How We Became Strangers
I fantasized about other men. My friends confessed they did, too. Come to think of it, what married woman doesn't? Sometimes I flirted, but mostly I fantasized. The city seemed alive with possibility, and I imagined I could sample these men as if I were at a wine tasting. And like almost every other woman I knew who was juggling careers and motherhood and the complicated demands of marriage, I found myself wondering about my life. I asked myself a provocative question: Was I giving myself over to an unadventurous life?
In my mind I mapped out an intricate affair, because now that my husband and I were strangers, it was as if I didn't have a husband. I was a free girl again. A girl who woke up in the morning and took delight in what she was wearing and in the feel of a man's eyes as she walked down the street, and then—well, you fill it in. In my mind I created this wonderful, exotic life. It was as if I were on holiday from my marriage, on a grand vacation, alone with myself, free in my own thoughts.
Then one evening D. came home from work and delivered a bombshell. He blurted it out over our cheese-and-pepper pizza and glass of red wine. A colleague of his, a guy he'd known for a while, a guy he'd thought had a solid marriage, whom we had repeatedly socialized with as couples, had just told D. his wife wanted a divorce. It was as if the fantasy life I was living had leaped out of my head and manifested itself in our friend's wife. Why? I asked. He thinks she's seeing someone else, I heard D. say. And suddenly I was terrified. I thought about losing D., and I felt queasy with fear. I saw that all those weeks imagining an affair I had been tiptoeing across a minefield, and if I continued to traverse it, all we had built together would explode. I tried to picture what life would be like without my husband. I saw a lonely house. For months I had been remote and secretive with D. I felt ashamed. I looked at the stranger who was my husband, and in that moment I came back to reality. I saw the man I had fallen in love with. The man I watched agonizing over the goddamn bar exam now had built his own practice. Our friends envied the kind of attentive, loving father he had become. In his eyes I saw the two sturdy pillars I leaned against: He had given me the security and safety and love to become a mother, to go after my dreams as a writer. D.'s love and kindness had made me a better person. I thought about waking up in the morning without him and felt the chill of an empty existence—. And for what? It wasn't even sex that I wanted from a lover. It was the intoxication of being newly known. I had wanted to imagine that someone else could fall in love with me, but now, looking at my husband in his Speedo gym shorts and bleached-out T-shirt, what I saw was that the man I was married to was the person I wanted to have the affair with. I wanted him to wrestle me to the ground, to say he couldn't live without me. I wanted to see the world again anew through his eyes. I hadn't known that my husband could be the fantasy. That while I was in my head building new boyfriends out of snow, the man I had married turned other women on. All I had to do was walk out of my head and begin to talk to the man who sat beside me the nights we managed to make dinner.
For all my extravagant, wild, reckless imaginings, I had already chosen the one. Now what we needed to do was to figure out how to reinvent our marriage and become reacquainted with the singular person each of us had become along the way. I felt guilty for my fantasy affair. But I knew that my imagination and longings were central to leading an authentic life. I just needed to let my arm reach out so that my husband could run his fingers up and down the veins on the underside, and we'd be there, I'd feel it again, as if I were at the airport gate waiting to see his shining face picking mine out from the crowd. He was still there. I had to peel back the layers we had built around ourselves, all those years when we were desperately in love with our son and had lost each other, until I reached the exposed heart of our connection.