tagLoving WivesMaking an Honest Woman Ch. 02

Making an Honest Woman Ch. 02


Sorry for the delay. I went down a long blind alley, and had to back up and go in a different direction.

Thanks for all the constructive criticism, and to those of you who wrote to encourage me. I appreciate it. If you didn't like it the last time, you probably won't like this any more, so you should probably save yourself the time and aggravation.

A final note about the storm I seem to have caused by having my protagonist say some unkind things about the President: first of all, the remarks were included as being illustrative of who the character is; it is the kind of thing that I imagine he would think and say; second, he is not me (I not a professor of anthropology, or anything else); third, and this is only an observation, but if you can't stand to hear a fictional character criticize someone you admire, then I think you may be taking these stories a little too seriously.


I usually enjoy staying in hotel rooms. After all, the fact that I'm staying in a hotel usually means that my life has taken an interesting turn out of the ordinary: either I'm on vacation, or I'm at a conference, and for the few days, while I'm living out of this room, things will be different, and possibly exciting.

The next couple of weeks were bound to be different for me, all right, but not in a way I could get excited about. As the heavy door softly clicked shut behind me, and I looked around, I was overwhelmed with a sense of anonymity, and isolation. I was no one; I was cut off from everything that made me myself; and this room, which had housed hundreds, maybe even thousands of other people like me, was proof of the illusion of my sense of a unique self. How many others had, just like me, flung their bags on the bed? How many had pissed in the same toilet, breathing the same faint smell of disinfectant? How many had listlessly picked up the tv remote and aimed it, hopelessly, trying to distract themselves from the terrible fact of what awaited them the next morning?

For a moment I wavered: I could go home, Ellen would welcome me back into the house, and into our bed, and all would be as it was. I could be there at breakfast, with the girls, and we could all pretend that tonight was just a bad dream.

But no! The dream was the hope that we could all pretend. The reality was that Ellen had been fucking another man, for at least a month and a half, lying to me about it the whole time, and destroying everything we had worked-or so I thought-to build together.

The fact was that I had been lazy; I had been careless; I had been complacent. While I focused on my children and my career, I had put my relationship with my wife on autopilot. I'm not superhuman, so I have to assume that my limits don't include focusing on three things at once. Should I have chosen wife and children, and let career go on autopilot? It's hard to know, now. But the fact is that my wife and children enjoy-without having to think about it, or ever worry-the results of my having put energy into my career that I took from my marriage.

I know, if I had to choose only one thing, it would be my children. A week ago, if you had asked me that, I would have had a harder time answering. I mean, I love my girls, with a love that surpasses anything I could ever imagined. But a week ago I would have told you that finding Ellen-meeting her, wooing her, winning her, and becoming one with her-was a transformative experience, and the accomplishment that I was most proud of: it made me a better man. Now, I think I just wanted to think that about myself. But at least I got the girls out of it.

The truth, apparently, was the wooing Ellen didn't take anything special, and winning her wasn't that much of a challenge.

I turned the tv off; there was nothing on, anyway. Fortunately I was pretty tired, and I fell asleep quickly in the artificial darkness and silence of the room.

In between teaching and office hours on Monday, I managed to call all three of the therapists on Ellen's list. Any of them would probably have been fine, but my conversation with Nicole Drake (one of the Psy.D.s) led me to prefer her. She homed in on the trust issue right away, but assured me that we'd also deal with the problems in the marriage that had led Ellen to cheat. After checking with Ellen to make sure she could schedule it, I made an appointment for us both to meet with her on Wednesday afternoon.

I inquired about faculty housing on campus, and found that there was a unit available in a building at the edge of campus, and that I'd need my dean's approval to apply; we had a pretty good relationship, but that meant someone else at work (plus his secretary, who would handle the application) who would know my marriage was in trouble. I figured it wouldn't be long before I'd be grist for the campus rumor mill. What the hell; I wrote an email to start the process. The unit was a one-bedroom, with a small kitchen and living area, and, since it was subsidized by the university, it was cheaper than the local market rate, and significantly less than the hotel. If I divorced Ellen, I'd need to find a place with rooms for Alyssa and Sophie, but that was far enough down the road that I figured it could wait until later.

