Authors: Theresa Alan
or the first several days after I get out of the hospital, Will watches me in a way he never did before. When we go out for beer at Mickie’s with our friends, he studies me taking every sip of beer, as if I’m some junkie who can’t be trusted with any mind-altering substance, even something as innocuous as beer.
This is what fucking freaks me out. On Sunday night, I suddenly, out of nowhere, get this incredibly intense desire to get high. I think briefly about all the terrible things about taking drugs. The heart attacks, getting hooked, getting thrown in jail, and I think,
no, no, that’s not going to happen, I just want to get high tonight
. I can’t stop thinking about calling Sandy and seeing if she can hook me up. I try to think of lies I can tell Will to get out of the house so I can meet her.
But I get through the night sober. Several more times over the next couple weeks, my craving for drugs nearly overwhelms me. The craving is so intense that things like getting thrown in jail don’t seem like that big of a deal. Jail? Bah! A trivial detail. And it scares the shit out of me to find myself thinking this way. I think about what the doctor said about how it seems like I’m the one thinking I want to use, when really it’s the drug addiction telling me to. I get through these nights white-knuckled with my craving to get high. All I can do is not use. I can’t read, or watch TV, or concentrate on anything. I just don’t use drugs. It takes everything I have. All my energy, all my mental faculties. It’s exhausting. I only used a few times. How could it possibly be this hard to quit?
After three weeks of staying sober, Will begins to believe me that I’ve learned my lesson. He stops watching my every move like a hawk. We start to build trust again. On the nights when I don’t have the strength or courage to stay sober for myself, I find the strength and courage to stay sober for Will. I want ours to be a relationship based on trust and honesty, and if I’m using, that’s not possible.
Seeing Anne is helping me, too. I’ve talked to her about how all my life I tried to succeed to make my father proud of me, and how I always strove to be perfect and beat myself up when it turned out I wasn’t.
I’ve also told her about all the stress in my life. She tells me to think of creative ways of how to reduce it. I talk with Will, and we decide we’ll hire a maid to come once a week to clean the house. We also agree that he’ll do the dishes on the nights I cook, and I ask him to be in charge of dinner three nights a week, whether he makes grilled cheese or frozen pizza or takeout, I don’t care, I just don’t want to have to worry about feeding us. I’ll cook dinner the other nights of the week, but I’m going to stop killing myself trying to plan perfect meals. We may eat mac and cheese every night, but I just don’t have it in me, at least not right now, to worry about achieving perfection.
The work I’ve been contracted to do with WP will be over in a month. Kyle Woodruff will likely want to renew my contract and have me consult on the launch of their new product line. I’m undecided about whether to turn him down. If I did, it would mean I’d very probably never get work from WP again and Kyle would likely bad mouth my work to other execs in the area, which would potentially damage my career. My other option is to agree to do more work, but only if Kyle agrees to let me bring in a partner or lets me map out more reasonable deadlines. Whatever happens, I can’t worry about it right now.
My efforts to finish planning the wedding are halfhearted. It’s t-minus four months until we’re supposed to get hitched, and I’ve pretty much stopped planning the thing.
The only thing I’m still doing is looking for the elusive perfect dress. Something that will transform me. I don’t mean just some dress that will make me look beautiful, although I want that, too, but a dress that somehow gets me feeling like having a wedding will be the most exciting thing in the world for me. I go into boutiques and try on dresses, and I just feel hollow. I feel bored with all the work it takes to plan a wedding. I just want to be married and not have to bother with all this other stuff.
It occurs to me that I could just hire a wedding planner, but when I think of how quickly the cost of this wedding could escalate. I feel torn by genuinely wanting a gorgeous, perfect wedding and not wanting to get sucked into the expense and hype of having a gorgeous, perfect wedding.
So rather than deciding what it is I really want, I do nothing.
’m nervous about meeting Gabrielle and Rachel for lunch. I take extra care with my hair, makeup, and clothes, trying to look as healthy, happy, and normal as I can. I haven’t seen them since I landed in the hospital, but I’ve spoken to them on the phone so they both know about what happened. Rachel is already sitting at a table when I get to the café. I take a seat across from her.
