Tag Archives: marriage

The Online Other Woman: Chapter 12, The Dreadful

Through the twisted danger of memory fades a day from long, long ago. It was a lovely day, sunny, with only a slight chill in the air, unusual for February in New York City. Dan and I rode with four friends on the Avenue B bus downtown to the municipal building where a grey haired judge with kind eyes asked some questions and said some words. I wore a purple velvet suit that I had sewn myself and carried a few lavender roses. Dan looked dashing in a black vintage suit. After the ceremony, we walked with our friends across a park to the old City Hall where Lincoln had lain in state in the sad spring of 1865. One of our friends took a photograph of Dan and me in our wedding attire that day. We were standing in one of the grand rooms under an ancient oil painting; we were looking out at an uncertain future. Hope, history, loss, beauty, betrayal, and terrible mistakes turn the tides of memory and all that was or never was is gone forever.

Some memories, though, are seared into the flesh and may never take their leave. Such was the moment that night at the Dylan concert when I noticed that Dan was not wearing his wedding ring. I did not speak. I only reached out and touched the bare skin of his finger. All he said to me was “I don’t want to be married.”

So soon! So coldly soon. Dan had told me nothing of his feelings until two days prior, but now, already now, so soon after his first announcement at the dinner table, here was the realization as to where all this must inevitably lead. I managed to ask, “But we’d have to get divorced?” A dizzy swirl of fear fell on me as I looked to him for confirmation but hoped for denial.

He said, “Yes, we’d have to get divorced,” and he began to tell me about cheapie, easy, do-it-yourself divorces that his buddies at work knew all about.

I sat beside Dan in the stadium seats of the concert pavilion, the arm rest between us, and over this I stared. I stared at what he was saying and that he could say it.

Divorce. The word ran through my veins, through my nerves. Divorce. I had always had a horror of divorce. It was one of the reasons I waited so late in my life to marry. Divorces were so dreadful.

When I was very young, my first job was working at a bank in downtown Memphis. I worked with thirty or forty other women. We took breaks together, and over the course of the three years I was there, I heard enough divorce sagas to put the fear of marriage into anyone: he cheated on me, he stole my kids from the babysitter and went off to Arkansas with them, he put his hands on somebody at his job and he’s in jail now. So many horror stories! I came to view marriage as a high-risk experiment with the odds heavily in favor of disaster to be followed by the doom of divorce and the deadly warfare that seemed to rage all around it.

It took my own marriage years to get there, but finally I was there, right where I had always dreaded to be. I did not want to call its name, so I just called it The Dreadful.

During the back and forth emails when we were working with the settlement papers, Dan had said he wanted to be present at our court date, but when the dread day did arrive, he said he would be working. A girlfriend said she would go with me because she remembered her own divorce and how it had helped her to have a friend waiting when she walked out of the court room. But when the date arrived, she said she couldn’t go because she had to babysit her grandchild. I considered asking Max to go with me, but quickly put that aside. A child does not attend the divorce of his parents.

I would have to go alone. Like Woody singing the old gospel song, there was a lonesome valley up ahead for me, and I’d have to walk it by myself.

The Dreadful was scheduled for a day in early October, a month that is usually gloriously warm and beautiful in the South. It was the best month of the season that had been my father’s favorite and mine. He used to say he loved the fall of the year because the weather was mild with very little wind unlike spring when, though the weather is nice, it is often windy.

Now my favorite month of the year would be forever tainted. And, strangely, this October, coming as it did during the season of the Crack-up, did not follow the usual autumn weather pattern. The whole week and especially the day of The Dreadful were grey and rainy and dark. There was a hopeless bitter wind blowing and the sun was gone forever.

The time I had been given was 9 AM. I had worried that I might oversleep because I was taking several prescriptions at the time, but I did not sleep at all, so waking up was not a problem. Driving was. Driving with a blur before my eyes, my chest compressing my heart that was breaking, and beating, and breaking like a lost cause.

I was so alone walking the sidewalk, the cold stone that led the lonely to the columns and the walls and halls of the county court house. I had no idea what to do. Courtroom B, I think I had been told. I went in, hesitated, and then sat to the side in the back on a very cold bench. Nervously, I wondered, where is the lawyer? Does she find me, or am I supposed to find her? Up front the judge was questioning a man and then granting him a divorce. Next there was a woman. She had two friends with her.

