Six years, a complex about my freckles, a love for pastrami, and a fear of failure.
That’s what he gave me before slaughtering my heart and my faith in men.
To be fair, I’m a bit jaded now, my objectivity overpowered by the vision of him between the sheets with his secretary, Nora. Her perfectly tan body, the blonde hair, him moving on top of her, the look on their faces when I came home early….
“Focus,” I shout like a crazy person. My mastiff Henry rustles in the back seat, stretched over duffle bags, a few beach towels, and some random household items. I flick on my left turn signal, peering over my shoulder to try to get a clear view of the lane beside me. It’s next to impossible, since my tiny Suzuki’s bogged down by the material contents of my life, or at least those things I deemed worthy enough to carry to the next phase. Always a precarious driver at best, I tell myself to breathe, say a little prayer, and swerve into the lane beside me. Mercifully, it works. We don’t die.
I adjust my sunglasses on my head, a few flyaway strands of hair sticking to my hot-pink lip gloss and making me wish I opted for plain lips. But a girl changing her life… well, it felt like a pink lip gloss kind of day this morning.
I drive on, Keith Urban’s songs and Henry’s snoring my only company besides my warped memories and anxiety-ridden thoughts. The sun beats down, a few clouds wispy in the bright sky. It’s a gorgeous day, a day screaming of redemption, of resurrection.
With nothing but time to think for the last two hours of my drive, my mind wanders to another dark place—the place beyond the bedroom escapades of my ex-husband. It travels to the place of doubt, the place so many family members and friends have played on in the past few weeks.
“You can start over without moving away,” or, “Are you sure you need to move that far?” or, “Maybe you should just go for a month or something,” seemed to be regular statements. Everyone thinks it’s ludicrous. Women like me don’t do this. Respectable women, introverted women, responsible women. They don’t do this, not even if their husbands cheat on them.
Sure, they’re on my side. My dad threatened to get out his shotgun and make the bastard pay. My mother droned on and on about how she always knew he was like this—no matter she’d said he was a real keeper on the day of our wedding. Friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, even my garbageman all seemed anxious to jump on the “fuck, you, Chris,” train. They were willing to throw around all types of murderous plots, and I got to see a side of them I didn’t quite know existed.
But then, the weeks slipped by, and the rage, shock, and hurt of Chris cheating with his secretary faded for everyone else. Then they moved on to urging me to get out of my funk, to forget about him, to move on. I’m only twenty-eight, after all. I’m, in their words, young, vibrant, ready to find love again. Hell, most women don’t even get married until almost thirty these days, they remind me—as if that’s supposed to make me feel better. I could just forget about what happened, pretend he didn’t exist, pretend the marriage didn’t exist. I should stop wallowing in pity and get back to “normal” life, carrying on with my existence here. They think I can just blot him out of my life and continue on like nothing has changed. That I can just substitute in a new man and carry on as “Accountant” Avery as if everything is just peachy.
Easy for them to say.
How do you just forget about six years of your life? How do you pretend you aren’t changed, broken by what happened? How do you just slap your heart back together, jolt it, and tell it to forget love hurts? How do you forget about the singed feeling of betrayal, the feeling of not being good enough, the feeling of being deceived? How do you rediscover your belief that love can last forever, when a single moment torched the ideal into dirty ashes? How do you not look at the restaurants and local haunts with a wistful eye, remembering the moments that had built up to a relationship that would only end in scorched hearts?
In hindsight, there are always warning signs. I’m sure there were at least a few I missed.
But to hell if I could see them. To hell if I can see them now. Thinking about it, I didn’t see any forlorn looks between Chris and Nora. I didn’t see any distant nights or turned-down passionate evenings. I didn’t see a cold distance growing between us.
I saw love. Right up until the day I walked in and saw my whole life drown in screams and tears, I was happy with him. I’d thought he’d been happy with me.
No, it’s not like I can look back and say, “Thank God it’s over. I was tired of it all anyway.” It’s not like our marriage was marked by screaming fights on weeknights and sexless, passionless existences. Our marriage, in retrospect, seemed the thing of fairy tales. Despite the subtle clues I’m sure existed, it all seemed perfect. I felt like our vows were true, like we would remain faithful until death ripped us apart. I thought my marriage would stand the test of time up until the fateful moment when everything fell apart with a single early return home, a single moment, and more than a few “mistakes” on his part.
As clichéd as it sounds, it felt like the affair fell right out of the sky.
Now, six years of marriage has disintegrated down to a Suzuki full of random boxes, a complex for my freckles because he’d always told me it was a sign of sun damage, a love for his favorite food, pastrami, and a broken heart that will never truly be repaired.
Inhaling, I remind myself to also breathe. Lately, it seems I have to remind myself to do that quite frequently.
Looking in the rearview mirror, I see the road behind me. The road is paved with love, loss, and quite a few regrets.
It’s done now, though. Chris moved on, and so will I.
Not in the way everyone thinks I should, though. I won’t return to my routine, piece back a semblance of the life I had with him. It’s taken me almost a year, but I’ve realized I want something different.
Everyone’s right. I’m young, although the deepening crow’s feet don’t always make me feel that way. I’m free now, too. I should live it up, be the wild twentysomething I never let myself be as an accountant and as his wife. I’ll let go of the laundry schedule and the dinner by six o’clock ideal. I’ll shake myself out of the pencil skirts and kitten-heeled shoes. I’ll let go of the librarian bun Chris thought was sexy, and the perfect pearl earrings. I’m ready to let that woman go and find a new me, the me I never got a chance to explore.
I take another breath, almost smelling the salty sea, telling myself I’m ready to make this change, even if it is a little bit crazy.
“One hundred miles, Henry,” I say as I peer in the rearview mirror. The dog just keeps snoring, his tongue actually hanging out of his loose muzzle and flopping on the seat. I smile.
Just one hundred more miles until I am no longer Avery, Chris’s wife. One hundred more miles until I am no longer the scorned wife, the poor Avery who never saw it coming. One hundred more miles until I am no longer the fifty-hour work weeks in the office, family dinner on Sunday, laundry on Friday night Avery.
One hundred more miles until I am the new Avery, the woman I’ve always wanted to be but was too afraid of. One hundred more miles until I’m a brand-new woman without a past to haunt her, without pitying stares and questioning looks. One hundred miles until I break out of the perfect square constructed for my life. One hundred miles until I start fresh with new people, with a new town, with a new life. Only Henry knows my past, and I don’t think he’s telling anyone anything.
And the first thing I vow to myself in this new version of life?
I won’t let a man change that again. I won’t let a man control me, own my heart. I’ll live for myself this time, wild and free, a girl of the unpredictable wind.