Dear Readers: ‘Thought I would give you a little something extra for the holidays. I will be Family Focused, and odds are, so will you … This is an excerpt from GIRLilla Warfare: The Novel – which is a fictional tale, a work-in-progress. It is a Mom’s survival story. Throw in adventure, a twist of fate, and as always, a heavy dose of love. xoxo LB
By Lisa Barr
The bride wore a shimmering white gown and a sky blue thong. She had borrowed her sister’s strapless bra. Her bridesmaids had done their stint down the aisle, and everyone was waiting for her grand entrance. But she remained frozen with fear at the threshold — a Botoxed Bride — barely hearing the band play the “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” – her cue.
Unfortunately, the bride, was me.
The guests, more than two hundred, were now turning in my direction with craned necks, raised eyebrows. All I had to do was follow the plan: Walk down the aisle, across that Great Divide from Single Almost Thirty, to Married and Still Twenty-Nine. I was supposed to meet up with the groom (aka: Rob), and walk together toward the chuppah. That was Plan A. I realized in a panic that there was no Plan B.
She’s so beautiful, but why isn’t she moving? I heard someone whisper loudly near the door. I yearned to shout back: I’m not moving, because I can’t. Because I don’t know if this is right. And I don’t know how to stop it.
I must have looked completely terrified because the rabbi began to gesture me forward, his wise dark eyes becoming wider and larger with each passing second. The Love Theme was starting up once again. Why did I pick that song? I shook my head, feeling the heaviness of the veil across my bare shoulders. Romeo and Juliet die. No happy ending.
The wedding crowd, led by my Great Aunt Rose, was now buzzing full swing with Something Is Definitely Wrong With Her. Must be nerves, I heard my mother’s Cousin Stan say. He was sitting in the back row, closest to the door (Stan was bipolar, a nerves expert).
I focused on the chuppah, decorated with tangled twine of irises and lilies that cost nearly as much as my dress. I saw my family standing up there, the horrified expression across my mother’s face. She knew. I quickly looked away. She was the last person I wanted to deal with right now. I sized up the chuppah, which was a good one hundred yards from where I stood. I then eyed the EXIT sign to my far right, and began to strategize. Twenty yards tops. I could easily make a run for it.
But before I could put a stop to the fiasco called the Rest of My Life, Rob, sensing my getaway plan, walked quickly toward me and grabbed my hand. His palm was supposed to feel safe. But it felt cold, clammy, unsettling. That’s it, I thought, as I began to walk robotically beside him down the aisle: I’M SETTLING. Rob is not The One. I caught my sister Carly’s warning glance as I reluctantly stepped up to the chuppah to the spot marked bride.
It is the rest of your fucking life, Jessica. Don’t do it.
Carly had spent the pre-wedding night with me at the hotel. Within minutes of entering the suite, she hauled out the fattest joint I had ever seen. “Looky, Jess, I brought treats.”
I gazed longingly at the steroid joint. But I shook my head and managed a lame rejection. “I can’t, Car. I promised Rob, remember. No vices. Those days are long over.”
Carly let out a bored snort. “Oh, relax. You’re not even a partier, barely a social smoker.”
“Compared to you,” I sighed. “I’m a librarian.”
Carly took off her thigh-high leather boots and stretched out on the queen-sized bed, her feet kicked up like the eternal teenager that she was. “I don’t like this demand thing of his. You are who you are, Jessica. Rob either accepts you or screw him. I say smoke.”
Hmm, I could really use something to take the edge off. Rob would never know. I mentally slapped my wrist. But I would be lying to him. Already.
Carly shook her head, and lit up. “Well then, somebody has to celebrate. Here’s to the woman I love more than anyone else in the world.” She blew a thick line of smoke in my face, and then fell backward onto the bed.
I lay next to her on the pillow, our heads touching like they used to when we were kids gazing up at the stars from the tall grass in our backyard. I wished, for a moment, that we could just stay like this forever. She wrapped her arm around me. “So, my gorgeous big sister is getting married tomorrow.”
“Don’t remind me,” I said absently, then sat bolt upright, my hands cupping my mouth. “Did I actually just say that?”
Carly giggled knowingly.
“I didn’t mean it, Car. I mean I said it, but I—“
The laughter stopped, and her expression turned serious, unyielding.
“Jess, you don’t have to do this.” She sat up next to me. “We could leave now, take a taxi to the airport. Go somewhere. Disappear for a while until things calm down.”