Finally, my lawyer came and spoke to me. A few minutes later, I was the one standing up front being questioned by the judge and being granted a divorce. It was not until I was downstairs in the clerk’s office that I broke down. The room went dark; I gripped the counter to keep from falling. My lawyer tried to comfort me, but I just wanted her to hurry up the filing process so I could go, so I could get out on that lonesome road and run and keep on running.

Finally, it was over and I was home. I felt so destroyed, so driven down to nothing that the only thing to do was go to bed. When I woke up, I remembered that Maria and Mark and several other close friends had planned a little dinner for me at a restaurant in Decatur. I began to get ready. The rain and dreary weather continued making for a dark afternoon.

Max came home from school and stepped back into my bedroom to check on me. I turned when he walked in; I was still weak and weepy. He looked at me without talking for a minute, and then said, “How are you?” I said, “I’m sad, so sad, but I’m going to be OK.” He reached out his arms, so very kind, I walked toward him, and we embraced. It was then that I noticed my son is now grown so tall that he can put his chin on the top of my head when we hug.

I told him that I loved him. He said, “I love you, Mom. I’m sorry this had to happen to you.” It was very sweet of Max, very generous, and very brave, because, of course, the loss, the sudden loss of love and of our old life had happened to him, too.

The dinner out on the rainy night with friends was darkly, somberly pleasant. Everyone wore their sweetest smile, their deepest hope that I would last through my sorrow. It was reassuring. It did help to spend the evening with people I had known and loved for so long. Although the lonesome road lay up ahead and was not to be avoided, although I was sinking lower as the unfamiliar aloneness of divorce crept nearer and nearer all around me, at least for this first post-Dreadful night, I would raise a glass to dear friends, and I would blink so no one could see the tears.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Ten, Details of Decay

Crack-up nights were brutal, such as should not be retold. Mornings offered more promise. With the Sun and the day’s tasks to be done, there was a momentum to morning. Max made a pot of strong coffee each day that was my salvation. Once August came and I was back at my teaching job, breakfast had to be quick and simple. Sometimes, though, on the weekend, I’d prepare something special like my

Spinach Omelet

Slice a medium Vidalia or other sweet onion into slivers and sauté it in a little olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet. When the onion begins to be translucent, add handfuls of fresh spinach. Sauté spinach just until it wilts. Meanwhile in a bowl beat three to four eggs vigorously with a fork and add grated feta or white cheddar cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the sautéed onion and spinach and cook. Once the egg begins to set, stir the center. Then lift the sides of the eggs and tilt the skillet so that the raw egg comes in contact with the skillet. Add salt and cracked pepper. Once the eggs are set, fold one half over the over. Cut into half to serve two. This is delicious with sliced tomatoes from the garden.

It was so much more difficult to cope with my shock and grief once I was back at school. I told only three of my closest friends there what Dan had done. For all the rest, especially, the students, I had to keep up a brave front and show nothing. The strain was extreme.

Some of my worst worry centered around the need to secure my home from the fallout associated with Dan’s dissertation. Although it was difficult to face strangers with my story, I had no choice. I had to visit bankers and lawyers. I had to seek advice. The lawyers and bankers who I saw did not know Dan, so what they had to say was not based on any knowledge of what he personally would do. Still all of these professionals were unanimous in what he could do, and I felt that they had seen could shift to would enough times that to ignore their experienced advice would be foolhardy.

I did not even have to go into much detail. I had them on my first sentence: “My husband is having an affair with a woman he met online who lives on the dole in Australia.” That would be enough to immediately launch them into warnings on the legal binds of marriage, the liabilities of mutually-held properties, how I could be held  responsible for Dan’s debts, he could borrow more than he already had on the house, and if he went to Australia, I would have to pay or lose the house.

Dan has since shown anger that I or our friends who gave the same warnings as the lawyers and bankers, that any of us could have doubted or suspected him. He thinks he should have been trusted based on his “track record.” But he is talking about a record of honesty from before he met the Instagirl. Once he met her, he began a pattern of lying, deception, and disregard for the feelings of others that made it difficult to put anything past him. Trust in him had been broken irrevocably for me and for Max. In fact it was Max who was the first one to say “Get a lawyer” once he learned of his dad’s deception.

Obviously, I could not share ownership of my home with a person capable of deliberate dishonesty and cruel treatment to those who had loved him, still less could I remain married to him. The lawyer I had hired, Ms. Madison, was in the process of drawing up the dreadful divorce papers. I would sign. Dan would sign. A court date would be set, and our marriage would be officially over in the way it had been spiritually over from the minute Dan took up with his online other woman.