“How are you?” Rachel asks me. She looks at me like I’m a china doll with a hairline fracture threatening to split into a million pieces in the slightest breeze. I want to die of embarrassment.
“I’m doing okay. Work has been really stressful.”
“I wasn’t talking about work,” Rachel says.
“I know, but I mean…that was a big trigger for…what happened.”
“Why don’t you quit then?”
“I signed a contract. It would be hell to get out of now. This phase of the project is almost done anyway.”
“You’re used to dealing with stress. What’s different about this?”
“It’s the man I’m working for. Did you hear that Warren Woodruff, the founder of Woodruff Pharmaceuticals, turned the company over to his son when he retired about a year ago?”
“That sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t say I really stay on top of business news,” Rachel says.
“Well, it’s one thing to turn a small family business over to your son, but it’s another thing to turn over a huge company to your kid. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if Kyle had experience, but he didn’t. It’s unfortunate because I really liked Warren. Warren was an unpretentious self-made man. I learned a lot about business from him. But his son…Kyle doesn’t really know what he’s doing, so he’s got this personality that’s a cross between being arrogant while at the same time craving approval. He’s kind of a dictator. He’s a rich kid who is used to getting his own way, not through consensus, but by demanding it or manipulating it. So anyway, between that and the wedding, I just, I…What am I saying? I don’t have a good excuse. I’m going to shut up now.”
“I want to murder Sandy.”
“It’s not her fault.”
“Yes, it is. She got back together with her loser boyfriend, and how does she make a living? By selling drugs. To my friends. Drugs her idiot boyfriend cooks up in his kitchen.”
“I didn’t realize she’d gotten back together with him.”
“It’s still an on-and-off thing. Right now it’s back off. But yeah, that’s where she got it. It’s just so infuriating. Do you know how much all of us chipped in so she could afford to go to rehab? A lot. I feel like she owes it to us to stay clean.”
I look up to see Gabrielle pulling out the chair next to Rachel, so I’m now facing both of them.
“How are you?” Gabrielle asks.
“I’m good. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”
“It’s good. Who knows, my little brush with drugs could actually turn out to be a good thing. It’s making me face a lot of things I didn’t want to face.”
“Like my lack of self-esteem. I have such a warped sense of self-worth. My therapist wants me to work at complimenting myself on all the things I do well. I can’t even tell you how hard it is. All I can see is what I don’t do well. I have such a hard time believing I’m beautiful and worthy. How could I have such a low opinion of myself? What kind of feminist am I?”
“You live in a culture that doesn’t value anything women do,” Gabrielle says. “It doesn’t value child-rearing, or cleaning, or cooking. And it values sexy women at the exact same time it degrades them as sluts and whores. We’re constantly barraged by images of eternally young and surgically enhanced women that we compare ourselves to. It’s very hard not to let all that patriarchal bullshit get to you.”
“‘Patriarchal. I’ve heard that word before. What does it mean again?” Rachel asks.
“Patriarchy is Kyle Woodruff being named chief executive officer of Woodruff Pharmaceuticals, even though he’s not qualified for it, just because his father started the company,” I say. “Patriarchy is children and women taking the man’s surname. Patriarchy is when sons get elected to office not because of their intellect or ability, but because their dad is wealthy and well-connected in political circles.”
“Ah. Got it. But what if the daughter of a wealthy politically connected family gets elected to office? What’s that?” Rachel asks.
“That’s a simple case of nepotism and class warfare,” I say with a wink.
“Patriarchy also expresses itself in the fact that we’re endlessly subjected to gorgeous young women in movies and advertisements,” Gabrielle says. “That’s because, by and large, men still have the money in Hollywood and business, so they’re the ones deciding what movies get made and what products get sold and how, and we’re constantly subjected to images of women most of us can’t possibly measure up to. So we feel bad about ourselves and will go to ridiculous lengths to feel pretty. All these girls on those
Girls Gone Wild
videos, I just want to pull them aside and say, Girlfriend, men hooting at you will never fill the holes you seek to fill. You need self-esteem and self-respect. Come on!”
