It will begin by rushing to work.
Your soon-to-be-ex husband will yell after you while you hurry the kids down the driveway. He’ll stand in his godforsaken brown striped bathrobe and shout, “You’re such a selfish bitch! Whaddaya need another pair of goddamned sandals for? I told you not to spend any money this week. I needed that money, you fucking bitch!”
You’ll strap the kids into their carseats and back out of the driveway as fast as you can. Your husband will continue to berate you from the doorway of your lower-class suburban home. Apparently, he found the receipt for the shiny gladiator sandals you had bought yourself the week before. They were 40 dollars.
After four years of enduring, you’ll be so used to the continual onslaught of your husband’s anger that you will have trained yourself not to speak back. At that point, you’ll be the utmost expert in moving quickly and silently. You will have trained yourself to move throughout the motions of your day as if your life with him did not consume you with the overwhelming crushing of emotional defeat.
The house is blue. Ironically, the two of you had once painted it together in hopes of a bright future. As you reach to stop sign on the end of your street that morning, you’ll remember playing with your first little baby on a sunny blanket in the front yard while your husband stirred those cans of bright blue paint—the summer before the constant tyranny of his words had begun to drown out everything else in your life.
You’ll turn toward the daycare and speed away in the old, beat-up SUV that you loathe. The black BMW in front of you will be driven by a woman with well-coifed hair and an Ann Taylor suit. You’ll stare blankly at the McCain/Palin sticker prominently displayed in her back window. You’ll stop at the red light and look down at your body. Your legs will look thin from all the nightly jogs, your only escape. The coffee stains on your untucked thrift-store blouse will remind you of how very out of place you are here.
You’ll fish a stick of colored lip balm from the bottom of your purse and start to smear a bit on your bottom lip while still stopped at the light, only to be immediately honked at when it turns green. No top lip, you’ll surmise. Just the bottom will have to do.
When you finally make it to your office, you’ll sneak past the boss’s doorway and up the stairs to your loft desk. You’ll tell yourself that they probably won’t notice yet another late arrival. As your screen lights up, you’ll glance at the clock and wonder how many minutes will pass until you see him. The next 17 minutes will be 4 hours in your mind.
When he arrives, you’ll hear him walk in from your seat in the loft. He’ll greet the receptionist, the accountant, the boss — he has always been far too valued at the firm to be reprimanded for his perpetual tardiness. He never walks in quietly. At that moment, you’ll assume that he never does anything quietly, but you’ll be wrong.
You’ll concentrate on not smiling overtly at the sound of his voice. You’ll half-heartedly pound on your keyboard while you wait for him to bound up the steps to your loft desk and say hello.
Eventually, he will. He’ll stand, as close as he can to your personal space without arousing any questions from co-workers, and say “How’s it going today, Rockstar? Did you solve all the world’s problems yet?” with eyes that stare directly into yours. You’ll look away first. You always do.
That afternoon, you’ll ride with him to a consultant’s office for a meeting. You’ll sit next to him in his Jeep and roll down your window, happy to be the rider and not the driver. Happy, at that moment, to not be held responsible for anything at all.
An early summer breeze will rush past your face. He’ll make you laugh by recalling the kind of old story that is usually reserved for close friends. Your laugh is real. Not the fake kind you use so often at the office to be kind to the teller of a terrible joke. You’ll laugh the kind of laugh that loosens something. You’ll feel the way you did in college on all those long car rides back and forth to Manhattan, years ago — before you had a baby and let the resulting husband convince you that you were “nothing special.”
You’ll fuss with your hair and pinch your cheeks for color in the rearview mirror. You’ll be reminded of how haphazard you must seem to him, as you look over at him and take note of his meticulously lint-free suit jacket. You’ll apologize for your disheveled appearance.
“You look beautiful,” he’ll say.
Just like that. As if he had been saying those words to you for years. You’ll stop talking because you’re trying to remember the last time anyone told you that you were beautiful. You’ll decide that it was either your grandmother on your sixteenth birthday or your high school boyfriend when he picked you up for the prom.
