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"It's the good girls who keep the diaries; the bad girls never have the time."
Apromise to myself: this year is a new beginning for me. A fresh start, in more ways than one. I'm determined to put the divorce behind me. About time, too, since it's been final for over a year. Okay, thirteen months and six days to be exact, not that I'm counting…well, maybe I am, but that's going to stop as of today.
Michael has his new life and I have mine. I've heard that living well is the best revenge. Good, because that's what I intend to do. I'm going to live my life as a successful, happy (or at least, contented) single woman and mother. This is my vow. I will no longer expect another person to provide me with a sense of worth. I don't need a husband to make me feel complete. It's been a struggle to let go of the marriage, but holding on to all that pain and anger is getting me nowhere. I'm sick of the pettiness, sick of fighting and sick to death of the resentment, the bitterness. I just never thought anything like this could possibly happen to Michael and me.
I saw divorce mow down marriages all around us, but I somehow thought we were safe….
It didn't help any that I ran into Marilyn Cody over the Christmas holidays. She hadn't heard about the divorce, and when I told her my husband had left me for a twenty-year-old—correction, my ex-husband (I still have trouble remembering that)—I could see how shocked she was. Then, apparently thinking she was giving me good advice, Marilyn suggested I find myself a boy toy (or is it toy boy?) to get my confidence back. She was actually serious, as though going to bed with a man only a few years older than my own children would make me feel better. Marilyn is a good example of why I can't remain friends with the people Michael and I once associated with.
Losing Marilyn as a friend is no great loss, anyway. I read the pitying look in her eyes, and I didn't miss her innuendo that I could've kept my husband if I hadn't let myself go. It was all I could do not to get in her face and defend myself—as though that would prove anything. As a matter of fact, I happen to weigh within fifteen pounds of what I did at twenty-five, and damn it all, I take care of myself. If anyone's suffering from middle-age spread, it's Michael. The audacity of Marilyn to imply that Michael's affair is somehow my fault!
How the hell was I supposed to compete with a girl barely out of her teens? I couldn't. I didn't. Every time I think about the two of them together, I feel sick to my stomach.
The journal-writing class has helped. So did meeting Liz, Julia and Karen. They're my friends, and part of my new life. Forming a solid relationship with each of these women is one of the positive changes I've made. As the saying goes, "Out with the old and in with the new." I'm glad the four of us have decided to continue seeing each other, even though the class isn't being offered again. Thursdays for breakfast was an inspired idea.
Writing down my thoughts is the only way I got through the last six months. This should be a good time in my life. Instead, I've been forced to start over—not my choice and not my fault! Okay, fine. I can deal with it. I am dealing with it, each and every day. I hate it. I hate Michael, although I'm trying not to. The best I can say at this point is that I'm coping.
I will admit one thing. Michael's affair has taught me a lot about myself. I hadn't realized I could truly hate anyone. Now I know how deep my anger can cut… and I wish to hell I didn't.
My mistake—and I made a few—was in delaying the divorce as long as I did. Eternal optimist that I am, I clung to the belief that, given time, Michael would come to his senses. I was convinced that eventually he'd see how much he was hurting me and the boys. An affair with a twenty-year-old was sheer madness. Surely he'd wake up one morning and realize he'd destroyed his entire life—and for what? Good sex? I doubt she's that incredible in the sack.
In retrospect, I could kick myself for waiting so many months to see an attorney. I merely postponed the inevitable, because I was so sure he'd admit what he was doing and put an end to it. How I prayed, how I longed for the opportunity to save my marriage. If only Michael would come home again. If only he'd give us another chance. Little did I understand that his actions had utterly destroyed the foundation of our lives together. The minute he told me he'd fallen in love with Miranda (sure he had!), I should've hightailed it into a lawyer's office and set the divorce in motion. Doing that would have saved me a lot of grief.
At a particularly low point, when I was feeling absolutely desperate, I signed up for counseling. The irony didn't escape me, even then. I wasn't the one defiling our wedding vows, yet I was the one making appointments with a shrink!
Then, on a particular Thursday morning about a year and a half ago, I got up after another restless, miserable, lonely night. I remember leaning against the bathroom sink in such emotional pain I couldn't even stand upright. I looked at myself in the mirror and barely recognized my own face. Something happened in those moments. Nothing I can precisely identify, but the experience changed me. The victim disappeared and there I stood, straight and tall, glaring back at my reflection, determined to survive. Michael might want to kill our marriage, but he wouldn't kill me in the process. In retrospect, I realize that was when I'd reached my limit.
I got dressed and marched myself right down to Lillian Case's office. If there's anything to smile about regarding this ugly divorce, it's the misery Lillian put Michael through. Michael repeatedly claimed he wanted a friendly divorce, but as Lillian said, it was far too late for that.
The boys still aren't speaking to him. I'm not sure Mick ever will. Alex was always close to his father, and I know he misses Michael. We don't talk about him. I wish we could, but nothing I can say is going to take away the pain of having their father walk out the door. What Michael failed to understand was that in leaving me, he abandoned his children, too. He didn't just betray me. He broke faith with us all.
I probably should have figured out what was happening— that was what Marilyn seemed to insinuate. I did suspect something was wrong, but never, ever would I have guessed this. I thought maybe a midlife crisis or boredom with our marriage. Maybe that was how he felt; maybe it's why he did what he did. But he should've been honest with me about his feelings—
not had an affair. Bad enough that my husband screwed another woman, but a friend's daughter?
