To borrow a friend’s pet expression: Second prize: when you’re “bird nesting,” you and the spouse you’re divorcing get to share TWO houses! The first time I found a nice little pile of clipped toenails on the apartment’s coffee table, I shrieked. Less dramatically, but no less annoyingly, I invariably unlocked the apartment door to find my husband’s shucked off socks on the floor next to the sofa, his dishes in the sink, his hairs in the drain, and the last beer drunk. The trash was right there, waiting for me to take it out. I’d bought the bathmat and the towels, which my husband never bothered to hang up. Why, it was just like being married! my best friend said. She found it amusing; I did not.
When I did finally muster the nerve to mention the dirty dishes (it was a freakishly hot late-spring day, and the whole apartment stank of decay when I arrived) my husband was not the slightest bit apologetic. Rather, he was annoyed. “I didn’t notice any smell when I left,” he said. “I did the dishes. I do TOO take out the trash. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Often, he’d drink all the gin, or else leave a sad little inch or so in the bottom of the bottle. Ah, Tanqueray. My sin, my soul. I’d buy a bottle –a handle, as the kids say–at the state store, and come home to find it disproportionately depleted. Dear reader, I narrowly avoided full-gutter alcoholism, and even today I am forced to watch my step. When I fall from the wagon, at my advanced age, I fall hard, and am bruised, battered and ashamed of myself for several days afterwards. But at that point, I could no more have gone a day without drinking (several drinks, at the very least) than I could have gone a day without breathing.
We live in a dry town. Buying gin is a pain, even when you make sure to buy the very largest bottles on offer. Running OUT of gin, when you have made sure to buy enormous bottles ahead of time, is–or felt as if it was, at the time–a full blown catastrophe.
But those are minor complaints. I loved certain things about the apartment, really I did. I loved that I had swapped my bedroom doorknob out for a model that locked (my best friend, known to those who read Irretrievably Broken as my consoling-windows friend deserves full credit, since she not only bought the new doorknob, but also showed me how to install it) and thus had my first real private place in months. My husband, unsurprisingly, did not like my locked bedroom. I hid my diaries in there–diaries he’d been trying to get at (with varying degrees of success) for months. I hid plenty of stuff I didn’t want him pawing through, because I could tell that he tossed both the house and the apartment whenever he was alone. I’d find bookshelves with spaces where select volumes had been plucked, and once I noticed that all the family pictures had been taken off the fridge. This made me nervous. When I confronted my husband (“Why on earth would you take the pictures down off the fridge?”) he looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “I didn’t take them down,” he said, calmly. “You must have done it, and blacked out.” Remember: There was Tanqueray in both households. To this day, though I am absolutely certain I did not take the pictures of our happy lost family down off the fridge, I would not swear on my childrens’ lives that I did not. We were both out of our minds by this point. I know I drank to oblivion whenever possible. Why wouldn’t he follow my lead and do the same?
And then, one day in July, I opened the envelope informing me that our homeowners insurance had been canceled because no one had paid the premiums. I sat down, feeling sick. We’re out of control, I remember thinking. We had nothing in our bank account, and my husband (who always took care of the finances, due to a lethal cocktail of incompetence and thrift-related paranoia on my part) had stopped paying more than the minimum balance on our credit cards in February. We had paid some bills twice, but most we had not paid at all. They lay on the hall table like venomous snakes, daring me to approach. I took a deep breath, sat down on the floor, and called the number of the mediator I’d found through Google the week before.