She felt the January wind slink into her apartment, curling in like a
cat, all sly and sophisticated. It thought it could slide in, lurk in the
corners long enough that she’d get used to it, let it stay, like an
afterthought. This interloper wind, this vagabond gust thought to hide in the
corner, unnoticed but still unwelcome, a silent squatter.
But she was through with hangers on, of all sorts. She’d
lived alone these last 20 years, ever since her husband moved away to find work
in another state. Or had he simply moved without her, a divorce in all but
name? They’d grown apart ever since she became sober. Only when she wasn’t
seeing life through the fog did she realize she‘d not married well. But, a vow
was a vow, so they muddled on, more roommates than spouses.
It had worked, for a while, but then it all became clear,
slowly, like a Polaroid photograph developing. Only then could she see who
she’d married – or perhaps worse, the person she’d become since that day.
How had she forgotten who she was? And why had it taken so
long to remember?
She had her back injury to thank for this, she mused. Nothing
makes you reevaluate your life like pain. She’d had to stop everything and
re-learn who she was, learn how to put down all the heavy things she was
carrying. It didn’t take her long to realize that meant more than just physical.
So she made less time for him. She started spending time with
friends. She started spending time on herself. She started learning what it was
like to not spend so much time around someone who was addicted to being broken,
to being a victim. It was liberating.
It was sad,in a way, to realize how much he had leaned on
her, how much he had expected of her. But she was through listening to his
litany of complaints, his lists of people who had done him wrong. It was sad,
too, to see how special he thought he was – and not in a good way. He thought
he was unique in his pain, that the world paid special attention to him,
singled him out for abuse, when in reality the world was as indifferent and
impersonal to everyone.
This need to play the victim, to play the indirect object,
the one who was acted upon rather than the active agent, was what had put him
in his funk. She could see this plain as day, this self fulfilling prophecy of
disappointment and delusion. He had not gotten better in the decade they’d been
together. Perhaps he had gotten worse. And so she agreed to the separation, to
see if perhaps he would learn on his own. It was how she’d learned, after all.
It wasn’t intentional, this separation. She hadn’t asked for
it, but welcomed it all the same as the gift she’d never thought to ask for.
He had fallen on hard times since the layoff. A cozy job with
the government, safe and secure, was his ace in the pocket for years. He could
coast along, unmotivated, lackadaisical, feckless. Perhaps that had been his
undoing, that job where mediocrity was the name of the game. Perhaps he’d
learned too well that it didn’t pay to try harder. There were no promotions for
those who tried to improve upon the time-tested procedures. In fact, mostly
there was censure from the fellow dozens of that lackluster lair. They
invariably pulled down anyone who dared to make their own mediocre workload
look as lackluster as it really was. Only if they all conspired to put forth
the least amount of effort could they continue in their façade.
But then there was the layoff. Or was it a forced retirement?
Being civil service, they couldn’t be fired, but they could be subtly forced to
leave. Privileges could be revoked. Expectations could be raised. Work could be
documented, quantified, tracked. This weeded out some of the lazy ones, but not
all. Some clung on harder, determined to outlast the push to eliminate them.
Some were determined to stay until the end, until they retired or things got
bad enough that going through the ordeal of finding another job seemed better
Somehow he lasted through the waves of attrition, kept his
head down in that strange game of musical chairs where people weren’t fired but
still found they didn’t have a job. Every week certain jobs were deemed
unnecessary or redundant. It was clever, if not exactly honest. The people
weren’t eliminated. The jobs were . It was a simple as that.
And that is why he left, before the ax came down on him. But
that too is how he was patterned – to think that he deserved better but didn’t
have to work for it – in fact, shouldn’t work for it.
It was nearly a year before he worked up the momentum to get
another job, in the meantime relying on the kindness of his wife to keep him in
the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. And then she’d had it. It was
only her anxiety attack that put her in the hospital that motivated him to
start looking in earnest. Even then what he found was just part time, with no
She’d promised, she said her vows, but she hadn’t counted on
it being worse more often than better. She thought it would swing both ways,
where they’d take turns relying upon each other. She’d not expected this
protracted siege upon her compassionate nature.
And so finally he moved out, but not before she pushed him out
of the bedroom, pushed his clutter out of the kitchen. She told him years ago
it was her or the hoarding, and he’d not chosen her. So she got to do the
choosing, slowly but surely maneuvering the situation to pushing him out
without overtly doing so.
He was used to being a bit player in his own life anyway, so
it was easy enough once she set her mind to it. No more would she be his
emotional garbage dump. No longer would she pick up after him when he “forgot”
to clean up his own messes – physical, financial, spiritual. She’d never agreed
to having a child and certainly didn’t want one who was nearly 50.
So they lived apart, and it worked in a fashion. It wasn’t a
normal marriage as far as they knew, but maybe it was. Maybe most people lived
like this but never talked about it. Maybe behind closed doors all marriages
were all the same. Meanwhile, it was time to do something about that draft. It
wouldn’t do to let the wind get the better of her. She was done with being
taken advantage of.