“I guess I’m trying to let you in on how things are going over here. Somehow you’ve missed the fact that my art has been sucked out of me by the terrible, endless, soul-sucking repetition of daily life, and you’re saying you want me to give you more time to answer emails? Maybe you don’t recognize the seriousness of this situation to our marriage.”
There was nothing to say back to that. I could only blink at him. Blink and then watch him stand up and leave, go out somewhere, I didn’t know where. While the wine I’d poured him sat on the table, ignored, right next to the contents of my heart.
A week later Davis came into my office with a bowl of fresh figs trimmed and cut in half.
The move struck me as overtly sexual, and I was cold to him for about three seconds until I realized there was nothing outright rude about figs, except that I was feeling a lot of feels about the state of my marriage and reading into everything as a result. I asked him to have a seat and tried not to get overtaken by my seesawing emotions.
“Do you not like figs?” he asked me. “You are looking at them like they’re poison.”
“I like figs. I actually love figs. I love how ephemeral they are. Unless you live in a fig-producing area, I guess. Then you probably feel that way about peaches.” I blushed then, because if figs were maybe a bit sexual, peaches absolutely were. I was just making things worse. I changed the subject to the least sexy thing I could think of. Productivity.
“So you have probably noticed the pace picking up around my office,” I told him.
“Hard to miss. You must be going hell for leather.”
“It’s all to the good. In your experience as a corporate coach, do things like this happen cyclically? Are they tied to the economy?” Davis had recently moved into my office suite from a larger operation, where he’d been forced to travel constantly to work with newly promoted VPs and underperforming execs. My business, on the other hand, had started from the ground up, and I did a lot of my coaching remotely, working with people whose dreams were bigger than the hours in their days.
He frowned. “Well, you and I serve two different populations,” he pointed out. “I coach people who already have what they want and need help dealing with it. You coach people who need strategies to get closer to what they want. So our cycles are different even in times of external growth.”
I nodded. “True. But when people have money to invest in themselves, that’s when each of us comes into play on our consulting business. So it follows, then, that if people don’t have money to invest, things shrink.”
“How long have you had your business?” he asked me then. It had been five years. Five years, and it had grown bigger than I had ever dared imagine.
Davis tilted his head. “Whenever you and I talk, you draw lots of conclusions about what’s going on in the outside world that affects your day-to-day income and growth. But those things are outside your control. Why not focus on what’s going on in your inside world and see how that challenges or supports you?”
I looked down at my desk. I kept it—still keep it—pristine. No one wants to walk into a productivity coach’s office and see a mess. I had my monitors and laptop on a sit-to-stand desk, I had beautiful pens in a white porcelain pot, and I had my own planner, with my name engraved on it, sitting on the right-hand corner. Then, on the left side, was a photo of my young family. Seth with Bridget in his arms, making “ta-da” hands next to his recent public park installation, a breathtaking work in reclaimed wood shingles, two matched wings, swooping dramatically in the array of weathered grays that the lake had created over the years. If you came upon a viewer standing in the middle, the wings seemed to sprout from under his arms, left and right, and in your imagination he took flight over the water. In the photo, the space between the wings was empty, and it was there that I always imagined myself. But heavy with my disappointment, there were no wings that could possibly lift me today. I turned from the photo to the bowl of figs, and I started to cry.
Davis’s response went from classic male horror—he actually said, “Wait! What’s happening?!”—to this kind of yielding compassion I can never quite forget. He reached out his arm across the desk and took my hand and did nothing more and said only, “Right, then. Right.”
When I had cried for a long time, I took my hand back, cleaned myself up. Blew my nose.
“I feel,” I started to say, not sure where the sentence was going. And then I knew. “I feel so much better,” I said. “What is it about a good cry?”
He looked at me hard. I could tell he thought I was faking the relief I felt, but it was real. I felt the same as when I was ten and cried my heart out when my best friend had dumped me loudly at recess for buying the exact same shoes as her. That night my parents had wrapped me up together in their arms and let me sob and sob, let me go on and on. My sorrow for my dilemma with Seth was deeper, but somehow, with the lightest touch of Davis’s outstretched fingers, I felt just as safe.
It made no sense, it was inconvenient, and I decided there and then to ignore it. But Davis did not get the memo. “Wendy,” he said softly. “You must know how I feel about you by now.”
I looked up at him, startled. I had guessed but not really been able to believe it. After all, it made no sense that a young, hot, successful guy with a great accent would be attracted to a married woman who had wrecked her husband’s life. The friendship connection made so much more sense to me, and that’s what I reassured myself with whenever I let the question come up. Now I could only nod. If I had been able to pretend before, now that pretending had to be over.
“I can’t be a monk and wait for you. Too much pressure for us both. And I care enough about you as a person to want you to be happy in the marriage you’re in now. I want your family to be exactly as you imagined it.”
I shook my head. He was kind, handsome, and caring. I couldn’t encourage him, not even a little. “I just want that too,” I told him honestly. “I really do want what I have.”
“Of course,” he said sadly. He mustered a smile. Then he squared his shoulders and seemed to change from my friend to my colleague, right before my eyes. “Well, in that case, keep this in mind: coaching people who want to keep what they already have is my area.” He thought for a moment. “You’ve been bushed lately. Let’s go in together on a higher-level assistant. Keep Cat on the front desk and bring in someone to do questionnaires, marketing, admin. This is what I’d recommend if you were my client. Your extra bandwidth can all go into ramping up planner production. If you can make that income stream cover the cost of outsourcing eventually, you can return your focus to client service and generation after the baby comes. It will give you more flexibility. More security.”
I looked at him in wonder. “More sleep,” I added gratefully. His idea was brilliant, and better still, it was utterly doable. “Davis . . . ,” I started to say. I’m not sure if I wanted to apologize for loving my husband, for letting Davis help me so much when I had nothing to give him back, or what, exactly. Finally, I settled on, “Thank you.”
He nodded, saying, “Let’s never talk about that other stuff again, ok? I’m not cut out to pine. I’m a man of action.” He laughed and then wiggled his eyebrows. “And I can be flexible. After I change my mindset a bit, I’m sure I’ll be happy enough just to sit back and watch your star rise. No one deserves it more.”
But it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t deserve back then, I realize now, as I lie in Celeste’s bed, listening to her husband breathe in and out evenly, as reliable in sleep as he is each day. Come Saturday, if all goes well, my star will rise, my business will flourish, my coaching calendar will be booked out, and my fiscal year will be made. I will improve more lives, build more dreams, and make my little corner of the world just that much better.
And yet all the success in the world won’t change who I married and what kind of man he’s become.
FREAKY FRICKING FRIDAY
The next morning the text comes in: Lord willing, it’s the last day of your life as me. I have a present for you. A sitter is coming for Joy at noon. I’ll take all the kids after work and we’ll do pizza and a movie night all together, just for a big sendoff.
I check twice to see who sent this. Celeste? Is that you? Have you had a lobotomy?
It’s me, and you should shut up and let me be nice to you. No softball tonight so no carpool, Samuel’s going into after-school with Linus, and Sofia’s mom is picking up the girls and hanging out with them in the park until I get home from work. The vodka’s en route and should be here any minute, and you’ve got a big speech tomorrow. I’m giving you the day off.
My throat catches, and it’s all I can do not to cry. But when my wits return, I shake my head. Not fair. You’re the one who deserves a day off, I write back.
Shut up and relax, she writes back. Go into the city and do something fun.
I don’t remember how to have fun, I write back.