Read After I Do Online

Authors: Taylor Jenkins Reid

After I Do (6 page)

BOOK: After I Do
3.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

yan must have returned late at night or early in the morning. I don’t know which. I didn’t wake up when he came home.

When I do wake up, he is on the other side of the bed, Thumper in between us. Ryan’s back is facing me. He is snoring. It scares me that we are able to sleep during this sort of turmoil. I think of the way it used to be, the way fights used to keep us up all night and into the morning. The way we couldn’t sleep on our anger, couldn’t put it on hold. Now we are on the verge of defeat and . . . he’s snoring.

I wait patiently for him to wake up. When he finally does, he doesn’t say anything to me. He stands up and walks to the bathroom. He goes to the kitchen and brews himself a cup of coffee and gets back into bed. He is next to me but not beside me. We are both in this bed, but we are not sharing it.

“We’re not in love anymore,” I say. Just the sound of it coming out of my mouth makes my skin crawl and my adrenaline run. I am shaking.

Ryan stares at me for a moment, no doubt shocked, and then he pulls his hands to his face, burying his fingers in his hair. He is a handsome man. I wonder when I stopped seeing that.

When we got married, he was almost prettier than I was on our wedding day. Our wedding pictures, where he is smiling like a young boy, his eyes crinkled and bright like stars, were beautiful, in part, because he was beautiful. But he no longer seems exceptional to me.

“I wish you hadn’t said that,” Ryan says, not looking up, not moving his head from his hands. He is frozen, staring at the blanket beneath him.

“Why?” I ask him, suddenly eager to hear what he thinks, desperate to know if maybe he remembers something I don’t, to know if he thinks I am wrong. Because maybe he can convince me. Maybe I
wrong. I want to be wrong. It will feel so good to be wrong. I will wallow in my wrongness; I will swim in it. I will breathe it in and let it overtake my lungs and my body, and I will cry it out, heavy tears so full of relief they will be baptismal.

“Because now I don’t know how we keep going,” he says. “I don’t know where we go from here.”

He finally looks up at me. His eyes are bloodshot. When he pulls his fingers out of his hair, they leave it in disarray, scattered every which way across his head. I start to say,
What do you mean?
but instead, I say, “How long have you known?”

Ryan’s face drops into an expression that isn’t so much miserable but, rather, lifeless. “Does it matter?” he asks me, and honestly, I’m not sure. But I press on.

“I just figured it out,” I say. “I’m just wondering how long you’ve known you weren’t in love with me.”

“I don’t know. A few weeks, I guess,” he says, staring back at the blanket. It is striped and multicolored, and for that, I am thankful. It will keep his attention. Maybe he won’t look at me.

“Like a month?” I ask.

“Yeah.” He shrugs. “Or like a few weeks, like I said.”

“When?” I say. I don’t know why I get out of bed, but I do. I have to stand up. My body has to be standing.

“I just told you when,” he says. He doesn’t move from the bed.

“No,” I say, my back now up against our bedroom wall. “Like, what happened that made you realize it?”

“What happened that made
realize it?” he asks me. The blanket’s stripes have failed to do their job; he looks at me. I flinch.

“I don’t know,” I say. “It just sort of flew into my head. One moment, I didn’t know what was going on, and then suddenly, I just . . . got it.”

“Same here,” he says. “Same thing for me.”

“But, like, what day? What were we doing?” I don’t know why I need to seek this information out. It just feels like something I don’t know—his side of this. “I’m just trying to get some context.”

“Just lay off it, OK?” Back to the stripes.

“Just be honest, would you? We’re clearing the air here. Just let it out. It’s all about to come out anyway, every last ugly piece of this. Just let it out. Just let it—”

“I’m not in love with another woman, if that’s what you’re asking,” he says.

That wasn’t what I was asking at all.

“But I just . . .” He continues. “I noticed that I am seeing them differently.”


“Yeah. I look at them now. I never used to look at them. I was looking at one of them, and I just . . . I realized that I don’t think of you the way I think of them.”



I let it sink in. Thumper gets off the bed and walks over to me. Can he sense what’s happening? He sits at the door by my feet and looks at Ryan. My heart starts to crack. This might all end in me losing Thumper.

