It is 5 pm on a Tuesday, and I am putting things in my purse because I am about to leave the office. Before I am able to make my exit, Callie finds me. “Hey Ann,” she says, “remember that tomorrow..”
“I won’t be here tomorrow,” I reply, feeling a little too gleeful for having a good reason to interrupt Callie. I don’t especially enjoy talking to her, but I usually feel it would be rude to end our conversations early.
“Oh, that’s right,” she replies. “You’re going to visit family tomorrow. I heard you’re going without the hubs.”
“He has to work. He’ll join me on the weekend.”
“Well I think it’s great you and your husband understand the importance of time apart. Joe and I….” I zone Callie out. I focus on packing my purse, while I hear bits about arguments, broken plates, and mother-in-laws. Ever since she got married two months ago, Callie has been dispensing marriage advise to anyone who’ll listen. She knows what fights are worth fighting, what fights should be ignored, and when the spouse is being unreasonable. In her two months of matrimony, she knows more about marriage than the veterans of marriages that lasted for more than a decade. I look at Callie, wondering how it would feel to be that self confidant, and when she finishes talking, I nod and smile so that I can appear like a person who had been engrossed in her tale. She opens her mouth to say something else, but before she has a chance to utter a sound, I interrupt again with a small white lie: “Listen Callie, I’d love to chat, but I have nail appointment I have to get to.” She looks at my uneven nails, and than glances at her perfectly manicured ones, and she says with a smile , “Of course, see you next week. Have a safe trip.”
When I make it to my car, I get my cell phone, and I give Claire a call. I had only meant to call her back (she had called me the night before), but when she picks up the phone, I hear myself confessing all my devious deeds from the previous months. Well, almost all my devious deeds, I don’t mention Mike because I would not have been able to withstand the judgment in her voice while she said, “It’s your decision.” After I finish my story, I hear silence on the other line. Then a few seconds later, Claire says “Wow”.
Claire had been my first roommate in college. She was a quiet introvert, like me, and while she made an excellent roommate, she did not make a great friend. During our first few months as roommates, we peacefully coexisted in silence. Then one night, feeling I needed to fully experience college life and to do something my mother would disprove of, I decided to go to a fraternity party. Not wanting to go alone, I invited Claire with me. “No thanks,” Claire had relied. “It’s not really my scene. Besides, I have big plans with a Julia Roberts movie.” I had always been a Julia Roberts fan, and the party wasn’t going to start for another hour, so I decided to watch the beginning with Claire. I ended up watching the whole movie and missing the party, but by the end of the movie (and our many conversations during it), Claire had stopped being just my roommate, but had become my friend.
Since that night, I have also always turned to Claire for practical advise. Claire could always see the big picture, without pesky emotions getting in the way. She was the one who told me I should marry Charlie when I was having doubts, and she was also the one who encouraged me to go to my first job interview. I felt that by telling Claire about my search, she could help me put all my worries in their proper perspective.
“That’s quite a story,” Claire’s voice says on the other end of the line. “You shouldn’t feel guilty. You’re not doing anything wrong, well except about the part where you’re lying to Charlie.”
“I can’t tell Charlie. He won’t understand. He doesn’t understand my need for closure. He knows everything about his family. He’ll tell me to stop.”
“He’ll advise you to stop. There’s a difference. Charlie isn’t the type of man who will order you stop.”
“Yes, your right, but his advice will feel like an order.”
“Just think about telling him. The longer you keep this a secret, the harder it will be to share. Not telling him will probably cause more damage to your marriage.”
“I know, your right. I’ll tell him soon,” I say, lying about the last part of my statement.
“It’s kind of exciting though. You have an actual mystery to solve. My biggest mystery is figuring out where the socks keep disappearing too.”
“That’s not your only mystery. Don’t forget the mysterious looking gunk that appears on your daughter’s hands at least once a week.”
Claire laughs and says, “that’s not a mystery I want to know the answer to.”
“I have to go, I just got home,” I tell Claire, as I pull my car in the drive way.
“Okay have a safe trip, and good luck.”
The next morning Charlie is driving me to the airport. “You’re not going to miss any planes this trip?” he asks, but his voice is friendly.
“Of course not. Your going to be flying out with me anyway. I’ll let you be in charge of not missing planes.”
“So what will you do in Chicago while your dad is working?”
“I dunno, I was thinking about seeing the bean. You know I have never seen it.”
“You have never seen the bean!! But you grew up in chicago.”
“I know, but I always figured I’d have plenty of time to see it. Then I moved to Boston. A lot of people have never seen the tourist attractions in their own town.”
“Well, I wouldn’t know about that. The only famous attraction in Auburn was a huge Oak tree, and I have sat beneath that oak many times. The shade from that tree was better than the shade from other trees, because a famous person once enjoyed that shade.”
“Maybe even two famous people enjoyed that shade!”
“Nah,” Charlie replies. “It wasn’t that famous.”
I look at my husband. He’s tapping his hands on the steering wheel, while chewing some gum. Talking with him, about anything, even dubiously famous trees, has always been so easy. This was the reason I had married him. I begin to have a thought that has been going though my mind several times this past week: why did I ever start an affair with Mike?
Charlie notices me staring at him, and asks, “do I have something on my face?”
“No,” I reply. “ I thought I saw a bug, but I must have imagined it.”