A cold chill settled over me when the realization hit: I didn't want to be married any longer. At least not to the woman I had wed.
"Stop," I said forcefully. Surprisingly, Gail complied almost instantly.
We were in the middle of yet another knock-down, drag-out fight over something stupid. Sometimes it was money; sometimes it was one or the other's job.
This time, it was over groceries — or rather, the lack of groceries. Gail had started to fix supper — it was her turn — and found she lacked garlic salt.
Perhaps I was supposed to pick up garlic salt the last time I was at the store. I honestly didn't remember and it didn't make any difference. Garlic salt was not the root of our problem.
"I don't want to do this any more," I said. I was surprised when I felt tears come to my eyes. "Gail, we just don't work. Let's just call it off."
Gail's eyes went wide.
"Call it off?" she asked.
I could only nod. I couldn't trust myself to speak another word. Gradually, I calmed myself.
"I'll get a room for a few days," I said. "We'll get together this weekend if that works for you and we'll talk about splitting things up."
Tears fell onto Gail's cheeks, too. I think it was a testament of where we were in our lives that I didn't have the urge to dry them.
"I think we can find a way to split up everything," I said. "Honestly, I think most of it I wouldn't be willing to fight about anyway. I'm just so tired of fighting with you."
A look of determination settled on Gail's face.
"If you would do anything around here to help me out, we wouldn't fight," she said harshly.
"Yes we would," I said softly. "We always have. If it wasn't this, it would be something else. If I did all the housework and cooked all the meals, you'd be angry that I wasn't spending enough time with you. If you wanted to do something with your friends, I'd be angry that you were flirting with guys or something.
"Think about it, we've always fought. Since about a month after we started dating, we've fought about something at least once a week. If it wasn't something real, one of us would make something up."
"I never made anything up to pick a fight," she said quickly. "If I was pissed off, I had a good reason."
"What about it?" she asked.
"You, of course, realize that you could have pointed out the fact that we needed it and asked me to run to the store to get it," I said. "I would have. Sure, I probably would have grumbled a little. OK, a lot, but I would have gone.
"Instead, you chewed my ass over my insensitivity for almost five minutes before I even realized it was about garlic salt. Does that sound like the recipe for a successful marriage?"
Gail's face went white.
"But we have a good marriage," she insisted. "We always have."
I shook my head.
"We had elements of a good marriage," I replied. "Nothing more. We don't talk about things; we yell about them. There is little trust. I get jealous when you talk to other guys and your new job worries me. I know you check up on me when I have to be out of town. It's OK because I would do the same to you if the situation were reversed."
Gail started to speak but I raised a hand. Again, to my surprise, she stopped.
"We want different things from life," I said. "We're 32 years old. I want children. I know you don't. I mean, you've just really gotten a foothold in your career so it would be difficult to ask you to take time away to have a child. But we're getting to the point where it will be too late for children soon."
Gail took my silence as a sign that I was finished. I wasn't, but it didn't matter.
"First of all, I have never nor would I ever cheat on you," she said. "When I said 'For better or worse, forsaking all others, ' I meant it. You don't need to worry about me when I'm out with friends or when you're out of town."
I nodded but I knew it wasn't going to ease my mind.
"Secondly," she continued, "I thought we had reached an understanding about children."
I couldn't let this one go past.
"We did not reach an understanding," I said loudly. "You issued a proclamation. There is a difference. Telling me what you are going to do is not the same as reaching an understanding."
Gail took a deep breath. Our fighting styles were different. Gail ranted and raved. She had been known to break things during an argument. I brooded and spoke quietly when I was angry. But I always made a point to say as many hurtful things as I could. To hear me raise my voice caught Gail off guard.
"My career is very important to me," she said simply.
"Children are very important to me," I replied in kind.
"This is what I mean," I continued. "You want to climb the corporate ladder and make no mistake, I am extremely proud of you. But at the same time, having a successful wife is not going to be enough for me. Especially when that success means she has to work longer hours and bring work home."
