Charlie is making breakfast. He is wearing boxers and a faded “kiss me I’m Irish” t-shirt, as he flips hash browns on the pan, while whistling a familiar tune. The sun streams though the window, filling our kitchen with light. It is a beautiful day, both inside and outside the house. However; my entire body senses that somehow this morning will be ruined. I feel the way animals do before an earthquake; when on a seemingly ordinary day, they are able to sniff out the invisible components of the upcoming catastrophe. Charlie walks to the table, places some hash browns on my plate, and says “when do you think would be a good time to start having kids”. The first tremor has struck.
To say that Charlie loves children would be an understatement. His happiest memory of adolescence was being a counselor at a kid’s camp. When his eight year old niece butchered Jingle Bells beyond recognition last Christmas, Charlie called it adorable. When we started dating, long before marriage became a serious topic of conversation, Charlie would tell me about the way he planned on raising his kids. As for me, children are a side effect from unprotected sex, similar to a STD.
My thoughts must have become visible on my face because Charlie says “relax Annabelle, I’m not talking about impregnating you today”.
“So why bring it up?”
“You always said that when we were settled, we could have kids. Well our finances are good, we have a house, we’re in a good place with our careers, don’t you think we should start discussing children.”
How do I tell Charlie that the idea of having kids twists my stomach into a knot, suffocates my lungs, and causes sensations in my chest that resemble a heart attack. I need time to get used the idea. I need to stall. “Let’s have kids in a year, next summer would be a good time to start a family”, I say. “That’s what you always say”, Charlie replies, as he stares at his plate, not eating. The morning is ruined!
“Why did you have to start this conversation anyway? It was such a beautiful morning, and you know every time we discuss procreation, you end up in a bad mood.”
“It is a beautiful morning, and I thought how much better it could be, if we had some children to share it with. “
“We’ll have children when I’m ready to have children.” I reply, my voice slightly raised.
“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have brought it up. Let’s change the topic. Did you hear about the guy who lit himself on fire, and proposed to his wife…”
As Charlie tells me the story, I realize that whoever said “the qualities we admire in people we love, are the same qualities we later despise” was a genius. What attracted me to Charlie during our courtship and early marriage, was how he always refused to fight. Anytime an argument got too heated, Charlie would gracefully bow out. I spent my childhood fighting with my dad, and the lack of verbal altercations in my marriage was pleasant. Lately however; Charlie’s avoidance of conflict has become annoying. Anytime I start to scream at him, he sits silently, with a look of a child who’s getting beaten, and is patiently waiting for it to end. This makes it impossible for me to express any emotion, and nothing ever gets resolved.
I’m helping Claire shop for shoes that will match her new dress. Claire is a good friend that I have known since college. I have been present at all the major events in her life, her marriage, the birth of her child, and her divorce. Today I am helping her find shoes, which she plans on wearing to an important company dinner, which could lead to a promotion.
“Did you have any affairs towards the end of your marriage”, I casually ask her.
“You know I didn’t. The divorce was messy enough, why complicate it. Why are you asking, are you planning on cheating on Charlie?”
“Of course not! I was just making conversation.”
Claire gives me a peculiar look. “If you are planning on having an affair, I’d advise against it. Charlie is a good find, and you don’t throw something like that away.”
“Number one, I’m not planning on having an affair. Number two, since when are you such an avid Charlie fan?”
“I’m not an “avid Charlie fan”. But whatever problems the two of you have or not have, Charlie is a good man, and those are a rarity. All I’m saying is that if you plan on sleeping with someone else, do it because you’re not interested in Charlie anymore, and are ready to find someone else. Do not have an affair because you are stressed, bored, or having an early midlife crises. It’s not worth the consequences.”
“I’m not planning on having an affair. How was your cousin’s wedding?”
“It was good. You’ll never believe who I saw there, Meg Tillman. She was some distant relative of the groom.”
“Is that the red-headed feminist who was in our lit class, the one who didn’t shave?”
“Yup, except at the wedding she was shaved, and plucked. She was wearing make up, her hair had grown to shoulder length, and she wore a dress that accentuated her breasts. She looked pretty. I didn’t recognize her, but she comes up to me and says ‘Claire is that you, what have you been up to’, so I gave her the three-minute synopsis of my life and asked her for the same. Well she’s still trying to make it as an actress, but she’s married to some rich guy, and he supports her financially while she tries to make her dream come true.”
“She actually got married, remember how she used to rant that marriage was an archaic institution created by men to suppress women?”
“Yeah, I actually asked her what made her change her radical ways, and she explains to me ‘well I was trying to make it as an actress, and I was working as a waitress every night to pay the bills, when I met a man who was willing to give me a lifestyle, where I could spend all my free time on acting. Real life is hard, and it helps to have a benefactor’”
“I cannot believe she said the word benefactor. Do you think she actually loves this man? I find it amazing that she went from a radical to a gold digger.”
“I don’t find it amazing at all. People sell out all the time.”
“Maybe she didn’t sell out. Maybe she always wanted to marry really rich, but was afraid she wouldn’t achieve that goal. So the feminism was an act, that way if she couldn’t find a husband, nobody would know she failed.”
“Or, maybe she realized she had no talent as an actress. She was not ready to give that up, and get a normal dull job. So the only way she could continue living in her imaginary world, a world where she actually had a chance of achieving fame, was to marry a rich man who would support her.”
“That is a very bitter way of looking at it.”
“Well what can I say, getting divorced and becoming a single mom has made me bitter.”