Chapter 4 Part 1
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Subject: Your Stuff
How are things? Hope it’s going well. Found a few of your books and one of your notebooks in the boxes I used when moving out. I got a job in New York and will be leaving soon. I can leave your things in a box at the security desk.
Let me know.
Day 2 Bali
My second day in Bali wasn’t what I expected it to be. Well, my life isn’t what I expected it to be, so I guess I should stop expecting anything. I wish the last part of the day was different. I wish I didn’t have to start this journal entry with a reference to Allen. Yesterday, I dared myself to live the moment. And I believe I did. Fleeting moments, but they were lived. Then, just as I thought I might get back to my room and have a good night’s sleep, for a change, I get an email from him. I don’t think words can describe how I felt when I saw his name in my inbox. Ever since I found out about his affair, his name has started to feel different. Strange, I know. But names are powerful – somehow they become the person. For long, Allen’s name was comfort, familiarity, love. Now, Allen’s name is anxiety, fear, and anger – all at once. All of this in a name. I saw a spider’s web yesterday and it reminded me of how I feel about Allen, especially when I see his name somewhere. It’s like my emotions are entangled in a web made of the letters of his name, and I long to free myself, but I don’t know how.
It didn’t take long for me to notice the subject of his email “Your stuff”. My stuff? Those pronouns. Yours, mine, ours. The irony is how we list those pronouns together, so easily, like they’re all examples of the same thing. Possession. Yours, mine, ours. But in my life, the second ‘ours’ became ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ became ‘hers’ – was the day my world fell apart.
He’s leaving. He’s leaving Chicago. And my stuff is in his way. Ok, well, maybe I’m being a little bit dramatic. Is he being nice? Does he feel the need to tell me that he’s leaving? Leaving my stuff with security guards at his office building. And what does he expect me to do? Hello, I’m Lara, Allen’s ex-wife, and I’m here to collect ‘my stuff’. Wow Allen. You’re not really a knight in shining armor anymore, are you? Or were you ever? Who are you Allen?
Lara got two hours of sleep that night. Maybe three. She didn’t really know. All she knew was that there was an email from Allen telling her to collect her things because he was leaving to New York. So now you’re leaving to New York, Allen. Now you’re moving to be with her. She wanted to get that phone call, that message, someone telling her “Guess what? He left her.” Or even better “Guess what? She left him.” And she would think to herself ‘Do you know what it feels like now to be left behind Allen?’
When Eleanor knocked on Lara’s door that morning, Lara was under her duvet, her eyes closed. She thought perhaps if she just stayed there, if she pretended that no one was knocking on her door, if she could just be a woman in a place where time didn’t matter, where nothing happened, where nothing needed to happen- then maybe things would be better.
“Come in Eleanor. I’m up,” Lara said as she sat up in her bed.
“Good morning darling. Did you enjoy last night?”
“Yea, it was good. It was fun. Eric’s a great guy. I thought it would feel a bit strange, but it was actually really nice.”
“That’s wonderful! I’m so glad to hear that,” Eleanor said as she sat on the bed next to Lara, “so what’s wrong?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Quite obvious, yes.”
“I got an email from Allen,” Lara opened the email and gave the phone to Eleanor.
Eleanor read the email quickly, “Your stuff.”
“Yes exactly. Your stuff. I had a problem with ‘thank you’, now it’s a new phrase ‘your stuff,” Lara sighed.
“I mean I guess it is your stuff Lara, but I know it’s not that simple.”
“He’s moving to New York. I thought she would move to Chicago. I’m pretty sure now that’s where she lives. I’m not proud to say this, but I did some research after I saw that picture the other day. She works in his company’s offices in New York”
“Well, it’s a good thing he’s leaving. At least you don’t have to worry about bumping into him or …”
“I told him I’d love for us to go to New York a year ago when his company offered him the opportunity to move to their offices there. He never told me about it. I found out from his friend’s wife at a dinner we attended. I asked him about it later. I told him I thought it could be a really nice change for us, something new. He insisted that staying in Chicago was best for both of us. He insisted because he didn’t want me there … where she was. Now, he’s going. I’m such an idiot,” Lara laughed nervously.
“Lara, you’re not an idiot. You gave him a chance. You trusted your relationship and gave him the benefit of the doubt.”
“I’m an idiot,” Lara repeated, “What would you do Eleanor? About this email, I mean”
“He would never hear from me,” Eleanor said firmly.
“It makes me so angry that he can write such an indifferent email. Like I’m supposed to be fine. Like it’s supposed to be normal for him to send me an email like this out of nowhere. The entire time he’s dealt with it like it’s nothing. It hurts so much Eleanor,” Lara grasped the duvet tightly with her fingers.
