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Betrayed Spouse 101

Any Day Now
by Clara Stein

Any day now, pen will kiss paper, and I will no longer be a wife.

Any day now, a judge will read over my divorce agreement and sign her name on a piece of paper. I won't know about it until she sends a postcard to my lawyer and my lawyer sends a letter to me.

Any day now, with the stroke of a pen I will no longer be married to my husband. My husband who has a girlfriend.

Like an astronaut on a space walk, I will be cut free, no longer attached to a pledge of devotion, no longer bound to a body I came to abhor. Any day now I will be free from this man, my mother ship.

When we relay the children back and forth between us, which is almost daily, he knows I do not want him to touch me and he respectfully abides. We hand over child-support checks, homework, a violin and a guitar, coupons for skating rinks and backpacks, all without touching. When I jettison from this man, any day now, I will be that much farther from his gentle touch; the hands he can warm up like a heater before he begins a massage; hands that rubbed my feet almost nightly; meaty working-class fisherman's hands that seemed to have a love and a heat all their own.

What was it about his hands, in the night when he held me, that reminded me of my mother's hands? Hers are unique, scarred from a terrible burning. Her pinky is half-melted and her knuckles are frozen. Was it his ability to care for me -- to reach through the defenses and isolation? Once even, in sleep, we held each other, and for minutes we dreamed the same dream.

When this judge agrees to the terms of the "irremediable breakdown of our marriage," and gavels our end, what will she know of our 12 years together? Will she know just how hard he pushed on my pelvis, me in labor, pushing out our son, me screaming, "Hips, hips, hips!" Will she know, not mentioned in the "Stipulated Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage," how he painted our initials inside a heart on every telephone pole from Rt. 95 to Hiram?

Could she know that our marriage began with a hesitant leap of faith, on a dock in Boston, with the words "I do, and I love you, Clara." Could she tell me whether it was denial or faith that led him to write his own vow: "To be truthful in words and actions." Would she be surprised to learn how often he broke that vow, that our 11-year marriage ended last year, the moment he gave his answer to my question: "Did you or did you not give me hepatitis B?" His answer was "I did."

Sitting in my elegant lawyer's office last week, I signed all the papers. Each time she asked me to sign another empty line, I was dumbfounded to see his signature, so alive, so close, just to the left of where mine was to go. The familiar loping lines made me feel an immediate tenderness. How many documents had we signed, side by side, over the dozen years? Marriage certificate, birth certificates, homes loans, the draft of the wills that were never filed.

I wait for the instant this coming week, when the judge's pen kisses the paper, and at the very last letter of her scrawled name, my marriage is over. When the 34-page stipulated judgment dissolves my marriage, the instant when the divorce is no longer reversible and I can no longer stop the process with a hysterical call to my lawyer or to the judge herself. I will not know when this instant comes; I will go about my business. There I will be with my umbilicus cut, breathing on my own. But I will not know it.

There are all these numbers out there that I do not know. Just how many hours, accumulative, did his tongue touch mine in all our kisses lined up together? Exactly how many times did I criticize him? There are all these things I cannot know. Like what he feels about me now, what he misses, what he rejoices to be rid of, and what he cherishes, in contrast to me, in his girlfriend.

This man was good to me. He woke up countless (how many exactly?) times in the middle of the night when I was panicked -- frightened, sad: Remember that time he reassured me in the middle of my nightmarish postpartum insanity when I saw a spot of light on my shoulder when I was nursing our son and I could not find any source of the light and I was sweating and shaking and he figured out that it was the streetlight that was obscured from me by the curtain? Remember the time I passed out during a panic attack while I was running back from the bathroom and crashed into the window frame of our second-story window and almost crashed through it? And he held me, and slowly asked, when I came to, "Do you know what just happened?"

And there was the time I was in labor with our daughter and we were alone in our house at 2 in the morning waiting for the late midwives to arrive and positively enjoying ourselves and he snapped that smiling picture of me between contractions.

What now, now that the cord is obsolete and soon to be cut anyway? Will I go back to being as isolated as before? (Have I already?) Did his warm hands thaw some of the ice? Did his betrayals harden me even more? I know that he gave me two children who populate my life with elaborate love notes, bipolar wrestling matches, eternal love, perpetual fingernails to be clipped and endless games of tag.

His job in my life is done. Floating in my space suit, I cut the cord and give that ship a push with my boot, waving my gloved hand in slow space-walk motion. Scanning the eon-wide sky, I look for air, for land, for love.

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About the writer:

Clara Stein is a pseudonym for a writer in Oregon.