A Sunday Story inspired by several real events,
full of so many heavy messages.
The door is heavy against my hip as I try to push my way in, shoulders holding so many straps, arms full and fingers strained. A cold wind follows me and then seems to suck the door closed before I’m ready, so that a bag is caught and I have to pull and twist and fight a little too hard. A strap slides down, threatens to spill milk and spaghetti sauce and other things for a dinner I don’t want to cook.
Struggling, I try to set everything down in the foyer, think I can’t make it to the kitchen this way. And then I hear a chair sliding on tile, footsteps moving toward me.
“Kevin,” I say, confused when I see him.
Something is wrong. But then I knew that didn’t I?
“Where’s your car? In the garage?” I ask him these things that don’t really matter because I have become accustomed to that. Things that don’t really matter.
“Can we talk?” he asks me. But I have ice-cream that needs to go in the freezer. It’ll thaw out, be ruined.
I don’t want everything to be ruined.
But it is.
“I’ve been with someone else, Meredith,” he tells me. Just like that he says this. Just like that he says he’s been with someone else, in the same way he might say he’d forgotten to run the dishwasher like I’d asked him to.
Whoops, I forgot to run the dishwasher.
Whoops, I’ve been with someone else.
I begin to get very hot, and to feel soft and dizzy and devastated. My heart is racing when I ask what that means. What does that mean?
This is not what I had expected. This is not.
But then what did I expect. What?
Thump, thump, thump. I can hear the blood, my heart pumping so hard, trying to move it all along and keep me alive.
“I met someone and we became close and I have had very strong feelings for her and then I slept with her last night.”
For several seconds I am quiet because I am so stunned. I am in a shock that is like paralysis because I knew we were broken but I did not know this. I really did not know. And I cannot make sense of it. I am lost.
“When you were at the Christmas party?” I blurt out, as if that detail is important, but it is not. My husband has been in bed with someone else and yet this is all I can say.
This is all.
More things that don’t really matter.
“I didn’t go to that,” he tells me.
He didn’t go to that. While I was home with our kids he didn’t go to the Christmas party. He’d gone somewhere else while I was dressed in stained sweatpants and a tee shirt I know he remembers from college, doing laundry and wrapping presents and cleaning closets and not being interesting anymore.
Not interesting to him, but worse, not interesting to myself.
I start to cry then, but to my surprise, just as suddenly I stop, choke it all back. I choke it all back because you know what?
And then rage fills my bones and I say this. I say, “Fuck you Kevin.”
And I take a jar of sauce that has rolled from my bags and I don't think as I throw it as hard as I can and it misses him but hits the wall over the table we never eat at as a family and it crashes and shatters and drips red everywhere.
But my husband hardly reacts. He moves aside a bit and whispers about this being insane and I tell him that we are. I tell him that we are fucking insane, this bullshit life we’ve built on lies and avoidance and pretty pictures and busy schedules and so much fucking meaningless chaos I can hardly breathe most days.
He looks down then, defeated, nothing left of the man I first saw on our college campus, protesting student loan interest rates. And I suspect he doesn’t see anything left of me either.
“I never wanted three kids Kevin,” I say suddenly, surprising us both. He looks up at me, flinches, steps away. It is very hard to hear out loud what you have always known in a quieter place.
“I never did,” I scream at him, and I have no idea why of all the things I could say right now, this is what I say. I think then that I should be quiet, not speak things that I will want to take back.
Not speak the truth. Something that matters.
“I mean what else were we supposed to do?” I continue. “Were we going to travel the country for the rest of our lives, work for non-profits and live in cool cities and make a fucking difference forever? At some point we had to grow up right? At some point there had to be the high-paying jobs and big house and three kids right? Isn’t that what we wanted?
When I stop speaking I realize how loud I have been and how quiet everything is now.
There is not a sound.
There is nothing at all.
“We never talked about what we wanted,” my husband says softly.
My husband who isn’t my husband anymore, because we sold out. We gave up everything to have the American dream that was never our dream and we cannot recover from that.
We cannot recover and I knew this before he said what he said just moments ago, before he met someone and had very strong feelings for her and slept with her last night.
Even without this we are so far from each other and ourselves that we can never find our way back. We have to start all over. And it’s time. This can’t go on. This corporate ladder and fat mortgage and kids we didn’t teach to look up from devices that are robbing all of our souls. It cannot go on. It is a slow death.
“I should not have betrayed you like this Mer and I’m so sorry.”
I just stare at him a moment before saying softly that he hasn’t betrayed me nearly as much as I have betrayed myself. Red sauce is still dripping down the walls of a forty-three thousand dollar kitchen, hitting the overpriced tile I heard his chair scrape on when I first came through the door.
“And you betrayed me long before this woman came along,” I tell him.
I walk away then, from the groceries in the foyer and from us, this meaningless partnership we have created, and I move toward the stairs, begin to ascend them cautiously, exhausted suddenly by everything I have wanted to let go of that has now, in this one instant, been torn away.
I hear him moving, picking up the groceries, carrying them to the kitchen. I hear him always trying to do what he thinks others want of him.
It got to be too much though didn’t it?
I know. I know how it feels.
It’s too much for me too, so much more than anyone knows. I never wanted any of this. Others wanted it and I wanted to give it to them but I didn’t want this life. It is too hard. It has always been too hard.
And one baby after another didn’t make it any better. More money didn’t make it any better. A gorgeous house and long vacations didn’t make it any better.
Only purpose can make this better.
We don’t have that now.
We let it all go to make time for putting kids in back seats and driving to event after event and feeding them from takeout bags and putting televisions in every room. We gave up feeling and knowing and being in awe so that we could open college savings accounts for little humans we aren’t even raising well, who won’t survive college because they are hardly getting through middle school.
We got the American dream that we never even dreamed of.
When I reach our bedroom I sit on the edge of a chair in the corner and I text my brother Daniel, a real estate agent. I text my cousin Sara, a lawyer. I text my boss, ask for a meeting tomorrow, the one where I will resign. I do all of this in only minutes, but for eleven years I have not accomplished nearly as much. In this time that is almost nothing at all I have moved more toward what will feed my soul than I have in the last decade.
And then I hear Kevin’s feet on the stairs and I get up slowly and close the bedroom door, wait with my brow pressed against the wood, my hand on the knob. I hear his footsteps outside of it then and I hold my breath. I hear him say my name but I don’t answer. I can’t. I have to go.
And then the floor creaks and he keeps moving, steps into the spare room across the hall. The door closes with a soft click and I relax, step back toward our bed where I think I will lie down for a while. My phone is chiming with responses from Daniel and Sara and my boss and I let them all go for now.
I lie back.
I close my eyes.
I take a deep breath.
And I have hardly let it out when I hear the gun go off.