It was after a long exhale during a hot shower that Bob Bennett put his forehead to the glass and thought, "Maybe marriage is accepting that you should just stay together because you're probably not going to be happy regardless of who you're with."
Poor Bob Bennet had reached that point that men do in middle-age where he wasn't happy doing anything. Even on Christmas morning that year, in his $1.4million home, drinking his favorite coffee in front of the beautifully decorated 9ft tall Douglas fur, watching his wife and two children cycle through peaks and valleys of elation, Bob couldn't find a breadcrumb of joy. With each passing day, it was becoming easier to disassociate from his family in all situations: at the dinner table, in the car, reading books before bed, watching Suzy's soccer game, attending Kelly's school play, conversing with his wife, etc. When he interacted with others, he often felt like an observer rather than a participant, like he was separated from the world by a piece of viewing glass.
What made Bob Bennet admirable compared to other men that have reached this point in middle-age was that he hadn't yet snapped at his children or wife. His daughters weren't even aware that their father sometimes fantasized about leaving them because Bob was gifted with a face that always appeared content. It was his eyebrows; even when he wasn't smiling, he looked pleasant because they had a feathery, almost airy, quality about them. His face constantly looked like it was seconds away from expressing delight; it effortlessly hid the cavernous hole growing inside him.
Jamie, as mothers are, was so involved with the children (and, of course, work and her thoughts of self) that she hardly noticed the change in her spouse. In the year since Bob's love for his family began depleting, Jamie had only once alluded to him acting differently. It was before they went to bed one night. She said, "You've been quiet recently, is everything alright?"
The question lingered above the pillow that separated them, and for a moment, Bob thought of opening his chest cavity and telling her he didn't feel anymore, but before he could, she asked,
"Is it just work?"
"Yea," he answered, "It's just work."
So Bob moved through life passively while he battled thoughts of what it might be like to escape everything he'd constructed.
Bob first met Jamie when he was a freshman at San Fransisco State University, where the dorms are half a mile from the closet classroom. It was on a gray and misty morning. Bob was making his way uphill to his Computational Thinking and Quantitative Reasoning class when it started to rain. Always prepared, he popped open his umbrella, and fifteen seconds later, Jamie materialized and asked if they could share the shelter he held overhead. He remembered being startled by her forwardness and feeling his pulse beat widely underneath his jawbone. She talked to him with such ease that it felt like they'd been friends for a long time, and he remembered thinking that that must mean something. But he also remembered when they first hung out with other people, and he learned that she had that kind of rapport with everyone.
Jamie was the opposite of Bob. She was outgoing and adventurous, free from social anxiety or self-consciousness. Bob became enamored by her impromptu charm; however, she didn't see him in the same light. At that age, Jamie wasn't attracted to men like Bob, who carried umbrellas, studied computer science on Thursday nights, and made their beds every morning. She was interested in guys who challenged her, guys she couldn't fit in a neat box. Bob was the type of guy who was useful to have in her phone if she needed a ride home from the airport; he wasn't the type she went home with. And for three years, her perception of Bob didn't change; he was who she called to vent and the shoulder to cry on after breakups.
Though he came close, Bob never showed Jamie how he felt, and he managed to suppress his feelings for her enough to engage in intimate relationships of his own. He had two long-term girlfriends while at San Francisco State. The first one ended after eleven months when, a week before their second semester of sophomore year, Maisie told him she was transferring to the University of Oregan and couldn't do "the long-distance thing." It took him all summer to get over her, and it was hard, but at his lowest, when he could barely muster the energy to get out of the house, it was Jamie who dragged him to a coffee shop and cheered him up. She told him that he was going to find the girl of his dreams. All he could do to prevent himself from breaking down and telling her what she meant to him was burn his tongue with hot coffee and nod.
The second relationship ended after discovering that Susan was using mushrooms every weekend that they didn't hang out. On principal, Bob didn't have anything against psychedelics, and although he would have declined if she ever asked him to join her in taking them, he broke up with her because she never once asked. That relationship lasted for seven months, and Jamie was there for him when it ended; they were always there for each other as friends.
By senior year, Bob had given up hope of having a romantic relationship with Jamie. Instead, he turned his attention to his future; he got an internship as a UX engineer at a start-up and focused on graduating. Jamie was in her most serious relationship yet, and she and Bob weren't talking as much as they had in the previous years, but then a series of events happened in her life that led her directly to him: a bad break up, the fear of graduation, and her father's Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.
