. Matronly, white coifed hair, knit suit, sensible yet stylish heels, perfect lipstick.

“Is it true? You just left your husband? Just like that?”

 

Yes. No. No. How do you put it into one sentence?

 

“Midge told me. My husband won’t even rub my back. Says that’s what sissies do. I’m Sylvia, by the way. I think what you are doing is just wonderful.  And exciting.   Did Midge tell you about the new acne-reducing foundation?”

 

We chatted as though we were old friends: me and Sylvia and Midge.  Isn’t that funny?  I can get tea and sympathy from two complete strangers.

 

(note to self:  Rewrite exit script, clearly the second version plays better.)

 

The two women waved as I walked away, like doting aunts wishing their favorite virgin niece good luck at college. 

 

I scuffled away slowly, tired, drained, too heavy to pick my feet up, my worn-out moccasins sluffsluffing the polished cement floor.

 

A few minutes later, I heard the snicksnock snicksnock of sensible heels snapping behind me. It was Sylvia. She had something in her hand.

 

“For you. You’ll be on a budget soon. You’ll need these.” 

 

She dropped dozens of foundation samples into my bag.  Then she squeezed my hand and I saw her eyes had welled up with tears. One got away, and slid down her perfectly-powdered cheek.  She clutched my hand harder and leaned in to whisper to me.

 

Again, the looking over the shoulder, this is part two of our daring prison breakout.

 

“What do I tell my daughter to do? She’s like you. She gave up her career to help her dentist husband. Now the schmuck is schtupping the hygienist.  I wanted to leave her father when I was your age. I really did. But I didn’t go to college, women of my generation didn’t do that. I stayed with him so she could go to college so that she could choose... so that she could have... the best divorce ever, if that’s what she wanted.”

 

A pressed linen handkerchief appears and she gently blots her lone tear.

 

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to wish you luck. And ... “

 

Again, she stopped and she looked almost embarrassed.

 

“Here’s my home number. Please. Let us know how it turns out. You know. On the outside of the cage.” 

 

That last sentence haunted me the whole drive home. “The outside of the cage.”

Did Ken cage me? Or did I cage me?

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