“So what does this mean?” I ask quietly, gently. By saying the words out loud, I have changed our fate. I have set us in motion. I am ripping us out of this comfortable prison once and for all. I am going to solve this problem. I have a lot of other problems, and I know this is going to cause a whole new set of problems, but living with someone I don’t like isn’t going to be one of them. Not anymore.

Ryan steps toward me, and he holds me. I want it to feel better than it does. His voice is just as quiet and calm as mine. “This can’t be the end, Lauren. This is just a rough patch or something.”

“But,” I say, looking up at him, finally ready to say the last of what had been in my heart for so long, “I can’t stand you.”

It feels like such a sweet and visceral release, and yet the minute it comes out of my mouth, I wish I never said it. I wish I was the sort of person who doesn’t need her pain to be heard. I want to be the type of person who can keep it to herself and spare the feelings of others. But I’m not that person. My anger has to take flight. It has to be set free and allowed to bounce off the walls and into the ears of the person it could hurt the most.

Ryan and I sink to the floor. We rest our backs against the wall, our knees bent in front of us, our arms crossed, our posture perfectly matched.
We have spent enough years together to know how to work in sync, even if we don’t want to. Thumper sits at my feet, his belly warming them. I want to love Ryan the way I love Thumper. I want to love him and protect him and believe in him and be ready to jump in front of a bus for him, the way I would for my dog. But they are two completely different types of love, aren’t they? They shouldn’t even have the same name. The kind that Ryan and I had, it runs out.

Eventually, Ryan speaks. “I have no idea what we are going to do,” he says, still sitting with me, his back now slouched, his posture truly defeated, his gaze directed firmly at the wayward nail in our hardwood floor.

“Me, neither,” I say, looking at him and remembering how much I used to melt when I smelled him. He is so close to me that I quietly sniff the air, seeing if I can inhale him, if I can feel that bliss again. I think maybe if I can breathe deeply enough, his scent will flow through my nose and flood my heart. Maybe it will infect me again. Maybe I can be happy again if I just smell hard enough. But it doesn’t work. I feel nothing.

Ryan starts laughing. He actually manages to laugh. “I don’t know why I’m laughing,” he says, as he gains his composure. “This is the saddest moment of my life.”

And then his voice breaks, and the tears fall from his eyes, and he truly looks at me for maybe the first time in a year. He repeats himself, slowly and deliberately. “This is the saddest moment of my life.”

I think, for a moment, that we might cry together. That this might be the beginning of our healing. But as I go to put my head on his shoulder, Ryan stands up.

“I’m going to call the landlord,” he says. “We need hot water.”

wrote down ‘couple’s counseling,’ ‘living separately,’ and ‘open marriage,’” I say, sitting at our dining-room table. I have a piece of paper in front of me. Ryan has a piece of paper in front of him. I am not open to the idea of open marriage. I am just spitballing. But I know, I am positive, that an open marriage is not on the table.

“Open marriage?” Ryan asks. He is intrigued.

“Ignore that last one,” I say. “I just . . . I didn’t have any other ideas.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Ryan says, and the minute he says it, I hate him. Of course, he would say that. Of course, that would be the one he jumped on. Leave it to Ryan to ignore that I said “couple’s counseling” but jump at the chance to screw someone else.

“Just . . .” I say, annoyed. “Just say what you wrote down.”

“OK.” Ryan looks down at his paper. “I wrote ‘date again’ and ‘trial separation.’”

“I don’t know what those mean,” I say.

“Well, the first one is kind of like your thing about living apart. We would just try to see if maybe we lived in different places and we just went on a few dates and saw each other less, maybe that would work. Maybe take some pressure off. Make it more exciting to see each other.”

“OK, and the second one?”

“We break up for a little while.”

“You mean, like, we’re done?”

“Well, I mean,” he starts to explain, “I move out, or you move out, and we see how we do on our own, without each other.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know. Maybe some time apart would make us . . . you know, ready to try again.”

“How long would we do this? Like, a few months?”

“I was thinking longer.”

“Like, how long?”

