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.
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.
A chapter depicting some backstory
My book is not fiction; it’s a memoir. And a memoir reflects an author’s representation of the truth, as remembered through the filter of the author’s own experience. This is how I remember one night back in 2002.
My heart raced as I waited for the Laramie police to arrive. Oh, God, did I do the right thing? I wondered. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought.
I met the two female officers at the front door and closed it behind me. “I think everything’s under control now,” I said, shivering in the overnight chill. “I probably don’t need you after all.”
“Where is he now, ma’am?” the taller woman asked. I’d put her at about five-foot three. Talk about a small police department. Good thing I didn’t fear for my life.
“In the basement,” I replied. “There’s a little room with a couch. He’s settling down now. I probably didn’t need to call. I’m sorry to bother you.”
“We’d like to speak to him, ma’am,” the other one said.
I could tell they had no intention of leaving, so I let them into the house and led them through the kitchen to the stairs.
“Why don’t you stay here,” one of them advised in a question that wasn’t a question. The two of them trudged down the steps and after a moment, the blasting Iron Maiden CD shut off mid-scream.
I remained in the kitchen, mentally trying to justify the call. I kind of expected a blowout that night, since the day marked the last day of classes. He was particularly vulnerable when something came to an end, whether it was the semester, a paper he’d written for an academic journal, or sometimes simply the end of the week. All ends seemed to lead to the deep end.
I knew the pattern well. The beers in the first stage of intoxication inspired brilliant philosophical revelations, invariably related to harness racing or the stock market. During Stage Two, he loved me deeply, and would even wake me from a sound sleep to profess his adoration. “I’m the luckiest guy, babe,” he’d say. “You’re the woman for me. You understand me.”
And then there was Stage Three.
Somehow between the eighth and tenth beers the most perfect woman on earth inexplicably morphed into a white trash whore who should be eternally grateful to be married to an amazing guy like him. He would sometimes accompany the tirade with a peculiar, and extremely annoying, practice of pouring water on me in bed. Water doesn’t leave a mark, but believe me, it can scar.
Often when events began to unfold like that, I’d leave before the situation got too ugly. But on that night I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I’d already taken my contacts out and wasn’t up to facing a puzzled front desk clerk remarking on the fact that I was checking into a motel three blocks from my house.
I should have left anyway; I should have recognized the new level of aggression, the way he followed me around, pressing his weight into me and shouting, “You can’t control me!” “You fucking bitch!” and other selections from his greatest inebriated hits. He’d never been physically violent, but the behavior that night scared me. I didn’t want to risk what could happen if his mood escalated. Mostly I worried he might accidentally shove me into something or send me flying down the very cellar stairs I’d fantasized about finding his drunken ass at the base of. I thought I was right to call the police. Maybe not.
I listened hard at the top of the stairs, but heard only muffled conversation. What the hell could they be talking about? He’s probably giving them stock tips.
The women finally made their way back upstairs. I half expected them to tell me he’s the greatest guy and I should be thankful to be his wife.
“He’s going to stay down there tonight,” the smaller one reported. “I think he’ll be asleep soon. I doubt you have anything to worry about.” She handed me a card with her name and badge number. “I’ve circled a referral on the back for Project SAFE. They can help you if you need a place to stay. I think you’ll be okay for tonight, but you’ll have the number in case you need it in the future.”
A police officer just gave me a referral to a women’s shelter.
“You know, I have a master’s degree…” I wanted to say. Instead, I took the card and muttered, “Thank you.”