A week later, he’ll take you to a local dive for a celebratory dinner after work, to thank you for helping him with a project. You’ll try to remember the last time you ate in a restaurant. You’ll imagine your husband waiting for you at home, furious in your absence. You’ll anticipate the onslaught of another bout of anger upon your return. You’ll push it all to the back of your mind and decide that this moment is worth the inevitable havoc that it will cause.
You’ll sit in the booth, across from him, and sip your cocktails when it’s his turn to entertain you. You’ll drink more adult beverages in a row than you’ve been able to enjoy in the past 6 months combined — which amounts to about four and a half. You’ll decide that this person is your friend. Perhaps your only friend. Perhaps the only person who wants to know the truth about you, not the glossed-over version preferred by everyone else. You’ll tell him what you remember from when you were little and how your father looked like a tiny ant from far away when you visited him in prison and he was on ceiling repair detail. You’ll tell him about the year you tried to be a lesbian in college because you wanted to swear off men completely. You’ll tell him how your life could have been if you hadn’t had a baby and gotten married to its father. You’ll tell him how scary it is to feel this detached from your own life.
He won’t have to decide that you’re his friend — he’ll be too confident to imagine otherwise. He’ll tell you about the single mother who raised him and how she used to sing “It’s Too Late” by Carly Simon while she cleaned the house. He’ll tell you about the alcoholic father who died when he was in college without any sadness in his voice at all. He’ll tell you that everything in life is a little easier to swallow past the age of thirty-five, and you’ll believe him.
You’ll remember that he has a girlfriend, so you’ll ask about his girlfriend. He’ll tell you that she’s great and that they have a lot in common and then he’ll quickly start into another funny story. And you’ll answer with a laugh and a story of your own. Then you’ll worry that you’re smiling too much to hide how much you like him, so you’ll bring up his girlfriend again. You’ll offer him a compliment about her. Only it’s a weird compliment. In your tipsy state, you will have completely forgotten how to lie. Not that you were ever any good at lying in the first place. Instead of giving him a generic compliment about her, you’ll say something extremely true. You’ll tell him that she reminds you of Snow White — only the hipster version. Like, if Snow White and Adrien Brody had a baby. And then you’ll realize, out loud, that you have just admitted to analyzing her appearance in a bizarre amount of detail. But he’ll just laugh and say “Yeah, I can see that.”
He’ll change the subject again and continue talking. You’ll disconnect from the conversation for the first time and sink into the realization that only do-everything-right girls like the hipster Snow White could have a boyfriend this great. Fuck-up girls like you, clearly, get to live with men like your husband. You’ll almost visibly grimace at the thought of the monster waiting for you at home.
You’ll watch the way the sides of his eyes crinkle when he laughs and you’ll study the scar that runs through his eyebrow. You’ll listen — really listen — to everything he has to say, because you want to know everything that you can know about him. You’ll try to hide your disappointment when he realizes that it’s midnight and announces that it’s probably time to drive you back to your car and head home.
You’ll walk with to him toward his Jeep, happy that this night happened. You won’t care about anything but the time that you’ve just spent feeling free. He’ll reach over, give your hand a quick squeeze, and say “You’re really funny, Brown,” calling you by your last name with his head cocked to the side in realization. You’ll reply honestly, “I’m mostly just weird.”
You’ll open the door, hop into the seat, and immediately mock-collapse, throwing yourself dramatically onto the console and declaring that you aren’t ready to go back to your real life, and could he please just drop you off at the airport instead? You’ll laugh again, together — the kind of laugh that rises up from your chest easily and takes no effort to release.
You’ll sit back up and realize that he has frozen in his seat. You’ll study his face. It will look different under the streetlight. He’ll stare back at you, quietly. He won’t start the car. He’ll seem both like someone you’ve loved a long time and someone you barely know.
His expression will change from curious to afraid, and he’ll start to say “We can’t—” but then nothing else. You’ll refuse to look away first this time.
You‘ll kiss him because you can’t not kiss him. You’ll kiss each other as if the city is caving in all around you. In some ways, it is.
You’ll kiss him because you know that he isn’t really a grown up either. Because he’s missing something, too — even in his perfect suit jacket. You’ll kiss him because kissing him feels like something you gave up a long time ago.
You’ll kiss him because, in that moment, you assume that you might never have the chance to kiss another human being who makes you feel this way again. But that assumption is even more wrong than the first one.