I also called my racquetball buddy, Dave, to see if he wanted to play. "Loser buys lunch," I said, expecting it would be me. As much as it might have eased the conversation to have it in a bar, over several beers, I didn't feel I could spare an evening away from my kids, at this point. But I did want to hear his version of what might be in store for me, so I was looking forward to getting together. As it happened, he could do both a couple of games and lunch tomorrow.

It felt good to be doing something to deal with the situation. Not that I had any experience with it, apart from what Ellen had done, but being cheated on seemed very much a matter of having something done to you by someone else, and that's rarely a good feeling. Added to that, the primary responsibility for "fixing" the problem lay with her, but I knew I couldn't just wait around for that to happen.

The girls were glad to see me; subdued, and a little clingy, but they seemed generally all right. I tried to reassure them that her mother and I would do our best to see that there were as few changes to their lives as possible, given the circumstances, and that we would make no major decisions without consulting them (if we felt their input was justified) or, at least, notifying them in advance.

I also reassured Alyssa that I didn't blame her for not telling me she'd known about her mother's affair. "By the time you found out, I already knew," I said, "so it didn't matter. And I know that you wouldn't take sides. Which means, of course, that you can't take sides now, against your Mom."

"I know, Dad," she replied. "I'm working on forgiving her. But I can't believe that she would do that! I thought I knew my own mother, and then she goes and does something that is completely . . . completely out of character. Which is the real person? The Mom I thought I knew, or the Mom I never knew could even exist?"

"The Mom who loves you is the real person. She's only human, and she made a mistake, but she's sorry, and she says she'll never do it again. Don't you owe her the chance to make it up to you?" I asked.

"Is that how you feel?" she responded.

"Yes," I said, "but, in my case, there are some complicating factors-which I'm not going to discuss with you, at least, not right now. But I'm going to try to keep an open mind, and I'm going to look for a way that we can get past this and stay together, as a family." I didn't think it wise to add that I had little faith of that happening.

The girls helped me make dinner, and Ellen was home not long before we finished. We mostly avoided the elephant in the room, although I did tell them that we'd made an appointment with a marriage counselor."

"What will you do?" asked Sophie.

"We'll talk about what happened, and what we can do about it," I said. "Having a neutral party in the room helps keep things calm, and she can see the situation from outside, ask questions, point out things we've overlooked."

"Do you have to do what she says?" Sophie seemed worried that we were turning over our marriage to a stranger.

"No, sweetie," said Ellen. "She may make suggestions, but it'll be up to your Dad and me to decide what happens."

That seemed to settle things. After dinner, we wanted to spend time together, but there wasn't anything on tv, so I suggested we play Mansions of Madness; it's a complicated game in which players work together to solve a puzzle and slay a monster, and it takes about two hours to play. Sophie's a little young for it, but, since players are a team, we could help her, and it was nice for the whole family to work together. It was close, but we defeated the monster just in time for bedtime.

I brought my bag upstairs to get some fresh clothes; Ellen followed me.

"Leave your dirty clothes in the hamper; I'll wash them with mine," she said.

I started to object, but she insisted. "Just do it, Dan." I relented. I may be the better cook, but she has it all over me when it comes to laundry; if left to my own devices, I'd just buy new clothes when I ran out of clean stuff.

Again, at the front door, we said our "I love yous"; it was strange. I was sure I loved her. I was actually looking forward to our counseling session, if only to get some perspective on the situation. When I was away from Ellen, I was sure we'd get divorced; when we spent time together, I found myself hoping we'd stay together.

Tuesday morning I had my meeting with Arlene Dahl, the first of the lawyers I was going to see.

She was a partner in a small law firm; from what I saw of the place, it didn't look like they were gouging clients to pay for expensive furniture, but they were making enough so that everything seemed reasonably new, and about as comfortable as a law office can be.