I grabbed the pillow behind me and held it tightly against my chest. “I can’t do that to Rob.”
Carly removed my shaky hand from the pillow and held it inside her own. “I think it is the rest of your fucking life, Jess. Don’t do it to you.”
“But I love him,” I whispered.
“Convincing.” She shook her head. “Why are you marrying him?”
I glared at her. Why am I marrying him?
Carly tucked her long red hair into a scrunchie. She started counting off her fingers as though she could read my mind: “Should I or shouldn’t I? Let’s see, one – Rob is handsome. Two – he thinks I’m smart, pretty, sexy. And three – most crucial – I, Jessica Weisz, am twenty-nine going on thirty. I’ve dated every single hot guy in Chicago. Beep. Time has run out.”
“Carly, that’s enough!” I shouted louder than I’d intended, but she had crossed the line. “It is no secret that you never liked Rob. From the get-go.”
“Oh please.” Carly reached for a cigarette. “May I remind you that the get-go is less than a year. Admit it, Jess, you are rushing into this. You barely know the guy. None of us do. At the very least, delay the wedding.” She paused, eyeing me intently. “I know you better than anyone. You are not ready.”
“I am ready,” I countered weakly.
“Listen to me just this once – when it really matters,” Carly said softly. “I know you think I’ve screwed up my life with the acting, and the waitressing. That I flushed my master’s degree down the toilet. But you know what – I know who I am now, what I want. You, however, have done everything right, but this marriage is going to be your first big mistake. Trust me. Give it more time.” She took a long drag, and waved the cigarette between my eyes. “I have one word for you — Jake.”
Jake. I looked away. I couldn’t even respond. That was a low blow.
“Fine. We don’t have to go there.” She grabbed my hand again, and squeezed it tightly. “But just so YOU know, I know. Look, it’s not because I don’t like Rob, but it’s because from what little I have seen, he tries to control you, tries to change you. He never lets you finish a sentence, as if your words don’t matter. And he is selfish. I have never seen him give you anything first – food, drink, whatever. It’s always about him. Him first, then everyone else.” She was now looking at me as if she could not believe my sheer stupidity. “Tell me, you don’t see this.”
“Well, I don’t.”
But I did. Feeling suddenly hot and itchy, I took off my shirt and sat in Lotus position, trying to breathe, center myself. I felt edgy, angry at her. But was she right?
Carly’s long legs were dangling off the side of the bed. “Deep down, you know exactly what I am saying,” she said firmly.
“Yes, deep down, I love him AND I’m going to marry him tomorrow.” I dared her to defy me. She shrugged with a Don’t-Say-That-I-Didn’t-Warn-You-look.
I got up from the bed, and tried to ignore the cautioning voices banging like cymbals inside my head. I walked slowly to the toilet thinking, Christ, just stop thinking.
It was nearly 3 a.m. Carly was sprawled out on the hotel room bed, in deep R.E.M. I have been lying here in the dark for hours next to her, wide awake: Should I marry Rob, or shouldn’t I?
I even made an imaginary Excel spreadsheet inside my head. Was he too conservative for me? Was he smart enough? Was he too selfish? Was Carly right? Did Rob always think of himself first? Was he too moody? Too anti-social? Did we communicate enough? Would our sex life fade? It had already gone from good to just pretty good. Rob was undeniably handsome, but would I be attracted to him enough for life’s long haul? Did he get me? Did he understand my needs, my insecurities? Did I get him, understand his needs? Especially his constant need to be alone?
Could I live with that?
Were we best friends? Did I trust him? Would he one day be a good father – or was he too into himself? I was enveloped in doubt. Why hadn’t I asked myself these things for the past six months? Was the fear of turning thirty and being single overriding my good sense? Damn it, I thought, what good sense?
I was so confused that my muddled thoughts turned into a full-fledged panic attack. I began to perspire all over, and I could barely breathe. I began counting random things in the room. And that’s exactly when my phone rang. I knew I should never have picked it up, especially when I saw Jake’s name appear on the caller I.D., but I did.
I answered the phone, and said nothing.
“I know it’s late,” Jake said, breathing heavily for both of us. “Are you there?”
“I’m here.” My voice was tiny and terrified. How did he know I was up? Why was he calling me the night before my wedding? And why now, when I’m Bride On the Verge?
“Are you alone?” he asked.