But the house? How to handle that? First of all, Dan and I needed some kind of agreement on a price if I was to buy him out. I had paid cash for my half of the house when we had first bought it 20 years earlier. Dan mortgaged his half and then borrowed more on that to pay off credit card debts. How much would he need to settle these loans? How much would he want in order to sell?

The next time Dan was scheduled to visit so we could go over separating the cars titles, insurance, utilities, etc, I brought up my buying him out on the house. I gave him a figure based on the county tax assessor’s valuation and the selling price of a house on the next street. He said he would feel “screwed” by that price. This flew all over me! Did Dan really get to feel screwed by anything after his sudden backstab to me and Max?

A few days later, I called a realtor from the neighborhood who came by and gave me an unofficial, but informed estimate for the value of our home. It was more than the amount that I had quoted Dan; in fact, it was more than we had paid for the house.

I had worked as a teacher for years and had been frugal. Unlike Dan, I had no debt. I had savings, yes, but that was for my retirement and to help Max finish college. My hard-earned savings were not enough to pay Dan half of the appraised value of the house. I brooded over the problem, but my heartbroken head could not think clearly. I was so alone.

Finally, Saturday came and there was time for coffee, a spinach omelet with Max, and time to get outside for a little yard work which always served to clear my mind. I thought, “Ok, I want to buy Dan out on the house, but what price? I should not have to hand him the top dollar, open market price. A sale on the open market would involve realty fees, closing costs, upgrades, and repairs.” But it was difficult to come up with a number that allowed for all those costs.

Then I had what I thought of as an epiphany. What about paying him half of the original selling price? I thought I could stretch my savings to meet this price. Doing so would seriously impoverish Max and me, but we would have a home, we would not end up on the street. With this deal, Dan would not make money, but he would not lose, and he would be getting all I had. If he wanted more, we would have to list the house on the open market. The downside of that though, he would have to continue to pay his mortgage until the house sold which would eat into any potential profit. If he took my buyout offer, he could have money right away.

I sent Dan an email with my offer to pay him half of the original selling price. I had learned that this would be enough to pay off the balance of his mortgage, his credit card debt, and he would still have $12,000 left over to spend on the Instagirl. In order to be fair, I did offer an alternative. If he did not like my offer, we could list the house and take our chances on the open market.

Knowing the hassles and delays of selling real estate, I had a feeling Dan would accept my offer and its promise of ready cash over the uncertainty of an outside sale. He kept me waiting in suspense for a few days, but finally I heard back from him. He would accept my buyout offer.

Although I was relieved to have an agreement on the house, I had never wanted any of this. When I paid my half of the house twenty years earlier, I had thought I was done; I had a home. Now, I was, in a sense, being forced to buy it again. The process was painful, involving fees for early withdrawal of my savings, endless phone calls, so much paperwork and running around to banks to gather the funds for the sale. I was falling apart. I was losing sleep. l was losing weight. My hair was falling out. I was trying to do my best at my job, but the effort, the effort was ….

I am trying to relay the details of decay: our marriage, our family, our home as it had been, and even the money from my life’s work, all lost, all over, all gone. I try to tell the story, but like Flaubert, I find my words are hollow beats on a cracked and broken drum when I wish they were a song that would melt the stars.

Don’t Keep Score When Music Is Losing from Crack-up Poems, Crack-up Songs

—dedicated to Dan and to his best friend

We’ll talk now of what he was.

It may serve as antidote and sedative,

As palliative to what he has become.

There once was a man who wanted

To be different, to be new, to be himself,

Influenced, of course, by the past,

The present, and the future,

But not owned by and certainly not

Speaking for any of them, speaking for himself.

 

He was to be his own new man

A work of his own art,

And that art really did not need to entertain

Or be accepted. Of course, if it were,

That would be amazing, dazzling, fitting,

But that was never the great thing.

It was as if he were a scholar

Whose job it was to quietly, steadily,

In a large way or a small one, to

Quietly, steadily, and quite seriously,

With enormous intention,

And yet no thought at all,

Absorb though exposure

Strange and random images,

Music, noise, sounds, thoughts,

Poetry, dangers, bliss—

Drink all the transporting tea of this

And then to breathe it in the heart

Of this new self that was himself

Influenced, of course, as we have said

By the past, by the press of all,

But not owned by any of it.

He would make a sound, a song, a music

That would speak a simple or

Complicated truth, or joke, or twist of fate.

