Authors: Lucinda Berry
WHEN IT ALL FALLS APART
COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Lucinda Berry
All rights reserved
how me one marriage with kids under the age of five that’s happy,” Robin snorted. She raised her wine glass and drained it as if she was at a fraternity party instead of an outside patio surrounded by sprawling ivy before the sun had even gone down. “Just one. I wanna see one.”
“Seriously. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t
their husband right now,” Jen said.
I wasn’t sure we all hated our husbands. We were all definitely struggling to maneuver our way through early parenthood and spent most of our time frustrated with our spouses, but saying we hated them was taking it a bit too far. However, I wasn’t surprised Jen took it to such a negative extreme because she found a way to make things negative no matter what we were talking about. We could be talking about a new formula designed to increase infant brain development and she’d report they’d found a razor blade in one of the containers.
Last month Robin had brought one of her former co-workers to dinner with us. She was six months pregnant with her first child and Jen had spent fifteen minutes terrorizing her with stories of how she would think about hurting her baby during one of its crying fits. She’d gone on to describe how postpartum hormones wreaked havoc on your brain and created all sorts of vivid imagery like seeing yourself dropping your baby off a ledge or its head getting bashed open on a doorway as you walked through it. You couldn’t tell a pregnant woman she might think about hurting her baby or that she would see horrible things happening to her baby even if it was true. Everyone knew you should let new mothers hold on to the fairytale of motherhood as long as possible. It was hard enough when the delusion of motherhood bliss got shattered and it wasn’t fair to destroy it before the baby was even out. Robin told me her friend called her the next day sobbing about how she never should have gotten pregnant and that she was going to be a terrible mother. It took Robin over an hour to calm her down. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be coming to another one of our dinners.
I didn’t like Jen very much, but I tolerated her because she was Robin’s friend. The truth was Robin didn’t like her very much either. She was simply better at hiding it than I was. She had met Jen at a park a couple blocks from her house when our kids were only a few months old. The park was always crowded with mothers and kids because the Starbucks around the corner and shaded playground made it an urban mom’s paradise. The two of them met as they bounced their babies in Ergo’s strapped to their chests trying to drink their lattes without spilling on the top of their babies’ bald heads. They discovered they lived only three blocks from each other which was enough to create a friendship. In Los Angeles the scope of your world shrank to a two mile radius after you had kids so you developed relationships with women who had children around the same age as yours and lived close.
Developing relationships based on proximity meant you ended up hanging around women you would never associate with if you didn’t have children. Jen qualified as one of those people for me and I was sure she did for Robin too except Robin would never admit it. If she did then she’d feel bad every time she hung out with Jen and the only thing worse than hanging out with other mothers you didn’t like was being a mother in isolation.
Both Robin and Jen belonged to their neighborhood stay at home mom’s club and Robin was always inviting me to their events, but I felt out of place whenever I went because I was the only one who worked full time. Jen and Robin both stayed at home full-time. Robin worked, but because she worked from home, she still met the requirements for the club. I only got invited to their events because I’d been friends with Robin forever and she was the president. It was awkward making conversation with them. They’d drone on about breastfeeding and struggling through nap time or complain about how they hadn’t found time to shower in three days. I’d sit there feeling like I’d committed a crime because I’d showered and my breasts hadn’t been pumped in years. Inevitably, one of them would comment about how nice it must be for me to go to work every day and I would force a polite smile in return.
Our monthly mom’s night out dinners were different from the stay-at-home mom’s club events. Three years ago, Robin created a meet-up group for mothers to get together for dinner to talk about things other than their kids. She included me on the list without even asking because she knew I’d never have signed up if she hadn’t. I’d been surprised to discover I liked our dinners. I wasn’t the only one who worked so I didn’t feel like such a freak. They also gave me a chance to see Robin and we got to spend the rest of the week gossiping about what everyone else had said or done at dinner.
“Well, I don’t hate Jeff,” Kristin’s soft voice broke in. “He’s a really great dad.”
“Ugh, of course he’s a great dad, but is he a great husband? Doubtful.” Jen tipped back her glass. She had skipped the wine and gone straight to Bourbon. “They don’t have a clue. They don’t know how to think about anyone else but themselves. There’s like this total inability to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes. I mean, I get Mitch doesn’t care what I think or how I feel, but what about how the kids feel? He can’t ever see how his actions affect the kids. Like maybe they’d like to see their dad for more than five minutes on a Sunday afternoon once he’s finished golfing.”
“I think Jeff does. He’s really sensitive.”
Jeff was sensitive. I looked at Robin and we shared a knowing look—one that only twenty years of friendship brings. I knew what she was thinking because I was thinking the same thing. Jeff was gay. We all knew it and I think to some extent Kristin knew it although she would rather die than acknowledge it given her religious beliefs. They were two of the only Christians in Los Angeles I’d ever met. You had to be very brave to be open about being a Christian in Los Angeles. People from Los Angeles were the most open minded and liberal individuals in the country unless you were a Republican or a Christian. Admitting either was close to admitting you agreed with Hitler’s ideas, but Kristin didn’t hide her beliefs from anyone. She’d asked each of us at least twice if we wanted to attend a Bible study at her home. We’d all politely declined.