I glanced over at my sister. Snoring. Dead to the world. “Yeah, sort of,” I whispered.
“You’re getting married tomorrow.” He sounded a bit drunk.
“Yes,” I mustered.
“Don’t do it,” he pleaded. “I’m still in love with you, Jessica.”
“Jake, don’t do this to me,” I pleaded. “You’re drunk. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I have not had anything stronger than orange juice today and lots of coffee. I am saner than ever. Why didn’t I run after you that night at the bowling alley?” he shouted at me, but it was so obvious that he was really yelling at himself. “I wanted to, you know that, right?” His voice sounded wistful, like a little boy.
“Run after me? Please.” I was struggling to find my voice.
“I would never forgive myself if I didn’t tell you this, if I didn’t at least try. I’m a fucking fool for not fighting for you.” He paused, his breath sounding like a drowning man flapping around for air. “You should be marrying me. Don’t marry him. Marry me.”
Don’t marry him. Marry me.
Rob and I had just gotten engaged, and moved in together. I flew home to Chicago for two weeks to plan our wedding with my parents.
It was a Friday night, and I was out with friends for drinks and late-night bowling. We were having a great time. We were all sufficiently buzzed and purposely bowling gutter balls (though mine were not on purpose).
It was my turn. I picked up my ball and walked up to my lane and did my best “Fred Flintstone Twinkle Toes” imitation. Everyone was laughing, when all of a sudden I heard someone yell over:
“Hey Jess? Is that you?”
That voice. I turned slowly, half afraid. I knew even before I saw him, that it was Jake. Two lanes over. And he looked fantastic.
Within seconds of the sighting, my whole body reacted. My stomach turned inside out, my arms felt weak, my legs became flimsy, my breath seemed to lump up in my throat as the memories flooded into a full-fledged Tsunami Jake.
He faced me in all his glory. Nothing had changed in over two years, since we’d been together. Messy sandy brown curly hair, powerful wrestler’s body, a killer smile. He stood there watching me, proud and Adonis-like, as I absorbed every inch of him that I once knew so well.
“Yes, it’s me.” I said simply, too afraid to move.
He smiled, and waved at my girlfriends, who waved back lamely. Jake had broken my heart, and none of them had forgiven him.
“Finish your turn, and meet me back there.” He gestured toward the lockers near the concession stand.
I don’t even remember the ball leaving my hand, and going straight to the gutter. I don’t even remember sneaking a peek at Jake to try to see who he was with. I only looked at my friend Debby, and whispered, “Please, just finish my turn. I can’t breathe.”
Jake, Jake. What are you doing here?
Funny, brilliant, crazy sexy, Jake was once The One, I thought, as I slowly walked toward the lockers, and then corrected myself: He was The One Who Let ME Get Away. Jake had broken my heart, and it took Rob to fix it.
And now here he was, Jake-Out-of-the-Box, back in Chicago, bowling two lanes over with two guys I had never met. I was caught completely unprepared, and admittedly vulnerable once again. Why do I feel this way? I’m engaged to be married to a man I love. Shouldn’t that alone have exorcized the Jake factor?
“You’ve never looked better, Jess.” Jake was taking me in from head to toe and being obvious about it. “Is it a guy?”
“More than just a guy,” I said, sticking my engagement ring under his nose. “I’m getting married in six months. That’s why I’m in town. Dress, photographer, flowers — the works.”
He paused uncomfortably, biting down on his bottom lip. “That’s fantastic. And all along, I thought you were waiting for me.” He laughed, as if he were joking, which we both knew wasn’t at all funny. But by the crushed look on his face, the blatant tightening of his jaw, I realized Jake actually thought that somewhere along the line we would be together in the end, the way I once had.
I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood there breathing and immobile, waiting for him to say or do something.
“I’ve thought of you a million times, Jess. I miss you. I wanted to call but I –” His voice trailed as he moved in closer. And he smelled so good, the same. I took a step backward.
Who was he kidding? He didn’t miss me. Don’t fall for this. YOU HAVE MOVED ON, I reminded myself.
“A lot has changed, Jake,” I said quietly. “I have changed.”
“But we never really finished, did we?” he implored.
I could feel my cheeks heat up, burn. Just like a guy. He did not want to marry me, when he had the chance. When it was his turn. And then he cheated on me. Oh, we finished, all right.
I didn’t try to hide my anger now. “When you met that slut nurse with the boobs in E.R. — I would call that finished. Officially over.” His face dropped. A-hah. “Yeah, Jake. Remember that?”
