Every morning, I go two miles out of my way to drive by my husband’s new house. I tell myself I do this because seeing his yellow Chevy truck calms me down—negates the morning’s tank of coffee. Truthfully, though, I drive by the house to check in with the meter that measures my degree of regret. To check the level of sap in my spine.
The safest days begin with a scan for the piles mounded in the driveway. I am at my most pragmatic when considering the physical evidence of our dissolution. There, next to the mouth of the carport, is the rotting worm bin. Next to that, four large hunks of basalt. Old-growth lumber, still studded with nails, stretches the length of the yard. My husband has an eye for the raw, worn, and semi-functional items of the previous century.
This reverence for treasure falls under the category, “things one appreciates about one’s spouse from a distance.”
But the days when my vision won’t take in the full picture out the broad curve of my minivan window, when I can’t get past that old Chevy—or the lack of the Chevy there in the drive—those are the days. The worrisome days. The days I’m likely to come home and notice the one copper salmon on the wall, instead of the two that were given us as a wedding present.
This is a long-time-in-the-making separation. A crock-pot split up. We tried, a few years back, to do this: live cleaved lives. It didn’t work. We weren’t ready. But every day since, we’ve forged incrementally into aloneness.
It is a dance we’re perfecting. We sidestep, dip, come apart, tango and bow to the partners that we’ve never been able to be for one another. And in this dance, we fever. We sweat. We lay limp, and contained. Last night, for instance. Last night I craved coffee ice cream. The Safeway just steps from my husband’s house. Call? Ring the doorbell? There was no bell, so I knocked. His roommate answered with the shock of seeing the person you were just talking about. Or maybe I’m paranoid.
Ordinary separated spouses would be annoyed by the intrusion. My husband smiled with genuine happy surprise. He opened his arms to me. He wanted, I think, for me to sit on his lap. The roommate scuttled upstairs to his section of the house.
My husband’s new bedroom is a replica of the one he had when we were dating: his Goodwill As Is lamp with the amethyst base teeters on his pile of Fine Homebuildings. The other lamp, the one with gilded cherry foliage snaking up to the light, that one sits on the desk he made in community college. I can tell you which drawer knobs are just screws sticking out, which drawer holds his bag of weed, which contains the love letter I wrote him after our first significant date.
The blanket on his bed is new. The new thing jumps around in my stomach. Good? Bad? Don’t know. And there’s that other salmon, propped above the window trim.
“Show me the kitchen,” I say.
A safe place, the kitchen, because it showcases more of his roommate’s stuff than his. He steps ahead of me, into the yellow and green space, and he lifts a yard sale find from the counter: a glass Chemex coffee urn.
“And look.” He shows me a fresh box of vintage cone filters that reek of river-killing by-products. The address on the box is listed as Pittsfield, MA.
It’s the weirdest thing, seeing that city printed on an item in my husband’s house, “I lived there as a kid.”
The things about me my husband of nine years doesn’t know. And the things he thinks he does. And the things he really does. It’s complicated, this dance. Especially in moments such as these: small movements into uncharted waters. Filters, blankets, history, future.
We have run out of things for him to show me this evening, so we’ll either make out on the couch like dry-humping teen-agers, or we’ll start an argument. I look at my watch-free wrist, “Guess I’ll go get that ice cream.”
In his voice is his own measure of regret. “These things are not marriage-busters.”
But he’s not really speaking to me. That’s the thing that’s different this time. We are putting asunder, just like that caution in the vows. Each of us finding in ourselves, a willing partner.
Suzy Vitello’s work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Plazm, Tarpaulin Sky, various anthologies and other literary journals. Her latest publication is a story in the CITY OF WEIRD anthology by Forest Avenue Press. Suzy has been a prize-winner in The Atlantic Monthly Student Fiction Contest, as well as a recipient of an Oregon Literary Arts grant. She holds an MFA from Antioch, Los Angeles, and lives in Portland, Oregon. Her young adult novels include THE MOMENT BEFORE (a Jr. Library Guild pick), THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES, and THE KEEPSAKE. She recently won The Southampton Review's Frank McCourt Memoir Prize for her essay, "Delivering."