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The Online Other Woman: Chapter Two: A Bad Date with Dylan

The crack-up came in layers for us. Our marriage was over, but over was like an onion. It would have to be peeled away layer by layer. The first layer was lost the day Dan told me he was leaving. The next layer came a few days later when he took me to a Dylan concert.  I had always loved Bob Dylan but had never seen him in person. We had purchased the tickets months earlier for quite a bit of money and invited friends to join us. One of the questions I managed to ask the night Dan left was “What about the Dylan concert?” He had said he didn’t know, but maybe we would go since we had the tickets. Well, go we went.
On the day of the concert which was three days after what I came to call the crack-up, Dan phoned and said he’d be by in few hours to pick me up. I got ready wondering what the night would bring. A reconciliation even crossed my mind. He arrived, said I looked nice, and we left to pick up our friends, Mark and Maria. As difficult as this night would prove to be, it did serve the purpose of giving me more information. He told me he had stopped loving me some time back. I knew intimacy had been at a minimum, but thought it might be due to performance problems on his part.  There had been some of that during some encounters.

Then he was talking about his new life and said he had been playing his freenotes. The freenotes were a set of handmade instruments somewhat like chimes that are played with mallets. I was shocked!  “Your freenotes!” I exclaimed. “Terry Lee, my old friend from when I was fourteen years old, made those for me.” He said he thought he should have them because he is a musician. I said, “But didn’t you want to at least ask me first?” It was very troubling.

We picked up our friends Mark and Maria and went on to the concert which was at a large open air amphitheater. Once we survived the crazy-slow scanning process of computer-printed tickets and found our seats, Dan, for the most part, ignored me. He talked to Mark some, at one point he clipped his fingernails with the parings falling on the ground between his feet, but most of the time he was on his iPhone.

For over a year now, Dan had been what I thought of as addicted to his iPhone.  He took it with him for his first trip to the bathroom in the morning, and the end of every night would find him lying for hours in his recliner with the TV on but with his eyes on his IPhone. His attachment had become so complete that I had stopped coming in to kiss him goodnight when I went to bed because he acted as if it was such an interruption. I’m not sure it ever actually happened, but I think I have a memory of him shifting his lips to one side to give me a kiss while his eyes shifted the other way still fixed on the IScreen. His all-enthralling activity on his iPhone was Instragram. He spent spare time out taking pictures with the iPhone, then evenings were devoted to editing them, putting them up on Instagram, monitoring how many “likes” they got, and, I suppose, “liking” the pictures of others.

As we sat waiting for the show, we did have one conversation. During an IPhone lull, I noticed he was not wearing his wedding ring. I reached over and gently touched his finger where the ring used to be.  He said, “I don’t want to be married.”

Slowly in a questioning voice, I said, “Well, that means we have to get divorced.”  This was the first time that thought had occurred to me. It fell like bad blow to chest.  I had trouble breathing. I listened as he explained all about how the guys at work had told him the way to get a quickie divorce on the cheap with no lawyer. You do it yourself, etc. I just stared at him. What could I say?

One of the bands who opened for Dylan was Wilco. Mark, who is a great musician and a drummer, liked them.  During one song, I noticed the drummer entered an amazing passage. It was as if the drums were telling a story, and then they were telling another story, and then they were weaving in and out between the two stories, and telling more and more. When I first noticed this, I looked at Mark and said, “That’s some drumming!” He laughed, said yes, and we both stood, feeling the high that the virtuoso who held the sticks was delivering.  After the set, Dan began a critique that went on and on about how he hated that band. Even after Mark said he liked them and tried to explain what he thought they had, Dan kept up the harangue. It was to the point of rudeness.

While the next band was playing, Dan completely ignored me and was texting constantly on his iPhone. I could no longer sit there. I had to get away, and after walking rather blindly for a while, I thought maybe I’d get some food just for something to do. While I was wandering around deciding what to have, Mark came and found me. He wanted to say how sorry he was for how Dan was acting, how crazy he thought it all was, and how bad he felt that he had agreed to come to our house the next day to help Dan move the furniture he was taking to his new apartment. I was sad already, but this kindness really threatened to turn on the waterworks. Trying with limited success to hold back the tears, I told Mark that I appreciated what he said and that I understood. I knew that he was being put in a very awkward position and did not hold anything against him. He was Dan’s friend, and Dan needed his friends even if he didn’t deserve them after what he was doing. We stood there looking at each other in a gorgeous golden light that was coming from the setting sun. Then he went back to the seats, and I went on to buy food that I would not end up eating.