He placed his hands gently on my shoulders. My whole body stiffened. “Jess, that was meaningless. Stupid. I was stupid … I was knee-deep in my residency — not myself. I hadn’t slept in two years. I couldn’t even begin to think about making a commitment. Timing sucked. But I loved you like crazy. You knew that, Jess. You ran away from us. You left me.”
I pushed his hands off me and stepped away from him. Ran away? Me? How do I even begin to respond to that without killing him first? All those unbearable lonely nights. All those dates with faceless men just to fill the vast space that once belonged to Jake. I was too angry to speak, my heart so heavy that it felt like I was carrying my bowling ball inside me.
“Can I drive you home at least?” he asked softly. “We can hang out, talk, and catch up.”
“I’m staying at my Mom’s,” I said. I didn’t want to catch up. I didn’t want to know about his life without me. “My friends drove me here. You remember Debby and Jodi. It would be too weird.”
He moved in closer. “I miss you. I mean I don’t have any right to say that. And now you’re engaged. But now that I’ve seen you, everything inside me is feeling something.”
Every word I had once waited for. Every single word. Damn you, Jake. Why, now? Why not then? I would have been wearing your ring. Did I just say that? Think that? What is wrong with me? I’ve got Rob now.
“I really don’t want you to go,” he persisted.
“I can’t do this, Jake. I love Rob,” I stammered, trying to tear myself away from his soft golden brown gaze. “I’m marrying Rob. I – “
Jake pulled me behind the lockers and kissed me hard on my mouth. Suddenly the numbness fell away, the anger was forgotten, the bowling ball rolled out of me and I was floating, feeling everything at once. Him, us, me. I missed him. Damn him. What if … I thought wistfully. No, No, No! I screamed inside myself. Don’t be an idiot. Jake was the past. Rob is now. Jake didn’t want you. He only wants you because you are off-limits. He had two years to try and fight for you. Not one single phone call. Rob is going to be your husband. Rob is fantastic. I paused. But is he fantastic? Or was Rob a rebound from Jake? I shook my head trying to block out all the voices, then began to shiver as Jake’s kisses moved from my mouth to my neck.
Pull. Away. Now! I ordered myself.
I tore away from Jake’s hot embrace, and ran off, like some clichéd fairy tale princess. I heard my name being called, the echo of Jessica, Jessica staying with me long after I had left Jake standing there by the bowling alley lockers. But he didn’t run after me. He didn’t bend down for my lost glass slipper. Just like last time, Jake let me go.
I squeezed the pillow so hard that I broke a freshly manicured nail. A nail meant for my wedding. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck.
Christ, I couldn’t just lie here. I took the phone with Jake still in it, and the pillow, and then locked myself in the bathroom. I grabbed a white terrycloth towel, threw it inside the tub and got in. I listened to the choppy sound of Jake’s breath. Both of us knew our futures were riding on this conversation. Should I be marrying Jake? Was that what all these doubts were about? Or am I afraid of marriage, because of my parents’ miserable marriage? Don’t go backward, someone once told me. It’s never the same. Who told me that, damn it, who?
“Please, Jake.” I begged, staring at my serrated nail. “I am so confused. I’ve got to go. I’ve got to think. I can’t do this. Don’t do this to me now.”
“But I love you.”
I mouthed the words back, and then I hung up. For good.
I lay there all night in the waterless tub on the white towel curled up into a fetus, eyes wide open, trying to find light in the darkness, but seeing nothing. And all I could think about was that I had just shut the door on Jake. That’s why everything was so dark. And he let me. His fight was over.
And mine, sadly, unknowingly, had just begun.
I now stood under the chuppah next to Rob. My mother was smiling in the omnipotent way of hers that said she got her way: Her “good” daughter had obeyed, as usual. And more importantly, my three thousand dollar dress was not going down the drain. Everyone but Carly seemed thrilled to have me under the chuppah, smiling bride-like next to Rob, who had not let go of my hand since our promenade down the aisle. The rabbi said a few words about God, love and commitment, and then there was the quiet before the thunderous Mazel Tov!
It was the moment of all moments, the joy of all joys, and my body did exactly what it was supposed to do — kiss-kiss, hug-hug – before my soul went numb, and then I was gone.
