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April 9, 2000

Why Can't We Stay Married, If We Love Each Other?

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I remember when my first daughter was born. It was a difficult and terrifying delivery. A transverse baby, she was lodged sideways in the womb, a lima bean stuck in a straw. After her heart rate began to falter, there was talk of an emergency cesarean. Blinking equipment was wheeled into the room, the nurses talking in hushed, hurried tones. My sister, also present, began sobbing. At the last moment, the doctor was able to move the baby internally, and she arrived, head squashed and face bruised, but alive. I wept with relief and fatigue, my body shaking enough to rattle the rails of the hospital bed. I looked at my husband, now a father. He was beaming. And I thought to myself, We will never divorce because how could we ever leave each other after that? No one will ever love the kids the way he does, I think. No one will ever know how I looked at 33, in Sag Harbor, NY, on that intemperate day in the fall when everything froze. No one will remember the sound my second daughter made when she saw her first dog. Or how my eldest squealed hysterically on her first roller-coaster ride. To divorce is to say farewell to your record-keeper. It is to jettison your history, to abandon your ready identity. For years, you are someone's wife. And then one day, you aren't. And then it becomes your job to decide who you are. Sunday morning, a week before he left, I made French toast and used the special challah bread from the local baker. Fried bacon. The girls, still unaware of the impending split, helped, spilling cinnamon on their aprons and fighting over who got to break the eggs. We all ate, and it was delicious. Everything seemed perfectly normal, as it had always been-the four of us sharing Sunday breakfast, deciding how best to spend the day.After, the girls toddled off to watch cartoons while my husband and I talked about how we got derailed.

"Why did you always have to make me feel bad?" he said. "That is what killed it. Your constant judging."
He wasn't wrong. I did judge. And that is the thing about breaking apart. When the person who knows you best decides you are an asshole, you kind of have to believe them. Because they've done the time. They've seen you naked.

"I'm sorry," I said.
It wasn't much. But there it was.
"I may not love you in the way you need. But I would carry you across burning sands. Doesn't that count?" he said.

It did. But not enough.
My marriage wasn't bad. I just didn't belong there. I know this now. I am not wife material. I like being alone. I enjoy sexual freedom. I believe the payoffs of tending to a man pale greatly when compared to the benefits of tending to myself. I believe I am a better mother without a husband, because I am happy and strong and not sleepwalking in a bath of resentment about who is or isn't taking out the trash.

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