When Bob Dylan came on, even Dan paid attention. I loved seeing Dylan, though that night his old voice was all but gone. But he’s still a great musician, playing the harmonica, the guitar, and the piano which he plays while standing. His band was very tight.  They played some favorites that went with my mood: “Things Have Changed,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” and “All Along the Watchtower.” Yes, there was too much confusion, and I was not going to get any relief.

One strange, positive moment found its way through this otherwise bad date with Dan and Dylan. After Dan had told me that he had stopped loving me, I remembered a  line from “The Man Who Got Away” where Judy Garland sings, “suddenly you’re older.” I sure felt old and alone there at that concert that night with its audience of attractive, mostly younger people. But then toward the end of the evening, I was at the sink in the restroom touching up my lipstick.  After I blot my lips with a tissue, I touch them with the powder puff from my compact to set the color and tone it down a bit.  A young woman was standing beside me watching this process, and she said to me out of the blue and with great emphasis “I like your dress.” I smiled at her kind compliment and said I liked her dress, too.  “It looks very pretty on you.”

As I was walking out of the restroom with a year or two shaved off my low self esteem, I wondered if I had been “touched by an angel.” The girl who had spoken to me certainly had an angelic look; she was exceedingly lovely with blue eyes, long wavy blond hair, and a beautiful smile. AND she was wearing an orange dress. This may not have significance to you, but because of certain dreams I had after my father died and  stories others have told me that had to do with the afterlife, I have come to associate the color orange with Heaven or wherever les enfants du paradis reside. Later, I even wondered if Mark really came to me there in that crowd of kids who were all looking for a good time while I was trying to out walk my breaking heart.  Might that have been another angel or a visitation of some kind?  Thinking back on our conversation, I remembered that strange, golden orange light. But no, though what he said held out some sweet salvation to me, it was done, not by an angel, but by a really strong and kind man.

Back at home after the concert, I sat for a time and suffered.  It was as simple as that.  There is no other way to describe it.  Pure pain held me paralyzed.  When finally I went to bed, sleep did not come easily nor did it last long.  I had begun to get a migraine at the concert; once I woke, it was coming on strong, heating my forehead with a terrible pressure. I decided to take an Imatrex which I hated to do because they always made me feel so strange and sick. But I thought, there is so much that I am coping with now, it would be nice if a migraine wasn’t added to the burden. I made hot chocolate and nibbled a piece of toast. In a while, I went to lie down again hoping, praying for a better tomorrow.

 

 

Email from El: Other Plans

How many stories like yours are out there? I ran into one yesterday. Parker Int’l is the manager of the shopping center where my store is at present. Because we are vacating, they sent a “new” woman out to walk through the site. We got to talking and I found out she was 3 months new with the company. Her husband, now-ex, is a lawyer, married 22 years with 3 children. She ran his office until he walked in one day and said he had “other plans.” I asked her how he met the “other plans” and she said Craigslist. Is it just too easy to hook up with someone via the internet? There is no resistance; it’s so sterile, until lives are damaged forever.

But like Dan, this guy has a no look back attitude. What does that say to the children? I am so glad to hear that Max has some help available in the short term (I had arranged for Max to see a counselor.). It’s so hard for guys to talk about their feelings anyway, unless they are testosterone-laden for a girl, and there’s a great word for that kind of talk. I couldn’t help but think of you and how many other women out there who have Internet-ex husbands. May their phones fail!!!   Love, El

The Online Other Woman: Chapter One: On the Table

People tell each other things at the dinner table, don’t they? Here’s what my husband Dan told me one night. But first, the dinner was my

Broiled Salmon.

            Marinate filets of salmon with drizzles of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Broil close to the heat until caramelized but not blackened. Midway through the broil, top with more soy sauce and oil.
This dish is delicious with my lightly cooked, long-stemmed asparagus and steamed brown rice. I would tell how these are done, but this is a story about a crack-up; cooking is just a sub-plot.

Our son Max and I were sitting at the table eating. Dan was not home from work yet. His hours were always sporadic, so we never waited. Strangely often, however, once we would begin to eat, we’d see his lights swing into the driveway. Did he have perfect timing, or did we? Either way, our time was about to end. My husband knew this, but our son and I did not.

