“We’re breaking up,” I say. “Like, we are not going to be seeing each other for a while, but then, you know, we’re going to give it another shot.”
“So you’re separating, then? It’s a trial separation?”
“So . . . Lauren, what am I missing here?”
“You aren’t supposed to judge.”
“I’m not judging,” she says, taking my hand. “I’m trying to understand.”
“We’re going on a break. We can’t live in the same place anymore. We can’t stand each other.” The look on her face confirms that she’s known this for a while, but I don’t acknowledge it.
“But you’re not getting a divorce because . . . ?” she asks me. Her voice is gentle. I think that’s maybe the thing I need most right now. I’m functioning pretty similarly to a dog, in that, really, the words themselves don’t matter. I’m just listening for high-pitched tones, sounds that are smooth and soothing. “I mean, if you guys have been having problems for a while, if it’s bad enough that you don’t want to live together, then what is stopping you from just breaking up altogether?”
I take a moment and think about how to answer. I mean, the word divorce never came up.
Obviously, it was in my head. I thought about saying it. But I never wrote it down on that sheet of options. And while I can’t imagine that Ryan didn’t think of it, didn’t consider it, didn’t almost say it, something stopped him, too.
I think that’s important. Neither of us suggested it. Neither of us said that this thing we have together, this thing that we have broken and is no longer working, neither of us said that we should throw it away.
“I don’t know why,” I say when I finally answer her. “Because I made a promise, I guess. Or, I don’t know, I’m hoping there’s a third option for us besides living unhappily or giving up entirely.”
Rachel considers this. “So how long is this break?” She says “break” as if it’s a new word that I made up. “So how long is this flarffensnarler?” That’s how she says it.
I breathe in. I breathe out. “One year.” My resolve starts to melt away. My composure starts to crack. The true pain of what I’m doing starts to slowly seep in, not unlike the way the sun shines brightly enough to break up a cloudy day.
Rachel can see I’m starting to cry before the tears actually form in my eyes, and it further softens her into exactly the Rachel I need. She does not need to know the details. She wants only to hold me and tell me everything will be OK, even if it won’t be. So that’s what she does; she holds me, and she runs her hands through my hair. And she says what I’ve been waiting all morning to hear.
“It really will be OK,” she says, her voice almost cooing to me. “I know you told me to say it. But it’s actually true. This will all be OK.”
“How do you know?” I shouldn’t ask her things like this. I told her to say something. She said it. I can’t press her on it. I can’t try to get her to say things I haven’t scripted for her. But she seems so confident right now, so sure that I will be OK, that I want to know more about this version of me she sees. How is the Lauren in her head going to be OK? And how can I be more like that Lauren?
“I know it will be OK because everything is OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
I pull back and look at her. “Isn’t that from one of your mugs?”
Rachel shrugs. “Just because it’s on a mug doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
“No,” I say, lying down, my head in her lap. “I guess you’re right.”
“You know what else I know?” she says.
“I know you have a really great year ahead of you.”
“I find that hard to believe. I’m turning thirty, and I’m on the verge of divorce.”
“I thought you weren’t getting divorced?” Rachel says.
I roll my eyes at her. “It’s hyperbole, Rachel. A rhetorical device.” I am at my most condescending when I’m at my least secure. I guess the problem is that I don’t know how much of a hyperbole it is. I’ll insist to everyone, my sister included, that it’s not going to happen. But what if it does? I mean, what if it does?
“No, I’m serious,” she says. “This part is hard. But I know you, and you don’t do things that you shouldn’t do. You don’t take this stuff lightly. Neither does Ryan. He’s a good man. And you’re a good woman. If the two of you decided this was a good idea, that’s because it’s a good idea. And good ideas are never a bad idea.”
It’s quiet for a minute before we both start laughing.
“OK, that last part didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but you know what I meant.”
I look up at her, and she looks down at me. I always know what she means. We’ve always had a way of understanding each other. Maybe more to the point, we’ve always had a way of believing in each other. I need to be believed in right now.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Rachel says to me. “Not under these circumstances, obviously. But I’m glad you’re here.”
“Yeah, it’s nice to see you, just you.”
“With no Ryan?”
“Yeah,” she says. “I love Ryan, but I love you more. It will be nice to have a year of just you.”
She’s better with words than she thinks she is, because for the first time, I can see something to look forward to this year. It will be nice to have a year of just me.
• • •
“So, delicate question, I guess,” Rachel says to me. We are at her kitchen table. She has made Cinnamon Toast Crunch–encrusted French toast with fresh whipped cream. I want to take a picture, it looks so gorgeous and decadent. She puts the plate in front of me as she speaks, and I immediately stop listening to whatever she is saying. I know this will taste even better than it looks. Which is saying a lot. But this is Rachel’s forte. She makes Oreo pancakes. She makes red velvet crepes with cream cheese filling. She cannot make a casserole or an egg dish to save her life, but anything that requires a bag of sugar and heavy cream, and she’s your woman.
“This looks incredible,” I say to her, grabbing my fork. I press the end of it against the corner of the bread and grind it against the plate until I’ve set my piece free. It tastes exactly like I imagined. It takes like everything is fine. “Oh, my God,” I say.
“I know, right?” Rachel has absolutely no qualms about admitting that what she has made tastes great. She does it in a way that implies she had nothing to do with it. You can tell her that her pumpkin spice cake is the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted, and she will say something like, “Oh, tell me about it. It’s sinful,” and you get the impression that she is complimenting the recipe instead of herself.
“Anyway,” I say, after I have finished chewing, “what is your delicate question?”
“Well,” she says, licking the whipped cream off her fork. “Who gets . . .” She pauses and then sort of gives up. She doesn’t know how to say it.
“Thumper,” I say, so that she doesn’t have to. “Who gets Thumper?”
“Right, who gets Thumper?”
I take a deep breath. “I get him for the first two months just so everything doesn’t change at once for him.” I feel stupid when I say this. Ryan and I act as if Thumper is a child, and it comes out in the smallest and most embarrassing ways. But Rachel doesn’t bat an eyelash.
“And then Ryan gets him?”
“Yeah, for two months after that. That brings us to January, and we will renegotiate.”
“It sounds stupid, right?” I say. The truth is, I was eager to agree to the idea when Ryan came up with it. It meant that no matter what, we would see each other in two months, and that gave me a sense of security. It felt like training wheels on a bike.
“No,” Rachel says, not even looking at me. She continues to eat her breakfast. “Not at all. Everyone has their own way of doing things.”