I hear my husband Dave in the kitchen. There's a clink of ice, a slosh of something liquid, and I look over to see him with a glass in his hand. Scotch on the rocks. It's not his habit to have a drink alone. In fact, we don't usually have alcohol in the house.
He sets the drink down carefully on the dining room table. I turn back to the TV.
“Is your show almost done?” Dave asks. “Can you come sit at the table?”
“Why?” I say.
He doesn't answer. I get up, flip off the TV, and move to join him at the table. As I sit I see that he has his drink and a pad of paper in front of him.
“I have to tell you something and I want you to let me get through it without interrupting me because it will be hard for me.”
My mouth goes dry, but I nod. He's been fired! And right before Christmas! But in that nano-second way thoughts have of firing, that one is instantly rejected. Dave was a freelance writer for many years, and would not be worried to be back on his own.
“Number one,” he says, looking down at his paper, “About 10 years ago, when we'd been married a couple of years, I had an affair. It was someone in radio, someone I knew from being in the band, and I ended it pretty quickly.”
My heart thuds. Not Dave! He's not the type! I cling to the words 10 years ago, and I ended it. Ok, a youthful mistake. I can take it! Plenty of couples get through this. But Dave goes on.
“Number two: I've been using escorts on my business trips.” A sound rises in me, a roar that sounds like no, no, no. Flashes of soulless, transactional sex assault me but I refuse to look at them. I stare straight ahead, not blinking, not breathing.
“You know what escorts are, don't you?” he adds, and here a rabbit hole opens and swallows me. I feel myself sinking to the floor, reaching for the hardwood, but it seems to slide away from me. The surreality of his confession combined with the absurdity of the question short circuit something in my brain. Do I know what escorts are?!!
Waves of heat and nausea wash over me. “I'm going to be sick.” I begin peeling off my sweatshirt. Dave doesn't move and I know there's more.
“Say it! Just say it!” I cry, not meaning it. I have to get away! I consider crawling under the table but feel too dizzy to move. I stay on my knees, gripping my thighs.
“Three weeks ago,” he says, “when I was in Las Vegas, I met someone...”
But I'm undone. Unloosed. Unhinged. Have you ever felt the sky fall? It's unbearably heavy when it breaks. You feel the weight of the air, every molecule of it, pressing down. I scramble on the floor in a sort of stunned crab-crawl. I can't get up. I'm being crushed, suffocated. White-hot, blinding terror envelops me like a blanket and I'm sure I'm going to die. Dave does nothing to help me and that's when I know I'm already gone, that I must never have existed.
When I come back into my body (Moments later? Minutes?) Dave is talking, saying something about moving upstairs. I hear the words committed father. I don't understand. How could he move upstairs? Our tenant lives there. What is he talking about? What about me?
His explanations, like blades, whiz toward me, each one pinning me to a wall. He throws again and again: He spent 12 hours with a woman named Allison in Las Vegas. He's in love. She lives in Texas. He wants to visit her. He will ask our tenant to leave. He will move upstairs. He would like to wrap things up with me in four weeks. He is going to leave the house right now because he needs to call Allison. She's waiting to hear from him.
I watch him walk out the door and panic overtakes me. I'm up now, pacing and flailing my arms, trying to feel my body. I have to stay present. I'm alone in the house and my children are sleeping in their beds and I cannot faint or scream or lose it. I begin to cry but it's more of a moan. Someone help me! I grab my phone and call my friend and neighbor Abigail. No answer. I try my college friend. No answer. My brother. No answer. I consider calling my mother but know she'll be sleeping and this news will keep her up all night. I don't know what to do. I don't know how much time passes, but finally I realize I have no one to call but Dave.
“You have to come home,” I say when he finally answers. “Please come home. Don't leave me here alone.”
By the time he gets back I've pulled myself together. I've found a way to frame this. Dave is having a crisis and it's up to me to pull him back from the ledge.
I will be our rock. And like a rock, I will not think. I will not feel.