Dan, the man I had lived with and loved for 30 years, sat across from me at the table.  He had his salmon dinner that I had cooked for him and began to eat. Max finished and left the table. I chatted and ate a bit more. Then…, here’s where memory fails. The mechanics of hearing, comprehending, and making meaning and memory are obstructed once the heart accelerates and drives a pulse of panic through the body and a vibration begins to roar through the nerves. The sounds within out spoke the sounds without. Once my husband’s words were on the table, we no longer ate the food.

If you could have seen me, I think I would have appeared to be sitting still. The body is such a protective case for the beating heart, is it not? The desperate contractions and ins and outs of the heart, the blood racing through its tunnels in the body, the lungs gulping air—so much fear and life and movement within, while the skin sits still. Even the eyes hold firm, staring at this fate that is all around and must be met.

What I carried away was this: he was leaving me. In fact, he had already left.  The previous night, he had called and said he was staying at the studio where his band rehearsed. I knew enough about men in bands to know that no one spends the night in the rehearsal space unless they are dead drunk or need a love shack. At the time, though, some background music smothered my suspicions. OK, I told myself. He really is at the rehearsal space, which is near his work and our home is not. But, here’s truth: never second guess yourself. You are always right the first time.

So began or so continued his pattern of lies. Dan had called from the rehearsal space, but he slept in a secret apartment he had rented a week or two earlier.

The salmon dinner was on my third night back from visiting my sister in Memphis. While I was gone, it turned out he had been calling Max to say he wasn’t coming home because he was staying with his friend Royston in the city to avoid the commute. Later Max told me that after a few of these calls, he began to wonder if there was something up between Royston and his dad!

What reason was I given for this sudden change, for the end of our extended story together? Dan told me wanted to be free. He said, “Call it a mid-life crisis.” His apartment was small, an efficiency.  He mentioned the street.

I said, “Yeah, I know it well.  I owned a two-story house built in 1913 just a few blocks from there.” Dan knew this was a strange truth, but he was on a trajectory that would need to be untroubled by many strange truths.  He would need to be untroubled by how our son reacted when he was called in and told.  Max was like me, calm on the outside, but on the inside he was probably pulsing and racing and reaching for understanding.

Max stood so very still and silent that, finally, his dad asked, “So what do you think?”

Max answered, “I don’t know what to think, but you can’t take the cats. Miles and Luna stay here!”  He was 21 years old, a college student, and a man, but a young man.  When the loss of family first threatened his life, he thought of his pets. What was to be their fate in the chaos of the crack-up? He was a young man, but a man nonetheless, and he showed it in that moment. A real man protects what he loves and is unfailing in his commitment.

What else about the crack-up conversation? I don’t remember. It was brief. Soon Dan was in the bathroom gathering up what he wanted that he had not already taken to his apartment. I saw him in the kitchen and then at the table. He put the rest of his salmon dinner in a Tupperware container. In a few minutes, the headlights that we had so recently seen pulling into the driveway, pulled out again. He was gone. He was gone.  Three little words. Three huge words in terms of all the change they foretold.

I met Max in our hallway. He was taking a picture of his dad down from the wall.  I said, “Oh, please. I’m not ready to just erase him so soon.” He put the picture back up.  I would take it down myself at three in the morning a month later in a ritualized state of craziness.

A week after the crack-up, I went to stay with my dear friend Lucia. She was rescuing me as she had once before long ago when that 1913 house of mine had almost burnt to the ground. This time, here’s how she rescued me: “Tupperware.  TUPPERWARE!!!” she shouted with scorn and some sad humor.  “No man should get to leave his wife AND take his dinner away in Tupperware!!!” I cried and I laughed.

She was right. The night of the crack-up, I sat there drowning in all the noise inside my head and my heart. No noise came out of my mouth. No shouts. No recriminations. I think when Dan asked for a break-up hug, I even hugged him and said goodbye, as if this were a normal parting instead of the sudden, completely unexpected end of thirty years of our lives together.

I did find my voice a few minutes later in the hall with Max. After he put the picture of his dad back in its place, I finally spoke the sentence, the question, which had been rising in me since my husband first looked across the table and partially revealed his secret. “All I could think of, Max, the whole time he was breaking up with me was What Is Her Name? What Is Her Name?”