A 12 or 13 philosophy—his own yen yang,

Surrealistic hog calling if that would

Bring I into B-B-B-B–Being,

Tell of Lake Tear of the Clouds,

And a spear through the ambient veil,

Or, now here’s where it gets personal,

About a call to a woman in the night,

A test of love she passed driving

Backwards down Spring Street waving.

It would involve chance elements.

The statement would be open to interpretation.

The participation of the listener and the viewer

Would play a part.

That’s how new it was meant to be.

 

This art, his sound, his music

Would exist and live in the air

Around the listener, but

Freedom, real freedom,

Not a catch phase version,

A real freedom searched for and found

Would fly in the space

Where his song was being born.

 

I’d like to end this story there

On that high and positive note.

I will resist Morrison’s deathless dirge,

And only say that what we have talked about

For these past few minutes went away.

He went away. Everything went away.

Not just the music, but the place

That he was so close to creating.

It is floating now, unformed,

In that still, chill oxygen

That fuels the dreams

That dwindle

Down at

Dawn.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight: The Online Other Woman: The Instagirl

El had it right: no man leaves his wife and home in order to alone. Garbo wanted to be alone, married men do not. Though Dan had denied it and pretended it wasn’t true, there was, of course, another woman all along, someone he had met online as Jules had said.  With Dan so constantly absorbed in Instagram, I knew that was the starting place if I was to trace the paper trail of his betrayal.

A new character was about to enter the stage of my existence. I was soon to learn the identity of the woman who had been responsible for the great shift in my life.  As with many significant dramatic entrances, the elements aligned with ironic timing. The date on which Dan asked for my casserole recipe was July 27; this was the exact one-month anniversary of his Crack-up Confession on June 27 when he drove away and left me and Max behind forever. And now exactly one month later he had sent this text, this fateful casserole request that would lead to my finally uncovering the truth that he had been keeping from us for so long, the truth that caused him to leave us, the truth about his other woman.

Robbed, murdered of my sleep by Dan’s text and the disregard for me he showed by making the request, I had lain awake contemplating my predicament, alone and adrift with my plans and finances thrown into a state of chaos and a college-age son to finish raising. Whereas Dan was, according to what he had told me, living a free and happy life in the city where everything and everyone was very cool and inspired. He did not miss his life with us at all. Added to that as I knew through Jules, Dan was eagerly expecting the arrival from Australia of the online other woman.

The uneven balance of my lost soul and Dan’s happiness drove me into anger, finally, at least for this one night. In my lonely, late-at-night house, I left my bed and went to the computer, to the computer, of course, finally ready to use it as I could have any night this past month but had not, finally ready to see for myself what Dan had been up to with this online other woman.

I sat down and typed google.com

I then typed Instagram and V4 Vision which was the name of Dan’s avatar. A number of links showed up in a list. I chose the one that seemed the most likely, and it led to Dan’s gallery on Instagram. I recognized his work immediately, his colorful, abstract washes, the pieces and lines of color and no color. I saw the knowingly pretentious titles he gave his photos, rich in modifiers and foreign languages.

I knew his pictures received lots of likes and also some comments. The previous year he spent the evenings on his Iphone while I was in the kitchen cooking dinner or washing up. He would tell me about the comments he received and that he wrote back and forth with some of the commenters to the point that they became friends.

There was one called soulwindow who was from Vancouver, there was a guy in Italy who had access to much photogenic Renaissance architectural art, and a woman from Australia, Dox Dart Nellie, who was known for the profanity of her comments. I realized that his “special” woman friend would not be any of these. She would not be someone whose name he ever mentioned to us. No. This one would have been kept a secret from us.

Looking at the comments under his photos, I ruled out the ones that seemed to be made by men, and clicked on the ones that seemed to be women. I looked to see if he had posted comments to their pictures. Very soon one woman began to stand out as posting lavish praise to all of his pictures: “Brilliant,” “ gorgeous” (with seven r’s), “Killah.” His comments to her pictures were equally extravagant in their praise: “Awesomely C oooo l,” “Sweeeet! Love the tasteful edit,” “Exquisite,” and even just the one lone, eloquent word “Love.”

Most of the people male or female who commented on Dan’s pictures used for their avatar picture one of their photos, but this woman used a black and white head shot of herself. Jules has told me that Dan’s girlfriend was 42. The age looked right for this woman in the photo; she was a brunette with her hair styled like Farah Fawcett’s popular 70s do. Her Instagram name was Tundra. From comments to her it seemed that was her last name and Tammie was her first name. So there it was. I had told Max the night of the Crack-up that the whole time the question had been going through my mind: What is her name? Now I knew. Tammie Tundra.

