I find the minivan in the parking garage but not the payment ticket. And then I realize that the ticket is in my card wallet, which I definitely left on the bar when I ran away from there and away from Seth. So I need to go back to the bar now if I want to ever extricate Celeste’s kid limo from this concrete labyrinth. When all I really want to do is scream and drink and rage and cry and hide from this hurt inside me that has grabbed on and will not let go.
But I cannot go back to the bar because that is where I stormed away twenty minutes ago, and knowing Seth, there’s a decent chance he’s still there. Maybe stunned by what he did. Ashamed. I hope. But then, maybe he’s waiting for the next middle-aged mom for him to hit on in the middle of a Friday afternoon. I grab my phone and call the bar. The bartender picks up with a “Yup?” and I tell him about the little yellow leather wallet that Celeste carries around inside her enormous purse. He knows the one exactly and says he can call me when the “married guy leaves” so I can come pick it up. Great. Seth is still there. Perhaps another neighbor of ours has arrived and he’s trying his moves on her. Maybe the eighty-five-year-old widow from down the street, seeing as his standards seem to be anyone who has a pulse.
Sorry, Celeste, I think. In my misery I’ve become a terrible snob.
No, I mentally correct. I’ve been a terrible snob for years. Snobbery is just something I’ve bought into to explain my choices. Just like it’s something Celeste has bought into, but her kind of snobbery is Mother-of-the-Year snobbery, and mine is Too-Busy-to-Be-Mother-of-the-Year snobbery, and the reality for both of us is that the minute you look too closely, any illusion of superiority falls right away. Honestly, what good has it done me to go to those stupid barre classes three days a week for the last five years? My husband still wants to throw me over for someone “gentler.”
Just then my phone buzzes. I look down at the screen. It just says, Still no vodka. It’s getting kind of late. I’m starting to worry.
For some reason, that’s the final straw. The goddamned vodka is late. The stupid vodka that Celeste just had to put in her stupid sangria that has screwed up my life so badly it will never be the same. I ball my fists in rage and grit my teeth, holding back a scream, but only for a few moments. Then I can’t hide under my anger anymore, and finally, though my eyes have been stinging since the moment Seth touched my face, I give in and start to cry.
There was another time, a few years ago, when I wondered if Seth might be cheating on me. He kept more normal hours with us back then, and his absences were more closely noted. I got jealous after several missed dinners and confronted him about what was going on, and then I felt like a fool when he informed me that he had gotten a public works grant and was burning the midnight oil on a sculpture that would go on to win a prestigious local prize. Boy, did that ever teach me. I had to grovel for weeks, but really, he never quite forgave me for suspecting him, and I hadn’t been fool enough to do it again.
I thought I had no cause to. Seth might be a lot of things, but unfaithful? I mean, why? He rarely wanted sex anyway, and he never got enough time to himself, to hear him tell it.
I start to cry so hard I can’t see where I’m going anymore, and since I’m not really going anywhere, I just sit down on a big concrete planter-cum-bench put out in front of the garage designed to keep people from parking on the sidewalk, and I give in to the tantrum that’s coming over me. I wail, I screech, I carry on, and three separate people come over to ask me if I need an ambulance. Very nice of them, really. I tell them to go away because my life is falling apart and I would like a little privacy. All three of them give me a look I can’t decipher until I realize that asking for privacy in a bustling business district of a major metropolitan area is perhaps a sign that I need an ambulance more than I realize.
But who cares anymore? Who cares what kind of lunatic the town thinks Celeste is? Who cares if they think I’m a lunatic, too, after all? It makes no difference. Where do you go from here, from this awful, horrible place I’m in? It’s all downhill from here on out. I mean, what exactly is next? Divorce lawyers? Alimony? Split custody and devastated children and moving to an apartment near my sister for extra support, only to hear her and her stodgy lawyer husband say I told you so?
