He made the decision impulsively. Very unlike him, everyone agreed, moving from one side of the river to the next, from a five bedroom, 4500 sq.ft. home in the hills to a homey bungalow on a corner. In one of the historic districts but still! I wasn’t prepared for it. I should have been. I was his wife for thirty-six years until last February. What was I going to do with all the room if he left? Not that he was there so much. But he was still vitally important to his company and that meant entertaining, plus everything we just required. The marriage had been fading a long time, so we both had ample preparation for that. No, the house was the issue along with a few other loose strings.
One Saturday I mentioned looking for a condo in southern California near one of our daughters so I could have an escape from the blasted rain all winter. We could even share it if he wanted, I thought, but knew better. He was staying at the house until we decided when to sell it. I had been resisting this part.
Robert agreed. “Go ahead, that will do you good. We should talk about selling the house after the solarium is finished being renovated. I need to move, anyway.”
Busily repotting a plant while he sat on a white deck chair created some distance between us. I hated talking about the house and what we had to do next. It made everything so final, despite my agreeing to the divorce. Endings can be made to seem tidy while still feeling messy.
“Really? Are you being transferred?” I felt a little alarm go off.
“Putting an offer on a house.”
I heard him say “offer” and “house” but the Bensons’ riding mower next door had started up. I noticed he casually turned the page of his magazine, Smithsonian. He no longer read me articles aloud, for which I was grateful. How many random facts about the Amazon, thirteenth century Florence or how our bodies are not designed for speed can a person absorb? I had flowers on my mind; I was hosting the garden club meeting in two weeks.
“What did you say, Robert? The mower!” I gestured to the neighbor’s house. “Someone offered to buy our house before we even got it on the market?”
The magazine was tossed on the round table and he kicked his legs out. He put his hands behind his head and stretched back both elbows, that chest puffing out. His bare feet–it was seventy out–were enormous and clearly in need of grooming. I kept noticing things about him I had managed to ignore or blur. I returned to yellow pansies, pretty even though their tiny faces scowled at me. Robert says flowers don’t have faces and of course he is right, as he is about so much. But he knows nothing about making things grow.
“I’m leaving as soon as I close on a house on the east side. It’s much more manageable than this one. I thought you’d be happy to stay here–or sell. It always was for you, really–you’re good with large spaces, complicated landscaping. My career, I know, has required it. But I just want a nice new spot of my own.”
And then he got up and refilled his glass with lemonade, freshly made by yours truly. I knelt there in the dirt and watched him quaff a whole glass of it down, as though he was dying of thirst despite doing nothing all morning. How did he just go out and get a house without my considerable skills and input? How would he decorate it? The thought frightened me. What would become of it while he was gone for weeks? I needn’t worry myself about it, but still. Most of all, what drove him to leave so suddenly, the divorce papers’ ink just drying? It felt like an unecessary affront. We were amicable enough, uncoupling in a fashion that everyone envied.
“Is it another woman?” I demanded even though I knew it was absurd. I stood, then walked toward him. He was never a man to stray; it would have taken too much effort. Robert was attached entirely to his work and when he retired in ten years there would be another passionate interest for which he developed an inordinate devotion. I’m glad I never needed that sort of attention; I would become claustrophobic.
Robert looked at me, unblinking, as though incredulous, those thick grey eyebrows fluttering an instant as though uncertain how to match his internal response.
“You know, I like the pansies and tulips,” he said. “The rest of this-” he made a sweeping gesture with his arm across the large, bedecked yard-“always struck me as superfluous other than it provided you a haven. But that was good enough. If you could see my new yard”–he paused and I thought he was going to say it wasn’t an invitation–“is small with little to distinguish it. There is, though, a good front porch. I can sit in the breeze and watch people stroll by. I will enjoy that immensely though I know it would strike you as a waste and a bore. No, this is not about another woman, Margarite.”
And then he went indoors. I barely knew what to think. Robert on a humble porch watching neighbors. To think houses might be close enough for him to see them at table. How odd an image to summon. He’s never had time or inclination for such a life. It was always rush rush to this and that, work to do, people to meet, flights to catch. Nothing will change just because he is changing an address. He just won’t have me around to tidy up after him, to make sure his shirts are back from the cleaners, to call the caterer or make reservations when his business people come to town. To keep track of his life so he can live it elsewhere, with others.