"You're jealous!" she exclaimed.
"Probably," I said, my temper somewhat in check. "Likely, in fact."
I caught her unprepared again and we sat in silence for a moment. I took it as my cue to leave.
"Think about what you want to keep from here," I said as I stood up. "I'll make a list of the few things I want to take and we'll either split the rest or hold a kick-ass yard sale."
"So, you're just going to leave?"
"Yeah, Gail," I said. "I'm just going to leave. I'll call you Friday to see if this weekend is good for you."
As I drove away, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I kissed my wife goodbye. And I also realized that neither of us said we loved the other or that we wanted to work things out.
My list of must-have possessions was remarkably short. I wanted my clothes, one of the cars and some tools from the garage. I didn't think Gail would fight over any of them.
When I called the house Friday night, I got only voice mail. I left a message and asked Gail to call me and let me know if Saturday or Sunday would work better for her.
She didn't call so Sunday night I left another message telling her that I was going to retrieve a few belongings from the house on Monday because I was running short of clothes.
Again, I didn't hear from her.
When I got to the house on Monday, nothing had changed from when I left Tuesday night. Literally, nothing.
The pasta sauce was still sitting on the stove. The wine glasses were still on the table. My dirty socks were still on the bedroom floor.
There were a dozen messages on the answering machine besides the ones I had left. Some were from friends that Gail had stood up on Wednesday night. A couple were from co-workers hoping she was feeling better. The last was from Gail.
"Jeff," the tinny voice said. "I went to visit my sister. Take whatever you want. I'll call you soon."
I'm not sure what possessed me but I was immediately worried about Gail. She and her sister hated one another. They were constantly belittling the other and making snide remarks to the other's face. The last time both were in the same room it turned into a no-holds-barred wrestling match complete with hair pulling and biting.
I picked up the phone and dialed her sister's number.
Jenny answered on the second ring.
"Uh, hi, Jen," I stammered. "It's Jeff. Is Gail there?"
I heard a snort.
"Yeppers," she said. "Why do you care?"
I was somewhat taken aback because although Jenny and Gail didn't get along, I had always felt a rapport with the woman.
"Uh, well, you know," I started. "I guess I was just surprised that she would go to see you."
Finally a laugh.
"You and me both," Jenny said. "I'll ask if she wants to talk to you."
"That's OK," I said quickly. "I just wanted to make sure she is OK. I mean, hell, you know what I mean."
"You wanted to make sure she hadn't gone off the deep end," Jenny said.
"I guess so." I wasn't really sure why I had called.
"It just seems, well, out of character for her. You know, to come visit you. Just tell her I called and let her know that I'm only taking my clothes until we can sort through things together."
"Can I tell her that you were worried about her?"
I could detect a trace of something in her voice but I couldn't figure out what it was.
"Yeah," I replied. "It's the truth. When I got her message that she went to see you, I was worried."
"I'll tell her you called," Jen said and then she hung up.
It was five days later when Gail called me at my office. I had rented an apartment but I hadn't bothered with a phone line so I guess she thought this was the best way to catch me.
"Hi, Jeff," she said. Her voice was toneless, almost mechanical.
"Gail," I said. Then I waited. When the silence stretched to 30 seconds, I spoke again.
"How are you?" It was feeble but at least it was something.
"Not well," she said in the same toneless voice.
"Sorry to hear that," I replied truthfully. "I don't hate you, Gail. I do want the best for you. But I want the best for me, too. I don't think we can have that together."
I could hear Gail exhale a short burst of air.
"Maybe you're right," she whispered. "Can we meet tonight?"
I glanced at my schedule out of habit.
"Yeah, sure," I told her. "What time?"
"Any time," she said sadly. "Now?"
"Uh, how about half an hour?"
"The house?" I asked.
"No!" she said loudly. "Not the house. Definitely not in that house."
My eyes widened.
.... There is more of this story ...