The rain on the windshield formed a red sparkling jewel pattern across its expanse as Greg waited for the traffic light to turn green. His phone was buzzing in his pants pocket but he didn’t want to talk to anyone. All he could think about was getting home and putting the chains on the doors so Maureen couldn’t get back in when she finally got around to coming home.
He shook his head like a wet dog and let out a fierce growl as the light changed. He hit the accelerator forcefully and his hands came down hard on the steering wheel. The tires skidded on the wet black pavement before finding purchase and propelling the car forward. His small vehicle hopped ahead of traffic as he sped off down Main Street toward home.
“Why would she do this?” he asked himself out loud in the dark empty car.
He’d had suspicions for months but was afraid to pursue them. The one time he had brought up her sudden penchant for Starbucks with “the girls” in the middle of the night she had become cagey, agitated and finally just downright angry. She had demanded to know what he was inferring and he just wasn’t secure enough in himself, her love for him or his own feelings to voice his concerns aloud. Now he wished he would have said something then and maybe it could have saved them both a lot of grief.
They had been together for fourteen years and they had been good as far as he was concerned. Maybe he was a bit boring at times but she knew what he was like when she married him and he hadn’t changed at all. She had changed over the last five years or so, ever since Evan had gone into first grade. He probably wouldn’t have said anything at all before now if Evan and Leslie hadn’t asked him what was wrong with Mommy. It was the night that Maureen had come home with her hair wet and her make up smeared down her face. He had known he should already have put the children to bed long ago but he just couldn’t bring himself to get off the couch and go through the nightly wrestling match with them. All he’d wanted to know was where his wife had gone and when she was going to come home.
She had been so angry when she came in and saw the children still up. She screamed at all three of them and stormed up the stairs, locking herself in the bedroom. Nine year old Leslie had looked up at Greg with her lip quivering, confusion in her gaze and asked him why Mom was all wet when it wasn’t raining. He didn’t have an answer for them so instead he hustled them off to bed for the night. They hadn’t put up their customary fight; kids are intuitive and they seemed to know that it was not the night for it. Later as he walked past Leslie’s room with pillows and sheets to sleep in the spare bedroom he glanced in to find her and Evan both sleeping in her large bay window seat. This was Leslie’s “thinking place” so he suspected that Evan had come in and crawled up there with her to comfort her or be comforted and they’d fallen asleep. He had left them there sleeping peacefully and spent the night tossing and turning on the unfamiliar mattress wondering what he would say to Maureen in the morning. As usual he hadn’t said anything.
He shook himself out of his reverie and turned down the windshield wipers as the rain was beginning to subside. He hadn’t known real pain until today. For the first time in his life he now understood that your heart could truly physically hurt when it has been broken. He pulled the car to the side of the road and took deep cleansing breaths trying to contain his pain, his anger, his resentment. What the hell was he supposed to tell his children?
He had arranged for the children to spend the night with his sister Carol tonight. Carol hadn’t even asked why, although Leslie and Evan had never spent the night there before. The kids were excited about having time with their cousins although Carol’s girls were a few years older. When Maureen had pulled her SUV out of the garage tonight he had quickly pulled out and slipped in behind her in traffic falling two car lengths behind her as she merged onto State Street. He had chuckled to himself a bit at the “B Movie” feel of this night. She was on her cell phone and distracted so she’d never noticed him following. She had driven for some time and finally landed in a parking lot at a small seedy looking bar in the next town over.
He had waited ten or fifteen minutes with damp palms and sweat beading on his upper lip. He was not a confrontational person and wasn’t sure if he could pull this off tonight but he had to know. He pulled himself out of his car and walked gingerly across the dark parking lot to avoid the muddy holes in the broken up concrete.
As soon as he had walked through the door he had seen her. She hadn’t been the prettiest woman in the bar but she was the best dressed. The tables were all tall and close together so it took him a moment to figure out with whom she was sitting. He strained to see when she’d laughed a tinkling flirtatious laugh, one he hadn’t heard since their college days, and watched as she leaned forward to kiss a man that couldn’t have been more than twenty five or six years old. The kiss was long and embarrassing, not just to him spying on his wife from behind a cliche fake ficus, but for the people at tables around the couple. They had started to glance surreptitiously and laugh awkwardly at the engrossed couple. Someone from near the side door called out “get a room” which caused more laughter.
Jaw throbbing from gritting his teeth he had looked down at his hands and realized that they were clenched into tight fists, his knuckles white, fingers angry red. He had never felt such a violent anger before in his life and it frightened him so he’d backed out of the bar slowly, watching his wife’s animated face and walked despondently back to his car.
