I Am A Writer
Sitting in my favorite coffee shop, I’m writing my next book. The familiar trappings: my trusty tablet, the colorful cover that doubles as a keyboard. Carefully chosen for a convincing click, the experience of typing is so important to me.
The author lies.
I am no writer. There is no book, I doubt there is a book within me, let alone the intestinal fortitude to struggle through its pregnancy and birth.
There is no tablet, only an evening googling for the perfect setup for a genuine writer. A trip to the store to ogle with no intention of buying. I spend more in restaurants in a month. I can choose between the steak and the duck, but am not confident enough in my own commitment to commit.
There is not even a coffee shop. It’s a convenient restaurant that serves a mean cappuccino. I am on my way from a last minute purchase of a cake for my son’s seventeenth birthday. Dinner with him and my ex, who is already angry at me for missing her frantic texts to pick up from the bakery. The restaurant is merely halfway between the bakery and them.
An acquaintance stops at my outside table, unrecognizable in bulging sunglasses. We did not know we both lived in the Slope. Noticing my writing, he promises to read my blog when he has time. I feel affirmed that I have a potential fan.
Coffee consumed and feeling out of time, I am at last out of time. I am not fearful of my reception, my ex will hold herself back in front of our son. Appearances are everything.
To our home of thirty years. Every inch a familiar treasure that I am now only a guest at. Knocking for admission at my own door.
She is still getting ready, though I have timed my entrance precisely to her instructions. Late for our dinner reservations before we have started. Comfortable in my real home, I feel no foreboding on learning that our son is meeting us at the restaurant with his girlfriend.
We talk of practical matters. But she rejects my research into student bank accounts for our son, she must redo it herself. I see the familiar emerging, I can stand outside my need for someone to be in charge of me, outside my need for her approval so often withheld. My therapist will be proud of me on Monday.
Starting the car, we see the flashing “feed me” light on the dashboard. How could she not have fueled the car when she drove home on an empty tank? Now we will be even more late. She programs her phone to lead us to a gas station, ignoring my suggestions.
It leads us off into the wilds of Brooklyn. In a direction we know does not lead to the nearest gas station. We agree to head the opposite way towards the gas station we were used to using.
Only to have her explode, realizing too late that there are no left turns any more on that city street. A fact I was keenly aware of, and had no trouble accepting the extra few hundred yards. She says it is my fault: I did not trust the programming of the machine. I am useless, and should shut up if I cannot be useful.
It is true, it would be useless for me to speak. I can only channel my own feelings. I will once again be silent, assuaging her need for superiority over me, but no longer in my heart.
My deepest hopes—that we can still be friends after our divorce—are in danger. She is so full of anger at me, the gas station was just the inevitable trigger. I had not predicted this, but was not unprepared.
It was Thursday night on Saturday.
In our later years together, a pattern had emerged that added to the tragedy of our dance around each other. She would work Thursdays at home, and in the afternoon see Ella, an old friend of ours, for coffee. I enjoyed hearing her report our friend’s news, even secondhand. It resurrected old times together, even though I was excluded by working my nine to five. And of course there was “girl talk” about husbands. I heard enough about the other husband to know that my foibles must be similarly one of the topics of conversation. Just “girl talk”.
But then the anger. She was working later, using the flexibility of her hours to go in late and come home late. I was home by six, she would come home after eight. Frustrated at her job, frustrated at the machinations of her rival in academia (the fight is so vicious precisely because there is so little to fight over), frustrated at the traffic. I took advantage of her, angrily doing the minimum of chores and spending the time surfing the internet. And met her need to engage with my detachment, I had to preserve my righteous sense of self.
I am not proud of myself.
Then Thursdays became terror days. Instead of greeting me when I came home on Thursdays, now she came home from her assignations with Ella later and later. I was again waiting for her, frustrated and displacing my anger to a pure world of thought, the computers and networks that had been my friends from youth. I was blind.
Eventually, I realized that this was more than “girl talk”. Not sex (which I could probably have dealt with), something worse: she no longer saw me as family, but as burden.
Then Ella fell sick. We had tried to get her to give up her cigarettes. She was in denial, and instead of fighting, she accepted passively whatever care she was given at the local hospital. My wife became increasingly frantic, eventually persuading her to go to Sloan Kettering. Too late, they could make her more comfortable, but her prognosis was dire. She would be among the fifty percent who do not survive a year.
Eventually, I wanted to see Ella, even though we had not seen each other in person for a long time. I like to think it was to offer comfort for her, for her fears for her children after her death. But, in my heart, I know I wanted to feel my life was saved by Ella taking my place in the odds machine. I used to smoke far more than Ella, but had quit many years before. Backsliding whenever I had a big argument with my wife, equal parts for comfort and as rebellion against her dominion—she had insisted I stop, my Lysistrata.
I was told immediately not to come: that Ella was no friend of mine. A sickening clarity overcame me. The Thursday afternoons, evenings, were more than two old friends getting together. They were poison to our relationship.
Soon after, Ella died.
I wanted to go to the funeral, not out of my own grief, but to support my wife. Or perhaps to show myself to be the one left; cleave now to me! As time passes I grow more suspicious of myself. I am a liar.
I did not go with her. I felt sick to my stomach. She had chosen her loyalty, and her loyalty was not to me. I was too enwrapped in myself to hear that, at the husband’s request, only the people who had been directly involved in Ella’s care were invited.
Time passed. We danced a dance of anger: my withdrawal, her hostility. Someone else could have saved our relationship. I had wooed her back before when she left me before we had kids. Now, I was too involved in my own anger and need to feel independent to do so again.
In the couples counseling that I dragged her to, eventually she blurted out that I was “jealous of a dead woman”. It was true. But all the more telling was that we had never discussed Ella after the funeral. I was dumbfounded by this spontaneous eruption.
Eventually my own therapist asked me what I thought could be restored in our relationship. Did I actually think that we would ever have sex again? The cut of a surgeon, by someone who knew me better than anyone but my wife.
Two weeks later, I succumbed to my wife’s pleas and threats and moved out. New apartment. New friends. New life. We only see each other now in connection with the boys.
Back to the birthday celebration. We find the gas station. We arrive late to the Korean restaurant, passing through the Satmar Hasidim in fur hats for Shabbat mixing with the hipsters with man-buns in Williamsburg.
All is well. Ex-wife, son, and his girlfriend, all agree that I should buy the iPad, get the better but uglier keyboard, and decorate with stickers.
I am a writer.