Her habit of using Bob for comfort during tough times turned into her realizing that Bob was exactly what she needed; Bob was security in every sense of the word. It was the first time she understood what she was ultimately looking for in a man, and when she gave him the green light, it awakened the dream that he'd so adamantly subdued.
Then, as it does, life unfolded. They fell in love, they moved in together, they got married, they moved to the suburbs, they had a kid, then another kid, they got a minivan, remodeled the house, then he had a birthday, and life started to seem meaningless; he stopped sleeping as much, and he surmised that in all the years he'd already lived, he'd somehow missed whatever it was that could have made it worthwhile.
It took Jamie forty-five minutes to get ready in the morning. It was a Tuesday. She radiated anxiety as Bob stood at his side of their Jack and Jill sinks. Her energy made him nervous, which fueled his internal dialogue as he brushed his teeth. He was telling himself that she didn't seem happy either, and this thought made him feel slightly better about his fantasies of leaving her.
She turned on her blow dryer, and one of her empty one-a-day contact lens packets slid across the counter and into Bob's sink.
"This wouldn't happen if I lived alone," He thought.
Jamie didn't even notice it; she was too busy multi-tasking her hair. Bob watched her for several seconds to see if she could feel his glare, hoping that she might take her eyes off herself and see him wanting an apology. She never looked.
When Bob went downstairs, he found his daughters fighting over who would get the last bowl of Lucky Charms cereal. Because he was adept at disassociation, he was able to ignore their antics for quite some time, but it reached a breaking point when Kelly ripped the red box out of Suzy's hands, and the sugary cereal spilled like confetti all over the kitchen island. Bob took a deep breath.
"She started it, dad," Kelly said, pointing at her younger sister.
"No," Suzy screamed, "you did!"
He lost the will to parent, so he let them argue their cases in front of him while he calmly sipped his coffee. Though he made eye contact and provided the required body language to show he was listening, Bob had turned down the volume on his children and was thinking about the upcoming Warriors game. He didn't use to like basketball, but he noticed that if he made a big deal about a game, his family would leave him alone during it. And really, all he wanted was to be alone.
Jamie burst into the kitchen and intercepted the responsibilities of parenting. She got the children to clean up the mess and convinced them to eat plain Cheerios. They did, begrudgingly, knowing that a dispute with their mother in the morning would not end well for them. Bob, who still hadn't said a word to his kids, tried to exit the kitchen, but Jamie stopped him and said,
"Where are you going? You have to take them to school today, remember?"
The interrogation made his blood boil. Of course, he knew he had to take them today; she'd only reminded him about it two other times in the last twenty-four hours. He hated being micro-managed by his wife. He raised his eyebrows and looked at her,
"Of course, honey. Just checking for the paper."
Like the Warriors game, the paper was another activity that he found he could leverage to be left alone. He walked to the front door to grab it. A page full of advertisements was wrapped around the paper. One of the ads was for Lucky Charms; another was for a couples therapist named Barbara Winters. He lowered the newspaper to his side and gazed toward the street. He wanted to run away and never look back.
On the car ride to school, Bob managed to listen long enough to his children to find out that Suzy had to give a speech next week and that she hadn't yet figured out what she was going to say. The topic was "someone you admire." Bob suggested Obama, but she didn't know who that was. Kelly suggested Harry Styles, and Bob didn't know who that was, so he turned the volume down on them and thought about how a divorce lawyer determines which party gets the car. The fear that Jamie would get to keep everything because she'd have the kids if they got a divorce made him grip the steering wheel tighter. He was trapped; he'd lose it all. The Warriors game was all he had to look forward to.
Bob took his family to Santa Cruz on Saturday, which was a big deal because it was a two-hour drive. He tried to get out of it, suggesting they go the following weekend, but Jamie said she couldn't stand another week of them asking to go the beach. Bob nodded his head but had no recollection of them mentioning the beach at any point during the week. She assured him they could be back in time so he could watch "his basketball game."
On the way there, Suzy kicked the back of his car seat, and Kelly blamed Jamie for forgetting her sunglasses. Bob stayed silent, suffering through Kidz Bop radio and his family's dynamics. At the beach, when the kids played, Jamie was on her cell phone working. Bob said to her,
"Are you going to be on that thing all day?"
She said, "I'm putting out a fire. I'm sorry."
He quietly chuckled at hearing the phrase. She had no idea where the actual fire was.
