Break: Scenes From a Separation

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Part One: Lost Cause

My husband moved out today. Sunday, March 30th, at around 7:30pm. He packed up his clothes and toiletries. He took bedding and towels and one of those Aero blow-up beds. Some food from the cupboard. I slipped one of my chocolate bars in the bag when he wasn’t looking, and I can predict that when he unpacks tonight and finds it, he will smile and then cry a little.


Last night, our final night together, he cooked me one of my favorite meals: spaghetti carbonara. David is so good at spaghetti carbonara that we actually travel to different friends’ apartments so he can cook it for them, too. His secret is pepper bacon and a whole jalapeño.
   After dinner, I asked him if he would drive me over to see his new apartment. I didn’t want to go inside — I’d been crying all day and looked terrible — but I at least wanted to be able to picture where he’d be living.
   It seemed nice from the outside. Cozy. The blinds were open, so I could see into the living room a little, and also part of the kitchen. I asked where his bedroom was, and he said downstairs, in the basement. He said his window looked out onto a concrete wall.
    Later, he showed me where there was a nearby branch of our bank and a nearby branch of our gym. He’s on the F line, just like I am back at our old place. He’d already timed the drive between our old place and this new one and it was something like six minutes. He said if there was ever any problem, that was how long it would take him to come over.
   I thought it would be nice, going to see his new place. And it was. But as we were timing how long it took for him to drive from his new gym to his new apartment, I started crying again. We got to his apartment, and I saw someone inside who I didn’t know—one of his new roommates. It hit me then, that he was going to leave me for two strangers he’d met through a newspaper ad.
   We went home and lay on the bed and couldn’t get up. Then we finally did, because we had to wash the dishes from the carb. After that, we sat on the couch together and watched Saturday Night Live. Beck was going to be on, and we wanted to tape his performances.

Never believe anyone who marries you when they know they’re not attracted to you.

My joke this past year has been that I’m planning to sue Beck for trying to destroy me by recording Sea Change. Those songs are just really harrowing. Listen at your own peril. I burned the CD for a few friends, and they’ve said the same thing. Sometimes, if one of us is going through an especially bad patch, we’ll say, “Whatever you do, don’t listen to Sea Change. Or, “Are you listening to Sea Change? Well, for godssakes, take it off!”
   The reality is, though, I love those songs. I love how awful they make me feel, because I really have felt kind of awful this past year, and it’s best to just be honest about it. Still, it was eerie last night, watching Beck sing “Lost Cause” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine.” Like some kind of televised, closing night ceremony. Just for us.
   The show ended, and we went to brush our teeth. “You’re not wearing any clothes,” my husband said when he got into bed.
   “It’s hot,” I told him, and we left it at that.
   By morning, I had kicked off all my covers. David looked over at me, lying there naked, and said he must be deranged for wanting to leave. But this is the thing: my husband isn’t attracted to me. He finally admitted it a few weeks ago. He said it had been his deep dark secret since the very beginning of our relationship, and that he’d kept it from me because he’d felt ashamed.
   I cried a lot that night, but I was also relieved. David had been confusing me for years, insisting he found me attractive, yet rarely having sex with me. Now that I knew the truth, our marriage suddenly began to make sense. I can’t say it didn’t hurt, but at least I could stop feeling like I was crazy.
   My girlfriends think he’s gay. I don’t know what to say about this. I mean, yes, there’s the crying and the cooking and the sensitivity — stereotypical stuff like that. Sometimes he wears sandals and tight pants. The public at large seems to find him gay, too. Once, when he was in Prospect Park, he was approached by two separate news reporters who wanted to know if he was scared of the gay slasher on the loose.
   When I ask David himself, though, he says no. He says he never thinks about men. Maybe I shouldn’t believe him. Maybe you should never believe anyone who marries you when they know they’re not attracted to you. On the other hand, I don’t think you can run around branding everyone who isn’t attracted to you as gay.
   Anyway, this is why he’s leaving. To figure out what his problem is. The good thing is that I don’t have to get depressed anymore about my husband not touching me on hot nights. The bad thing is that I might get used to living alone. Or maybe that’s not bad. We’ll have to see.
   The next morning, we had pancakes for breakfast. More of David’s comfort food. Once you’ve had his pancakes, you won’t really be interested in ordering them in a restaurant anymore. He makes them from scratch, then adds fruit (I chop it up nice and tiny), then fries them in a boatload of oil. Good God. Cakes from a pan. I put Cool Whip on mine.

