Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Gum on my Shoe

I should have known my second marriage was a mistake the morning after the wedding when I discovered my husband dressing for drill with the Ohio State Naval Militia (which I called Ohio's Mickey Mouse Navy) at 5 a.m. Everything pretty much went downhill from there.

I understood when he wouldn't take off even a half day so we could get married. I half expected it when we ran into one of his old girlfriends at the Kahiki, a Polynesian restaurant on the east side of town, where we had our wedding supper, but leaving me at 5 a.m. to go play soldier for the weekend was too much. After one divorce seven years behind me, I decided I had to make my second marriage work no matter what. I didn't realize I was fighting a losing game.

Valentine's Day was one month before our first anniversary and I wanted to make it special. After saving the money for weeks, I booked us into a really nice hotel in Worthington for the weekend, a special Valentine's weekend complete with champagne, room service, and steak dinners with all the trimmings. I went to the hotel after I got off work and arrived before Nick. Two hours later--two very long hours later--Nick showed up carrying his drill clothes.

“Nick, this is supposed to be a romantic weekend. I thought you were going to call off for drill.” I was surprised and hurt and angry.

“I have a perfect attendance record. I'm not going to ruin it now. I'm up for promotion.” He carefully hung up his uniform and gear in the closet.

“We're late for dinner,” I said and gathered my purse, slipped on my shoes, and went to the door to wait. “Let's go.”

“I need to change and take a shower.” He was still in his work clothes and at that point I didn't really care. I was hungry and angry and I didn't feel like waiting an hour while he primped and fussed and went through his usual routine of staring at himself in the mirror while he brushed his teeth, shaved twice, and powdered, perfumed, and deodorized naked.

“You can take a shower after dinner.” I opened the door. He took off his clothes and headed for the bathroom. Once Nick started into his routine, nothing short of death would stop him. I went to dinner without him.

Our first and second anniversaries were pretty much the same, fatefully falling on drill weekends or simply forgotten. The harder I worked to pull our marriage together, the more I realized Nick was still a single man who happened to have a wife at home and it wasn't going to get any better. I realized Nick's father and Larry had been right. I was marrying the wrong member of the family; I would have been better off—and happier—had I married Larry, Nick's gay brother. So I determined to get another divorce.

At least that was the idea. When I told Nick he told me the way it was going to be. “I asked you to marry me. I'll let you know when it's over,” he said.

For three years I tried to get Nick to see our marriage was a mistake and we should just end it. He didn't agree. He liked having someone take care of the bills and the house and earn a good living. “I can't afford to live alone since I lost my job at the University,” he said. He had been fired for incompetence. He was a truck driver.

But I wanted a still wanted a divorce.

“I can't afford to be single,” Nick said. “I don't make enough.

His next job was working at Sears two days a week. “Why don't you go out on interviews on your days off?” I suggested.

“You're trying to make me have a heart attack,” he accused. “Besides you make enough money for both of us.”

And so it went for three years. I finally decided to move into another apartment, but while I was out buying blinds, Nick convinced my father and brother to help him move into my new home. I was stuck again.

Nick, still a bachelor at heart, began bringing his girlfriends home while I was at work. I doubt I would have noticed had it not been for the two bodies blocking the door one night when I came home a bit early. I sat on the couch and watched for twenty minutes while Nick and Joyce, one of my friends, kept having sex. They didn’t even break stride.

I knew I had to do something soon or I was going to do more than Super Glue his penis to his belly like I did the night after I caught him with Joyce.

He was sleeping around and stuffing my hard earned money down G-strings up and down Westerville Road, but I warned him about bringing them home. “I'll Super Glue your dick to your belly if I ever catch you screwing one of your girlfriends here.” Nick never listened to anything I said. While I reminded him of my promise, I used nail polish remover with alcohol to help him get unstuck. He didn't go out to be with any of his girlfriends for two weeks, something to do with swelling and soreness.

Figuring that would be the last straw and he would finally give in, I tried again. “I want a divorce.”

"When I can afford to be single.”

He could barely afford to be single when we met. Nick's father kicked him out of the house the day of his mother's funeral. He was 33 years old and hadn't left home yet.

I tried everything. Hoping one of his girlfriends had fallen in love, I called around. None of them wanted him that much. The gilding was definitely off the lily.

So, one car, two jobs, and a housewarming cat later, I asked again for a divorce. Nick got more comfortable on the couch. “When's dinner?” No go.

Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer gave me an idea. I'd gaslight Nick.

Bombarding him with images of women killing and getting revenge on men, I pulled out all the stops: Basic Instinct and She-Devil. Nick hated both movies with a passion, but mostly he was afraid I'd get ideas. A friend in forensics with the Columbus City Police Department came to the house to discuss toxicology screens and the perfect murder. We focused on men killing husbands and boyfriends and their motives.

With another anniversary on the way, I decided to make it memorable because I was determined it would be our last.