To wake me up when he finally slips under the covers and tosses and turns, then slumbers as though dreaming is the elixir of those such as he, like Zeus and Midas. Well, maybe I will finally get some sleep. And redecorate. Possibly sell, sooner or later.
I found it serendipitously so there’s no going back. My GPS had malfunctioned earlier in the week. I didn’t miss it until I had a business lunch on the east side with a supplier, then made a wrong turn on the way back.
It was a perfect error, leading me to a different solution. I will use it to all its advantage, cheerfully so.
Margarite and I just hadn’t wanted to face giving up that house. It was made into a home in which to raise three kids and enjoy as many dogs over the years, had been a perfect place for entertaining and her expensive love affair with gardening. It was–is–a good place, substantial, elegant, affording good views of the river and a rolling park. But we are done with it. I am, anyway. Margarite will enjoy it until the last piece of crystal and panel of draperies are removed. But she will have to start over just as I will be.
It’s shingled which is full circle in a way. Margarite will be aghast. I always said I would never again live in a house covered in shingles. My parents had one and it embarrassed me when growing up. I wanted so much more, a ravenous child with no end to my appetite. And got the positions that enabled me to buy a few houses that impressed, our last being intimidating, I suspect. But the new place has cedar shakes, not ugly green asphalt shingles like my parents’ had. It has a couple extra bedrooms upstairs for kids or grandkids when they want to come around. The back yard is smallish but big enough to fit easily a dozen on the patio. I can set a long bench or two along the edges. It has a small area that’s partly covered with an open beamed roof. Purple wisteria is hanging from it, the real estate agent informed me. It is enchanting. A new word for me to use, enchanting, and mean it.
I know it’s a shock to those who think they know me. But I have always wanted this–to detour, slow down. To sit back and observe something other than the arcane workings of international business. My best friend–is he that? do we have enough in common besides work, handball, golf?–is sure I’m having a midlife crisis and I need to buy a new Jag. I told him I’ve shifted altogether different gears. I want less, not more. My career won’t likely change, at least for now. But I can. Will. Maybe I’ll learn to cook. I like Italian, which Margarite found too common; she can have her saucy French cuisine. I want to eat fat grapes off the stem while reading a good mystery novel half the night. Walking to the store is likely as I am close to everything there; what a novelty that is. I want to listen to bossa nova and hum along with the music without anyone telling me I’m a late-booming romantic without a willing dance partner. I can dance alone. There are far worse things.
Should I have waited to see if my wife could get with my new program? No. She needs certain things and has the inner resources to adapt, believe me. She can have the possessions since she oversaw all acquisitions. Yet she lost track of our trajectory long ago, somewhere between my eighty hour work weeks and her antique clock and china collections, garden tours and trips to exotic spas. Well, I lost sight of her altogether. Soon we could only manage our separate ways. I didn’t intend this and it does hurt, still. We ended up in different places. I don’t see a way back.
But this unique new house. It has the pure lines and spaces of a structure devoid of the ostentatious. I had no idea I liked that so much but when I sat on a rocker on that porch the vise around my chest (that has been convincing me I am going to die any minute) finally loosened. There were two blue glass hummingbird feeders and I thought, I’m going to see and hear hummingbird wings flap! Ten to eighty wingbeats a second! I looked it up later but that realization bowled me over. I felt my eyes moisten even with the realtor standing nearby. My wife would think I was having a mini-breakdown.
Instead I am becoming the man she never knew and now will not know at all. I am making the years left mean something more. I feel it like a hunger, but a better sort this time. There has to be more satisfaction. Peace. I could build a koi pond in the back. Learn to meditate though that may be going a bit far. I can cut back my hours at this point. I’ll buy a basic barbecue and grill chicken legs, then invite every neighbor over! I haven’t done that in twenty years. It feels like my accidental turn offers a possibility of happiness. I aim to make that happen. Now. At last.