“Yeah, you know, I remember when the movie
came out,” I say. “And all my male friends got all blustery by how distractingly good-looking Brad Pitt looked in that movie. I mentioned how I’d read that Brad had been kind of put out because he’d had to add on ten pounds of muscle for the role, and the guys were all like, ‘Oh yeah, poor Brad Pitt, his normal Adonislike body isn’t enough.’ I remember thinking, ‘Ah-ah! That’s a small taste of what it’s like to be a woman. Now just multiple that by a thousand percent, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and you’ll get the full picture.”
“Plus, when you live in a world where men are valued more than women, it’s really hard not to let that get to you,” Gabrielle says. “You feel like you can never quite measure up because you’ll never be a male.”
“I don’t feel like things are quite so dire,” Rachel says. “I mean, yes, women don’t make as much money as men and we don’t have nearly as many women in government as men, but I don’t think things are unequal. Well, I mean, not exactly—”
“Back in the days when women couldn’t vote or work or own property, they didn’t think things were unequal either. They thought that’s just the way things were and always would be. They thought it was natural. Inequality is even more dangerous when it’s subtle. It’s easier to kid yourself that things are okay,” I say. The three of us pick at our food in silence for a moment. I think about mentioning how in China and India there is a huge disparity in the number of men to women because female fetuses are aborted and female babies are abandoned. The implications of this for the future are significant, but I decide that I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Reality can really just be too much of a drag. I decide to change the subject instead. “Anyway, how are things going in your life, Rachel? Still sending steamy emails to Shane?”
She smiles. “I know it’s terrible, but it’s been really fun.”
“What if Jon found the emails?” I ask.
“I’ve been saving them in an obscure folder within a folder. He could never find them.”
“You’re not deleting them?” Gabrielle asks, eyes wide.
“I like rereading them.”
“What do you say in the emails?” I ask.
“Sometimes we just talk about our days. But other times…he tells me how beautiful he thinks I am and how sexy I am. He tells me the things he’d like to do to me if I weren’t married. He tells me about the tropical paradises he’d take me to and how he’d make love to me for hours and basically worship me. It’s a nice fantasyland.”
“But it’s always just going to stay a fantasy, right?” I say.
Rachel pauses a moment too long.
“Rachel?” I prompt.
“Yes, yes, of course, it’s just going to remain a fantasy.”
“Rachel,” Gabrielle says, “I’ve got to tell you, as someone who’s been cheated on, it’s the most painful thing in the world to experience. You really need to think this through.”
“Yeah, Rach, think of this from Jon’s point of view. What if you found out he was flirting with a woman via email?”
“He’s already done it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There was this little chippy he worked with that he flirted with through email.”
“When? How did you find out about it?”
“A couple of years ago. We never use passwords or anything on our email, and then suddenly I noticed that he’d password-protected his email account, so I immediately got suspicious and hacked my way in.”
“How’d you do that?” I ask.
“Because I know my husband. I know he doesn’t have a great memory, so I knew he wouldn’t use anything complicated. I tried several combinations of the kids’ names, his age, the dog’s name, until I finally figured out what his password was.”
“What was it?” I ask.
“Mr. Happy, of course.”
“Mr. Hap—? Oh.”
“Yeah, men are sooo predictable. Anyway, it was this really flirty stuff, it really pissed me off. I nearly tore his head off. He vowed he’d stop, but I caught him at it again and again. We ultimately ended up in couple’s therapy because of it.”
“But now you’re doing the same thing,” I point out. “You’re not trying to get back at him for what he did, are you?”
“No, of course not.”
“Maybe it’s time to get back into couple’s therapy,” Gabrielle says.
“Maybe. I don’t know. I just can’t stop fantasizing about a weekend away with Shane in the Bahamas. I just want to have fun and sex and romance with someone who isn’t Jon.”