“You’re hurting yourself too, Lara, by making assumptions. You have no idea how he feels. You know how he acts.”
“He has no feelings!”
Eleanor nodded, “Well, he acts like he doesn’t. But we still don’t know how he feels. And quite frankly, at this point, I don’t think you should care. He may be callous, or he may be feeling guilty. We’ll never know.”
“Do you think he ever regrets this? I know I’m contradicting myself here. Do you think maybe he’ll regret it? I want to know he will. I want to believe he will.”
“You may never know, Lara. It’s why I want you to stop looking for meaning in everything he’s said or done. Or even in this email. He sends you an email and you’re stuck here trying to figure out. I’m pretty sure if those books were important enough you would have probably noticed they were gone by now. You don’t need them. You don’t need any contact with him, either.”
“But what if I can have one last conversation with him? Closure.”
“He wants to leave them in a box with the security guards.”
“He asked how I’m doing. I mean that’s kind of a chance for me to tell him how I’m feeling right now. Does he even remember I’m in Bali? That this was supposed to be our anniversary? And you’re right, the books aren’t so important. But he should know that too. Maybe, just maybe he also wants …”
“Lara, enough. Enough maybes. Sometimes there is no closure, at least not the one we want. Wasn’t the divorce a kind of closure?”
“There should always be closure,” Lara said adamantly, “and how can you move on, and start over, when there’s no end to how you’re feeling?
“I know this may sound harsh, Lara, but sometimes when we cling so much to this attempt to find closure it’s because we’re trying to justify not moving on. We convince ourselves we’ll only move on when we find closure, even when we are given so many signs that what was there is now over.”
“So, you’re saying I’m making excuses for feeling this way?” Lara asked tersely.
“I didn’t mean it that way, Lara. I just meant …”
“Eleanor, I’m really sorry. I need to be alone.”
“Of course. I’m here if you need me though. I’ll be reading by the pool. I don’t think I’m doing yoga today.”
“Thank you,” Lara said as Eleanor walked out of the room.
As soon as Eleanor left the room, Lara felt guilty for being short with Eleanor. Eleanor was trying to help. Lara understood that, but she could not entertain the thoughts of not getting closure. The least she felt she deserved was some closure. She wasn’t crazy to want closure. She needed it. She needed it so badly. Wasn’t the divorce a kind of closure? No it wasn’t. That has his closure. Things ended there for him, not for me. He gets to move on. He gets to be free. I have to live with this. I have to live with questions unanswered. Closure is getting answers. I need answers.
Lara got ready and went to find Eleanor by the pool. She needed to apologize to Eleanor.
“Eleanor, I am really sorry. I know you’re just trying to help.”
“Lara darling, it’s fine. Really. I understand.”
“I just feel that only closure can make this better.”
“What would closure be like?”
“I want to know. I want to know exactly why he left. He fell in love with someone else – but, why did he? What was wrong about us? How can I go on living my life not knowing what was wrong? What did I do wrong? That’s the part that really scares me the most. Somewhere inside I wonder if I did something wrong. I know I’m not perfect. Maybe I wasn’t loving enough at times. Maybe there was something he needed that I couldn’t give him. Maybe I was very needy. Maybe I pushed him away. And the thought that I could have done something differently …”
“You’ll never know exactly what it was, why he went away. Even if he gives you an answer. We’re so complex – humans, sometimes we don’t even know why we do the things we do.”
“I know. It’s just I can’t stop thinking of every mistake I made in our relationship. The day I wasn’t attentive enough. The day I said something that hurt him. I mean, I know I made some mistakes too. But don’t we all? Don’t we all sometimes say things we wish we hadn’t said? But I don’t remember anything that was so bad that it explains the end of our marriage …”
“Don’t go there, Lara. Don’t start blaming yourself. If you’ve made mistakes, it’s good to know what they were and understand how you can do things differently, but those mistakes aren’t the only reason you’re not with Allen anymore. Don’t oversimplify it. And it’s impossible to make absolutely no mistakes in a relationship.”
“You’re right. I just …”
“It’s ok. How you’re feeling is normal. You can’t help but go back and think of everything and try to make sense of it. But if you start to become more aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, maybe you can start to do it less often.”
Lara nodded, “I guess so … did ever get better for you, Eleanor? Was it this bad after your divorce? I mean I don’t really know what happened …”
“But you want to know what happened,” Eleanor smiled.
“I have to admit – yes.”
“I’ll tell you Lara, but I hope it doesn’t affect what you think of me.”
“Why would it …”
“Well, hear my story first. Then it’s up to you— to judge or not.”
