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Creative Nonfiction Suspense

           We came back from a year in Maine late in the summer of 1997. Mum had died in April, a month after I hadn’t won the job I’d hoped for, the job we’d moved clear across the country for despite my misgivings. I drove west in one car as Harry drove the other, switching our 4-year-old son David and our golden retriever from my Honda to Harry’s SUV every couple of hundred miles.

           We finally made it to our new home, a three-story rented condo tricked out in the cold contemporary style of the ‘90s. I went back to my teaching job at Cal State, David started kindergarten, and Harry continued coding for his weird little company that constantly teetered on the edge of oblivion. I had a typical LA 40-mile round-trip commute, while Harry worked mostly from home. Between the endless hours I spent at work, avoiding drive-by shootings on the freeway, wrangling our little boy, and mourning my mother, Harry and I barely spoke.

           He hated my sadness and my focus on work, our child, and the aftermath of my mother’s death. He felt threatened by the time I spent with my brothers, with whom I had a great deal to do; our mother’s life had been a complex one, leaving us many strands to connect. Harry hadn’t lost anyone in his life save for aged grandparents, while I’d lost my father when I was 14, my mother just months before, and two first cousins, one to suicide. He just didn’t understand that I needed time; he had little patience for my silences and my lack of joie de vivre. I wasn’t joyful, and he couldn’t change that.

           He was clearly fed up, simply over it. His discomfort often translated to explosive anger and, with the three of us at the table for dinner, he reached his tolerance limit and with one dramatic gesture, swept all the dishes off the table. They crashed to the hard tile floor and a moment later, I gathered up my keys and my wallet and left the house.

           After several hours over at my friend Anna’s place drinking chai, crying, and recovering, I returned home and gave him the only ultimatum of our marriage: either we go into counseling together ASAP, or David and I are gone. And so that’s what we did: found ourselves a couples therapist and began the agonizing process of trying to regain our marital balance.

           I wasn’t all in, though. I knew I didn’t really want to stay married; we’d been in trouble since before David was born. Not only that, I was back in contact – just emails and letters, but contact nevertheless – with Johann, my old (literally – he had 18 years on me) and persistent love. Johann started it while we were still in Maine, sending emails that were at first simply friendly, but soon the tone morphed into something much more intense, despite the fact that both of us were married to others. That correspondence became a lifeline for me, reminding me that I was important, memorable, loved – in some way. Of course I didn’t tell Harry; he was a jealous man. And I didn’t disclose the correspondence in our couples therapy either. I was terrified that Harry would blow up everything: our marriage, our child’s life, me and Johan. So I kept it to myself.

           The tension of holding this secret was overwhelming, but at least I had someone interesting in my life, someone with whom I shared thoughts, fragments of poems and books I was reading, stories about work and family. Harry was barely interested in me anymore, or so it seemed, and to be honest, I was bored by him. Our conversations were always about logistics, about meals, about taking out the trash – devastatingly quotidian, depressingly dull. I had no passionate, romantic feelings for him anymore; all I felt was resignation. And boredom.

           I wasn’t hiding it well, but neither Harry nor the therapist had any idea that I was shielding a much more exciting and provocative relationship, even though it was purely epistolary, inside my computer. One day, as Harry and I sat sullen and silent at opposite ends of the therapist’s sofa, she asked me pointblank: “What’s going on? What are you thinking about Harry right now?” I could easily have outed myself right then and there. Do I disclose my secret? If I tell the truth about how essential this correspondence has become to me, what will Harry do? Will he take David away from me? He’s threatened to do that before, and that would kill me dead. Do I blow the whistle on my private intimacy? No. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. And so I said something that seemed to me even more cataclysmic than admitting an affair. Haltingly, hiding my face in fear, I said, “I’m just not interested in Harry anymore. I’m Just. Not. Interested.” And I waited for the madness to begin.

           But both Harry and the therapist burst out laughing. I simply couldn’t believe it. I’d just said, of my husband, that he bored me. He didn’t interest me. Those feelings obliterated the love I’d once felt for him, and it seemed to me among the worst, the saddest things that could happen in a marriage. But they laughed.

           “What the hell?” I demanded. Still smiling, the therapist said what she and Harry had clearly both assumed: they thought I’d taken up with another man. Not being “interested” in my husband was nothing to them, compared with the sexual affair they’d imagined, and so they laughed. Harry’s worst fear was that I would break the most obvious marital rule: thou shalt fuck no one but your spouse forever and ever, amen. My confession had nothing (he thought) to do with sex, so everything was fine! And he laughed.

           So not fine. SO not fine. But they laughed with relief, and I was astonished. Thanks. Thanks a lot. So helpful. So … no. I’ll take the high road. So thank you, thanks so very much.

November 19, 2021 19:01

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1 comment

Holli Walsh
00:13 Dec 02, 2021

It tells a story, and its good. Though if you want it to be more impactful having more details and characterization would help. I felt like I read the story of someone's relationship but in fast-forward. Maybe I am wrong but it sounded as if the end was supposed to be humorous. Though the lack of impact made it kind of a flat ending for me.


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