The Friday before Labor Day weekend, my husband had his wisdom teeth pulled, and later that night, when I brought the kids home from a long day of killing time in order to let the patient rest, he showed the recently pulled teeth to my son. “Look at the roots on that thing,” he said as he shook them in their little plastic box, and held one up for examination.
Already antsy from a day and a night and a day of rest, the next afternoon he and my daughter walked to the grocery store to pick up pickles. Soft foods. The phone rang and I went to the kitchen to check: “Leah,” the ID on his phone read. Leah is his ex-girlfriend and my friend, because we’re modern like that, so I answered and after a short conversation, I hung up. As I did, I noticed the text message under Leah’s; it read “Ap.” Just initials.
The day before, as I busied the kids to let my husband rest from his dental surgery, Ap asked him how he was doing. He replied that he was “ok, a bit sore, but ok.” Ap then asked how he was doing “Mentally? Emotionally?” My husband responded with, “I had a dream about you last night.” Ap said “oh, what was it about?” My husband said, “it was more a feeling.”
In 40 minutes, friends with kids were set to arrive at our house for a Labor Day weekend BBQ. My husband and daughter would be home any minute. My plan was to muscle through the evening and deal with it later. The moment they walked through the door, I said to him, “So, we’ve got about 30 minutes to sort out whether or not our marriage is a complete sham.”
He sat heavily on the bed, knowing exactly what I referred to. There was more.
The summer hadn’t been a great one. Although just two weeks prior we had celebrated our 8th anniversary complete with the obligatory meal out, followed by kids-in-bed-keep-quiet-married sex, it had been a stressful few months. We had started a business together, there was financial stress, miscommunication, and not a lot of quality time. There was him in the bathroom back in June asking me to come look at something. “Something” turned out to be a quarter size red patch that upon a doctor’s examination, turned out to be herpes. Yep, after ten years in a monogamous relationship, eight of those married, my husband came home with genital herpes. Apparently that shit can lie dormant for a decade.
When we first began dating, I had a four-month-old infant and he had just quit his job, readying to move on to a new adventure. Our loose plan was to “hang out” until his pre-planned date of departure, then figure out the rest later. A month into “hanging out,” his twin brother arrived with a U-Haul and they left. I was “cool,” we had just been “hanging out,” except that my head and my heart had progressed far further than “hanging out.”
I texted him, attempting to end it. Who was I to tie him down to a single mother in a town he had already said goodbye to? He texted back assuring me that he was “in,” and although I was “difficult,” he liked difficult.
Ten years, two kids, one house, one shared business, one jar of pickles and one car full of friends already en route to our house, and I took off, texting my friend, “sorry, need to cancel,” and sat in our (shared) office for hours. Five days, two lengthy heart-to-heart conversations with friends, one humbling phone call to my mom, thousands of passive-aggressive and angry words bitten back, and my husband is staying at our (shared) office, we are separated, he is “doing work on himself” and then we will see to our marriage.
We are separated, but we are not separated. As anyone with kids knows, you can hate your spouse, never want to see them again, but four minutes later need to remind them to make sure that Back-to-School-Night is on the calendar. You can’t get away. He comes for dinner, to put the kids to bed, two hours to my twenty two spent parenting, yet he is the one with red-rimmed, tired eyes.
This isn’t the first time that he has put himself into a position to lose me, to lose us. Seven months pregnant with our daughter I found a letter from a “friend.” I cried, we talked, I kept it short because I worried hormones were making me think it was a bigger deal than it was. He assured me he would back off of the friendship. That it was a “wake up call.”
Seven days ago, he texted me that he wanted to talk. I met him at home with a bottle of wine and busied the kids eating dinner. We went into our bedroom and we talked about reconnecting. About making time for one another, about being more supportive. It was a good talk. Needed. Two days later he texted another woman about his dream of her.
He’s sorry, he made a horrible mistake. After the first time, it’s not a mistake though, it’s a choice. The kids are confused, I am operating on coffee and adrenaline and an app I found where you can sing karaoke. It really passes those nighttime hours. Last night I re-recorded Sade’s By Your Side, at least 15 times between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.and dear Lord was it embarrassing when I listened to it in the morning.
He’s going to therapy and is already expressing frustration at the snail pace, in addition to the discomfort of sleeping on the floor of his (our) office. I have to call him when I can’t detach the garden hose and to remind him that I have a job interview for a job with a totally inappropriate commute next Tuesday.
What holds me here? It’s not love right now, because in all of the complexity of feelings I’ve sifted through, I haven’t gotten to that one yet. I’m still too confused and filled with rage. I think it’s that in ten years and two kids and one shared business and one house, there have also been several seasons of watching Chopped together and picking out bottles of rosé and then drinking them. There’s making fun of our toddler’s tantrums by imitating them and laughing at our shared hatred of other people.
There’s fighting with each other, but then there’s also coming together and knowing that if we were to hold up our relationship like an object, like a tooth, you’d say, “Look at the roots on that thing.”