Marriage and Other Misfortune

I don’t know why I got married.

I guess you could say it was out of misguided optimism. That would be a lie, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Better than what I suspect is the actual reason: I thought I was supposed to. Because that’s what we’re told, right? Every movie or TV show or book has a romantic subplot. Plenty of them focus on marriage, or family, or dating, and the special-snowflake process of procreation. So I thought, “Oh, that’s what I have to do with my life.”

I could’ve focused on my career, my hobbies, myself. But I didn’t. I focused on him, the man now occupying my bed (“our bed”), my house (“our house”), and my headspace (“our headspace”?).

Sometimes you have to stop and wonder how you ended up here.

He sits across from me at the kitchen table. Glass of orange juice, bowl of generic cornflake cereal, reading the news on his iPad. He sits hunched forward, his brow furrowed into an ugly expression that worsens his already hard-on-the-eyes face, his reading glasses (only in his forties and already requiring reading glasses!) drooping low on his nose.

I’ve been here before. I’ve seen this image a thousand times. It’s like the worst kind of deja vu, when you recognize having done this before because it’s what you do every fucking day of your life; it’s your routine. In this case, I’m greeted by this image of this man—my husband, oh God, my husband—every morning. I get up, I pour orange juice for us both and cereal just for him, and he sits at that table with his iPad and reading glasses, and I stare at him. How many times have we been here? How many mornings have I wasted?

I almost don’t want the answer.

I squint at him, studying every wrinkle, every pore, every wayward freckle on that face. I want to say something but I can’t find any words. What’s there to say that hasn’t been asked before?

“This Aleppo situation is terrible,” he says. He puts down the iPad and looks at me for the first time this morning, but his eyes are foggy, not fully awake yet. “I was just reading about it,” he adds, as if I wouldn’t be able to put the pieces together otherwise.

I want to scream but I smile instead. “Yeah, I figured. You want coffee?”

He nods; his glasses slide lower down his nose. “Did you hear about that celebrity that died?”

“About thirty have died in the last month,” I tell him, pushing my chair back. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

“You know, the one that—the one from the other day, the latest one.”

I hate when he does that: says something completely vague and expects me to know exactly what or who he’s talking about. Like I’m a mind-reader, or exceptionally good at deciphering gibberish. It bothers me to perhaps an irrational level, and I want to scream again, to turn around and just start breaking things. You ever get that urge?

Of course I don’t act on it—I just make coffee, and nod like I know who he’s talking about. “Oh, right. That person.”

“It’s strange, how all these people are dying,” he says. “A mass celebrity exodus. This whole past year’s been like that.”

“Maybe this year will be better,” I say. I want it to be—oh God, I want it to be—but I don’t have much faith. It’s hard holding onto hope when every day is the same, every fucking day is like a repeat of the one before it. You know how horrible that is?

I guess I shouldn’t complain. Last year wasn’t so bad for me. Except for the fact that nothing happened. While my friends were awarded promotions and took vacations to South America and Europe, you know what I did? Nothing. I was stuck here, pouring orange juice and cereal for that fucking man while he reads about Aleppo and the latest celebrity to kick the bucket.

Every day, like clockwork.

“It’s weird though, isn’t it?” he asks me.

“Hmm?” I’ve forgotten what we were discussing. All of our conversations are so forgettable, and so similar, they blur together in my mind and it’s hard to keep track.

“The celebrity deaths.”

“Oh, those. Yeah, it’s weird.” I pause. “Maybe they died of boredom.”

“Celebrities? Bored? I don’t think so. What do they have to be bored about?”

Marriage. Husbands. The stagnant torture of days that look the same.

I just smile. “I don’t know, honey. It’s a mystery.”

Sometimes I hate the sound of his voice.

It’s harsh and always sounds a bit hoarse. He has a barking way of speaking, too, like an old-timey newsboy on the corner shouting, “Extra, extra!”

(Did they really do that, or was that just another thing invented by movies?)

At night, I apply lotion while he sits and reads his iPad, absently recapping the day’s events to me. Tonight, he tells me a long-winded story about his cousin’s camping trip, and then the funny thing his co-worker did at work.

I can’t make myself focus, so my mind goes elsewhere as he speaks, wandering to thoughts of escape. I often think about that—my fantasies have lately been dominated by dreams of divorce lawyers and solo trips to Spain. Months ago, after reading Eat, Pray, Love, I decided I’d take my own soul-searching vacation—for a change, for an adventure, for an escape. Of course I didn’t end up going, because that fucking man—my husband—told me we couldn’t afford it, that it was selfish of me to bankrupt the both of us by taking a trip that wouldn’t even include him. I relented, and listlessly returned to the monotony of our daily routine, to fantasizing as I applied my lotion about running away and never looking back.

But, inevitably, I’m snapped back to reality. In this case, it happens with a question: “Are you listening?”

I look over my shoulder. We’re both in bed, him sitting propped up against a mountain of pillows, me perched on the edge, as far away from him as I can manage. “Sure I am.”

“You know, if you’re bored by this, you can tell me.”

“No, no, I’m enthralled,” I say, but now my words are tinged with unintended sarcasm.

He frowns. “Well, fine. Why don’t you tell me how your day went?”

“Not much to tell,” I reply. “I got the housework done. I called my sister. She told me all about her insufferable children, and then I got a migraine and took a nap.” I shrug. “Same as always.”

“You know what you need? A hobby or a new group of friends, some kind of social circle.” My husband, ladies and gentleman: fixer extraordinaire. “What about a book club? Or maybe you could start making jewelry. Lots of women your age seem to be doing that right now. Or, hey, maybe you should take up pottery.”

