Once Patty found a job teaching first grade at a public school near the condominium they bought, they joined a temple to meet other young Southern Jewish couples. But she missed her hometown with its simplicity and familiarity–the independent movie theater that served popcorn with real butter, her family physician who was a childhood friend, the dress shop where she could walk in and they knew her size and taste, and the semi-annual sample shoe sales she attended where, because of her tiny sized-5 ½B, she would buy dozens of pairs at bargain-basement prices. She’d come home from those sales and stuff them into her closet. Sam would complain that when he opened their closet door, a tsunami of shoes would fall on his head.
Now he was gone. She played the morning he left in her head multiple times, getting stuck on the why, like a needle caught in a groove. It became a low-rent B-movie. She was in their all-white kitchen with gleaming marble countertops rinsing dishes and loading the dishwasher, wiping the countertops and rinsing the sponge, which was already worn out and smelly and thinking she needed to pitch it and replace it with a new one. When she shut off the faucet, she heard Sam. He walked into the kitchen while buttoning the cuffs of his new deep blue checked, button-down shirt which he paired with a gray pinstriped suit and polka dot tie, trying to imitate that English pattern-on-pattern look that works better in upholstery than men’s fashion. He grabbed a glass of cranberry juice; he had heard on NPR that it was good for the kidneys.
He was talking less to Patty those days but that morning, he started complaining that he felt “so old.” He was talking while grinding his beans for coffee. That day it was a light fall blends with a bit of citrus and honey, a new one from the hip coffee bean shop nearby, Owen’s Grind. Patty rolled her eyes. “But, Sam honey, you’re so lucky still to have hair and not having to do a comb over like those old newscasters do who don’t want to lose their jobs. You’re slim and healthy, and you have a good job (and Patty thought why not add), and a devoted, loving, hard-working wife.”
He wasn’t listening and continued, “I’m sick of my job. Burned out.” And then he went on and on. Patty wondered when he’d be finished with this fabulous monologue that one of Shakespeare’s characters never would have delivered so well. “What would you like to do?” she remembered asking politely. “I can also step up and go for principal at my school which will pay more so you can cut back?”
“I don’t know. Find some young chick like the one at Owen’s Grind,” he smirked.
She hoped he was joking and tried to change the subject asking: “What do you think about a woman running for vice president?” He didn’t answer. “Sam, did you hear me?” Patty raised her voice growing more impatient at his failure to respond.
“Of course I did. You’re not fun any more.”
Patty’s eyes widened. That hurt. “You never compliment me about anything these days,” she said.
“What am I supposed to say? Compliment you for your sagging arms? Your lousy cooking? Uninspired, boring sex? I’m just not attracted to you any longer.” As he talked, he started bending over to grasp his knees, his nervous response.
The blood drained from Patty’s face. Amazing how all her faults in his eyes blended together, molding them all into a tidy, disturbing narrative in which she starred. He plucked at one of his sideburns with impatience, “Is this conversation over?” he asked as he banged down his juice glass and put on his fancy suit jacket, only the best for Sam, walked toward the door, picked up his deep mahogany colored, monogrammed Gucci briefcase, and donned his aviator sunglasses with thin rims.
Patty gripped the counter. She was enraged and heartsick. Sam kept walking and grabbed his raincoat (Burberry, of course) and headed for the door. Patty trailed after him, “I just can’t seem to please you any longer. And forget sex. That vanished like a puff of smoke.” She looked to see if there was a reaction.
He just stood there, now looking shocked. It was her cue to keep going. She began feeling as heated as the pizza oven they briefly debated but couldn’t afford to put in their newly remodeled kitchen. The sun filtered through the geometric-patterned curtains above their heads forming shadow images on Sam’s head.
Then Sam said, the words still echoing in Patty’s head, “Sex with you is like enduring one of your long dull meals.”
Patty asked, “Do we need some new positions:” She tried desperately for some levity. “I’ll get a book in a brown paper wrapper or a video or we’ll get Masters and Johnson-type sex counseling.”
“There’s no romance,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ve been feeling this for a very long time. I actually hate being in the same room or space with you.” When he rose from his chair, his face was red.
“I didn’t realize you didn’t like me,” she said looking up at Sam. At that point, Patty knew her marriage was in big trouble. She felt the bottom slowly dropping out of her life much like the sensation she had the time she went on the log roll theme park thrill ride down a narrow channel. Suddenly she saw herself alone, standing on the street corner, homeless, waiting for someone to give her money so she could buy her next meal. She took a deep shuddering breath, like a child calming herself after a long cry and asked, “Is that all?”
And then he slammed the door and was gone.
Patty had a busy morning ahead. She stretched, yawned, got out of bed, and sauntered to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash the habitual scowl off her face that resembled one of those emojis on her iPhone. She never liked them feeling they were sort of infantile yet now the image of the sad face seemed to peg her down-in-the-dumps mood perfectly.
She checked the clock. Oh, she thought, it’s getting late. I better get dressed. The contractor was arriving to build a small closet in the master bathroom and to give the bathroom and master bedroom a fresh coat of paint. She was sticking with the same colors…a ballroom blue that she chose 10 years ago when they repainted their home. The decision to leave well enough alone, instead of rushing over to the paint store and driving herself nuts with choices, seemed more prudent.
She dressed in jeans and a loose top, sat down at her French Provincial-style dressing table in her large bathroom with its marble floor and whirlpool tub the size of a small wading pool and quickly futzed with her hair, using a curling iron to add some poof, brushed some Revlon plumb-tone blush on her cheeks for color and added a thin coat of Energizing Melon lip gloss. The doorbell rang and while running to open the door she quickly glanced in the hall mirror. “You never know,” she said to her mirror image and pushed back an unruly curl on the left side of her face.
Since the divorce, she couldn’t afford to continue to live in their large and pricey home. She was going to sell it and was getting everything in tip-top shape to put the home on the market, although she didn’t know where she was going to live. She had time to figure this out, she reasoned.
Was it really just her lackluster cooking and uninspired sex that caused Sam to leave? He had told her repeatedly, “Your culinary skills are about as useful as the Amco Pepper Prepper your aunt gave you last year for your birthday–nice idea but poor execution.” He’d pontificate ad nauseum about the shortcomings of her meatloaf despite its carefully simmered mushrooms and caramelized onions. This was the Thursday night special as Sam facetiously referred to it. And Tuesdays was risotto with different veggies, depending on what she found fresh in the market. Didn’t he appreciate that effort? When Sam would suggest, “Patty, why don’t you take some cooking lessons?” she pretended not to hear for she’d always approached cooking as cautiously as one might approach an electric fence. Yes, she reasoned, that was part of why he left and, of course, the fact that he probably was having a midlife crisis and found someone else who quickly figured out how to feed his stomach, his ego, and his sex drive. Patty should have seen the signs, the motorcycle, tighter jeans, and wilder checked and striped shirts.
Then came the divorce which was a long drawn-out affair that resulted in her blood pressure rising and income and lifestyle dipping as Sam threw big bucks at lawyers to “win,” which in his mentality would mean less for her. She finally settled for less than she should have, but wanted the process to end and some new type of life to begin. Anything would be better than depositions, interrogatories, process servers, and meetings with her lawyers.
“What am I supposed to do now?” she lamented to her attorney when it was over knowing that all she could do at this point was to take one step forward at a time as her life assumed a new shape. Although she retired from teaching, she knew she could tutor to bring in extra money. Not exactly a cash cow. And it wouldn’t get her out of the house or help her meet new people, as in men, although the thought of going out with a strange man was about as appealing as walking on broken glass.
Part III next week.