“I got married when I was twenty-four. He was thirty. Bill, my ex-husband, was the first man in my life. I don’t think I was in love with him. I understand that now. But I had a lot of respect for him. He was accomplished, very well-read, and came from a really nice family. Although I had seen what my mom had gone through, and knew how horrible a marriage could turn out to be, I wanted to be married, and I wanted it to be good. The wedding, decorating the house, having children – all of it really appealed to me. I loved studying literature and thought I would like to teach, but I wasn’t in a hurry to do that.
When I met Bill, and he showered me with attention, the kind that I really wanted, it felt right. But, it didn’t last long. After a few years of marriage, and after I had Mark, my eldest, things changed. Bill became very angry all the time. I had gained some weight from the pregnancy, and every opportunity he had to tell me I needed to lose weight, he would. I suspected he might be cheating – especially after my mom’s experience, but I never had any proof. It’s possible that he wasn’t. He just seemed on edge all the time – and wasn’t exactly a doting father either. He seemed to think we were a burden. Or at least he made me feel that way. I wanted answers too. I spoke to him many times. I asked him why he was always angry, and he said that I didn’t really get him – that ever since I became a mother, he wasn’t getting enough attention from me. I found it strange he felt that way, but I tried to pay more attention. I tried to be more of a wife than just a mother. Something wasn’t right. We started fighting over the smallest things. I admit I shouted too. Once we were both so loud that we woke up Mark. I couldn’t sleep that night. He was only four months old, and I felt so guilty. I cried all night. I felt alone and tired. It got even worse when Bill got fired from his job, for a reason that I still don’t know. He got angrier. He resented me. He blamed me for not being able to focus at work. I was sad. I wanted a divorce, but it wasn’t that easy. I didn’t want to move back in with my parents. I didn’t have much. I wasn’t exactly an independent woman. The fights got worse. And then there was someone …”
“Someone in his life?” Lara asked.
“No, in mine.”
Lara’s eyes widened, “you met someone?”
“Yes. A married man. Do you hate me yet?”
“No,” Lara shook her head, “what happened?”
“I would take Mark to the park a few days a week. I met him one time. His name was Richard. His wife was usually there with the kids, but there was one time when he was there with them. We started talking. He didn’t seem like a very happy man. And I was definitely an unhappy woman. It’s always a risk – when an unhappy woman and an unhappy woman meet. We would talk whenever he came to the park. I had missed that feeling of having someone listen. We didn’t talk much about our spouses. It was more about the children and us.
When Bill found a job and went back to work, I thought things would get better. But it was the same. He was still a very angry man. Whenever my mother would take Mark to spend the day, I would meet Richard. Always in a public place, worried someone would see us. Nothing physical ever happened between us. It was just the conversations we had. I thought of his wife sometimes. I wondered how I would feel if there was a woman that my husband was opening up to. But I was in such a dark place that it was hard for me to put his wife’s feelings over my needs. It was selfish. I was selfish. I was lost. It was no excuse. I knew he had become attached to me. And when he started wanting more of the relationship, it was like a wake-up call. I stopped talking to him. I prayed that he would stay with his wife and that I hadn’t ruined his marriage. I tried getting closer to Bill, but that never worked, and the divorce was inevitable.
Richard’s wife never found out. They’re still married. And I thank God they are. I couldn’t have lived with that. I went to therapy for years. I needed to talk. I needed to understand how I could’ve allowed myself to open up to someone other than my husband. I needed to forgive myself for all the time I spent with Rich, for all the time he spent with me – not with his family. I felt guilty about Bill too, of course. But the relationship was so bad that I knew it had to end, and I knew that his anger had put a lot of strain on the marriage. I learned to forgive him and myself.”
Eleanor could see that Lara looked taken aback.
“Is this too much Lara?”
“No, no. I just …..”
“You didn’t think this would be my story, did you?”
“I didn’t mean that, Eleanor. I really appreciate you sharing this with me. And it must have been really difficult living with Bill.”
Lara wanted to be able to say more. She wanted to be able to say that she understood why Eleanor would’ve let Richard into her life. She wanted to be able to tell Eleanor that she wasn’t judging her, that she still respected her as much as she did before she shared her story. But she wasn’t sure how she felt about Eleanor in that moment. She could tell that Eleanor had suffered, that she genuinely regretted her connection with Richard. She could tell that Eleanor was in a dark place, that perhaps she wouldn’t have gotten close to a married man, or emotionally cheated on her husband, had the circumstances been different. Lara really wanted to understand. She really wanted to feel better about this. She really wanted to reserve judgment.
But suddenly, in that moment, Lara was the wife, and Eleanor was the other woman.
End of Chapter 4, part 1
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