I had been having a lot of trouble with the demons and with the serpents, before and up to the time of my third marriage. I had had a lot of trouble with healing and recovering.
An odd sort of delayed response had followed the dissolution of my marriage to my second wife. During the time in which the marriage was crumbling neither I nor she seemed to care enough to mount any significant rescue operation. Things just went on as they had been, only more so. Activities that had been mutual pursuits—church on Sunday, participation in the choir, walking the dogs in the park, vacationing together in the summer, such-like and so on, dropped hands and wandered away on their own. She wanted to live in New York with her daughter. I thought she should stay home with her husband and her son. She wanted to go to Australia to meet someone she had met online. I thought this was a bad idea. How about France then? Another guy, another chat room.
What was the point of the marriage?
What was I missing?
We spoke of divorce. Once when we walked the dogs together. Once when I stood in front of her computer screen at midnight, blocking her view momentarily. Once when we argued on the way to her brother’s house. Once, and again, and again.
But no one wanted to be the one, you know? We both played the passive-aggressive part, and we both knew—yes, I think it now—we both knew that someone would eventually slip up.
Sleep walking, plodding along through the mundane patterns of our everyday lives, which was all that was left, we followed the easiest road, the only mutual ground left, the only well defined path between her desires and mine—the straight, flat, familiar road to separation and divorce.
And so we arrived, with barely a pause along the way, nary a missed step, no sprints and no rests, no rain, no sun, only the finish line and a sign at the end: Please leave your bags at the gate. And your children, and your vows, and your house keys and your car keys and your bank cards, and your Hallmark cards, and your friends, and your family, and your plans, and your future, and your present, and your past. Your history. Your life.
Please leave everything you know at the gate. Nothing lost may be redeemed. We decided that we would always be friends. We said so. And we said that nothing, especially not a mere piece of paper, could ever really separate us.
And I think we all know that the end of that story needs not even to be told.
The thing is, the notion of the eternal friendship apparently came with a caveat—this being that the former partners must not remarry. Or in the case that they do remarry, it must be the ex-wife who remarries first. I was unaware of this hidden clause. I would never even have guessed its existence, even in a game of twenty questions.
How could I have been so blind, no ignorant, so thick, so wall-like, so like a fence post, dumb as a doorknob?
For, you see, the ex-wife now become faithful friend, the two stepdaughters (I had always called them mine), and the stepson (he had been my son), were all perfectly aware of the rules, no matter how unwritten, how unexpressed they might have been.
I had committed the foulest sort of treason.
Yet even then, having crossed the point of no return, I believed they would be happy for me.
What card did the children hold hidden, what chip reserved, what trump trembled so ready to be employed?
Reconciliation. It must have been for them as though I had suddenly gotten up from the table and left the game. Foul play! An outrage! An underhanded, cowardly, all but deceitful breach of the rules.
And so I know now why my daughter screamed at me on the phone. It was May and it was a sunny day and I was walking the dog in the field across the street from our house, already in my slacks and my pressed yellow shirt, still in tennis shoes, soon to be married, another two hours, and she screamed and scolded and seethed over the phone, as clear as could be, despite the cars on the freeway below, despite the passenger jet overhead, despite the freight train on the far side of the thoroughfare—Da-hoo-wee, da-woo-wee, Oh, clickity clacks, echo’n back the bloooos in the night—from New York to Portland, no distance could mitigate, a miracle of modern technology.
I had finally, and completely, betrayed her, and them, and myself. And now there really was no going back.