The thought of Davis follows me home that night, haunts me as I politely tell Hugh I have a raging yeast infection and need space, get ready for bed in the closed bathroom, and then slip under the covers ten minutes later, after he is already fast asleep. I wish I could take time, while I am being Celeste, to talk to Hugh, to understand him better, but I am so afraid if I do, after all Celeste and I have shared these few days, I’ll learn that he’s not a unicorn, that a helpful partner isn’t too much to hope for. And if I start to think that, what hope is there left for my marriage?
I think back on Celeste’s words. Could she be right that despite what I promised Seth twelve years ago, when the yearning for a baby had become so strong and so blinding I would have given up a kidney in the negotiations, I deserve better now?
I’m not brave enough to ask. Not again. Asking could be the thing that finally kills our unspoken agreement that we will let each other be, and in exchange we will be able to hold on to what we have and maybe, someday, make it better. I am tough; I can do almost anything I set my mind to, but I don’t think I can survive upsetting that delicate balance.
It’s because I once tried that awful conversation years ago that Davis and I became friends. Seth was in a tenuous equilibrium with his art, where it earned almost exactly as much as it cost us, and my business was growing faster than I could keep up with it. And then I got pregnant with Linus. Neither Seth nor I had really discussed the terms of a second baby in the way we had with Bridget, but I seem to remember we were both there for it in the actual moment, no cajoling or promising necessary. Seth was besotted with Bridge; he was possessive of her when we went out as a family, loved her rough-and-tumble spirit, and let her into his studio from time to time to play with little whatnots he made expressly for her. Now on to baby number two, Seth responded in all the right ways. But his own joy was pretty muted by six months in, as it became clear that I was getting too tired to run the house and the childcare single-handedly. I was behind on laundry, behind on everything, and one Saturday I fell asleep while I was on the floor right in the middle of a game of pretend with Bridget. When I woke up, it was because she was screaming bloody murder. She had half eaten a Tootsie Roll while I was out cold, lost it in her frizzy baby curls, then gotten it hopelessly stuck in a wad of hair and gone to find Daddy to get it out. I ran toward them, screaming in a panic, and watched as Seth cut the disgusting wad of candy out of her hair with scissors while Bridget sobbed. The look he gave me was chilling. Not angry, not compassionate. Just annoyed. It was the look you’d give an employee who’d screwed up her job royally.
After that, things had their ups and downs until Linus was just about to start 4K, and the wheels came off. At the encouragement of my naive sister, I waited until Seth’d had a good day in the studio, poured him a glass of wine and myself a half glass, and nestled up to him on the couch. He told me he wanted to rent a new studio with an outdoor courtyard so he could add some smelting back into his process. He knew of just the place, an old factory turned makers’ space in the city, short walks from the art museum and three important galleries, so the schmoozing would be built right in. Thinking the cost of studio rent was a fair trade for getting a little help at home, I quickly said yes and then introduced my own ask.
“I’m having trouble keeping up with everything right now.” My mouth spilled over with reasons. “It’s the work,” I told him. “I never thought the company would grow so fast or be so popular. I don’t want to miss out on the career opportunities, but by the time I pick up Bridget from school and Linus from day care, get them home, feed them, bathe them, and get them tucked into bed, I can barely keep my own eyes open. If you could just take the lead with the kids on the weekends, my life could be a lot more doable.”
“Oof, babe,” he told me. “You must be wiped.”
“I am,” I said honestly. “I don’t remember being so tired with Bridget at this age. I guess because I only had one kid, and Linus isn’t exactly Mr. Independent.”
Seth put his hand on my knee. “Wendy, weekends are kind of huge for me,” he told me. “When I’m at work, it’s not all emails and meetings and, like”—he waved his hands in the air like he was conjuring a magic spell—“PowerPoint presentations to clients. I can’t put in an earpiece and just sit there on my computer all day. I need hours and hours of extreme focus.” He shook his head. “Focus I can’t get in the ‘bonus room’ anymore,” he said. “I want to help, but if I don’t get some sculpting in on the weekends, I’ll be working on my next show until I’m eighty.”
My face fell. “You’ve been working on this show for so long now anyway,” I tried.
“I don’t need that rubbed in,” he snipped. “Look, I know you’re tired. It’s a lot, for both of us. I can definitely babysit at least one night during the week, if that will help. You could use that night to stay at the office and work as late as you like.”
“Seth,” I said, slowly, not sure what to try next, whether to start with the word babysit or just try to let that go. “Bridget’s only awake for an hour and a half after I get home from work as it is. I don’t want to come home after she’s asleep. I won’t get to see her that day at all.”
“You can see her in the morning,” he said, and the hormones must have shifted just enough, because that harmless comment was the last straw.
“I know I can see her in the morning,” I hissed. “I am the only one who sees her in the morning, because you never, ever get out of bed before we are both gone for the day. One would think you’d want some extra quality time with her on the weekends, that being the case.”
Seth looked stung. “Are you saying I’m not a good father?”
“I didn’t say that,” I replied. But I was thinking, You’re certainly not a good husband.
“Getting up at six in the morning has nothing to do with being a good parent,” he told me firmly. “I’m not a morning person, and Bridget probably wouldn’t get up at that hour, either, if she didn’t have to so you can leave her at day care all day.”
Day care. My Achilles tendon of guilt. “Do you have a problem with us needing childcare?” I asked sharply. “Because you could certainly stay home with her.”
“I have no problem with day care. I have a problem with how much you constantly change the rules of our relationship,” he replied smoothly. “You know who you married, and yet every time I want to sit down with a glass of wine, I get to hear about how I’m a terrible father and a neglectful husband.”
The ground under me shifted. “I never said either of those things.”
“Wendy, do you have any idea how trapped these conversations make me feel? Every time you start one, I want to drop everything and just run for my life. And you did trap me; you know that, right? You loved me as the artist I was, and then you slowly, slowly started to change me, to take away this freedom or that. You wanted a baby, you got a baby. You wanted good schools, we moved to this suburban hellscape. Then baby number two, your own business, a bathroom remodel, check, check, check. Wendy wants, Wendy gets. Now you want me trying to create meaningful, significant art in a room the Realtor suggested we use for ‘teen gatherings.’”
“I didn’t argue with the new studio!” I said.
“Your face told me everything I need to know. You think I’m not worth the rent. You think I’ll never sell anything again. Do I tell you my doubts about your passions? Do I say anything about how bourgeois and just . . . small . . . the very concept of a productivity consultancy is?” I tried not to let my face show how much he was hurting me, tried to keep my composure. “When we met, you were studying philosophy.”
“Psychology,” I corrected. When, I started to wonder, had this man I loved started to care so little for me? And what on earth was I supposed to do about it now that we were in so deep together?
“You were pursuing a life of the mind,” he said. “Now you’re selling branded planners?”
It hurt. It was too much. “You said they were beautiful planners.”
“They are beautiful planners, sure. And you’ve never been sexier than after two C-sections. And I love eating frozen meals every day and cutting chewing gum out of my daughter’s hair, and no, this lifestyle doesn’t make me want to run away in the night to a place where you can never find me.”
My mouth went dry. Not because I was angry—I had been angry a lot. The anger had become a trusted companion. But this was different. Now I was scared. Scared that he would run away in the night. Scared that he would leave us. Scared that he wouldn’t, and this would be the rest of my life. This man. This argument.
“Do you really feel all that?” I asked him.
“I’m not going to kill myself, if that’s what has you worried,” he told me. “Though it would be nice if you cared about it for more than logistical reasons.”
“Why would you say that, Seth?” I asked him. “Why are you trying to scare me?”