Neil had no trouble getting jobs but could not seem to keep one for more than six months at a time. In the few years we’d been in Connecticut he worked at almost every car dealership within a ten-mile radius. I always knew when the end of a run was imminent. He would call in sick and when he did go to work, came home miserable, complaining about his boss or a collapsed deal. With each new job I felt myself watching the story of our marriage over and over: he started out as a star, his new employer seduced by his energy, humor and promise to be a hard worker. For a few weeks, he’d be a model employee, easily closing deals. The magic disappeared earlier with each company, the pattern beginning again: he’d struggle to get out of bed in the morning and sleep well past when he should be at work. I tried to sound loving as I prodded him to get up but inside, I’d be steaming.
“Honey, don’t you need to get up now? You’re going to be late. Hon?” I’d shake his shoulder gently.
“What? Huh? No, I’m going in later today, it’s okay,” pulling the covers tight under his chin as if to ward me off.
I pulled my hand away, a wave of anger shooting through me. If this was true, which I doubted, why the hell didn’t he get up and help me get Molly ready for school rather than leave everything to me? I suspected he either wanted to be – or already had been – fired. My suspicions would be corroborated by angry messages from his boss left on the answering machine, wondering where he was.
After I’d left the house for work, I obsessed over the image of him still in bed and dialed the house, telling myself maybe he just needed another wake-up. The phone rang and rang until the answering machine picked up. “Hi! Just wondering if you’ve left for work yet!” I tried to leave a breezy message, hoping I sounded warm. Surely he was up and about ready to leave the house or had already left. One day, consumed with the image of him still asleep, I made up an excuse to leave work, frantically driving home.
Gripping the steering wheel, I imagined him on this same highway, now speeding to work. As I pulled around the corner to our house, I hoped for an empty driveway. His car had not moved. My heart sank. Willing him to be in the kitchen, freshly showered and on his way out, I opened the house door. In the kitchen sink, my lone coffee mug was where I’d left it. I visualized him just at the top of the stairs pulling his tie on. But the house was quiet. I abandoned my magical thinking and climbed the stairs to our bedroom. He lay stretched out straight, snoring. I exploded.
“What the hell? What’s wrong with you? Why are you still in bed? It’s going to be almost noon by the time you get to work or aren’t you going to bother today?”
I shook his shoulder, my voice cracking as I yelled. His eyes peeled open slowly, like an ancient tortoise coming out of a stupor.
“Neil – tell me what’s going on! Why are you doing this? What the fuck? Please, you can’t get fired again. What’s wrong? You need to tell me if something’s going on!” I pleaded stepping a few feet away from the bed, hugging my arms across my chest in an effort to control my shaking.
“Look at you. You’re like a madwoman! You’re like a bloody witch! What’s wrong with you?” He yelled.
“I need to know what’s going on, Neil? Please, tell me what’s wrong? I’m scared. This sleeping is crazy. I don’t even think you remember Molly and I exist most of the time. How are we supposed to keep living here if you keep losing your job? ”
“I’ll get another fucking job. I always do, you know I do! Why do you have to be such a bloody nag? Stop trying to control me! I’m getting up now, are you happy?”
He flounced the sheets and pushed his pillow, glaring at me as he shifted up on an elbow. My fingernails dug into my damp palms rather than punch or throw something at him. Gulping back an ugly sob, I ran out of the room, down the stairs, slamming the house door. The tires screeched as I pulled out of the driveway but I slowed on the back roads, allowing myself to scream and weep all the way back to the store. I pulled into the parking lot and peered at my bloated face in the rearview mirror, brushed my hair, took a few deep breaths and went into the bookstore, cutting through the emptier stacks to my office, stepping around a woman crouched in front of Romance.
For a few weeks after each blowup, we’d enter a ‘honeymoon’ phase and Neil would be the kind, funny, delightful mate I had committed to in war-torn Sarajevo. There were mornings when he sprang out of bed before me, bringing a cup of coffee delivered with a kiss. Later he’d serve up one of his special dinners of ‘Sausage and Mash’ or ‘Shepard’s Pie’, the table decorated with flowers and lit by candles. In bed, he held me close, promising his undying love, swearing how much he needed us in his life. Tucked into his arms, encircled by his familiar warmth, I pretended to believe all was well. And for a while, it would be.
Years. Not days, weeks or months – years went by marked by bad episodes followed by sweetness. But each season, my crazy hopes for normality were marred by bitter disappointments and insanity. I tried to keep my focus on Molly as she grew from toddler to a beautiful, animated, little girl. I resented all the time and energy spent worrying about Neil’s erratic behavior. Why couldn’t we enjoy our daughter’s precious years together? She was growing up so quickly.