“Nobody expected us to stay married this long,” Nick said. “Larry would have been closest in the family pool, but he can't collect from the grave.” Nick snickered. “Serves him right.”

Larry died the year before of AIDS-related pneumonia and I missed him terribly, hating Nick for his attitude about how Larry died.

“Well, I have a surprise for you this year.” I smiled. “You’ll never guess what it is.”

“Doesn’t matter. You always give me such great gifts.” One of my major flaws—generosity; my other major flaw is stupidity.

“This year is different. I'm going to collect the money in the pool because you're going to die this year.”

Nick's face blanched as Sharon Stone reached for the knife underneath the bed. “A friend who works in biogenetics has made a special virus just for you. He encoded it with your DNA and the day after our anniversary you are going to die.”

He didn't know whether I was joking or serious, but during the days before our anniversary he refused to answer the door or talk to anyone, whether we knew them or not.

The day of our anniversary the door bell on the back door rang. I was in the shower. “Someone's at the door,” he said.

“Go answer it.” I was washing my hair.

The doorbell rang again.

“It's probably for you.” He wasn't budging.

“Just get the door.”

The stairs creaked as he slowly walked down the stairs, a condemned man.

Bart told me later he peered through the kitchen window trying to see who was at the door, but he hid out of sight. Nick cracked the door but, unable to see, he ended up opening the door all the way. Bart, dressed as a clown and in full makeup, holding a bouquet of balloons, jumped out at Nick who nearly fainted. After singing “Happy Anniversary”, Bart handed Nick the bouquet of balloons and popped one, then ran off the porch laughing.

“That was really nice,” Nick said unconvincingly as he showed me the bouquet of Mylar balloons. Taking a pin from the nightstand, I popped the black balloon with the skull and crossbones. Nick fell across the bed and broke it.

All night long, Nick paced the floor, checking his pulse and blood pressure every five minutes. It was worth the loss of a night's sleep watching him mutter and pace, count his pulse, and then pump up the blood pressure cuff and check the numbers.

Come morning he was still alive, but we were no closer to divorce. Gaslighting Nick wasn't going to work.

Six months later, after a particularly bad fight during which our next door neighbors pounded on the door and threatened Nick with calling the cops, Nick opened the door and I raced past him to the safety of our neighbor’s home. Nick had just come back from dumping the vacuum cleaner and three chairs he destroyed when the police arrived. They suggested strongly he leave and I warned him to get his things when he left because I was changing the locks. The apartment was in my name.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to find Nick rummaging through the bureau. “I said to get your things last night. I'm changing the locks today,” I reminded him.

“I need clothes for work,” Nick said and took his clothes into the bathroom and closed the door. I heard him turn on the shower and resisted the urge to get the water pitcher from the refrigerator and pour it on him just to hear his pores snap shut.

An hour later he was gone, but I knew he didn't believe I would change the locks.

When Nick came home he tried his key in the lock. It didn't work. He tried again. No luck. Fifteen minutes of trying his key and the door wouldn't open, so he pounded and shouted and threatened me through the door for another thirty minutes. I guess he missed the pile of his things on the doorstep next to him.

Since I couldn't move into my new apartment across town for two weeks, I was forced to listen to Nick come home every night at six, try his key in the lock for about fifteen minutes, and then curse and pound on the door for another fifteen minutes when he figured out his key still didn't work.

The day I moved he brought the police with him so he could get his things. Both officers were very nice and quite polite as they watched Nick struggle to move his desk and the boxes of junk he had collected over the years. My things had just been picked up and I was making a last check when Nick and the officers arrived. They knew Nick from high school and didn't seem to like him very much. After five years of marriage, I didn't wonder why.

Nick loaded the last box in his car and I handed him the key to the apartment. “The rent is paid up until the end of the year,” I said.

”You could have told me that before I packed up all my stuff.”

“I forgot,” I said, using his favorite and most often used excuse. The officers turned their backs on Nick and laughed while they walked to their cruiser.

“What's your new address?” he asked.

“You don't need to know,” I answered. “You can contact me through my lawyer.” I handed him the lawyer's business card and got in my car. The officers waited until I pulled away before they pulled out and followed me.

Two months later I quit my job, paid off the attorney, stopped divorce proceedings, and took a lower paying job with another company, telling them not to give out any information about me to anyone. Nick had counter sued me for alimony and support. Supporting him for three years was enough so I waited.

Two years later my mother called with a message from Nick. He agreed to a do-it-yourself divorce. He was engaged and planning to get married on New Year's Day.

Three months later I was free of Nick. I have celebrated my independence day every year for the past twelve years, a reminder that sometimes independence doesn't come cheap.

He's still engaged to the same woman, but she keeps changing the year of the wedding. The day is always the same: New Year’s Day. But having been married to Nick, I think she's just too smart to fall for his black Irish good looks and piercing blue eyes. Or maybe she knows getting a divorce from Nick is like getting gum off the bottom of your shoe on a hot August day—the more you scrape, the more it spreads.

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