“So, do you want that more than you want to keep your family together?” I ask.
“Of course I don’t want to tear my family up. I just…want it all. And as long as this stays a fantasy, what’s the problem?”
“You’re not addressing the real problems in your marriage by running away into this other world,” Gabrielle says. “How are things at home between you?”
“It’s been hard lately. Really hard. We just snap at each other and go around with very short fuses.”
“What about the sex?”
Rachel rolls her eyes. “We actually had sex last night, and the whole time, all I could think about was those damn garage shelves.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“Don’t you remember? Months and months ago, back on Jon’s thirtieth birthday party, instead of helping me get ready for the party, he spent the day buying supplies to build garage shelves. And he still hasn’t put the damn things up. I’ve asked him to do it a million times. Every week he promises he’ll do it this weekend, and then the weekend comes and goes, and he has all these excuses for why he didn’t get around to it.”
“You don’t want to destroy your marriage over garage shelves,” I say.
“Don’t you get it? It’s not about the shelves. It’s about how I bust my ass to keep him and the kids fed, the house cleaned, the dog walked, and I want Jon to show me that he values me and loves me and appreciates the work that I do to keep our family safe and happy. So if I ask him to put up some shelves, he should put up the fucking shelves.”
“Have you talked to him and put it that way or have you just been nagging him?” I ask.
Rachel pauses a moment. She takes a deep breath and looks off at nothing as tears fill her eyes. She quickly brushes the tears away. “I’ll talk to him.”
“Are you and Jon going to make it through this?” I ask.
“Yes. We love each other desperately. Marriage really is a good thing, Eva, I swear. I’m sorry I’m just showing you the tough side of marriage. That’s just where things are at for me and Jon right now. But it really is an amazing thing to build a life with someone, I promise. How are wedding plans coming?”
I can’t tell them that my wedding is supposed to be four months away and I’ve stopped planning it completely. I’ve secured three big things—the reception/ceremony site, the caterer, and a DJ. I’m not going to use a florist, so I’m okay there, but I haven’t chosen a dress or shoes or selected wedding invitations. I haven’t booked a photographer or done anything about a rehearsal dinner or a million other details. I don’t know how I expect any of this will get done, but I can’t seem to bring myself to do it. I wonder if it means that I really don’t want to get married after all.
“I can’t seem to find a dress. According to this book I got on how to plan a wedding, I should have gotten a dress months ago, but I just can’t seem to find something I like.”
“What are you looking for exactly?” Rachel asks.
“That’s the problem, I don’t really know. Sometimes I think I want something really different, a beautiful gown that wouldn’t necessarily have to be considered a bridal gown. Then then other times, when I’m flipping through the bridal magazines, I’ll see these dresses on these gorgeous models and become convinced that’s the dress I want, so I’ll go to the store and try it on and as it turns out, I look nothing like the model. I don’t know, I want a dress to reach out and grab me by the collar and shake me, announcing that this is it! This is my dress!”
“If you want help shopping for dresses, I’ll be happy to come with you. Or maybe I could draw a few designs for you, and I could sew it myself,” Rachel says.
“I couldn’t ask you do to that.”
“It could be my wedding present to you.”
“No way, all that material would be much too expensive.”
“Okay, well the gift could be my labor. You can pay for materials.”
“Maybe.” I don’t want to talk about weddings or dresses or failing marriages anymore. After I swallow a bite of my sandwich, I say, “Gabrielle, how is your research going?”
“Good. I’ve gotten the okay from the Human Subjects Committee to go ahead and conduct my interviews. That was my last big hurdle, besides finishing the damn thing. So I’m crafting an online survey, and then I’ll do some face-to-face follow-up interviews.”
“Will and most of his friends are all into computer games, so if you want to interview any of them, I’m sure that they’d love to talk to you. They can talk about gaming for hours.”
“Yeah. I’d like that.”
“We get together at this bar called Mickie’s every Friday night. Any time you want to come, let me know.”
“I will, thanks.”
“Rach, how are the kids?”