The Night It Was Almost Over
I crept into bed late that night, later than I'd promised to be home, so she had every right to react as she did. But still, I was surprised when she twisted her body away from my kiss and told me to get away from her. I slumped over onto my side of the mattress, defeated, and I think I sat there in silence a while before the fight picked up again.
And, come to think of it, it's probably wrong to call it a fight in the first place. I don't recall fighting back as much as I remember thinking to myself, "I fucked up for real this time. I pushed her too far, and now it's over." That night, I thought to myself, "My marriage is over." I did my best to explain myself, but the whole time I was thinking that it wouldn't matter, that this was the beginning of the end.
This was the night of September 18, 2011. Earlier that day, I had performed my role as "Jake" in the Players' Ring production of At My Window for the last time. And after we finished striking the set, I'd called my wife to let her know I was heading out for a drink or two with my friends from the show. The time of my return home had been vague, but I think she'd been expecting I'd be back to help get the kids to bed.
Here's how I tried to explain to her what happened, later that night: I get attached. Especially during long creative projects, I get attached and I don't want to let go. I'd seen what happened to me after week-long creative writing residencies and the most recent play I'd been a part of before this, An Evening of Apocalyptic Theater: I'd go into an emotional tailspin, something that often lasted a month or more, all because I didn't get closure. Me staying out later than expected after At My Window was a preventative thing. I didn't want to get sad for month about it ending, so I stayed out with friends and let it end slow and easy.
She understood that. She softened as I explained, because she'd seen me—hell, she'd had to live with me—after those experiences. But then she said the thing that broke my heart. She told me she understood, but then said, "I feel like I'm losing my best friend."
And when she said that, I cried like I've never cried before. In all the years we'd been married—ten, at that point—I had lost sight of that simple truth, that we were each other's best friend. I don't think it's something we'd ever even said out loud to each other, because I think I would have cried if we had, and I would have remembered the tears. Nobody had ever called me their best friend before, or at least nobody had ever meant it like she meant it that night.
Why had she said it? Because she was losing me. She and the girls were losing me. I had spent that summer leaving them alone on vacations to go rehearse, working myself to the bone developing and teaching classes, and filling my precious few free moments with a Website that I'd admitted to her I didn't even like all that much anymore. It seemed to them—and I'm not making this up, because she told me as much—that I didn't want to be with them anymore. I would spend hours in the car driving to Portsmouth for shows, or to be social, hours driving to Cambridge for work, but I couldn't be troubled to spend even half an hour with my wife or my kids on one of those rare days off. If I were interrupted during one of my many projects at the computer, or during my "me" time, I lashed out.
I promised to get better, to try harder. But here's the thing: it took me almost a year to make good on my word. Within a month, I'd signed up to do another play in Portsmouth, to write a script for a friend's benefit show, and to work a second job. I booked myself solid, month after month. We didn't fight as much about it, chalking our near-constant separation up mostly to the two jobs, but I was just as distant as I had been. It took me until this summer, the summer of 2012, to really make a change.
There are lots of reasons for that—lack of fulfillment by "normal" work, a fear of dying without having accomplished anything—but they all ring hollow to me.
As I sit here trying to think of what to say next, of how to sum this up, sentences like "I'm not a good father" and "I'm not a good husband" come to mind, but I'm pretty sure those statements aren't true, at least not 100%, and I'm pretty sure they don't do anything to wrap up what I'm trying to say here.
So, what am I trying to say? Well, here's a shot in the dark.
In the wake of the essay I published back in July, "You Had To Be There," which was about not having a theater project on the horizon for the first time in several years, a friend wrote to me to offer me a part in an upcoming show. I was flattered, as I always am, but for the first time in a long time I thought of my family first and me second. I told my friend that I couldn't, and why.
I'm trying to be a better me than the one who came home that night last September. Though my wife has long since moved past that fight—she tells me she doesn't even remember it, until I bring it up—I still think of it often. It's likely we were never as close to the end as I thought we were, and I should probably forget about it and move on, but there's a case to be made for keeping your wounds open and festering for a while. Scars, I think, are too easy to forget.
And I can't forget about this, at least not until I'm sure it won't happen again.