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Don’t Invite Your Husband to YourThirtieth Birthday Party
“It’s very sad when a five-year marriage only lasts twoand a half years.” “Do you have a quarter for the toll?”Susan and John had unconventionally droll reactionswhen I told them I was getting a divorce. I guess my parentsweren’t surprised.
There had been major signs for months that I was unhappilymarried, and I’m not even talking about typicaloffenders like chronically passionless sex, crushes on coworkers,and the occasional fantasy my husband mightdie in a freak accident. Painlessly and quickly, of course.There were other, bigger signs. But it wasn’t until talkingto my sister, Berns, one day on the phone that I realized Iwanted to end my marriage.
Berns is seven years older than me, half an inch shorter,and by far my favorite person in the whole wide world.She has big lizard-green eyes, Shirley Temple ringlets, andheaps of compassion mixed in with the perfect amount ofbitchiness. She will help a blind man cross the street whilecommenting on a passerby’s tacky French pedicure. “Whywould anyone want her toenails to look longer? Disgusting!”Berns can’t walk a New York block without someonestopping her and asking, “Where did you get that?” Andusually “that” is an item she herself made: a ruffled hat,a polka-dotted purse, a gold-plated chicken foot necklace.No matter how old I get, how many spats we have, orhow much I might hate her clown chic taste, I can’t seemto shake my big sister idolatry.
I was on the way to the gym when Berns called mefrom New York to discuss my upcoming thirtieth birthday.It was six months away, but with such a big milestoneshe wanted to start planning in advance. Did I wanta huge party? Or a small dinner? Casual dress or cocktailattire? Costumes? A theme? Maybe I could finally get allmy friends to dress goth. Who would I invite? Did I wantto go somewhere? Vegas, like she did for her thirtieth?Back to Miami Beach, where we grew up? Or stay in LosAngeles, where I lived?
As we talked about the pros and cons of all these options,one definitive thought struck me: regardless of whatcity I was in or what I was wearing, I didn’t want Jeff onthe guest list. I didn’t want Jeff to be anywhere near meon my thirtieth birthday. I wanted my thirtieth to be freeof Jeff and all his status quo mediocrity.
This thought was both overwhelming and freeing and struck me with such force I burst into tears. I should havebeen able to sob to Berns over the phone and explainwhat I was going through, but having been raised by amother who wanted us to call her Susan—because “Mom”is so cliché—and who scorns any kind of raw emotion,crying was not something we did often, especially in frontof each other.
“What? Berns, I can’t hear you. Must be badreception.”
I quickly got off the phone and drove on, past actressfilled coffee shops, cell-phone-immersed dog walkers, andhomeless men on roller skates, all blurred by my thicktears. Finally I arrived at the gym, pulled into the parkinglot, and sobbed some more. I knew people were staring atme as they walked by my car but I didn’t care. It was oneof those rare and decadent moments when I really let itout. Snot and all.
When I was little and would cry, Susan would makeme look at myself in the mirror. “See how puffy and sillyyou look? You don’t want to look puffy, do you?”
After watching myself for a minute I would start tolaugh. Because Susan was right: I did look puffy and silly.And pathetic. No mother, no matter how nonmaternal,wants to see her child crying. Susan couldn’t handle mytears and thought she was being helpful by showing mehow unattractive and unnecessary they were. It was betterto hold them in and beat back all feelings with laughter,sarcasm, and cleverness. But the dam has to break sometimesand when it does it’s like a polluted river. All sorts of things you didn’t realize you were holding back comespilling out, and they are as toxic as mercury-filled fishcarcasses, dirty needles, and used condoms.
The problem was, Jeff was my husband. And not wantinghim to be with me on my thirtieth birthday was afeeling I couldn’t ignore. In the scheme of relationship redflags, that one was crimson. After a few more minutes ofparked car bawling, I looked at my face in the rearviewmirror. I was already puffy and definitely pathetic. I pulledmyself together and as I walked into the gym I knew Iwould be divorced by thirty.