Suddenly shaking himself from his reverie at the side of the road, he put aside the memory of his wife canoodling with another man in public as he put his car into gear and drove the rest of the way home. He turned into his driveway, turned off the ignition and sat listening to the soft play of rain on the hood, the engine pinging as it cooled. He looked at his watch and stared incredulously as he realized that the entire event from leaving their home to finding her at the bar to coming back home had taken less than one hour. In less time than it took to fix a meatloaf dinner his life had been completely destroyed.
He was devastated. He didn’t think he would have the energy to climb out of the car. He sat looking at his closed garage door and thought about their lives together. He just didn’t understand how things had come to this. He knew that she had been unhappy but he’d had no idea how far things had gone. He felt the unfamiliar ache in his chest and throat right before the racking sobs began. Not since he was a little boy had he cried like this. He fought to control the sobs and the tears to no avail. He couldn’t stop and the sobs were coming so closely together he felt that he might stop breathing. He crossed his arms over his chest tightly to stop the sobs as though they were emanating from his heart. His stomach muscles were beginning to make themselves known and he realized just how tightly he had held himself in check on the short drive home.
At some point he had stopped being angry and begun to feel pain and betrayal and a deep sadness. He craved the anger as he felt he could control that better than this unfamiliar feeling. He took deep breaths, stopping himself from crying. He opened the door and stepped out of his car onto the driveway. Lifting his face to the sky he let the slow, soft, cold rain fall on his face while he stared up into the sky imagining the stars behind the dark black clouds. Leaning back he placed his hands on the hood of his car behind him and stood in the rain letting it cleanse him. The tears and sobbing had stopped completely and he felt surprisingly purged – almost at peace.
The street they lived on was always quiet but with the rain it was even more deserted than usual. He pushed himself off the side of the car, leaned in the driver’s side door to pull his keys out of the ignition and pocketed them. He glanced toward his house thinking fleetingly of the warmth of his living room and a large tumbler of whiskey but immediately changed his mind and began walking fast up the street, keys jingling tunefully in his pocket. He was glad now that he had worn his athletic shoes tonight thinking that he might have to move quietly in his spying mission.
He began to jog slowly and turned his face up to the rain and let the wind whistle past his ears. His mind was starting to clear and he was beginning to make plans. Nothing too earth shattering, just one step at a time but it felt good and right to have a plan. He picked up speed and was moving at a faster jog now. His mind felt clearer and his heart wasn’t aching now and the heavy breathing and tightness in his chest was from the run and not from the agony of tonight’s discovery. The reality was that his marriage was potentially ending. “Take a hot shower, throw wet clothes in the washer, pack a bag for Maureen … no wait why should I do that?” Thoughts were pouring in and plans were formulating with every step. He rounded the large block and ran down the street that ran perpendicular to theirs garnering strange looks from the people in the few cars driving by on their way home. He knew he wasn’t ready to challenge Maureen tonight. He needed to lay the groundwork first and know what rights he had. Should he be thinking this way? Should he instead be looking for ways to save his marriage and bring her back into the family fold? Would she come? Could he ever make love to her again knowing that the man he had seen her with tonight had been there already?
He started to slow his pace as the weight of all the decisions overwhelmed him. He wasn’t sure of anything right now, he had thought about these things fleetingly before tonight when he’d thought that she had been stepping out on him but he refused to admit it to himself until he’d seen it with his own eyes tonight. He’d had no idea what his reaction would be.
He rounded the last turn on the block at a slow jog and noticed that his house was still dark. He had been subconsciously hoping that his porch light would be on and Maureen would be waiting for him in the living room worrying and pacing the floors; waiting to tell him the truth and ask for forgiveness. Would he have been able to forgive her if she had been there? He didn’t really know.
He decided that there was nothing further he could do tonight as he ran the last few feet around his car and up the steps to his front door. He unlocked the door and let himself in, immediately beginning to peel the sodden clothes from his body as he walked into the laundry room off the kitchen. He repeated his plan as he squished in his wet stocking feet down the hallway and across the kitchen floor. He undressed completely throwing everything into the washer and hit cold wash.
He poured himself a tumbler of whiskey, padded upstairs with a clean towel he’d pulled off the top of the dryer sopping the moisture from his hair and turned on the shower. He took a slug from the tumbler and laid it on the marble counter in the master bath. He watched his face disappear behind the steam as the shower heated up the room. Greg swiped the towel once across the mirror and studied his face closely and carefully. Was he ready for what was going to happen once he opened up this Pandora’s Box? His sad reddened and pained eyes answered him back, he had no idea. All he knew now is that he was going to take a long hot shower, finish his whiskey and go to sleep.
Tomorrow was another day and he would come up with a plan then. “Tonight”, he thought as he stepped smartly into the shower stall, “I am just going to take one step at a time”.