My ex-husband visits during his apology tour. That’s what I’m calling it, anyway. I live in a condo now, which overlooks a particularly glossy strip of the Pacific Ocean, due in part to the money he’s made as a financial advisor.
“You deserve it,” is what my friends say, “you put up with a lot.” Most of my friends are divorced. A common theme after a few glasses of wine is what we used to put up with but don’t any longer. After a while, someone will always make that sighing noise, that “ah well” sound of a conversation dying out, which can sound a lot like nostalgia if you aren’t careful. I’m usually the one to try and scare that noise off, to say something overly cheerful like, “and now we’re better off!” which usually locks the door on the night and closes it down.
When my ex-husband visits, he’s wearing a backpack slung low like a teenager.
“Where are you headed after this?” I ask.
“Nowhere,” he says, “but I can’t use a purse.” He opens the backpack at my kitchen bar. “I like this thing,” he says, meaning the bar. “I like that can you just sit here and have breakfast by yourself. It’s less formal than a table.”
“Okay,” I say, “that’s true.”
He pulls a banana out of his backpack and starts to unpeel. Somehow, he has not grown any less self-conscious since our marriage.
“I have bananas,” I say, “you could have asked for one.”
“I bought too many,” he says, before the conversation stalls. I can see the swollen outline of banana in one of his cheeks.
“Phallic,” I say, and he smiles with his mouth closed. I remember a recurring fight we used to have about his eating—that he took too large of bites, and then would have to force food down his gullet like a snake. Slow down! I’d say. Just take your time. During our marriage, he was always in a hurry, perpetually on his way to somewhere else.
This is the third time he’s come to visit in a month. My condo is just one stop on his tour, and dare I say, his favorite. He’s had two ex-wives before me—I’m the youngest and according to everyone else, the least upset.
“Anger’s not really in her nature,” one of the other exes, Susan, said, when we all met for coffee in a small, expensive cafe made to look like a clapboard house on the beach. Susan was the middle wife, a businesswoman, in a vague way I never really understood. Mostly, this was something she liked to declare: “I’m a businesswoman!”
It was ironic, this meeting of the minds, three ex-wives at a corner table in a cozy house. Nearby, a group of women—an inversion of us: younger, easier—were also talking about a man. “So then he starts in,” one of them was saying.
“How do you know what’s in my nature?” I asked Susan. I think of myself as very angry, so this was a surprise, the fact that it wasn’t seeping out of my pores like a smell.
“Oh, trust me,” Susan said, “I know.” The tail end of her marriage intertwined with the beginning of mine, so in a sense, we waved to each other as we moved through Joe’s rotating doors. Well Susan was furious, so she didn’t wave. But to her credit, she was angrier with Joe than she was with me. She treated me like a bad puppy—inexperienced, desperate, naïve. I was young and I couldn’t be helped. She wasn’t wrong.
When we met for coffee, our ex-husband, Joe, had just been arrested for fraud. He didn’t spend any time in jail, and now he’s only slightly less rich than he was, but nevertheless, he’s on probation.
“But it isn’t just that,” he says now, in my kitchen. He’s in therapy. He’s righting his wrongs. This is a well-worn conversation.
“Only rich people are allowed to right wrongs,” I tell him. I’ve started to unpeel my own banana. I do it delicately because unlike Joe, I’m someone for whom movements are always second-guessed. “Poor people can’t always right their wrongs,” I say. “Sometimes they can’t get a hold of anyone. People won’t take their calls. And sometimes they don’t have a car to go on apology tours. Some of them can’t even afford Uber. But you,” I say, and here I get a little choked up. I was poor once, before I met Joe. I know how poverty wears you out—how it grows a mouth and starts to chew.
“Geez,” he says, and I’m hoping he can smell my anger now that it’s starting to stink up my lovely bright kitchen with the yellow walls I painted by myself shortly after the divorce, with my hair tied back in a bandana, like I was in a movie starring an attractive middle-aged woman who’d also been divorced but was putting on a brave face, and is later seen at those award shows wearing tuxedo gloves with a younger man by her side. Do you see what I’m saying? Life is long.
“What?” my ex-husband says. He’s still chewing.
I get an image in my mind—one that recurs often—of my ex-husband wearing my underwear. He used to try it on as a joke. No, it really was just a joke; there was no trap door behind it leading to a secret life. Still, I took about a million photos on my phone and I still have them.
“I have those pictures,” I’d whispered in his ear, after two policewomen had knocked on our door and stood stiffly by Joe’s side right before he was handcuffed and escorted gently, very gently, because he’s rich, to the squad car. Suddenly, I worried the police would search my phone and the photos would leak and because Joe was important, his life would be ruined, and in that moment, it was still our life, so mine would be ruined too. That’s what I thought about: a photo of my husband, with his slight potbelly, wearing my lacy blue underwear over the bulge of his dick. As it turned out, nobody cared.
Later I’d find out the details of the arrest—that he’d been swindling investors, and my mother would ask, “Is he some sort of Bernie Madoff?” and I wouldn’t respond, because he sort of was. I would begin divorce proceedings immediately.
When I met with the other ex-wives, Susan and Ellen, they said they had a right to be angriest because of their reputations, because of how long they’ve lived in this town—a suburb an hour outside of LA, hardly distinguishable from the others, in which each day is tirelessly bright and blue, in a way that now feels accusatory. He wants to apologize, I told the women. I was the only one speaking to him.
“Thank God we never had children,” Ellen said. Ellen was the first wife, a redhead, who spoke softly and had strangely long nails. Before she met Joe, she was a dental hygienist.
“Apologize!” Susan said. “Good grief.” Susan never cussed though the tone of her voice serrated every word. She was, after all, a businesswoman.
“Well now everything’s on the up and up,” Joe says now, in my kitchen. “I can’t say that often enough. Truly.” He’s eaten the banana down to a nub, and now the peel flops around, pinched between two fingers, as he gestures toward my large bay windows. “What a view,” he says, “you got a good deal on this place.” He would know; he paid.
I look where he’s pointing, at the blue dream of sky and the boats in the bay, and I think about an early date we went on, yacht-shopping, which of course was an activity I hadn’t known existed. I remember when we walked the slippery-white deck of a fifty-footer, and I was sure he was picturing himself as a sea captain, and picturing me as his wife. Little did he know, I was also picturing myself as a sea captain, though in my fantasy, I was alone at the bow, looking out into a future that was buoyant and easy, the kind only money can buy. I must have made a decision then, no matter what I’d keep my eye on the horizon line, like a horse or an athlete, I’d simply stare straight ahead.
My ex-husband shows himself to the door. “I’m sorry,” he says again, in lieu of goodbye, and I say nothing, as though I’m not at all to blame.
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