It’s funny that I didn’t know. I must have, on some level. Every morning as I walked to the high school where I was teaching social studies the Dolly Parton song, “Down from Dover” looped through my head. Still, a song about an unexpected pregnancy was a subtle clue, right? It was the nausea in the mornings, the tiredness that I was unable to resist, and the desperate need for protein that should have clued me in. One morning I broiled an enormous piece of salmon and ate it rolled in a tortilla, which I first slathered with cream cheese. I ate it voraciously, standing in the kitchen. Coffee didn’t taste good. I really should have known. That could be my mantra for some of my willful ignorance and questionable decision making back then: I really should have known.
Nearly twelve weeks in I figured it out and four pregnancy tests confirmed it. I was thirty, married, educated, employed, and keen on motherhood so pregnancy should have been just the right thing. Of course I was newly married to a man who was already sleeping with another woman. He was once – divorced already. He had a beautiful daughter from his first marriage. I fell in love with her, which I now understand was all part of his plan. Once I married him, he stopped courting me and started looking elsewhere for things much more thrilling than our newfound mundane domesticity. The thing is, for me, domesticity is thrilling. I’m good at and I make it fun and I was happy to share it with someone I loved. I envisioned lots of love and laughs and a great adventure. I am not sure what he envisioned, if anything. I do know that we didn’t envision together and we didn’t have some really important conversations about who would pay the bills and who would mop the floor.
In some areas, I am a slow learner. So, it was not until our second child was three that I left. We were living, at the time, way out in the country in what should have been a very romantic hundred-year-old one-room schoolhouse. Life was bleak, as I think it is for many families as the last days are eked out of a weak and unhappy partnership. We left him, the three of us and moved into town and started our girlfamily in half of a duplex only a block from the school the girls attend and where I teach. We all began breathing again and smiling again and laughing again. The girls also cried and raged and sometimes I did too. I paid his bills and mine for exactly months and then one day he returned home and it was all dark. I imagine him driving the long, winding, rutted road out to the schoolhouse and walking to the front steps through the tall, tick-filled, un-mowed grass, and entering a home bereft of warmth, light, and full of utter emptiness. Nights were back as pitch out there. I don’t feel malice or pity at the image. It is what it is. When you don’t pay the bills, the lights go out.
We’ve been eating a lot of peanut butter lately. For some reason, likely a sale, I am sitting on about three jars of it. We have had peanut sauce on rice, peanut butter cookies, and tomorrow morning there will be peanut butter and jelly muffins for breakfast. It is the end of summer and the start of the school year and summer travels and fall activity registration have both depleted my funds. So, good for me for hoarding the peanut butter when I did.
Sometimes, for moments, I am still mad at him. When it is late in the evening and I am making peanut butter muffins because I am a the only bread winner for my family and I am careful with our money and health and I remember that my mammogram results came in the mail today and I close my eyes before opening the envelope because two people depend on me for everything; I think of him, now living back in Chicago where we first met. He lives alone, visits once a month for a few hours at a time. He Calls rarely, never asks if I need anything, antagonizes, and takes care of himself and only himself. He does not have days which include three people getting their teeth cleaned or two daughters watching you get your annual pelvic exam. He does not try to conduct a professional life, parent two children, and run a household simultaneously. He doesn’t think about reading and writing skills, piano lessons, braces, hurt feelings that require late night cuddling and talking, or 20 ways to feed your family on peanut butter until September 1st. I do. The anger is fleeting though because that domesticity I so enjoy? I have crock pots full of it in our little family.