“Sensitive. Mitch wouldn’t even know what that meant.” Jen snapped her finger at the server, pointing to her glass and he quickly responded by heading back up to the bar to get her another drink.
Robin and I exchanged another look. It was easy to understand Jen’s anger because her husband, Mitch, was rarely around and when he was he didn’t contribute to the household. All he did was sit on the couch watching TV or lock himself in his home office for hours. Jen swore he’d never loaded the dishwasher. He was a successful financial broker at a large firm so he worked constantly, but Jen lived in a huge house at the base of the Hollywood Hills where she had a full time nanny and a housekeeper so it was hard to feel too sorry for her.
Robin turned to Larissa who had barely spoken since we sat down. She’d been staring into the faces of the people around us, but seemed to be looking right through them. “What about you? How are things with you and Adam?”
Larissa blinked and looked up as if it just registered she was at dinner with a lively conversation going on around her. “We’re in the proceeding to have an affair part of our relationship.”
“What? No way! Oh my God, how did that happen? What changed your mind?” The questions flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. When she started talking to her ex-boyfriend, Adam, she’d sworn she wasn’t going to have an affair with him.
It wasn’t like any of us sitting around the table could claim marital purity. I was sure everyone else had thought about cheating on their husbands—even Kristin although she was probably more likely to admit Jeff was gay than her own impure thoughts— and at times we’d all crossed lines we never thought we’d cross, but the lines they’d crossed were ones that would result in their spouses’ feelings getting hurt. None of them had crossed over into divorce worthy territory and we all knew an affair qualified. I couldn’t say the same for myself, but they didn’t know that. Not even Robin and I told her everything. As far as they knew, I was one of them and Larissa was the first one of us to actually go there.
Larissa turned bright red. “Well, we’re going to meet in Chicago in three weeks. I told Todd I had a conference for work which I do except I’m only presenting on Friday so I have the entire rest of the weekend free. Adam agreed to meet me there. He told his wife there’s an education summit for the new curriculum agenda he’s working on.”
“And she believes him?” Jen asked. “I mean why would she think he would have to leave the country to have a meeting? Does he usually have to go to the States for what he does?”
“I think he has before.”
We all stared at her, silently begging her to give us the details, but at the same time knowing we were asking her to admit things she probably hadn’t even admitted to herself. I wanted to tell her I understood what she was going through and to warn her that she had no idea what was going to happen once she stepped over the line no matter how thought out or prepared her step might be. There was no way to know or predict what would happen afterward. I wished there was a way to let her know that even though she thought she could live with a secret, she didn’t know secrets developed a life of their own and became an evil corroding poison that ate away at every other part of your life even the parts of your life you thought would be safe. Nothing went untouched. Instead, I kept quiet.
If any of us deserved to have an affair it was Larissa. No one blamed her when she first started talking about emailing Adam because her husband, Todd, was a loser. Todd had been a manager at Pizza Palace when she met him shortly after her break up with Adam in her senior year of college. Todd was her rebound and working at a pizza place was not a big deal when you were in your early twenties because sometimes that was where a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy got you after you graduated. However, it was a big deal when you were still a manager at Pizza Palace in your mid-thirties and your successful career driven wife had come home on more than one occasion to find you sitting on the couch smoking a bong while the kids were still awake. It made it even harder on Larissa that Todd had never made anything of himself while Adam had gone on to build amazing elementary schools for underprivileged kids in third world countries after college graduation. It was like an extra knife in her heart.
She finally spoke. “It’s so weird. I never thought I would do something like this. Ever. If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be the woman having an affair I would have never believed you. I keep thinking—I’m her. I’m that woman. I’m like a walking cliché.”
I nodded my head. I knew what it was like to do things you never thought you’d do. To look in the mirror and not know who you were anymore. In your twenties, you’re so determined to be different from all of the generations who’ve gone before you. You’re proud of your ideals and sure your marriage won’t change your relationship or the way you feel about each other. You’re convinced you’ll always be in love because your love is different than the failed relationships around you and you’ll make sure to never take your love for granted. Then, when you have kids you’re just as convinced becoming a parent won’t change you like you’ve watched it change those who came before you. You really believe you will be the one to hold onto your independent free self even after you have children. But the reality was that you have no idea how marriage and parenthood will change you until after they occur. I was still trying to reconcile my ideals with my reality. We all were.
“Maybe you should just tell Todd how unhappy you are,” Kristin suggested.
Jen snorted, rolling her brown eyes dramatically. “Always the moral voice. How many times do you think she’s told Todd she’s unhappy?”
Kristin shrugged and looked down at her empty plate with embarrassment. For once, I agreed with Jen. The truth was that by the time a relationship was over a woman has usually tried everything to save it. We didn’t let go of our fairytale dreams easily. I’d been listening to Larissa talk about all of her problems with Todd for the last two years. They’d spent a year in couple’s therapy, taken trips to re-ignite their passion and remember why they’d fallen in love in the first place, drawn up contracts outlining what each person was going to do to change, and at one point he’d even moved out for a brief period before moving back in. She’d cried, begged, raged, and pouted but to no avail. Nothing budged. He still saw her as a miserable, nagging, and controlling wife while she still saw him as a lazy, selfish man who was settling for mediocrity.