The hot water hits my neck and it’s the only relief I’ve felt all day. Tension falls down the drain with the water. This is the only place I can breathe. The only place I can be honest with myself. Why did I let this happen?
Six months ago, I was walking the two shriveled up, snorting pugs through the neighborhood where we live, the neighborhood I picked to live, and it hit me. This was the only other time I was honest with myself, but too weak to do anything about it. I thought, “What a mistake you’re making, you don’t love him. Hell, you don’t even like him.” But it was too late. The deposit was already paid. The invitations had been sent. Facebook-land had already been informed. If I backed out… well, backing out just wasn’t an option.
So here I stand, with two rings on my left hand, in the only place I can be real about what a mistake I had made.
I replay my mother’s voice in my head, “You really should date Gail’s son, he has such bad luck with women”, “Gail said Evan’s company is hiring. Since you graduate next month, I told him you’d bring in your resume today”, “Aww, no boyfriend this Christmas, hopefully by next year!”
And she wonders why I resent her.
But hadn’t I wanted this? I’m the one that said, “If you loved me, you’d propose.” Was I looking for validation that this was love? Some kind of proof? Was I hoping a ring would create love where it wasn’t? I did want to be a bride. But I’m not sure I wanted to be a wife. I never thought it through that far.
When you get engaged, everyone is happy. Everyone is proud of this accomplishment. People see you as “on the right path.” Getting engaged would take the attention off of all the stupid shit I’d done.
I try to catch my breath in between sobs but it’s too hard and I crumble to the floor of the shower. Thank god I don’t have kids, I think I understand why those women on the true crime shows drown their children before taking their own lives. There’s no foreseeable way out. They thought they were saving their children. It’s like being stuck in quicksand, getting pulled down deeper, deeper, until there’s no air left to breathe.
“If you’re not getting beaten or cheated on, there’s no reason to leave,” my mother’s voice echoes again.
Maybe it’ll get better? Maybe I’m being dramatic. Maybe this is just a phase.
The next morning, I wake up an hour earlier than I used to so I can walk the dogs. I do not consider them “our” dogs, I don’t feel attached. They’re my step-dogs, purchased by my husband and his ex. But that’s not why I don’t feel affection towards them. I can’t explain why. It may be partially- or fully- because they both use our house as their toilet bowl. Since we moved in, I’ve been working tirelessly to teach these old dogs new tricks- despite the saying. So here I am, walking my husband’s dogs at 5am to release their energy so they can be crated while we’re at work, and unable to piss on my new living room furniture.
I don’t know if you’ve ever trained dogs, but it’s important to make sure “play time” is not to be confused with potty-time, which is when I bring the two dogs out on leashes with treats in my hand to reward them for shitting where they’re supposed to. I learned this at the dog training classes I attended on my own.
When my morning efforts at potty-training are complete, I put the dogs in their crates and throw them each a treat. Evan is coming down the stairs.
“The dogs are all set and your lunch is in the fridge.” I make his lunch every day because if I don’t, he’ll buy McDonalds or some other garbage as an excuse for a meal. I head out the door, not even pausing for a kiss goodbye.
The traffic is the same as most mornings. Easy going until the bridge where the troopers sit. Without fail, everyone slows down drastically, causing a backup. Finally, I make it to the office.
“There’s no water in the building” a colleague says as she passes by on her way to her desk.
“Wait, what? Like, we can’t wash our hands?” I ask.
“Nope. Gross, right? There was a water main break. We’re hoping they send us home. We’re taking bets.” She says as she puts her headphones on, getting ready to take the first call in her queue.
I head to my cubicle where I unload my bag and turn on my computer. As I take a sip of coffee, I stop and think about how soon this coffee will make me have to pee. And then another thought comes to mind, coffee doesn’t only make me have to pee… I set the coffee mug down.
At noon we get an email stating everyone can leave for the day. I hop in my car, so elated that I get a free afternoon off. I dream of sitting on my brand new comfy couch with a glass of wine, watching my old DVDs of Sex and the City, something I can only do when I’m alone in the house.
When I get home, I walk through my front door and am immediately greeted by both dogs.