I'd been waiting only a minute or two when a short, thin woman came toward me, asking, "Dr. Tucker?" She had on a dark grey jacket and matching skirt, with a white blouse; very professional. Her voice was clear and firm. I stood.

She escorted me to her office, where we got started. I explained my situation: how I was considering divorce, but was waiting the result of counseling; she seemed to approve of the decision not to rush into anything.

"You don't seem as though you want to declare war on your wife," she observed.

"I don't," I replied. "I want a fair distribution of the assets; I'm willing to pay a limited amount of spousal support, and whatever is necessary for the children. I want as much time as I can get with the girls."

"Based on what you've told me, I think we have a good chance of equally distributed joint physical custody, if that's what you'd want" she said. "It needn't be disruptive to the children's lives, especially if you can manage to relocate close to the house."

"I don't think that would be too much of a problem," I said.

"What about your wife? Do you think she's going to be difficult? Does she have representation?"

"She says she wants us to stay married. I don't think she'll be difficult, but then I didn't think she'd cheat on me, either, so who knows? But I think we'd probably both want to make things as easy as possible for the girls, so I doubt she'd try to hurt me. And no, I'm pretty sure she doesn't have an attorney, unless she's hiding a lot more than I thought." The same sad thought recurred: all of the things I thought were true about my marriage had been cast into doubt; anything might be an illusion. I guess I made a face, because she tried to cheer me up.

"Look, it's no fun, but you'll survive. You seem like you have a pretty cool head on your shoulders; the ones I worry about are the ones who are so angry they can't see straight. I know I have a reputation as a fierce negotiator, and I will do whatever it takes to advance my client's interests, but I take no pleasure in causing pain."

"I understand," I said. "And, as much pain as Ellen has caused me, I know better than to think that hurting her will assuage that. And, as I've said, it would only wind up hurting the girls. My first priority is to get it over with as quickly and cleanly as possible, once it starts. Second to that, that it be as fair as the courts will allow."

"I think we can manage that for you," she said, with a slight smile. "Well, let me know if you want me to represent you." She stood and shook my hand; I said my thanks and left.

When I got back to my office on campus, I decided to cancel the appointments I'd made with the other lawyers I'd called; I felt pretty good about having Ms. Dahl represent me, and didn't see any reason to waste my or anyone else's time.

I did meet Dave for a few games at the university sports center, and while I was there I had a look at the weight room and exercise machines. A little cardio and some work to tone my arms and legs couldn't hurt. After the game we showered and went to a little cafe across the street from the school to have lunch.

"So, I met with Arlene Dahl this morning," I began.

"How is the wicked witch of the west, these days?" Dave smiled.

"I liked her," I admitted. "But I think I can see why I wouldn't feel that way if she were coming after me, instead of representing me."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

I did; I realized that, apart from Ellen and my lawyer (already I was thinking she was my lawyer), I hadn't talked with anyone about what had happened. "Ellen is having-maybe not any more, she says she's ended it-an affair. I got suspicious, hired a PI, got confirmation, and confronted her Thursday night. It's been going on for about six weeks. She says she doesn't love him, she loves me, she's sorry, she wants us to stay together, we're going to try counseling, we told the girls Sunday night, and I am sleeping at the Extended Stay Nationwide as of that same night."

"Wow." Dave looked at me with real pity. "I am so sorry, man. That's fucking surprising; I mean, Ellen doesn't seem the type. She's never been a big flirt, and you two have always seemed so joined at the hip."

"Yeah, well, we haven't talked much about how or why it started, or what she was getting out of it-apart from the sex, of course. I haven't really wanted to know, but I'm sure we'll get into that with the therapist. What really kills me, though, is the lying: for six weeks, and probably more, she was lying to me constantly. It was both a big lie-"everything's fine, Dan"-and thousands of little ones, not only about where she was and what she was doing, but everything she said and did to cover herself. It makes me sick."

"Well, buddy, you know it was me that cheated on Denise," Dave said, cautiously. "So I have some perspective on that side, that you might want to hear." He looked at me to see how I was taking it.

"It's fine," I said. "I told you at the time I found out that I was disappointed, but you're my friend."