Finally, the tears start to slow as I recognize my own ridiculous drama taking shape. What an idiot I’ve become over the last week. Of course I’m not going to end a marriage of fourteen years over what was, in point of fact, a husband’s attempt to kiss his wife. Yeah, Seth made a misstep. But that’s all I can be sure of. That’s all I have to believe. One misstep. He’s frustrated. Maybe even depressed. In a situation like that, it could hardly even be thought of as his fault. A quiet bar, a bored housewife with a fresh hairstyle and newly discovered eyebrows, a moment where my star has begun to soar ever so slightly higher than his . . .
He was hurting. He was vulnerable. He was basically a sitting duck.
My breath comes back to me. I start to recover myself, piece by piece. As I do, I take the pictures of what just happened, the memories just formed, and fold them up into the tiniest little square of emotion that I possibly can. I fold it again and again, until the creases are bigger than the feelings themselves. I take that tiny little square of pain and hurt and betrayal and tuck it in my sternum, just under my voice box, where it is like a block of lead I only feel when I breathe. There. It can stay there forever. I can talk around it with no problem. It doesn’t even hurt that much, as long as I never, ever think about it again.
And as I well know, the secret to not thinking about how awful things are is just staying very, very busy.
Around midnight Saturday morning, I give up on the vodka.
Before I go inside, I make my way to the front of my own house and peer inside the garage. To my great relief, my minivan is parked inside. I have no idea why Wendy isn’t texting me back, but at least I know she’s home safe.
I walk down the side of my own lawn and toward Wendy’s. The lamp next to the living room sofa is on, and in its low light I spot my husband and Joy, snuggled up together fast asleep. My heart tugs. That giant, deep, L-shaped sofa was the best purchase we ever made. Hugh stretches out lengthwise, Joy nestles in like the small spoon and immediately passes out, and I can fit on the L when we’re watching movies. Until Hugh falls asleep and his head slowly sinks from the headrest to my shoulder to the seat cushions, leaving me very little room to sit.
I miss that sofa so much right now. And if this vodka doesn’t arrive—or doesn’t work—will I ever get to sit on it again?
Finally, after 1:00 a.m., Seth arrives. He is visibly drunk—definitely shouldn’t have been driving, but he was. If he were my husband . . . , I think for the thirtieth time, with mental ellipses. When I heard the garage door open, I quickly turned out the light in the bedroom, where I’d been reading—yep, trying to distract myself with a historical novel from Wendy’s Kindle—and pretend to be asleep. I listen to him stumble in, drop his keys, skip the evening grooming, and fall straight into bed. He is snoring within seconds of his head hitting the pillow.
I sit up and text Wendy for the tenth straight time. Please let me know you’re ok, I beg.
To my surprise, she writes back immediately. I’m fine. Vodka?
No, I send. No point in mincing words on this catastrophe. The shipping status has been updated to tomorrow.
Another text appears after five minutes. Is everyone tucked in there?
She has never asked me that before, and I think about how recently Seth came in. I wonder if Wendy saw the lights of his car as it rounded the block, and that’s the real reason she wrote me back. To check on Seth. After all this time, after all she’s told me, all we’ve talked about.
Everyone’s home and asleep but me, I write back quickly.
There’s no response for a long time, and I lie flat, still clutching the phone, trying to figure out why something feels so terribly amiss. Maybe she’s just insanely tired of being me. Based on her long disappearance and her strange attitude about it, I’ve concluded that if it’s a head injury that’s required to switch our bodies back, Wendy will be waiting for me with a baseball bat tomorrow morning. Hopefully the vodka works.
On that front, I decide to rip off the Band-Aid. I’ll have to give the speech, I tell her.
Another long silence. I imagine the profanities that must be echoing off the walls of my real bedroom.
Fuck it, she finally writes back. What does it even matter? I’m going to bed.
With that most un-Wendy-like reply echoing in my brain, I suffer a fitful night of sleep.
The first thing I see in my notifications the next morning is an apologetic update from the shipping company and their “guarantee” that my package will arrive by six this evening.
Six. Too late for the speech. That means either I’m giving the speech today, or no one is.
I will not let Wendy down.