“I don’t know, Lauren. Jesus,” Ryan says, losing his patience at all of my questions. It’s been a few weeks since we told each other we didn’t love each other anymore. We’ve been tiptoeing around each other. This is the beginning of pulling the Band-Aid off. A very large, very sticky Band-Aid.

“I’m just asking you to clarify your suggestion,” I say. “I don’t think you need to act like this is the Spanish Inquisition.”

“Like, a year. Like, we take a year apart.”

“And we sleep with other people?”

“Yeah,” Ryan says, as if I’m an idiot. “I think that’s kind of the point.”

Ryan has made it clear that he no longer thinks of me the way he thinks about other women. It hurts. And yet when I try to break down why it hurts, I don’t have an answer. I don’t really think of him in that way, either.

“Let’s talk about this later,” I say, getting up from the table.

“I’m ready to talk about this now,” Ryan says. “Don’t walk away.”

“I’m asking you nicely,” I say, my tone slow and pointed, “if we can please discuss this later.”

“Fine,” Ryan says, getting up from the table and throwing his sheet of paper into the air. “I’m getting out of here.”

I don’t ask him where he is going. He leaves often enough now that I know his answer will be harmless. I resent him so much for being predictable. He’ll go to a bar and get a drink. He’ll go to the movies. He’ll call his friends to play basketball. I don’t care. He’ll come back when he feels like it, and when he does, the air in the house will be sharpened and tightened, so much that I will feel I can barely breathe.

I lie on the couch for hours, contemplating a year without my husband. It feels freeing and terrifying. I think about him sleeping with another woman, but the thought quickly transforms into the thought of me sleeping with another man. I don’t know who this man is, but I can see his hands on me. I can feel his lips on me. I can imagine the way he will look at me, the way he will make me feel like the only woman in the room, the most important woman in the world. I imagine his slim body and his dark hair. I imagine his deep voice. I imagine being nervous, a type of nervous I haven’t been in years.

When Ryan finally does come home, I tell him I think he is right. We should take a year apart.

Ryan sighs loudly, and his shoulders slump. He tries to speak, but his voice catches. I walk over to him and wrap my arms around his shoulders. I start crying. Once again, finally, we are on the same team. We wallow in it for a while. We let ourselves feel the relief we have given each other. That’s what it feels like, ultimately: immense relief. Like cold water on a burn.

When we disengage, Ryan offers to move out. He says I can keep the house for the year. I take him up on it. I don’t argue. He’s offering me a gift. I’m going to take it. We sit quietly next to each other on the sofa, holding hands, not looking at each other for what feels like hours. It feels so good to stop fighting.

Then we realize we both thought we were the one keeping Thumper.

We fight about the dog until five in the morning.

ost of Ryan’s things are packed. There are boxes all over the living room and bedroom with words like “Books” and “Bathroom Stuff” scribbled in black Sharpie. The moving truck is on its way. Ryan is in the bedroom packing shoes. I can hear each one land on the cardboard as it is chucked.

I grab a few of my things and prepare to leave. I can’t stay here for this. I can’t watch it happen. I am glad he is leaving. I really am. I keep telling myself that over and over. I keep thinking of my new freedom. But I realize that I don’t really know what it means—freedom. I don’t know anything of the practical ramifications of my actions. We have covered only the basics in terms of our preparation. We haven’t talked about what it would feel like or what our new life would look like. We’ve stuck to numbers and figures. We’ve talked about how to divide our bank account. We’ve talked about how to afford two rent payments. How to keep him on my insurance. Whether we need to file legally. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Ryan said, and I let it go. That answer was good with me. I certainly don’t want any of this in writing.

I told Ryan last night that I didn’t want to be here to see him leave. He agreed that it might be best if I left for the weekend and gave him his space to move out as he wished. “The last thing I need is you critiquing the way I pack my toothbrush,” Ryan told me. His voice was jovial, but his words were sincere. I could feel the tension and resentment underneath. The smile on his face was the sort of smile car salesmen have, pretending everybody’s having a good time when, really, you’re at war.

