It tugs on my sleeve each morning when my husband, Will, greets me in his chipper, smug morning-person voice, because after 16 years of waking up together, he still hasn't quite pieced out that I'm not viable before 10 A.M.
It puts two hands on my forehead and mercilessly presses when he blurts out the exact wrong thing ("Are you excited for your surprise party next Tuesday?"); when he lies to avoid the fight ("What do you mean I left our apartment door open? I never even knew our apartment had a door!"); when he buttons his shirt and jacket into the wrong buttonholes, collars and seams unaligned like a vertical game of dominoes, with possibly a scrap of shirttail zippered into his fly. It flicks me, hard, just under the eye when, during a parent-teacher conference, he raises his arm high in the air, scratches his armpit, and then—then!—absently smells his fingers.
It slammed into me like a 4,000-pound Volvo station wagon one spring evening four years ago, although I remember it as if it were last year. He had dropped me off in front of a restaurant, prior to finding a parking spot. As I crossed in front of the car, he pulled forward, happily smiling back over his left shoulder at some random fascinating bit (a sign with an interesting font, a new scaffolding, a diner that he may or may not have eaten at the week after he graduated from college), and plowed into me. The impact, while not wondrous enough to break bodies 12 ways, was sufficient to bounce me sidewise onto the hood, legs waving in the air like antennae, skirt flung somewhere up around my ears.
For one whole second, New York City stood stock-still and looked at my underwear.
As I pounded the windshield with my fist and shouted—"Will, Will, stop the car!"—he finally faced forward, blink, blink, blink, trying, yes, truly trying to take it all in. And I heard him ask with mild astonishment, very faintly because windshield glass is surprisingly thick, "What are you doing here?"
In retrospect, it was an excellent question, a question that I've asked myself from altar to present, both incessantly and occasionally.
"What am I doing here?"
Don't musunderstand: I would not, could not disparage my marriage (not on a train, not in the rain, not in a house, not with a mouse). After 192 months, Will and I remain if not happily married, then steadily so. Our marital state is Indiana, say, or Connecticut—some red areas, more blue. Less than bliss, better than disaster. We are arguably, to my wide-ish range of reference, Everycouple.
Nor is Will the Very Bad Man that I've made him out to be. Rather, like every other male I know, he is merely a Moderately Bad Man, the kind of man who will leave his longboat-sized shoes directly in the flow of our home's traffic so that one day I'll trip over them, break my neck, and die, after which he'll walk home from the morgue, grief-stricken, take off his shoes with a heavy heart, and leave them in the center of the room until they kill the housekeeper. Everyman.
Still, beneath the thumpingly ordinary nature of our marriage—Everymarriage—runs the silent chyron of divorce. It's the scarlet concept, the closely held contemplation of nearly every woman I know who has children who have been out of diapers for at least two years and a husband who won't be in them for another 30. It's the secret reverie of a demographic that freely discusses postpartum depression, eating disorders, and Ambien dependence (often all in the same sentence) with the plain candor of golden brown toast. In a let-it-all-hang-out culture, this is the given that stays tucked in.