Monday, May 15, 2006

For Better or Worse

When the hydro bill arrives, I hate being a grownup.

When martini orders are being taken, I love being a grownup.

When my best friend is dumped by her lying, cheating, bastard of a husband, I really hate being a grownup. I remember the days when my friends and I worried about nothing more than whether we had the right kind of high tops, whether our scabby knees would soon heal from that rousing round of double dutch and leave "cool scars", or whether the ouija board would reveal the initials of the boy we'd someday marry.

Childhood is actually deceptively hard - politics of the schoolyard, bickering parents, cruel kids, strict teachers, loads of homework, and of course boys and their disgusting cooties. It's hard to be a kid. Every day you have a million questions and your only course of action is to save them up and then ask an adult - why? why? because why? how come? But perhaps being an adult is harder still; life continues to present you with an infinite amount of questions, but this time around, there's no one to ask why. In fact, you learn quickly that sometimes there is no why, no how come. It just is. And there's nothing you can do about it.

You may remember a couple of months ago, I wrote about how my friend Jen had just ruptured fantastically with her husband, Jeff. They had been married all of 9 months, just bought a new house, still had tan lines from their honeymoon when Jen had the breath kicked out of her.

It's crazy, truly crazy, to conceive of any man fool enough to leave her. She is an amazing person - generous, considerate, radiant. She and Jeff seemed like the perfect couple. He was such a good guy. He once bought her a dozen umbrellas because she was always forgetting hers - he planted them around her home, her car, and her work so that she'd never be without. He had this way of kissing her neck that literally would tug at your heart to see. Looking at their wedding pictures, it would make you sick at how gorgeous and in love they looked.

They dated 5 years before marrying. They were "sure". We all were.

And in the end, none of it mattered. He was just another unfaithful husband; she was just another broken heart. Her mother was so shocked when Jen told her they were separated that she insisted that Jen give him another chance. Surely there was a misunderstanding.

But there was no misunderstand, and there would be no second chance.

a) He was caught red-handed.

b) He admitted guilt - and not just to this one indiscretion.

c) He was already living blissfully with his mistress.

But second chances presuppose that a second chance was sought, and it wasn't. He wasn't begging for forgiveness. He wasn't playing boomboxes outside her house at night in corny efforts to apologize. He very coldly put some clothes in a suitcase (the one they bought for their honeymoon), and collected his toiletries out of the bathroom. He took his house key off his keyring (engraved; a gift from Jen on their 6 month anniversary) without being asked, placed it on the kitchen counter, grabbed a bottle of merlot, and left.

For me, the hardest part is knowing that someone she loved so much could hurt her and not be sorry for it. It seems utterly incongruous to me; I think about all the parts of the story, the before and the after, and I know how they go together, but my mind (or is it my heart?) refuses to believe that it's possible.

For Jen, the hardest part is knowing that in the 6 years they were together, she never really knew him. Her whole life is called into question - what is happiness? what is love? what is trust?

She asks me this, with red-rimmed eyes, and all I can offer is a shrug and a tissue. The tissue is a mild comfort; the shrug infuriates us both. But what answers can I give her?

I helped her move out of her house and into an apartment with another woman going through the same thing, but different. You know how it is: the same level of achy and messy, but details that are heart-breaking in their own way (her cat had a collection of unfamiliar panties piled under the sofa - she found it while cleaning for a visit from her mother-in-law).

Jen's lawyer, of course, doesn't like her to leave the house empty. Jen's sense of self, however, cannot permit her to sleep in the sheets she envisioned sharing with Jeff until they thinned from wear, at which point they'd head to Sears holding hands, purchasing sheets in 5 or 10 year increments for the rest of their wedded bliss.

Meanwhile, I feel inadequate. As a friend, as a healer, as a balm, I have been inept. I don't believe in platitudes. I have no reassurance. I know that Jen will survive, and then thrive. I know she'll be okay, and then more than okay, and then great. She's strong and she's better than this. I know it, and she knows it too. But right now, none of this helps. The promise of this sunny future does little to part the clouds that distort her present circumstances. And so she plays the familiar emotional waiting game called divorce - an intricate combination of rage and mourning that leave her friends and family feeling helpless.

That's where the story left off. I spent a few days with her, knowing that I couldn't make it better, but that I had to try. This is friendship. This is growing up.

A week later, she called to tell me that Jeff's relationship with "the mistress" (that's what we call her - her name is Melanie but Jen refuses to be on a first-name basis with her) is almost as long as his and Jen's was. He was cheating when he first said "I love you"; he was cheating when he proposed; he was cheating when they applied for a 25 year mortgage and planned for the future. I couldn't tell her that they never talking about her while they watched Leno. I couldn't tell her that he hadn't written his vows in another woman's bed. I couldn't tell her the words she needed to hear, and as much as I wanted to hop another bus and race to her side, she assured me that being an adult means going through tough times alone.

I hopped the bus anyway, and told her that having friends means never having to be alone. I hugged her lots, I rescued her fern, and I bought her a big gaudy ring to wear on that finger on her left hand that now feels naked and conspicuous.

For a month, she went to work, she did yoga and ate french fries, she even called me once in a surprisingly buoyant mood when the office hottie hit on her. But in her heart, she was still sad, and it showed. She was sick, physically sick. We all worried about her.

And then the call came, you know the one, it's the one you're not expecting.

She's pregnant.

She's also scared and devastated and confused.

Especially confused.

She wants a baby. She wants to be a mother. She also never wants to see Jeff again as long as she lives. She doesn't want to have an undeniable link to him; she doesn't want a child that will be half his, a constant reminder, a good portion of his DNA. She doesn't want to drop a kid off at the mistress' house, she doesn't want to raise a kid in a hostile environment but isn't sure she can take the high road. She doesn't want to be pregnant with a baby that was probably conceived a day or two before she found another woman being fucked in her bed.

So when she visits this weekend, she'll have her two favourite Jays to cuddle with, and she'll have the added bonus of a very good clinic just down the street from us.

The kind that does abortions.

She doesn't need to be reminded of her options. What she needs right now is support for her decisions, and that's exactly what I have to give. I believe in her, and in her ability to do what's best. I also know it won't be easy. I can unquestioningly predict that these coming weeks will be the most difficult of her life, ones that she will remember long after she has forgotten about her rotten first marriage. But I also hope that she will remember that I was there for her, and that she was loved.

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