I can only imagine what Carl would think if he were alive. It's all so crazy. Just a few years ago, Michael and I attended the party Kathy and Carl threw for Miranda's high-school graduation. Our top car salesman keels over from a heart attack and Michael, being a caring friend and business-owner, helps the grieving widow with the funeral arrangements and the insurance paperwork. Even crazier is the fact that I actually suggested it.
My one concern at the time was that Michael might be getting too close to the widow. Only it wasn't Kathy keeping my husband entertained all those nights. It was her twenty-year-old daughter. I don't think Kathy or I will ever get over the shock of it.
Michael still doesn't fully appreciate the consequences of what he's done. He sincerely believed that once we were divorced, everything would return to normal between him and his sons. Mick set him straight on that score. Alex, too. I know Michael hasn't stopped trying, but the boys won't be so easily won over. I've done my best to stay out of it. Nothing will ever change the fact that he's their father; how they choose to deal with him is up to them. I refuse to encourage either boy to forgive and forget, but I won't hold them back from a relationship with Michael, either. The choice is theirs.
Twenty-three years of marriage and I never looked at another man. Damn it all, I was a faithful, loving wife. I could have tolerated an affair if he'd given it up and returned to our marriage. But, no, he—
Okay, enough. I don't need to keep repeating the same gory details. As I said, this is a fresh start, the first day of a new year. I'm giving myself permission to move on, as my psycho-babbling counselor used to put it.
Part of moving on is belonging to the breakfast group—and continuing to write in my journal. Liz suggested we each pick a word for the year. A word. I haven't quite figured out why let alone which word would best suit me. We're all supposed to have our words chosen before we meet next Thursday morning at Mocha Moments.
I've toyed with the idea of beginnings, as in new beginnings, but I don't want to carry that theme around with me for the next twelve months. At some point, beginnings have to become middles and potential has to be realized. I guess I'm afraid I won't be as successful as I want to be.
What I really need to do is discover who I am, now that I'm single again. For twenty-three years my identity was linked to Michael. We were a team, complementing each other's strengths and weaknesses. I was always better with finances and Michael was the people person. He took a part-time job selling cars the first year we were married in order to supplement our budget, and quickly became the top salesman. His degree was in ecology and he had a day job at the town planning office but made three times the money selling cars. Soon he was working full-time at the dealership and I was stretching every dollar he made, creating a small nest-egg.
Then we had the chance to buy the Chevrolet dealership—the opportunity of a lifetime. We scraped together every penny we could. By the time the paperwork was finished, we didn't have a cent between us, but we were happy. That was when we—
I can't write about that, don't want to dwell on how happy we were in those early years. Whenever I think about it, I feel overwhelmed by the pain of loss and regret. So much regret…
Word. I need a word. Not memories. I can't tie my new identity to the past and to who I was; I've got to look toward the future. So I need a word that fits who I am today, the woman I'm becoming. The woman I want to be.
Just a minute here. Just a damn minute! Who I was, who I want to be. Why do I have to change? There's nothing wrong with me! I wasn't the one who ripped the heart out of this family. I was a good wife, a good mother. I was faithful…
That's it. My word. Not beginnings, not discovery, but faithful. From the moment I spoke my vows I was faithful to my husband, my marriage, my family. All these years I've been faithful to myself; I've never acted dishonestly and I've always put my family responsibilities above my own desires. I don't need to find myself. I found out who I am a long time ago and frankly I happen to like that person. I wasn't the one who changed; Michael did.
This feels good. The burden isn't on my shoulders to prove one damn thing. I'll remain faithful to me.
Happy New Year, Clare Craig. You're going to have a wonderful year. No financial worries, thanks to Lillian Case and a judge who's seen far too many men mess up their family's lives. Michael will be spending twenty very long years paying off my share of the dealership. Plus interest. I have the house, a new car every year, health insurance, the boys' college expenses and enough money to live comfortably.
I don't have anything to worry about. I can do whatever I want.I certainly don't have to work if I don't feel like it.
Hey! Maybe getting a job wouldn't be a bad idea. Maybe I should put my two decades of experience back into play. Didn't I recently hear that Murphy Motors was advertising for a general manager? With my experience, I could work any hours I chose. News of my taking that job would really get Michael. It's what he deserves. Turnabout is fair play (another of those handy sayings). Oh, God, it's awful of me, but I love it.
This is what I've been waiting for. It's taken a long time to feel anything but horrendous, crushing pain. I'm smiling now, just thinking about the look on Michael's face when he learns I've been hired by his largest competitor.
Marilyn Cody was wrong, but then so was I. Living well isn't going to teach Michael a thing, is it? Knowing that he's lying awake at night, worrying about me sharing all his insider secrets with the Ford dealership—now, that will go a long way toward helping me find some satisfaction. And once I'm satisfied, I'll start to concentrate on living well.
"Mom, can we talk?"
Clare Craig glanced up from her desk to find her seventeen-year-old son standing in the doorway of the family room. They'd spent the morning taking down the Christmas decorations, as they always did on January sixth—Epiphany, Twelfth Night—and getting Mick ready to return to college. How like Michael he looked, she thought with a twinge of sorrow. Michael twenty-five years ago, athletic, handsome, fit. Her heart cramped at the memory.
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" Alex stepped inside, dressed in his soccer uniform. The holiday break was already over; school had begun earlier in the week. Mick had left that morning for college in San Francisco.
Clare capped the end of her fountain pen and set aside the checkbook and bills in order to give her younger son her full attention. "What can I do for you?"
Alex avoided her gaze. "We haven't been talking as much as we used to," he mumbled, walking slowly toward her desk.
"I've been busy." The Christmas tree had only come down that morning, but she realized he wasn't referring to the last few days; he meant over the past year.
"I know," he said with a shrug, his eyes darting around the room. "It's just that…"