Excerpts from Bastard Husband: A Love Story
Today I put my bastard husband on a plane to the other side of the world. He wasn’t always a bastard. He was perfect and I loved everything about him. Well, almost everything. I may never see him again.
There were no last hugs, not even a half-hearted effort to put a few words together. I could have easily come to a rolling stop at the airport and pushed his ass into the passenger drop-off lane; instead, I parked in the short-term lot and stayed with him throughout the check-in process, hoping, I suppose, to see some flicker of caring on his part. But we plodded through the terminal in silence, and when we reached the security checkpoint where I could go no further, he looked in my direction and said, “See ya.”
As he walked away and found his place in line, I gave him the finger, right there in the crowded airport. I do that a lot in public places, usually while trying to coax him off a barstool and away from a new-found friend with tavern wisdom far more compelling than anything I have to offer. Hell, I gave him the finger two nights ago in the Green Valley Ranch casino when I couldn’t pry him from the poker table before he marched off on his own because “the dealer gypped him.” He is never aware of my gesture, and although it’s not my most mature practice, I do enjoy an adolescent satisfaction in my passive-aggressive retaliation. It’s just that it wouldn’t have killed him to give me a proper good-bye.
Insight into the early years
If you've ever read my blog, you know I'm a whack job. This excerpt gives some insight as to why.
I grew up in Albany, New York, where I lived for the first forty-three years of my life. I’m the oldest of five kids spaced over a fourteen-year period, which means I was in ninth grade when my little sister was born. My mother and the girl who sat next to me in French class were pregnant at the same time. Yuk.
Maybe because she always had a new baby to be home with, Mom became increasingly comfortable staying in the house, eventually to the point where she couldn’t leave. She developed agoraphobia and was often doped up on “nerve pills,” which kept her sacked out on the couch for most of the day, waking up for only two things: Jeopardy and the weather during the six o’clock news. Considering she never left the house, the obsession with the weather seemed a bit peculiar. Perhaps she wondered, “Will I need the heavy afghan over me tomorrow or just a light cotton blanket?”
My father, like his father, worked as a salesman for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, a job he hated but held until after his parents died. Once they were gone, he pursued a position more in line with his natural talent—he became a bus driver. Daddy loved driving the bus. “I don’t work,” he’d brag, “I drive other people to work.” He’d sign up for all the overtime he could, no doubt to get out of the house since my mother never left it. Work was the one place Daddy could get some peace and quiet, and in an effort to reduce the passenger load, he’d sometimes ask the riders, “Have you ever thought of buying a car? Everyone has a car these days.” They’d laugh at his good-natured ribbing, but I’m sure he would have dropped them off at the auto showroom had one been on his route.
So in our house, we had five kids, two parents, and one bathroom, where my father lived when he was home. He’d head upstairs with the paper, his coffee, the racing forms… strip down to his boxer shorts and T-shirt… and settle in. And if we had to pee before his next work shift, it was too goddamn bad. Good thing he wasn’t around much, because by now we’d all be hooked up to dialysis machines. I remember no matter how desperately you had to go, you never wanted to be first in line once he finished up, for the ensuing stench was the most vile combination of shit and Old Spice you could possibly imagine. Daddy died four years ago, sitting on the toilet. Surely it was the law of averages.
As for me, I was a shy and quiet child, a bookworm with big dreams, mostly of escaping from the nuthouse. At age eight, I wrote a letter to whomever I thought was in charge of the TV show Bonanza suggesting they write in a part for a younger sister, to be played by me, of course. I offered some possible storylines and assured them that although I had never actually been on a horse, I was certainly willing to learn. In response, I received a colored glossy photo signed by all the Cartwright men, but alas, no offer of an acting contract.
A year later, I sent Johnny Carson a few of my favorite jokes, fantasizing about how the audience would roar when he opened his monologue with, “How did Captain Hook die? … He wiped himself with the wrong hand!” Fancying myself as quite mature for my age, and to address Johnny’s older, late-night demographic, I also included what I thought was a solid demonstration of my ability to write adult humor: “What’s pink and squishy and lies at the bottom of the ocean? Moby’s Dick!”
Those were my first experiences with rejection, which even back then I regarded not as a reflection of my own shortcomings, but the result of someone else’s regrettable lack of insight.
A glimpse of life in Utah
In this chapter I return to Utah to dump some stuff in my ex's car and give readers just a glimspe of what it was like to live there. It's a middle chapter, so it's a bit out of context, but you'll get the picture.
This is good; I need to get away. I’ve been driving myself nuts getting ready for Sunday night--analyzing, restructuring, and punching up my material. (It’s five minutes, for God’s sake.) Plus I want to get rid of his stuff. My apartment is my sacred space and I don’t need his crap stinking up the joint.
Our old house in Utah looks the same. I could have headed directly to the faculty parking lot, but it takes such minimal effort—in this case, a three-block detour—to perpetuate my exercise in self-torture. Scabs from emotional wounds beg to be picked at, and I willingly oblige, if only to confirm I’ll still bleed. Sure enough, the sight of someone else’s red Neon sitting in the driveway that used to be ours invokes the perfect degree of suffering. Linda doesn’t live here anymore. Another two steps back in the healing process. Good job.