For confirmation as a scrolled down through all Dan’s pictures, I found one that showed two different pictures of a rainbow that had been put together to make one complete rainbow. One picture seemed to have been taken by Tundra in Australia, and to it Dan had pasted a picture he had taken of a rainbow. He joined the two pictures in such a way that the two rainbows merged and his completed hers. It was an interesting effect and well done. He gave it the title, “Your Rainbow Song,” and I saw that only minutes after he had posted it, Tundra had commented with “Love” and ten pink hearts.  Noting the date, I saw that this had been done back in May while I was still hard at work completing my school year of teaching, knowing nothing of what was to come.

Their overuse of “sweet,” “cool,” “awesome,” heart symbols, and extra letters such as o’s and r’s in the spelling of their comments reminded me of notes I had taken up from my middle school students. The sentiments seemed equally like those of a teenage crush. They were, after all at this point, only pen pals or picture pals, you could say. They had never met in person. Soon they would meet, but as yet their entire romance had been carried out online, and the foundation of the affair, the Instragram part, was available for all to see.

Scrolling down through Tundra’s pictures, I could see that she was a good amateur photographer, not, perhaps as good as Dan, but definitely good. And she was prolific with lots of variety. There were many, many photographs going back for over a year. Her gallery had abstract close-up shots of rusted or paint-dripped surfaces similar to Dan’s, but she also depicted delicate nature images and even occasionally pictures of herself, her home, her son.

So she was a real person. When Dan had told his friends about the Instagirl, they had wondered if she might not turn out to be a scam. This was why Jules has first contacted me about her. Everyone has heard so many stories of people meeting someone online, falling for them, and then they turn out to be a man from Nigeria or some other scam artist who is not what they seem and is out for money or whatever they can get. This woman could turn out to be out for money, but from seeing her presence and her body of work on Instagram, I did have confirmation that she was a real person who took real photographs.

The pictures and the posts between Dan and the Instagirl dated back into the winter, our long, last winter together when Dan had had so little time for me and so much time for his Iphone. I now knew why. I now knew why he had had so little to say to me or Max for so long, no words of love, support, or praise. All of that had been going to the Instagirl. She was the obvious object of all that he had failed to give to me or Max. No wonder he had been so quick to anger, so quick to lash at us with unkind words. We had become nothing more than obstacles in his way, impediments to making his Instadreams come true.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Six: Get a Lawyer!

“Get a lawyer!” Those were the first words out of Max’s mouth when I told him that his father had an online girlfriend living in Australia with a son and a sick father. It turns out that his generation is even more suspicious of online affairs than is mine. Jules had warned me to protect my money, but Max seemed to think the risk could run even deeper and should be dealt with right away.

“Oh, Max, I don’t know if I can do that! I don’t know if I have the strength right now. I am so nervous and shaky. I’m not sleeping. I break down and cry all the time. Right now I’m on summer break, but soon I have to go back to my job at the school. I think I should wait until I’m stronger.”

“No, Mom, you can’t wait. This is horrible for you. You are depressed, nervous. This can’t go on. It needs to be resolved, so you can really start to rebuild. Get a lawyer!”

Max was right about my state of extreme anxiety. Aside from the heartbreak of losing the man I loved, our marriage, and our family, I feared what the change would mean for my home, for my finances, for my future. Max was not even halfway through college; I feared for his future. Our home was my chief concern. Even a crazy crack-up chick like me needs a roof over her head. The night Dan left me, he said he would continue to pay the mortgage and help with upkeep on our home. I remember wondering at the time if that would really work. Dan made his money with freelance construction jobs: sometimes it was boom, but sometimes it was bust. Would he really be able to afford his apartment in Atlanta and pay his half on the home expenses for Max and me?

Now that I had confirmation of another woman, I immediately saw that the financial side of the crack-up was extremely serious. My fears ran like this: even if Dan means well now, he would have a hard time paying for his apartment and his half of our home for Max and me especially during lean times with his work, and more especially when a girlfriend was added to the mix.  What’s more, this was not some lady from the successful side of Atlanta, but a woman who lived in faraway Australia, and, as more information was forthcoming, we learned that she was a single mother who lived on the dole. Even if she was not a scam artist as Jules and other friends feared, she began to sound very expensive.