Let’s just say it was no surprise that seven miserable years later, it was all over. Two children, two miscarriages, and lots of dead goldfish. The family that I had dreamed about — sheepdog (nixed: Rob hated pets), a big old house with lots of nooks and crannies, where our kids would grow up and the grandkids would one day visit (nixed: Rob refused to buy a house. We had spent more than $200,000 in rent), a big car for weekend and summer getaways (nixed: he refused to buy an S.U.V. – “What’s wrong with the Honda? It still drives.”) And vacations (work was his Club Med) – that life, that existence that I had hated, was finally over.
Still. It hurt like hell.
It is because you did not trust your instinct, my best girlfriend Isabel pointed out over our one thousandth Mocha during our daily Starbucks therapy sessions dissecting why I had even married Rob in the first place. She explained with a perfectly arched (waxed) eyebrow, that it was all so simple: Because twenty-nine was too close to thirty. Because Rob was too handsome to let go and hand over to some other bride wannabe. And, she added, that I did not love Rob. Rather, I loved the idea of loving him.
It took Mocha One Thousand and Twenty, before we arrived at our final conclusion: It was not because I did not love Rob. It was because I did not love myself enough to let it go when I should have.
It was a fling that went too far. A relationship that had no business making it to the Finish Line.
The third week of my separation from Rob would be capped off with yet another Mocha for me, and a No Foam Latte for him. We may have come to despise each other, but we always shared a mutual love of good coffee.
It was the one thing that Rob and I did well together; coffee-time was our version of spooning. We may have stopped sleeping with each other, but we never missed a java run.
Even during our worst fights, Rob and I never stooped so low as to not bring the other his or her drink. After he moved out of the house and into a nearby apartment, I waited out a short cool-down period and then I called. We had things to discuss: the kids, money, and divorce logistics.
“We need to talk,” I said carefully.
“Talk?” Rob shouted into the phone. “Why should I talk to you?”
“Let’s meet at Starbucks,” I suggested quietly.
“When?” His voice toned down an octave.
“How is Saturday at eleven?”
“Fine,” he said, and then hung up.
“Fine,” I said to the empty receiver.
As I walked toward the familiar green awning, I realized that it was the first time in years of coffee addiction that I did not race to the entrance so that I could get well positioned in line. Instead, I moved slowly, the heaviness of my thoughts adding an extra ten pounds to my one hundred pound frame. I knew it would be my last Mocha with Rob.
Something about that seemed sadder, more final that almost anything else.
As I opened the cafe’s glass door, I saw Rob sitting at a back table, by the bathroom. He looked great, as usual. Ethereal blue eyes, overly thick brooding eyebrows, full lips, chiseled cheekbones, permanent five o’clock shadow. He always appeared as though he were airbrushed, straight out of a magazine, no matter if he was going to work, heading out for a jog, or taking out the garbage (on those rare occasions).
I did love him once, I thought, as I waved to him signaling my arrival. And he did love me. Or at least I thought so. As I waited in line behind what had to be the slowest coffee orderer in the world, the divorce remorse began to set it. Am I making the right decision? Is divorce the answer to a crappy marriage? Who doesn’t have problems? And what about Hannah and Emme? Five and three, still clinging to their Princess backpacks.
What will our break-up do to our daughters’ young lives? His weekend, my weekend. His days, my days. Chop chop, snip snip. Oh God, how did this happen?
I stood there staring at the glass-encased pastries, trying not to idealize my miserable marriage. It was the loneliest relationship I had ever been in. We didn’t talk, we didn’t connect, we didn’t touch. We lived side by side and breathed. The two gold rings around our fingers were really mini nooses.
Even our communication was strangled, composed of habitual breath formations – How was your day, Rob? Fine, Jess, yours? Fine too. More chicken?
We were living loveless. Was that the kind of relationship example I wanted to set for the girls? As I took my Mocha off the counter and headed toward Rob, all I could think about was if we don’t do this right, divorce could destroy them.
Not realizing it, I squeezed the coffee cup, and hot liquid squirted all over my hand. I ignored the burning mess, thinking I can’t let what had happened to me as a child happen to my daughters.
I was twelve when my own parents began their nightmare divorce. I was then considered one of the most popular girls in my seventh-grade class. Always smiling. Her smile is so beautiful, everyone would say. It lights up Jessie Weisz’s whole face.
