CHRONICLES OF A MIDLIFE CRISIS
I should have seen it coming. That night, when I walked into the master bathroom and saw my husband dabbing his ring finger delicately around his left eye, I should have known. What are you doing?” I asked, trying to keep the smirk out of my voice.
“Moisturizing,” came his curt reply.
It was a sign, obviously. But I was so trusting, so naﶥ, that I actually thought it was sort of a good thing. Trent had never cared about his skin before, and I took this late-blooming interest in his epidermis as a sign of long-term maintenance, not vanity. The clothes were another clue.
“What are you wearing,” I asked, trying to keep the smirk out of my voice.
“They’re skinny leg trousers,” he’d replied defensively. “They’re in fashion.”
In hindsight, it seems so obvious. What forty-three-year-old man would wear skinny leg trousers unless he was in the throes of a severe mid-life crisis? But unfortunately, I still didn’t clue in. I thought a later-in-life sartorial bent was better than none at all – even if the pants did make him look as though he'd entered a Mick Jagger look-alike contest.
Unfortunately, these clues, so obvious in retrospect, have done nothing to prepare me. As I sit on the living room sofa facing Trent, I am completely blindsided by his words
“It’s not that I don’t love you, Lucy. You’re a wonderful woman … really. It’s just that … I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot. We’ve been together for a long time now, and there’s still a lot I need to experience … on my own.”
I stare at him, speechless. Despite the skin care and new pants, I still can’t believe my husband is leaving me.
“We don’t need to look at this as an ending,” he continues. “Let’s look at this as an opportunity to explore who we are as individuals. I want you to take this time to really find out who you are, too.”
“I know who I am!” I snap. “I’m your wife! I’m Samantha’s mother! I’m forty-years-old, I’m a Libra, and I’m a props buyer for the film industry!”
He looks at me with pity. “Is that all?”
I shriek, “Is that not enough?”
“I didn’t mean the question so literally. I want you to find out who you are on a deeper level, Luce. I just … it’s hard to explain.”
“Who is she?” I growl. All this finding himself shit is so transparent. “Is it someone at work? Some twenty-five year old at the gym? Who is it? Tell me!”
“This isn’t about anyone else. It’s about us. We haven’t really been connected for years now Lucy. We work, we co-parent, we pay the mortgage together, but we’re not together, not like we used to be.”
“It’s called life, Trent,” I fire back. “It’s called raising a family.”
“Well, that’s not they way I want to live my life. I want more – for you and for me.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake! “Fine! Have your mid-life crisis. Pack your clothes and get the hell out!”
Slowly, without looking back, he leaves the living room and moves to the staircase. His posture, the slump of shoulders says: I tried, but there’s no reasoning with her. I hear him ascending the stairs, moving deliberately to our bedroom and retrieving his suitcase from the closet. I hear the dull thud as he places it on the bed, unzips it, and begins filling it with his fashionable pants and skin care products.
Previously, I would have assumed a much more dramatic reaction to my husband’s desertion. Not that I’d ever given it much thought, but I’d always considered myself the type to slap him, throw dishes, or potentially, light him on fire. But I sit still and quiet on the leather sofa as I listen to my husband preparing to leave me. Other than a slight nausea, I am completely numb.
It seems like hours but eventually he reappears. He has left his suitcase by the front door. Hesitantly, he approaches me, a piece of paper in his hand. “I’ll be staying at Sutton Place Hotel until I get an apartment sorted out. Here’s the number.”
I look at the piece of paper he’s proffering. “Why would I need the number?”
“Just in case Samantha wants to talk to me.”
“I hope you plan on explaining to her why you’re leaving us.”
“Well …,” He rubs at the stubble on his chin, a sure sign that he’s nervous. “I was thinking that it might be better coming from you. I mean, you two are so close …”
“Ha!” I give a humourless laugh. “Nice try.” Since my daughter turned fifteen, close is not the word I’d choose to describe our relationship. Something along the lines of tense, strained, or even fraught would be more appropriate. “I’m not doing your dirty work for you. You can tell her how you want to find yourself on your own.”
He puffs out his cheeks and lets out a sigh. “Fine. If that’s the way you want to be.”
This prompts the emergence of the dish-throwing, fire-lighting lunatic that I knew lurked inside me. “Get out! Get out, you selfish bastard!” I scream, grabbing the remote control off the coffee table and hurling it at him. “I can’t believe I gave you eighteen years of my life just to have you throw them down the goddamn toilet!”
When Trent has scurried out of the house under a hail of remotes, books and shoes, I collapse on the sofa. Hot tears of anger, disappointment and loss course down my cheeks. Snot runs unwiped from my nose and a significant amount of drool coats my face. I sob, I wail, I pound the couch cushions. It is an emotional breakdown entirely befitting the situation. The man I have loved since I was twenty-two years old has just walked out on me. Of course, our marriage hasn’t been perfect – or even particularly pleasant for the last three years or so, but still!
