With that cheery little thought from hell in my head, I do the only thing I can do. I bring the phone to my ear and tell a fib. “Sorry, Mom. I dropped the phone. How are you?”
She sighs heavily. “You always were clumsy. It used to drive me to distraction when you were younger. I know it bothers Karl, too.”
Yeah, well, Karl can trip and fall over every one of the no more fucks I have to give about that.
“Look, today’s not really a great day to expect me to care what Karl thinks, Mom, so…”
“What happened?” she asks. “What did you do now?”
“What did I do?” I can’t believe what she just said. “Are you serious?”
“Karl is an eminently practical man. If he’s upset, it only stands to reason that you did something to upset him.”
At this point, I should be worried that my eyebrows are going to merge with my hairline.
“You can’t actually believe that, right?” I’m ready to hang up right now, but I just don’t have the spoons to deal with the shit she’ll heap on me if I do. “Don’t you want to know what he did to upset me?”
She sighs, the sound loud and long-suffering, and it gets my back up like nothing else can. “What did he do, Mallory?”
“You mean besides get his girlfriend pregnant?” I say, dropping the news like a live grenade. “And from the size of her, he didn’t even wait until I was out the door to do it.”
My mother doesn’t answer. In fact, she’s silent for so long that I pull the phone away from my ear to make sure we weren’t disconnected. She’s still there, according to the call timer that just keeps ticking away. Still, she doesn’t say anything. Finally, I break because I can’t deal with the silence—one of her favorite torture techniques—anymore. “Mom?”
“Maybe if you apologized, Mallory.”
“For what?” I nearly choke on the indignation that swells inside me. “He cheated on me, Mom. He got his girlfriend pregnant while we were still together. How is any of that my fault?”
She makes a tut-tut sound. “I’m not saying it’s your fault. I’m simply saying that maybe if you took better care of yourself, none of this would have happened.”
The fire of a thousand suns bursts out in my chest. What. The. Ever. Loving. Hell. “Maybe if I took better care—”
“I was always after you to let me take you to the spa with me,” she says, her tone so calm it borders on creepy. “A man has the right to expect his wife to be well-groomed.”
“I’m not a troll, Mother. I just didn’t add blond streaks to my hair or wear fake nails.”
“Or get facials to take care of your skin. And you almost never go to the gym—”
“Our building had a heated pool! I did laps three times a week.”
She scoffs. “It’s not the same as a good cardio workout.”
“Oh my God!” I have to clench my fists to keep from tearing my hair out or throwing my phone across the room when I can’t afford to replace it. “Swimming is literally one of the best cardio workouts there is. Plus, it uses every muscle in your body!”
“But it dries out your hair.” She lowers her voice as if sharing the deepest secret. “And you know how yours likes to frizz at the best of times.”
I am so tired that angry tears burn the backs of my eyes. I can’t deal with this right now. I just can’t. I’ve had to listen to these same I-just-want-to-help diatribes of advice ever since Karl and I broke up. It’s almost like she considers my failure as a wife a personal slight against her parenting. And I just can’t go there right now. Not without sleep and not with everything that’s happened.
“I need to go, Mom. I’ve got—”
“Why do you keep insisting on running away from this conversation, Mallory?” She lets out a huff of disapproval and frustration—oh, I know that sound way too well. “I’ve been trying to talk to you ever since Karl left you, but you just won’t listen.”
“I left him! He didn’t leave me, Mom. I left him after finding out he was cheating on me.” I will not scream. I will not scream. I will not scream. “Doesn’t that matter to you at all? Doesn’t it matter more than whether I have frizzy hair or—”
“Of course it matters to me. He needs to apologize for what he did. But, Mallory, baby, marriage takes hard work. It requires sacrifice. Besides, you need him.”
Those three words—the same three words Karl has thrown at me from the very start of our relationship—zap the air from my lungs. I nearly give up, nearly just let my mother prattle on, but then force myself to take a deep breath instead. Force myself to take back the air, and everything else Karl has stolen from me as I respond, “Yeah, well, maybe if I hadn’t given him everything he’d ever wanted, he might not have taken me for granted. Ever think about that, Mom?”
She just continues. “Maybe if you wore more makeup or went to Victoria’s Secret every once in a while…”
And I am done. Her suggesting I wear sexy lingerie to keep my husband from cheating on me is the last freaking straw. “Karl cheated on me because he is an asshole, Mom. He is an entitled douchebag who thinks the entire world owes him everything and that he can have everything—including a wife and a girlfriend at the same time.”
“No buts!” I cut her off for maybe the first time in all of recorded history. “Karl is the asshole here, Mom. Not me. Him. And all the makeup and sexy lingerie in the world won’t change that fact. If you keep harping on me about it, I’m going to boycott makeup. And sexy lingerie—no, not just sexy lingerie but all lingerie. I will burn every freaking bra in my suitcase and throw away every lipstick I own. So for everyone’s sake, you should probably just stop.”
Whew. That felt good! Like first-day-of-summer-at-the-beach good or coming-home-and-ripping-off-my-bra good.
She sounds shocked, but I don’t care. I’m tired of everyone in my life telling me that everything is my fault. I know I’m not perfect. I know I make mistakes. A part of me even acknowledges that I wasn’t entirely blameless in the failure of my marriage. Still, everything that went wrong didn’t happen because my fucking underwear wasn’t sexy enough.
“I have to go, Mom. Someone’s at the door.” And then I hang up the phone before I can change my mind.
I am so annoyed that I end up eating my weight in Oreo cookies before going upstairs and taking a shower, where I do everything I can to scrub and exfoliate my frustrations away.