It was the fifth month of a “constructive separation”—that’s how she put it when she kicked me out. Truth be told, it was constructive. The first couple months I spent with Indian Momma, and after that melted down, I moved to Harlem. As I headed uptown, I was hopeful for the marriage and not without reason even looking back on it now.
I got tickets for Cabaret through my school. Alan Cumming and Emma Stone starred. She loves Cumming, Stone, and Broadway. This was a perfect coup. The night before I had texted her that things were going really well. She agreed. I suggested I move back in even if that meant I just crashed on the couch. She said we’d talk about it. There was something ominous about that and I knew it at the time.
The show was fantastic, but she was cool towards me and shifted uncomfortably in the seat—like someone who knows they should be thrilled but cannot work up any genuine emotion let alone fake it. Something was on her mind, and as soon as the show was done I asked her about my couch proposition and she said we’d talk about it later (after I got back from Chicago) and I told her, “No, we’re talking about it now.”
When every couple months your wife threatens to leave, you get use to tiptoeing around conflict. But here at the crux, standing outside the theater, I wasn’t going to let her postpone.
She looked at me and knew I wasn’t going to let it slide. “Ok,” she said, “I don’t want you moving back in, ever. We’re done.”
“You’re sure?” I asked.
~Cold as ice~
I walked off west towards Hell’s Kitchen and she eastward towards Times Square. A moment later she was standing next to me and for a fleeting second a shot of hope surged through me before I realized she was hailing a cab—that awkward moment two people storm off in opposite directions and then one realizes they actually need to go in the same direction. A cab whisked her off a second later, I hopped on the subway, but then reemerged at 86th and grabbed the M86 bus across town to her apartment. I needed to know for sure.
I still had the key but knocked anyway. She opened the door with the chain in place. “You’re not going to do anything, are you?” she asked me. Mystified and somewhat insulted, I told her, no. She let me in. The two dogs came over to say hi. The greeting of dogs normally lifts your spirits, but in this situation, they were a reminder of the chasm and loss I faced. After all, the littlest one I picked out from the pound in Korea. She had wanted the three legged dog, but I insisted on the norfolk terrier. It had run up to us and licked our fingers through the fence while the rest of the dogs ran around barking. The big dog, well, that I’ll save for later. Either way, what would become of them?
It only took five minutes to clarify where she and I stood. Her eyes were dead. The flicker gone. I probed, but it was obvious: there was no point in begging, arguing, or trying to resuscitate.
I got up and said goodbye.
After I moved out she once asked me if I still loved her. “Yes,” I told her—and meant it. “No, but how can you? I think you’re just doing this out of a sense of religious obligation and because you don’t want to look bad in front of your friends and family.” In nutshell she had articulated the fissure that had opened up between her and the rest of my folk.
She was correct in a fundamental way about my sense of religious obligation. When you take your vows, you better be deadly earnest about them and I was. Frankly those vows and my convictions kept me fighting when I think many others fellows would have called it quits after her threatening numerous times to leave. Look, lady, here I am working my butt off and this is what I get? Truth be told the feeling of love was still there, I knew her better self was hiding deep down. But that feeling of love was a tiny flame that I was guarding with my wall of conviction from the howling winds. I was never going to let it go out. It was a burden, true, but it was my burden.
As for shame, that wasn’t an issue. I had done my best, fought the good albeit imperfect fight, and no one who cared about me would hold that against me. Quite the contrary, I hadn’t told my family or friends about the separation in order to protect her reputation. If they knew what she had done, they would never have trusted her again. Plus, when one calls dad up who wants that looming over the conversation? (How about them Packers?) There wasn’t anything he could do about it anyway.
I suspect she took this line of argument (religion and guilt) as a way to get me to acknowledge that I wasn’t really in love and it would be best for both of us to go our separate ways. Quite the contrary, it was religion that kept that flame of love alive for her. She also reminded me at times that 50% of marriages end in divorce as if to soften the coming blow. But I wasn’t going to give in and so she did what she wanted to do.
I left the apartment and began to walk towards home. I called up a friend, told him what had happened, and said I was standing on the George Washington Bridge. I heard him catch his breath and I let him squirm for a second and then laughed and told him I was joking.
Being let go creates an odd and surreal confluence of emotions. Sadness clashing with a sense of liberation, running into that gapping sense of loss, and finally relief that things were resolved one way or another.
Against my will, I was freed of the burden. That’s a strange feeling: liberated, but not wanting to be liberated. Wishing for the shackles if only because you believed you had a duty to them—before God and these witnesses. But shackles aren’t the right metaphor. That’s her metaphor. A yoke, that’s the right one—to be with someone and cultivate a field together.
I don’t know if we ever shared a yoke together. It appeared we did for all intents and purposes. I don’t know if the fundamentals shifted for her or if she never had them to begin with. Regardless, once the shift happens, a yoke quickly becomes a ball and chain. The only option she had was to cut and run.
That night Alan Cummings played the bisexual, Jewish Emcee in Cabaret. He’s hilarious, dark, and twisted. At the end of the musical the Nazis take over and he’s shipped off to a concentration camp. A rather dour backdrop for a dour night, but knowing you’re alive and not under threat of imminent doom sure makes you count your blessings.