The town looks the same, too. Nestled in the foothills of magnificent red rocks, innocuous little mom-and-pop establishments peddle Victorian gifts, country living décor, scrapbook supplies--nothing funky or eccentric. The newsstand displays this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan behind a chunk of black plastic to shield us from the shapely model’s allure. While Cedar City’s physical setting calls to one’s sense of adventure, the collective vibe feels bleached and scoured to ensure nothing skirting the borders of decency will ever take root. Yuk.
I could shake off the repressive culture when I lived here, but after five months of enjoying the decadence of Las Vegas, this place now gives me the creeps. My innate defiance against authority yearns to rebel. I fantasize about covering myself in vulgar tattoos and shouting obscenities as I strut down Main Street with a lesbian lover—let’s make her black—in our matching “Jesus Hates Me” t-shirts. It’s a shame; it’s beautiful here. If I could populate the town with the people from Laramie, I’d never want to leave.
His car is parked in its usual spot, and according to plan, he’s left it unlocked. I dump two bags of crap in the back seat. That should be the last of it. I meant to tell him he’d better change the address for his precious Economist subscription because from now on I’m throwing them the fuck out.
It’s weird to be in his energy. But since I am, I may as well snoop a little. I search for a morsel of evidence, some hint of what he’s been up to lately, unsure of what I hope to find. Receipts? Condoms? The Guide to Picking Up Girls, Volume II? I’d still love to know what that was about. I rummage through his glove compartment—“glove box,” as he calls it—and find, of all things, gloves. Damn! He’s not this tidy. I bet he cleaned out the car just this morning, knowing I’d be in it.
Afterward I meet up with my girlfriends Michael and Becky at the bar at Applebee’s. Earth-mother Becky, in her flowing skirt and Birkenstocks, is as sweet as ever. She has papers to grade, though, and stays for only a minute. Too bad. Michael is decked out in Ann Taylor from head to toe, her way of proclaiming, “I’m not from here; I just live here.” She continues to struggle, I can tell. Her clothes are exquisite, but her face looks like she just had a throw-up burp.
Who could blame her? I’d be reaching for the razor blades if I were in the middle of my third divorce. She and Mona are the same age, and like Mona, her “marital dissolution” is much more complicated than mine was. They have assets to divide, a house to give up. But unlike Mona, Michael actually liked her husband. That makes it harder.
She motions for a refill and our pig-tailed barmaid hurries over.
“I’m sorry, ladies, I can’t serve you another drink until you order something to eat,” she informs us.
“Oh, Jesus,” I groan.
“Exactly,” Michael murmurs.
Someone in pigtails is denying us alcohol. “You can’t have more than one drink unless you order food,” she explains. “Would you like to try our cheesy bacon tavern chips?”
Michael can bite that girl’s head off in one chomp. “Whatever happened to separation of church and state?” she asks, as she reaches for her lighter and cigarettes.
Pippi Longstocking is all over her. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You’ll have to go outside to smoke.” Michael rolls her eyes in my direction. She’s deliberately being a pain in the ass, and she’s digging it. “OK,” she sighs, “we’ll take your cheesy bacon whatever-the-hell-it-is and I’ll have another vodka and cranberry.”
“Make it a double,” she adds, kicking me under the bar.
“We can’t serve doubles, ma’am. I can give you a one-ounce pour and a side car. That’s a one-ounce shot on the side. You’ll have to mix it yourself.”
“You can’t serve doubles?” Michael shakes her head, though she knows the rules damn well. “Fine, give me the side car thing.” God, she’s precious. As long as it’s not directed at me, bitchy people can be utterly delightful.
I want to play, too. “I’ll have another Sam Adams, please.”
“Ma’am, I can’t serve you until you’ve finished that one. You can only have one beer in front of you at a time.”
I raise my three-quarter empty glass. “So if I chug this, you’ll bring me another?”
“You want me to chug my beer before I drive all the way back to Vegas?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she says, and marches away while she still can.
I turn to Michael, and though I’m no Jack Nicholson, coolly deliver my line. “I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast . . .” I need go no further. She gets it. Michael is pretty when she smiles.
I tell her about my stand-up debut three days from now.
“I can see you doing comedy,” she comments, without a hint of wonder. “You’re the funniest person I know.” Coming from someone whose lips curl only while tormenting a poor coed over morality laws, that means a lot. I think.
A short patch of I-15 clips the remote northwestern corner of Arizona and winds along the narrow walls of the Virgin River canyon. My drive through here earlier in the day was a steady climb through colorful cliffs and rocky crags, a scene, like so many out West, that impels me to thank God for my eyesight. Tonight I cruise downhill in the darkness, a little faster than I probably should. With both hands on the steering wheel, I maneuver the twisting pavement like a Play Station game, accumulating imaginary points with every passing mile marker.
This bit of highway that links the divergent worlds of Utah and Nevada serves as a birth canal of sorts. It was wonderful to see Becky and Michael, but it's clear they're in a world where I no longer fit; that part of my life is over. Even the twinge of nostalgia I felt in front of our old house ebbed straightaway.
After twenty minutes of joyful careening, the road ejects me from the canyon into the wide open sky. Cut loose from the protective parent, I'm on my own, with infinite possibilities lying ahead.
Utah is behind me. I'm a Vegas girl now.