"OK, then, for me, the lying was the price I had to pay for the thrill. I knew I couldn't keep seeing Marie if Denise knew-there was never any chance of a long-term relationship there, we were both just having fun-so I lied to her to keep things going. Plus, of course, you rationalize: it will hurt her if she knows, and I don't want to hurt her, in addition to what I'm already doing to her by having an affair, so it's better just to keep lying. But you do pay for the lies, in guilt. I guess some people get off on lying; maybe, if you hate your spouse, the deception is a big part of the thrill. But not for me, and I bet not for Ellen, either."

"It doesn't matter, though," I said. "The lying is a choice, and each individual one damages your connection with the person you've lied to."

"I know you're right," he said, "but the thing is, you just don't think about that when you're in the middle of it. You tell yourself the lies are a good thing, not a bad thing, because they spare everyone the pain, and they allow you to keep enjoying the rush you get from being with the other person. I mean, I guess, you lie to yourself, too."

"I'm sure Ellen did lie to herself," I said. "What I don't know is whether she still is-lying to herself, and to me. I know she's sorry, but how do I know what she's sorry for? Sorry that she fucked him? Sorry she got caught? How does she even know? But I have to tell you, if it's just that she's sorry she got caught, then we're through. Because then she'd just be back at it again, when she thought things were back to normal, only she'd be an even better liar the next time around."

"You need to talk to her. When do you start counseling?"

"Tomorrow. But I'm not sure this is something that can be cured by talking about it. There are limits to what language is capable of achieving. Funny: language is great for lying, but not so great at getting at the truth." I admit that, at that moment, an entirely different part of my brain engaged, and the little "I wonder if this could be an article?" light went off in my professional consciousness; occupational hazard.

"Denise and I tried it, but, obviously, it didn't help. She was just too angry, and all she wanted to do in our joint sessions was yell at me and call me six kinds of a bastard. I don't blame her; she had every right to be angry. But if you want to give it a chance to work, try not to yell. Not that I think I ever have seen you yell," he added, "so maybe you'll be all right."

"I'm plenty angry," I said, "but no, yelling is not normally my way."

"What's it like, being divorced?" I asked, to change the subject.

"It's complicated," he said, and laughed. "I mean, my life is complicated by the fact that I have a child with my ex-wife, and I have alimony and child support payments, and by the fact that I am less of a known quantity when it comes to women and couples-men, away from their wives, mostly don't seem to treat me any differently than they did before-and by the fact that it's hard to adjust to being alone for long periods of time, when you were used to having people in your life. It takes a while to find the right balance of 'me time' and social life, not least because you're not really in your right mind for at least the first six months. I'll remind you of this if you actually split up, but the best advice I got was to make zero major romantic, professional, or financial decisions until after at least a year of the divorce becoming final."

It was my turn to say, "Wow."

"You'll survive," he said, and I realized I was hearing it for the second time today. I wondered whether this was the standard reassurance for those facing divorce. "And, if you think about it, it's a chance for a new start. A lot of guys your age would love to have that."

"A lot of guys my age don't love their wives and children, then," I said.

We talked for a while longer. I had thought it'd help more than it wound up doing, the chance to peek behind the curtain of what might be my life to come; but the fact is that it was soon pretty clear that what he knew about divorce, I would only find out by living through it myself.

Our counseling appointment was for the afternoon of the following day. I had expected to meet in an office, but Dr. Drake saw her patients at her house, in a room that had a separate entrance, marked with a brass plaque with her name and credentials tastefully displayed.

She greeted us at the door, and showed us in. There was a desk, off to the side, and, in the middle of the room, a small sofa and four upholstered, low-backed lounge chairs formed a conversation circle. It occurred to me that her first read of our situation would be from where we chose to sit, which immediately complicated the question for me: what message did I want to send?

Ellen went straight to the sofa and sat at one end, leaving plenty of room for me to join her. I chose the chair next to the end of the sofa where she was sitting: let's see what she makes of that, I thought. Dr. Drake chose the chair nearly opposite from us; to establish a professional distance, I suppose.

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