The status of our home was this: When we bought the house 20 years ago, I paid cash for my half. I had the money because before I even knew Dan, I had worked as a waitron at a downtown hotel for 6 years and saved enough money to buy a huge house on North Highland which I sold two years later for twice what I paid for it. A couple of years later, after the demise of TV Dinner, Dan and I moved to New York City, and I bought a condo on the Lower East Side with my Atlanta house money and a small loan from Ransom Paid. After living in New York for ten years, we had Max and the New York apartment was too small. I sold it and once again doubled my money. When we bought our home in a pretty, older, Atlanta lake community, I paid cash for my half of the house. Dan mortgaged his half. Did he qualify for a mortgage in his own right? No. It was the fact that my half of the house was paid for that gave him his mortgage. But to his credit, once he got the mortgage, he paid the monthly bill faithfully for twenty years.

How much was still outstanding on his mortgage? I knew he had taken out a home equity loan last winter to pay off his credit card debt, but did not know how much it was.  Had he paid the most recent mortgage note, and how would I know if he did not?

Suddenly, it was urgent that I visit his bank. We had our own accounts and used different banks. Would his bank even talk to me? I was always the one who kept up with all the family paperwork, so I had mortgage statements showing the loan number. Would that be enough to establish credibility with them? I went the next day to find out.

It was never easy for me to tell my story to all the different people that I had to speak to. Talking about the crack-up brought back so much emotion. That day with the mortgage banker was an especially difficult one, but it was made easier by the kindness and cooperation of the lady who helped me, Mrs. Simmons, a pretty professional with a Jamaican accent. She immediately began pulling up information on her computer and told me that Dan still owed $18,000 on the house mortgage, and that he had paid the most recent payment. His home equity loan had been for $15,000. This shocked me; it was a much bigger sum than I thought he had borrowed. The figure he mentioned to me was $7,000.

Mrs. Simmons and I talked about the Australian affair. I asked how much more Dan could borrow on the house. She said he could borrow up to the value of the house and I would not even know about it. If he were to go to Australia and not pay on the loans, I would have to pay them or lose the house even though my half was paid for and the equity loan was for his personal credit card debt.

All of this was terribly troubling. I knew that Dan had been honest with me in the past and had paid his bills all along, but this was new territory. He had recently been very dishonest to me and he had borrowed more on the house than I had thought. He was interested in a woman who lived on the dole in a faraway county. People can sometimes decide that the ends justify the means when their desires take over. If this woman asked Dan for money or if he needed money to in order to be with her, would he really resist the temptation to use our house as a source? I knew I could never be at peace with that kind of uncertainty. Mrs. Simmons explained the path to safety: once his name was not on the mortgage or the deed, he could no longer borrow on the home. I would have to find a way to buy Dan out.

And, of course, Max was right; a lawyer was the next step. But it was not an easy step because I did not know a lawyer to call. As with many of the challenges that came to me as a result of the crack-up, I looked to family and friends for advice. After a few days of trial and error, I found someone I thought would do, Ms. Madison, who was with firm located near our local county courthouse. By the day of my appointment with her, I was back in school at my job as special education assistant teacher at a middle school. My appointment was in the afternoon after a hectic workday. As I waited to be seen, I tried to calm my nerves, but it was no use. There I was waiting to talk to a lawyer about a divorce. There was no calm to be found.

Once I was with Ms. Madison telling her the details of the crack-up, I went from nervous to breakdown. I tried to hold back the tears, I tried to hold myself together and answer her questions. The tension in my chest made it hard to breath, but somehow I told what I had to tell. She said that as long as I was married to Dan, I could be held responsible for any debts he had. For me to buy him out on the house would keep him from borrowing any more on the house, but only a divorce would protect my assets and keep me from being responsible for his debts.

The Australian affair was a great concern because as Ms. Madison explained if he were to go to Australia before the house or the divorce were finalized, there would be very little I could do at that point. Time was of the essence, she felt. I agreed. Divorce filled me with dread, but now that it had to be, there was no need to draw out the suffering. She explained that an uncontested divorce would be the quickest if Dan and I could come to terms. She would begin to draw up the papers; I could review them and so could Dan. We would sign, she would file with the court, and a date would be set for the divorce.

I left her office sad and shaky. A divorce, a dreadful divorce was to be the next turn of the crack-up screw.   How to endure that? How to negotiate through it with Dan? How to settle with him on the house?