What no one knew is that my lips were shaped like a smile. So whether I laughed or cried, my mouth would smile on its own. What no one knew was that my smile soon began to have a sole purpose: to cover up my unhappy home life. Everyone thought my life was perfect, albeit what was really going on behind the Welcome mat was an entirely different story.
A tale of a marriage gone bad, nightly arguments at the dinner table, the constant door (drawer or cabinet) slamming and swearing, and kids who were forced to pick up the mess. As the eldest of two girls, I was appointed Head of Sanitation – a thankless job I had never signed up for. It was about then, when the yelling got so bad that the pillow I wore over my head every night to sleep could no longer block out the unbearable sounds of screaming parents.
It was about then that I had stopped eating, my period ceased, and the breast buds that had begun to develop never bloomed. I went from a normal eighty-two pounds to a sickly forty-eight in less than a year.
It was exactly then that the “IT” girl, had lost her IT-ness. My parents were the first parents I knew who were getting divorced, and I was so ashamed. I didn’t want to be different. So I rebelled with my body. It was the only control I had. The not eating. NO one could understand how the popular girl in school could go from pretty to pathetic. I looked as though I could blow away. My friends dropped me. I heard the cruel whispers behind my back and in my face. So I closed off all my senses and retreated into my own world of pain. All that mattered was that I wanted my family back, in tact. More than anything, I did not want my Dad to move out.
And then it came, the inevitable. That surreal day that was not a day but a lifetime, when my father packed up a U-Haul and moved from our big house to a nearby condominium. The boxes. The suitcases. The watching him go. The tears that he was trying so hard to hold back, but couldn’t. My Dad was sent packing and I knew that he was one of the good ones. Unfair! I shouted inside myself – an inward scream that could shatter all the neighbors’ windows in a three-block radius, if only they had listened.
But nobody heard me.
Instead I stood there, alone, on the front doorstep, frozen in time, experiencing the worst day of my life, watching my father leave, and never return to the house that was once his, ours. My life, I knew, would never be the same.
And now, here I am two decades older, facing Rob, experiencing the nightmare of every child of divorce: My own divorce.
How do I do this?
Rob was pokerfaced as he watched me sit down across from him, and I could barely breathe.
Swallow your pride, I warned myself. Do not engage in your usual marital tennis match. Act like a woman. Think like a mother.
“Hi,” I said, trying to cop a semi-friendly tone.
But he said nothing. He just sipped his coffee and continued to stare.
So I stared back. While I was a wreck, Rob looked as though he had just returned from a Caribbean vacation. He wore a stonewashed denim shirt that accentuated the blue in his eyes. His hair was trimmed (miraculously without my nagging). And he smelled good too – coffee mixed with Hugo Boss mixed with Crest. In fact, Rob was so damned attractive that I suddenly had the impulse to call off the dogs and say, You love coffee, I love coffee – we can make this work.
“Jessica.” Rob’s voice was calm but as deadly as his glare. “Here.” He handed me his gold wedding band. “I slept with someone last night. But
I took the ring off first.”
“Good thinking,” I said sarcastically, knowing full well that reconciliation was out of the question. But I wondered with whom he had slept, and how the slut compared to me. And Rob being Rob was just dying for me to ask. Do not engage, I warned myself again, swallowing my list of ready-to-go sarcastic comments, refusing to give him the satisfaction.
“Fuck you, Jessica,” he hissed.
“Fuck me?” I raised my voice, unable to contain myself. “What about fucking her?”
And then I noticed the kissing young couple two round tables down; hands intertwined, mouths grazing – the coffee clearly foreplay for later. They are the anti-US, I thought sadly. Suddenly, I had the urge to pull the couple apart and scream out divine truths: Go ahead and kiss each other now. Get it all in while you can. In a few years his breath will repulse you. His skin will make you crawl. You will be clinging to the edge of your bed like driftwood, thinking Don’t Touch Me, I hate you. Please, just let me sleep.
All that will remain at the end of the day are two stupid gold rings that meant nothing. And two daughters who mean everything.
Tears began to fill my eyes and, for the first time ever, I had to get out of Starbucks. For the first time, my Mocha tasted like tar.
“I’m leaving town.” Rob stated, ignoring my tears.
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. “Leaving? For how long?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said.
“Do you at least know where you’re going?” I tried to keep my voice even.
He smiled slyly, as if enjoying a personal joke. “As far away from you as possible.”
“And what about the girls?” I managed, feeling everything at once – fear, loneliness, hatred.