“Why? So you and I can reenact that scene from Ghost?” I snort. “Somehow, I don’t see that happening.”

“No. It’s just what popped into my head.” He looks at me with more scrutiny than usual. “Is something wrong?”

I take a deep breath and smile, like always. “No, honey. Everything’s exactly the same as it always is.”

He nods and shuts off his iPad. “Well, that’s good. I guess we should get to sleep.” A pause. “But I’m really not very tired. I hate going to sleep when I’m not tired. You know how I toss and turn? It’s miserable.” Another pause. “Well, maybe if we—just so I can to sleep, I mean.” He looks at me, hopeful, eager. He didn’t even say what he was asking, just expects me to know, the same way he expects me to know which celebrity he’s talking about by some vague mention. And, sadly, in this case I do know what he’s referring to.

“Try counting sheep,” I tell him. Then I lean over and turn off the lamp.

In the afternoon, I clean the house like a good, 50s-era housewife while the darling husband in this retro-family illusion toils away at a dead-end job with about as much prestige as our lowly little house and its lowly little suburban neighborhood.

Even when everything’s sparkling with cleanliness, I still don’t feel any degree of satisfaction. I call up my sister, as I always do, and she blathers on for twenty minutes as I stare at the clock and wonder—again—how the hell I ended up here.

“Do you ever regret getting married?” I ask suddenly, interrupting her. I’ve never asked that. I’ve thought about asking it a hundred times, but never have. I can’t say why today is different, or where I get the nerve, but once the words leak out, they’re just . . . out. I can never take them back. And that’s oddly thrilling.

She’s quiet for a moment. Then: “No, I don’t. Do you?”

I’m at a crossroads—tell the truth, which, again, I’ll never be able to take back once it’s said, or hide behind another lie? And if I do lie, if I give the well-rehearsed, always-phony “I’m so happy!” requisite exclamation, would she believe me? I mean, it’s not as if happily-married people go around asking someone if they regret their marriage. (Are there even any happily-married people? I’m starting to suspect not.)

I take a deep breath, preparing my answer. “Well, I guess—“

“Oh, damn. I have to go. One of the kids just got gum in their hair. Christ on a cross—can I call you back?”

The words on the tip of my tongue slide back to wherever words go when they’re not spoken. Instead, I say, “Yeah, call me back when you can.” And she says goodbye and I hang up, and the phone feels heavy in my hand.

She does not call me back.

It’s evening and the house is quiet. Then again, it’s always quiet.

We don’t have kids. We were going to have kids—mostly because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do—but we were never able to conceive. We thought about adoption for a while, but that idea, just like my Eat, Pray, Love soul-searching vacation, died quickly and with little fanfare.

Now I’m glad we don’t have kids. I’ve realized I don’t like kids, and I don’t want them. Just like I’ve realized, too late, that I don’t like marriage and I don’t want it.

Yet here I am.

Of course I’ve thought about leaving a thousand times—those fantasies, those unlikely dreams of divorce lawyers and solo trips to Spain. But I know I won’t. Isn’t that tragic? When you spend so much time wishing for something you know won’t happen? It’s even more tragic that this particular wish could come true, if only I’d get up one day and pack a bag and fucking leave. But I won’t. I’m trapped here, as if under a spell, forced to live out the same day over and over again in some Groundhog Day nightmare. What did I do to deserve this?

I cook dinner for him—the husband, the bore, the living regret—and he sits at the table and reads his iPad. “Smells great,” he tells me.

I smile, even though he says that every night, even though the sentiment stopped meaning anything to me a long, long time ago. (If it ever did mean anything to me in the first place.)

I serve him his food but don’t make a plate for myself—I can’t bear to sit across from him. Instead, I walk over to the sink and stare out the window, into the darkness, looking for a light.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he asks. His voice sounds far away; I wish it was.

“No, I’m okay. Lost my appetite.”

There’s a pause, a wonderful moment of silence, until he goes and ruins it by opening his mouth once again. “They say that losing your appetite suddenly is a symptom of that disease—what’s it called? You know, the one that’s—the one that’s been in the news lately.”

There he goes again. Expecting me to just know what he’s referring to.

Normally, I’d smile and nod. I’d pretend to know even if I don’t (and I usually don’t). Inside, of course, I’d be annoyed, I’d be so fucking irritated—but outside? Outside, I would be calm and composed, unbothered, the perfect wife.

Tonight’s different, though. I don’t know why, but it is. Tonight, I can’t keep the façade up. I can’t pretend to be fine with it, with him, with my life, when I’m not. Tonight, whatever it is that’s been holding me together, finally snaps—and does so in loud, messy, spectacular fashion.

I grab a knife. It’s in the sink, and it’s big and heavy, and I barely look at it. I barely even think about what I’m doing—it doesn’t register. My mind’s gone blank, my brain, for once, empty of fantasies and dreams and simmering resentment. I’m on autopilot as I spin around, and I’m vacant and numb as I approach him—quick strides, purposeful and intent. He looks up. There’s a look of confusion, surprise, and he opens his mouth to say something. Probably to ask me what the hell I’m doing.

He doesn’t get the chance, though.

I stab him.

And I stab him.

And I just keep stabbing him, until his iPad turns red with blood, until the reading glasses fall off his face and shatter. Until the white noise in my head fades away, and I’m back to awareness, to busy, buzzing thoughts.

I realize what I’ve done then, as I stand over him, the knife in my hand and blood everywhere. I realize it, and I understand it—but I don’t feel horror. I’m not shocked or angry with myself. Instead, I just smile—and for the first time in years, I don’t feel regret.