I pick up my deodorant and my face wash. I pick up only the most necessary pieces for my makeup bag. I grab my toothbrush and put it in my travel case, snapping the toothbrush cap over the bristles so they won’t get dirty. Ryan usually stuffs his in a plastic bag. He is right to be defensive about the way he packs toothbrushes. He does it wrong. I put all of it in my bag and zip it up. For better or worse, I am ready to go.

My plan is to drive straight to Rachel’s house. Rachel knows that things with Ryan and me aren’t going well. She has noticed how tense I’ve been. She has noticed how often I criticize him, how rarely I have anything nice to say. But I have been insisting that things were fine. I don’t know why I’ve had such a hard time admitting it to her. I think, in some ways, I hid it because I knew telling Rachel made it real. I had already told Mila about all of this. The tension, the fighting, the loss of love, the plan to separate. For some reason, in my mind, Mila could know, and that didn’t seem tantamount to carving it in stone. But with Rachel, it would be official. A witness. I can’t turn around and pretend it never happened. Maybe that’s the difference between a friend and a sister: a friend can just listen to your problems in the present, but your sister remembers and reminds you of everything in the past. Or maybe it’s not a difference between friends and sisters. Maybe it’s the difference between Mila and Rachel.

But this really
happening. The moving truck is coming. And if I am going to deal with this, I need Rachel. Rachel, who will hold my hand and tell me it is going to be OK. Rachel, who will believe in me. I have to admit to her that my marriage is failing. That
am failing. That I am not the successful and together older sister I have been pretending to be. That I am no longer the one with her shit together.

I find Ryan in the bedroom, grabbing boxes of clothes. We have already split up the furniture. We are both going to have to go shopping on our own. I now need a new TV. Ryan is going to need pots and pans. What had seemed like a whole is now two halves.

“OK,” I say. “I’m going to go and leave you to it.” Ryan has friends coming over to help. He doesn’t need me.

He doesn’t need me.

“OK,” he says, looking into the closet. Our closet. My closet. He finally looks up at me, and I can see he has been crying. He breathes in and out, trying to control himself, trying to take control of his feelings. Suddenly, my heart swells and overtakes me. I can’t leave him like this. I can’t. I can’t leave him in pain.

He does need me.

I run to him. I put my arms around him. I let him bury his face in me. I hold him as he lets it out, and then I say, “You know what? This is stupid. I’m going to stay.” This whole idea has been far-fetched and absurd. We just needed a wake-up call. And this is the wake-up call. This is what we needed to see how foolish we’ve been. Of course, we love each other! We always have. We just forgot for a little while but we are going to be OK now. We have pushed ourselves to the brink and learned our lesson. We don’t have to go through with this. It is over. We can end this strange experiment right here and go back to the way things were. Marriages aren’t all roses and sunshine. We know that. This was silly. “Forget this,” I say. “You’re not going anywhere, sweetheart. You don’t have to go anywhere.”

He is quiet for some time longer, and then he shakes his head. “No,” he says, drying his tears. “I need to leave.” I stare at him, frozen with my arms still around him. He pushes his point further. “You should go,” he says, wiping his own tears away. He is back to business.

That’s when I fall apart. I don’t melt like butter or deflate like a tire. I shatter like glass, into thousands of pieces.

My heart is truly broken. And I know that even if it mends, it will look different, feel different, beat differently.

I stand up and grab my bag. Thumper follows me to the front door. I look down at him with my hand on the knob, ready to turn it. He looks up at me, naive and full of wondering. For all he knows, he is about to go for a walk. I am not sure whom I feel worse for: Ryan, Thumper, or myself. I can’t bear it a second longer. I can’t pet him good-bye. I turn the knob and walk out the front door, shutting it behind me. I don’t stop to take a breath or get my bearings. I just get into the car, wipe my eyes, and set out for Rachel’s house. I am not strong enough to stand on my own two feet.

I need my sister.

BOOK: After I Do
3.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein
Master of the Inn by Ella Jade
The Inherited Bride by Maisey Yates
Dying for the Past by T. J. O'Connor
White People by Allan Gurganus
Hidden Gems by Carrie Alexander
A Class Action by Gene Grossman