I moved out on Independence Day.
Eight years ago today, I left the suburban home my wife and I had purchased three years earlier. She had not spoken to me since April, when I departed for a business trip she strenuously opposed. I had been offered an opportunity to write two related stories—one for a magazine to which I frequently contributed, the second for The New York Times—requiring a stay in Dubai.
I regarded these assignments as steps forward in my career. She regarded my consideration of them as idiocy. The invasion of Iraq was then underway, she argued; it was a dangerous time for Americans to travel anywhere in the world, much less to the Persian Gulf. I argued that I wouldn’t be remotely in harm’s way. She countered that I would be a “big dumb blond walking target” for “them,” all of whom “hate us.” If I went on the trip, she threatened, we were “finished.”
I had heard that threat before. By and large, I ceded to her preferences on day-to-day matters. I had learned that it was simpler to give way than to argue over the picayune. Yet now and then, I had strong opinions on matters, particularly those affecting my career. When I was accepted to graduate school, which she felt we could not afford, I was told that we were “finished.” When I took a job that paid more and demanded more time, she asserted we were “finished.” We had been “finished” so many times already, I felt I could write these articles and deal with the fallout later.
The trip was uneventful. The articles went over well and I was assigned more. My wife stopped speaking to me. She refused to acknowledge my presence. She constantly muttered to herself about the “asshole” she had married, never minding the listening ears of our three children. Her rage had surpassed concerns for putting forward any fronts. She fucking hated that “asshole” and made sure everyone knew it.
Her father came forward with a solution that he hoped would placate Lucy’s rage. He owned an apartment in the city that had gone unused since Lucy and I lived there with the children some years earlier. He urged me to move there, at least temporarily, until Lucy’s anger blew over. If Lucy has a problem with me, I said, perhaps she should move there. I saw no reason to leave my home. “She’ll never do that,” he said. “It’s up to you to create some peace in that house. Give her some time to get over this; she can’t be angry forever.”
When the school year ended, Lucy took the children on a trip. It was agreed that I would pack up some things and move to the apartment. I packed my car with the clothes I would need for work, a box of files and the iMac I used to write my articles, and drove off. I saw no reason to take more; Lucy’s rage would burn itself out, as it invariably did.
In the weeks leading up to my departure, as Lucy fumed, I confided in very few friends that I feared my marriage was ending. Dacia expressed sympathy, yet wondered if it might be for the best. Despite my efforts to keep my family intact, I was, she knew, exhausted by arguments and bitter silences. My long-time friend Marcus, himself recently divorced, encouraged me to look at the positive aspects of creating a new life. He still had conflicts with his ex-wife, he acknowledged, particularly over their children, but he was personally happier than he had been in years. “And then there’s the sex,” Marcus added. “Let me ask you a personal question: are you satisfied with your sex life with Lucy?”
“There’s no such animal.” It felt sad to acknowledge this out loud, as if confessing my shame at our utter lack of intimacy. “We’ve been through therapy and all, but she’s just not that interested in sex.”
“From what I recall of it, yes.”
“Lucy’s giving you a gift,” Marcus said. “If she’s insisting on a separation, if she’s asking for divorce, she’s giving you freedom. Use it. Go get laid. See what freedom tastes like.”
I unpacked my car at the apartment I had once shared with my young family. I hung my shirts in a closet and set the rest of my clothes in half an empty drawer. My work files rested on a stack of boxes storing the remains of my father-in-law’s former office. I reset the clock radio next to the bed in which Lucy and I had conceived each of our three children. Dust covered its dark duvet.
I poured a bourbon and sat on the couch. Dusk settled. Two bourbons later, I picked up the iMac and put it on the dining table. I plugged the cord into an outlet, detached a nearby phone and ran the line to the computer. Before long, the modem’s familiar whines and belches echoed in the near empty room. I had mail. Ignoring that, I followed Marcus’s road map to chat rooms. ("It takes time to meet women," he had told me, "but hooking up with guys is easy.") It took a drink or two and several failed attempts, but I finally got into a chat entitled “M4MNYC.” Instant messages littered my screen with nonsensical terms:
I watched messages pile up in the main chat. I finally typed in one of my own.
My marriage ended today. I was exiled to an empty apartment. How does this begin?
An answer swiftly came. Wow, that’s hard. I’m sorry to hear about that.
Me too, I thought. Me too. What’s your name? I’m Jefferson.
Jim. Nice to meet you. Do you want company?
I twirled my glass and took a sip. Yes, please. Thirty minutes later, he was at my door. Jim was handsome, resembling Matthew Broderick. I offered him a drink.
“Can I have a kiss instead?”
I nodded and he came forward. Jim’s kiss was so warm, so inviting and so necessary. I had not felt desired in years. He tugged at my clothes. I tugged at his. “Where’s your bed?” he murmured into my mouth. I walked backwards, not daring to take my lips from his. We fell backward on the bed, sending up clouds of dust.
Sex, as it turned out, was much easier outside my marriage than it had been within. I knew that Lucy would eventually come around and I’d be invited back home. We would work it out and sustain a truce until the next time we were “finished.” There would remain this void in our marriage—one month, two, four—that we would refrain from discussing. She had given me this freedom, as Marcus pointed out, however temporarily. I had not been the one to put the brakes on our monogamy, but I intended to make the most of my freedom before being called back.
I was stunned when the divorce papers arrived.
The divorce was nasty and unnecessarily protracted. Not long after it was finalized, Lucy—stoned and drunk—proposed we get back together. By then, it was too late. Independence had taken hold. I had already begun to write about it here.
Years later, Lucy would discover my blog and sue for custody of our children. She shared my blog with her family, who read, in as much detail as they pleased, of my experience of Lucy’s mental illness, her problems with intimacy, and the impulsivity with which she ended our fifteen-year relationship. Lucy described the contents of my blog to our children, telling them that their father was bisexual and a bad man. A few months ago, Lucy took it onto herself to out me to my birth family.
If I enjoyed a new sex life, partly led in public, Lucy ensured that my public would include those I had chosen not to tell. It was a fitting punishment for my happiness without her, for abandoning her when she pushed me out the door.
But her rash behavior, as ever, backfired. No one really seems to care that I have a pretty great sex life. No one seems to care that the husband who loved her went on to love others. Her loneliness and rage weren’t mitigated by her destruction of my privacy. If anything, her outings only cleared my path to greater freedom. After all, who does she have left to tell?
Eight years ago today, Lucy sent me out the edge of the Earth, hoping I’d fall over. Instead, I found freedoms beyond her reach.