When Dan left me, he said he wanted to be free. I thought of all the steps between now and my freedom from heartbreak and financial jeopardy—so many staggering steps. All Dan had to do was pick up and walk out the door to gain his freedom. I wouldn’t get mine until I had mopped up after him and settled so, so much business. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe what all I have to go through before it will all be Over!

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Three: How to Murder a Marriage

Beginning on the night of the crack-up and on and on from there, insomnia began to haunt my bedside like a suicide note that I might write but that no one would read.  Some nights were hopeless; I could not fall asleep. I would lie at one end of the night and stare down its long hall to the dawn. The length of that empty hall seemed endless when contemplated from the end where I lay with so much confusion churning in me.   Some nights were more casually cursed. I’d finally pass out, but I’d wake a few hours later, feeling the delicious comfort of loose limbs and peace. Then, thoughts of my predicament would creep in. I would try to keep them out. I understood that they would murder my sleep.

The dark mantra of all my sleeplessness was “MacBeth does murder sleep.”  Once he murders Duncan, Macbeth realizes that he has murdered sleep along with his victim, the king. Peaceful slumber was lost to him forever. I know how he felt as he craved a rest that would knit “up the ravell’d sleeve” of worry and despair. I felt that Dan had murdered my sleep along with his murder of our marriage.

How do you murder a marriage? Well, the first stab can come over salmon dinner at the dining room table.  Another blow can fall as the sad eyed lady listens to Dylan croon “She Belongs to Me.” And then there is the Machiavellian process of death through severing and destroying the business that binds.

Dan was scheduled to come by so we could do the paper work separating the cars, insurance, utilities, etc. He was late by two hours. I had been ready forever and was antsy.  When he finally arrived, we sat at the fateful dining room table again. He signed the titles of my car and our son’s car over to me. We called the electrical company and asked them to put the house account in my name rather than my husband’s. We called the gas company and the cable, but they wanted signed paperwork in order to put those accounts into my name. That would require another day with Dan. Our marriage ended the night he told me he was leaving, or maybe earlier, whenever it was that he secretly stopped loving me. But it was becoming apparent there is no sudden death to a marriage. It can be murdered, but the death is one measured in days or months even; never is it anything as brief or as merciful as a backstab to the heart.

A July day in Georgia should be sunny with blue skies blazing overheard. During the summer of my discontent, the skies were gloomy and grey most of the time. Backyard gardeners had difficulty growing tomatoes. Gardens weren’t getting enough sun to prosper; none of us were. Looking back on this grey day in July, I see that our trip to sever the family policies for cars and phones would be the last time that I would ride with Dan in his car. So many car rides had come before: trips to California, back and forth to New York City, to our son’s little league baseball games, so many trips large and small, but this trip would be the last.
We sat in the office of the car insurance agent.  A policy was prepared for me that covered my car and our son’s. Our old policy was put solely in Dan’s name with only his car left on it. As the agent made a call to the home office and prepared the documents to complete our transaction, my husband kept company with his Iphone.  Dan was fortunate to have something so enthralling right ready at hand, while what I had was the view of a grey day though window blinds. But, I did feel at one with that dim and dripping world. I told myself those were tears, tears falling from the trees, like the ones falling from me.

Sure. Right, I hear you. It was rain out there, but you could never have told me that as I watched my life dissolving in the flood. Still, the insurance office was a picnic compared to the ATT store. We took a number and took a seat. Again Dan had his ever-entertaining IPhone. I squirmed for almost an hour at his side watching sales reps talk to customers,  contemplating the gleaming white floor, then the in-house promo signs, and then the people going in and out of the bathroom.

When we finally had our own rep, we accomplished our mission. The family phone contract was severed. My husband was given his own account. I was given an account for our son and me. I was eligible for an upgrade and was given an Iphone of my own for $1.00. I thought, “Well, I’ve now joined the band of captives. Soon no one will ever make eye contact with me again. I’ll be too busy staring at my IPhone like Dan.”

More waiting. As I said, a marriage can be murdered but the process is a cold, slow torture. There is no mercy. There is no grace. In this terrible place, this piece of the killing floor that was dressed up to look like an ATT store, even after our number had been called, and we had a rep working our case, there was still an apparently endless amount of info that he had to type into his tablet and into my new phone, and he came and went, and took a coffee break, for all I know. Finally, it was over. Our phone service was separated or divorced even though Dan and I were neither, not yet.