I took my earphone out again and said, “My husband is leaving me today! I swear to God it’s the truth! I need the five miles!”

It’s been like some sort of marital death row this past week. The last-favorite-meal stuff didn’t help. I don’t want to get too heavy into this aspect of things because the fact is, no one is dropping bombs on me. There are way worse tragedies in the world than my separation. My point is just that all week, I’ve felt like there was this big cutoff about to happen. Everything was THE LAST TIME. THE LAST TIME WE SLEPT IN THE SAME BED; THE LAST TIME WE WENT TO THE GROCERY STORE TOGETHER; THE LAST TIME HE CAME HOME AFTER WORK.
   This afternoon was THE LAST TRIP TO THE GYM. When we got there, David headed for the stationary bike, and I went for the treadmill. I was going to run my usual five miles. I knew it would be the one thing that would make me feel slightly better. After I’d completed four, a young guy with glasses and a baseball cap tapped me lightly on the shoulder. I pulled out one of my earphones, and he asked if I was going to be done soon. There are signs posted everywhere saying that there’s a thirty-minute limit on all equipment when people are waiting. I’d been on for forty-six minutes at that point. Even so, I told this guy, “No, I’m not almost done. I’m going to do five miles. I’d really like to do five miles.” Then I stuck my earphone back in and ignored him. I was being a total ass. If someone had done that to me, I would’ve been furious.
   The guy stood there for a little bit, but I continued to ignore him. Finally he left. Then he came back and tapped me again. “I don’t mean to be a pest,” he said, and he sounded really apologetic. “But — ”
   I cut him off right there. I took my earphone out again and said, “My husband is leaving me today! I swear to God it’s the truth! I need the five miles!”
   Everyone in the line of treadmills who wasn’t wearing earphones looked at us. I was mortified. I couldn’t believe I had done that. The guy himself pretty much turned and ran. I imagined him thinking something like: No wonder you’re getting dumped. A little while later, though, he came back one last time. The machine next to me was broken, but after messing with it a little, he somehow got it working again and climbed on.
   I turned up the speed on my machine so I could hit five miles faster and get out of there. Afterward, while I was stretching, I watched the guy running on his treadmill. I wished I were brave enough to apologize. But I couldn’t quite manage it. I went upstairs to the locker rooms.
   Instead of going in to change, though, I stopped at the front desk and asked for paper and a pen. I wrote the guy a note. It said: I’m sorry I wouldn’t get off the machine. You’re right — it’s the rules. Normally I would have. Only it’s been a really bad day. Anyway, sorry again. And thank you for being so nice about it. I looked at the note when I was finished and almost threw it out. My handwriting made me seem drunk.
   I went in the locker room then and changed. When I came out, my husband was grading papers on one of the couches. I said I’d be right back, that I needed to apologize to some guy I’d been rude to.
   I went downstairs. The guy was still running. The treadmill beside him was empty, so I climbed onto it and said, “I’m sorry about earlier.” Before I had even gotten the words out, though, he was already smiling and waving off my apology. I said, “I wrote you this note. I’ll just leave it here,” and I dropped it on the floor and left.
   When I got upstairs, my husband said, “Why did he laugh at you?” Turned out he’d watched the whole thing from the second-floor window, which looks down on the treadmills. I said, “No, he was just being nice, saying not to worry about it.” My husband nodded. I told him the whole story then, and he laughed. “You didn’t say that!” he said, and I said yes, I did.
   Later, on the walk home, when I was still feeling like an idiot, my husband said, “Don’t worry. I watched the guy after you left. He just kept running with that same smile he’d had when you apologized. He didn’t mind at all. Everything’s fine.”
   This is what I’ll miss most, I think. My husband watching from the second-floor window. That pair of eyes that has been looking out for me for the past ten years. Those dear and pretty blue eyes.

Part One: Lost Cause
Part Two: Light Arms
Part Three: Stumbling
Part Four: Push and Pull
Part Five:
Forced Perspective


Alicia Erian is the author of a novel, Towelhead, and a collection of short stories, The Brutal Language of Love. Alan Ball wrote and directed a film version of Towelhead, which will be released later this year.


©2003 Alicia Erian and Nerve.com