I allow myself this unfettered wallowing for forty-five minutes. I could easily have continued for at least another half-hour, but my daughter will be home from the mall soon, and I don’t want her to see me like this. It is not my duty to explain her father’s abandonment, and if she sees me covered in all manner of mucous, she’s going to figure out that something’s wrong. Shuffling to the bathroom, I wipe my face with a cloth dampened in cool water. I still look pretty rough, but given that my daughter rarely looks at me any more, she’s unlikely to notice. This thought threatens to set me off again, but I compose myself just in time. I hear Samantha’s key in the front door.
“Hi hon!” I greet her brightly as she enters.
“Oh, hey,” she replies, not entirely unfriendly.
I watch my daughter as she slips out of the knee-high suede boots that she simply had to have or she’d be completely ostracized from her peer group. Samantha has her father’s sandy blonde hair and tall frame but her heart-shaped face is all me. As much as she wants to look mature and worldly, there is something innocent and childlike in her wide-set, grey eyes that no amount of navy eyeliner can erase. Indicating the small shopping bag in her hand, I ask, “What did you buy?”
“Just some earrings.”
“That’s nice. Can I see them?”
She looks at me as she hangs up her coat. “They’re just plain, fake gold hoops – nothing fancy.”
“They sound beautiful. Let’s see.”
Despite my only child’s self-absorbed and rather surly adolescent phase, she is still tuned into me. “Why do you care about my earrings? Why do you look all puffy? What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” I reply defensively. “I’ve got allergies. It’s so dusty in here.”
“Oh, so now your allergies are my fault? If you want me to dust, why don’t you just ask me?”
“I don’t want you to dust. I was just saying-”
“Isn’t that why you hired a cleaning lady? Maybe you should be getting mad at her instead of me.”
“I’m not getting mad at you!” I shriek.
“Whatevs.” She dismisses me and marches up to her room.
Well, that went well. At least she didn’t ask where her father was. It is tempting to return to the couch and my previous emotional breakdown, but I resist. Now that Samantha is home, I’ve got to pull myself together. I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do next. But the thought of living my life without Trent is overwhelming. The tears threaten to return, and I know I can’t get through this on my own. With a shaking hand, I reach for the phone.
With the receiver in my grip, I weigh my options. I'm lucky to have two close friends to turn to in my time of crisis: Hope and Camille. Hope and I met at a mommy and me playgroup when Samantha was about three and Hope’s daughter, Sarah-Louise was slightly older. It was her companionship that helped me survive those trying and isolating toddler years. Of course, she did sometimes make me feel like a defective model of a mother. While I was frequently overwhelmed by my one tiny daughter, Hope managed her brood of three with frightening aplomb. Seriously, she seemed to find the whole experience of having three children under the age of four rather enjoyable. I didn’t get it. But our friendship has endured over the years, and Trent and I spend a lot of time with Hope and Mike. A ragged breath escapes as I correct the tense of my verb: spent a lot of time with Hope and Mike.
Camille is a friend from work. We're both props buyers on one of the WB networks hit teen comedies. Our job is to be briefed on the scripts, and then provide all the materials that the actors use on set. When I first started in the business, I felt privileged to be spending ten hours a day shopping with someone else’s money. But when your list is largely comprised of baseball gloves, electric scooters and Algebra textbooks, it loses some of its appeal. In contrast to Hope, Camille is single, childless and quite happy to remain that way. After ending her ‘starter marriage’ in her mid-twenties, she’s been actively involved in the dating scene. Unfortunately, few men are up to her exacting standards and she usually ends up dumping them after a month or two. She used to tell me I was lucky to have married the perfect guy right off the bat. This thought sends a repressed sob shuddering through me.
I start to dial Hope, and then stop. Maybe Camille is a better choice to support me right now? Hope will show up with chamomile tea and a tin of homemade cookies. She’ll counsel me to be patient and understanding of Trent’s travails. “Give him time,” she’ll probably tell me. “This is a normal right of passage for men his age.” Camille, on the other hand, will show up with a bottle of wine, if not tequila. She’ll call Trent all sorts of nasty names: Pig, bastard, selfish prick. In fact, she’ll undoubtedly bash his entire gender. “All men are pigs, bastards, selfish pricks! You don’t need him,” she’ll spew. “Get yourself a dildo and you’ll actually be ahead of the game.”
So who do I turn to for support: Hope with her tea, cookies and understanding; or Camille with her tequila and righteous anger? I take a deep breath and close my eyes. Drifting down the stairs, I can hear my daughter’s CD player. She is listening to some bouncy pop song, blissfully unaware that her father has deserted her, chosen a life of nightclubs, weekends in Vegas and one night stands with cocktail waitresses to being her dad. And as an almost overwhelming surge of anger fills me, my decision is made. I dial the number.