Bob, to his credit, completed Dad duty; he watched his children to make sure they remained safe, and there were chunks of time on the beach when he was so involved in making sure they weren't getting into trouble that he forgot about wanting to leave them and their mother. Thus is the beauty of nature.
But they stayed longer at the beach than Bob had wanted, so he was doubly irritated when he had to stop on the way home for gas because he was worried he'd miss the game. There was a powerful smell of gasoline when he was filling up like there might be a leak somewhere. It made him think of those men who commit suicide in their garage just by running their cars. He didn't want to kill himself, he just wanted to get away, but he was meditating on that image when Jamie opened the passenger door and looked at him.
Her face was tanned from the day's sun. There was sand between her toes. She smiled at him as if to say, "all is wonderful."
"The kids are hungry, so am I," She said, "Do you think we could stop at that pizza place?"
The gas pump finished its job and made a loud click.
"But the game," He said.
"Don't they have TVs there?"
She was right, of course, and he didn't want to cause a rift between them because, suddenly, he felt from the way Jamie looked at him there was a chance they could be intimate that evening if he just gave her everything she wanted.
The pizza place had TVs, but there was no seating available where viewing them was an option. Without the distraction, Bob suffered through dinner. Turning down the volume of his family was easy; it was much more of a challenge to tune out all of the other families. Why did all the other fathers seem happier than him? Was it because they could see the TV? Bob held it together, keeping his eyebrows raised, hoping that giving his wife this experience would lead to intercourse.
At home, the children threw tantrums, and Jamie needed Bob's assistance to get them to bed. This meant that he missed the entirety of the Warriors game, and though he was upset, he hid it in hopes that if he could keep pretending, he might get laid. It had been so long since he'd gotten any that his sexual desires took over. He was on his best behavior. Unfortunately, after the kids were down, Jamie told him that her stomach hurt from the pizza.
"I'm gassy," She said, "If you're going downstairs when you come up, can you bring me the Pepto?"
Shortly after that, Bob stood in front of the TV watching the game's highlights on ESPN. Stephen Curry went 11/14 on threes in the first half - an NBA record. Bob clenched his jaw so hard he felt a pop, then he got the Pepto-Bismol for Jamie and listlessly walked upstairs.
"Dad," Suzy said to Bob from the backseat of the car, "I know who I'm going to do my speech on."
It was Monday, and he was taking the kids to school because that fire Jamie was dealing with at the beach still wasn't out.
Bob had no idea what Suzy was talking about; her volume was very low that morning.
"Your speech?" He asked.
"Yea, on who I admire."
"Oh yea," Bob said, "Who is it?"
"I'm not going to tell." Suzy teased and then laughed.
Bob wanted to tell her he didn't care but didn't.
Kelly was annoyed with her sister and said, "I know who she's doing it on."
"Don't tell him!" Suzy screamed.
Kelly taunted again, "I'm going to tell him."
"No," Suzy shouted, "Don't!"
"Dad," Kelly said, "She's doing the speech on you."
Bob knew that he should feel something, but he felt nothing. Still, he raised his eyebrows and smiled.
Jamie wore a nightgown to bed with the top unbuttoned so that her cleavage was visible. She'd shaved her legs and her underarms and washed her hair. And when she got into bed, she moved the pillow that normally separated them and crawled to Bob.
She told him to turn around, and he did, and then she started to massage his shoulders and back.
"What's this for?" He asked.
She was quiet for a while as she touched him. It had been so long since he'd felt her stroke that he got goosebumps.
"You're a good husband," She said.
Bob wished she hadn't said that.
"And you're a good father."
He wished she hadn't said that either.
She moved closer to him until her warm body was firmly pressed against his back. Then she wrapped her top hand around the front of him and began to tug.
"Does it feel good?"
"Yea," He whispered, "It feels good."
"I've been thinking," She said, "Why don't we have another?"
"Wouldn't it be perfect? Three kids?"
Bob wanted to scoot away from her, but her grasp on him overrode whatever sense he had.
"I don't know."
"But your so good with the kids," She said, "You're so good with me."
"I don't know," he quivered.
She kissed his neck.
He began, "Sometimes, I feel…."
"…Shh" She cut him off, then pulled his face to hers and kissed him hard.
He kissed her back.
And then he turned so that she was on top of him.
There was no stopping it.
"I love you," She said.
Bob wished she hadn't.
But he knew how to pretend.