I pause, replaying my morning in my head and wondering if I imagined locking them in their crates.
I’m sure I did.
Was this some sort of MacGyver pug-stunt where one broke free using a stick he snuck in under his neck rolls and then somehow heroically released his accomplice?
I call Evan. After a fiery screaming match about him feeling bad that the dogs get crated all day and me shouting that it wasn’t my idea to not train them in the first place, I hung up.
Rage comes up through my legs, into my stomach, hitting my chest and then down through my arms. From there, it surges up into my throat and releases itself through my mouth, “WHAT THE FUUUUCK!!”
I pour wine in the biggest glass I can find and sit on my couch. I can see a streak of urine across the bottom of the microfiber, but I’m having some sort of internal battle between spite and pride and I decide to leave the pee on the couch. This is a statement. A statement no one will care about because no one else in this house finds it disgusting that a dog uses the furniture as a fire hydrant.
I cannot have children with this man. I don’t want to be on 20/20.
Lately, the best part of my day is when I’m at work and there’s a sighting of the IT guy. Seeing him gives me the same butterflies I got in the 9th grade when I obsessed over Cole Wainwright, the shy kid who always wore Adidas. I remember arranging my routes between classes so that I could see him multiple times a day. Some call that stalking. I like to think of it as a subliminal ad campaign, “If you see it enough, you’re bound to give it a try!” Eventually, I successfully won him over and we dated for almost four years before college sent us our separate ways.
I didn’t think butterflies happened to adults. I assumed that once bills, gravity, and household chores came into the mix, no one had butterflies anymore. You just pick the one you land on in your 20’s- as long as he doesn’t “beat you or cheat on you”- and you get married.
Over time, the IT guy, Alex, started saying hello as he walked by. Occasionally he’d stop and ask how my day was going. Once he asked me if my wedding ring meant I was really married. The butterflies kept coming. I didn’t want to cheat, I just wanted to be in love.
A few months went by and Alex and I exchanged emails about what we wanted out of life, what our childhoods were like, and what our biggest fears were. His father was dying and I felt like I was a comfort to him emotionally, which was a nice feeling.
At home, fights were getting more frequent and my empty wine bottles were starting to pile up. Evan, who is nine years old than me, pushed and pushed for me to get pregnant. The more he pushed, the more depressed I got. I started losing weight. I thought, if I damage my body enough, maybe he’ll just leave. Surely an emaciated drunk shouldn’t be having children, right?
One Friday afternoon at work, getting ready to head out for the day, I look up and see Alex standing over my cubicle wall, “Hey, I just wanted to stop by before you left.”
“I thought you were in a meeting?” I say.
“I am, I’m taking a bathroom break,” he says with air quotes. “I just wanted to see you one last time before the weekend.”
The couch I am sitting on reminds me of the one my grandmother had in her living room. It’s tan with orange and navy plaid lines. The cushions are flat, the life sucked right out of them, but I can tell they weren’t always this way.
It’s been a month since I’ve gotten an email from Alex. I see him at work, but he treats me with the same cordialness that he treats the security guards with. I’m not sure if I’ll ever know what changed, but I do know one thing, I’m still not happy at home.
“So, tell me why you’re here today.” Dr. Madison says as she prepares to jot down my deepest and darkest thoughts.
“Well… I’m here… umm… I guess…” damn, they always make these things look so natural on TV. They also make the couches look way more enticing.
I let out a sigh, “Can you make me love my husband?”
She smiles. It’s a heartfelt smile, not judgmental. I feel safe. I’ll even forgive her for the couch.
“I can’t,” she blinks and looks at her notepad, then back up to me. “But I can make you understand the decisions you have made and give you the tools to make better ones.”
I stare at her, deflated. “Okay, so, I make better decisions going forward- but if I don’t love my husband, I’m still going to be miserable.”
She uncrosses her legs so that her knees are together and sets the notepad on her lap. She leans slightly closer. “I didn’t say we have easy decisions to make, Cheryl. We have work to do. But I’m here to help you through it.”
And just then, I felt the quicksand turn to water. I was still neck deep, but I do know how to swim. And I think, if I look real hard, I just caught sight of the shore.