By the time we got back to our house it was getting dark. Dan wanted to set my IPhone up so I would have apps, not that I would know what to do with them. Also he was going to set me up to receive email on my phone. I thought that that would be useful. As we pulled into the driveway, he mentioned how hungry he was. Long story short, I invited him in. Insane, I know. But old habits die hard, and they breath their last in a swirl of rationalization: I’ve got to cook for me and Max anyway. It won’t hurt to let Dan join us since he is trying to help me program my IPhone, etc., crazy etc.

We reenacted one of the classic scenes from our marriage. I was in the kitchen which is open to our den; a long counter with the sink serves as the divider. I could see Dan in the den, lying back in his recliner with his IPhone. Just like old times, I thought. But wait a minute. This time that’s my Iphone, and he’s setting it up for me. Before, of course, he would have had his phone and been on Instagram, but looking on from the outside, this did look like an eerie replay of the last year of our lives together.

I don’t know how I was able to cook. I know I was not in my right mind, but somehow, I don’t if all women are this way, but when most of us get in our own kitchen, no matter who has died, or who doesn’t love you anymore, we can start putting away the clean dishes from the right-hand sink, loading the dishwasher with the dirty ones from the left sink. We can remember that we picked rosemary from the garden yesterday and there’s enough in the glass by the sink to make our

Roasted Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic.

            Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place filets of chicken breast in a zip-lock bag, add drizzles of olive oil, sliced garlic, snips of fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper. Squeeze the bag to distribute the seasonings. While this marinates, peel potatoes and slice lengthwise into quarters or sixths. Place in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, add snipped rosemary, sliced garlic, salt, and pepper, and stir. Spray a sheet pan with oil and pour the potatoes onto one half. Remove the chicken from the bag and place on the other side of the pan. Cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue roasting until chicken and potatoes are done and have the desired amount of roasted caramel color.

I made one of my vinaigrette salads using tomatoes from our garden. Dan and I had both worked to plant those tomatoes in early summer. Here’s a strange truth: when you put a plant in the ground, there is no telling what situation will surround you on the night when you eat the fruit.

Max joined us, and we sat at our old places at the dining room table. Dan enjoyed his dinner and chatted away. He told Max all about the wonders of my new IPhone and all the apps he was getting for it. Max ate in his usual hurried way, but he did not respond to the conversation. He sat to my right. I looked over at him sensing that maybe there was a problem. It was as if Dan’s light-hearted, “let’s ignore everything that has happened” banter was fueling some kind of fire in Max. Dan was, of course, oblivious and kept talking. Finally, when Max was finished eating, he looked at his dad and said with a dark hostility, “Why are you even here? I thought you were done with us.”

Dan responded with something of a smile, “I always wanted to stay friends. I was always hoping I could come back and see you guys and have dinner.” Max picked up his empty plate and took it to the kitchen. He was done.

Was that simple for Max or very hard? It looked simple from the outside. For my part, I also would have loved to walk away, to walk and just keep on walking until I had completely walked out of my life into a land of no time and no place. I would have loved to be done. Just done. But this was the murder of a marriage, remember. It would take time. Dan would have to finish his dinner, finish programming my IPhone, use the bathroom, ask for some of the tomatoes to take to his apartment. He would get in his car and drive away. I would clean up the kitchen and visit Max for a minute in his room. I would change into my gown and wash my face.

It was then that I would look at my bed and the long hall of the night would open up in front of me. Morning was so far away, so far away like a distant horizon when seen from a lonely shore. How would I ever be able to reach such a far off shore?

I think this was the night when I cried, and then I dozed, and then I woke. I wondered had I perhaps slept through the night? Was I on the hopeful shore of morning at last? But I felt the tears still wet on my face. If it had been morning, they would have had time to dry away. Imagine measuring time by how long it takes tears to dry.

My sleep was murdered for one more night. I turned on the light and wrote in my journal. Here’s what I said, “An expensive day for me. $600 for my new car insurance policy and $100 to set up the new phone account. Back home I made dinner and Dan set up my IPhone. Finally, he left. I was very sad but basically held up. It is weird and terribly sad to me that Dan stopped loving me and never reached out to save us before it was too late. But there it is. Still we got some things done today that had to be done. A huge step accomplished. Hallelujah!”

I really wrote that–the Hallelujah! It seems almost demented under the circumstances, but what is it about completing a hard task even if there is much more to be completed before you will truly be done? I call it the accomplishment drug. There are times when each day—dinner or no dinner, sleep or no sleep, tears or no tears—when each day is a victory.