“You will take care of the kids, and I will take care of me,” Rob said coldly. “Isn’t that the way you have always wanted it? Me out of the picture?”
“What are you saying, Rob?” Could he possibly be leaving the girls? Leaving all of us?
He took a long latte swig. “You are a great mother, Jessica. A shitty wife.”
“You turned me into a shitty wife,” I countered. “It didn’t start out that way.”
“Oh, but it did.” He pointed an accusing finger. “You never loved me. I knew it when I saw you standing at the ballroom door at our wedding like the Ghost from Christmas Past.”
“Let’s not start up again.” I was about to lose it. “We have our problems, but the girls adore you. You can’t just walk out on them.”
He looked away, but I caught a quick flicker of remorse in his eyes. “You will manage just fine, Jessica.”
“Don’t do this,” I pleaded, still shocked. “This is not about managing. It’s about Hannah and Emme. We can do it right. For them.” My voice was cracking, and I could barely keep it together now. “C’mon, Rob, I know you’re angry. But you will live your life, and I’ll live mine. Let’s not destroy theirs. It can’t be what you really want.”
“You have no right to tell me what I want. Those days are over.” Rob gazed out the streetside window, and then turned toward me. His azure eyes were glazed. His voice barely audible. “I’m dead inside, Jessica. I want to feel alive again. The girls don’t need a dead father. I want to travel. I don’t want the responsibility anymore. I’m done.”
He leaned forward, the softened glaze disappeared, making way for the icicles. “I worked my ass off and came up empty-handed. I don’t want you or any part of you. We were wrong from the beginning.”
“Yes, we were wrong,” I sighed deeply. “But the girls should not pay the price for our mistake.”
“Did you read that on a bumper sticker?” He laughed mockingly. “You never loved me.”
“You loved only yourself,” I hissed. “My sister warned me.”
“Your sister. Please,” Rob snorted. “Now there’s a model citizen.”
“The girls deserve more than that. Please Rob, don’t do this.” I was begging. I’ve always known how selfish Rob was, but to be capable of abandoning his children? I clung to the side of the chair, too afraid of what I might do with my hands.
He just looked through me blankly, and it killed me.
“So what do I tell them, Rob? That you are leaving to go find yourself? How can a child begin to comprehend that? Are you really that cruel?” I began to shout, caring less that I would be in Starbucks the next morning and have to face these people.
Rob finished his latte and slammed down the empty cup. “The beauty of all this, Jessica, is that you no longer have any control over me.” He held out his arms wide as though he had just won a gold medal. “I can work. I can travel, come and go as I please. I can disappear. I can sleep with whomever I want. I am free. Done.”
Done. As a parent, I yearned to shout but held back, your job is never done.
I stood. I could not be with this man another second. “You will pay for this Rob, in more ways than you know.”
“I’m afraid, Jessica, it is you who will pay.”
And then he smiled, like a creepy Jack-o’-lantern. I noticed that his teeth were whiter than usual. I could not believe that he had actually found time to have his teeth whitened. I could not remember the last time in the past few weeks that I went to the bathroom alone. Since Rob had left, the girls were afraid to go to sleep, afraid to go to school. They didn’t want to play with their friends. They would not leave my side for fear that I, too, would leave them.
“And how am I suppose to support this family while you are riding out your mid-life crisis?” I whispered, too afraid of what my voice might do, say, scream.
“You were once a good journalist.” He shrugged. “Get a fucking job.”
It was then that I threw the slim gold wedding band at him. It was then that I glowered at the kissing couple who was still going at it. It was exactly then that I left my barely touched Mocha behind on the table, with the man who was done. The man who never knew Hannah’s favorite color was apple green, or that Emme was terrified of clowns.
Or, that divorce scared me more than death.
As I stormed out of the glass double doors, and searched for my car, I felt lost and alone, with a lifetime of experiences that I seemed to have rented, because I owned nothing.
How did I let this happen? I was once a working journalist with a great portfolio, a condo in the city, an answering machine full of messages. So many possibilities. But I had made the one wrong turn that would forever change the course of my life. I had crossed the threshold when I should have taken the nearest exit.
I slowly got into my car and noticed that the gas tank was exactly half full. It was a sign. Things could go either way. I could cry and fall apart, or I could fight and build a new life for me and my girls.
I inhaled deeply and turned on the ignition, knowing that I, alone, was in the driver’s seat. Rob was done, but for better or for worse, my new life was about to begin.