THE SEVEN-YEAR ITCH
This day does no justice to the night sky. The moon is almost full and the clouds surrounding it are bunches of cotton wool cheerfully spreading out across a blanketed sky. Tiny, twinkling stars celebrate against a sapphire background, flashing happy thoughts throughout the universe. Those happy thoughts cannot, for some reason, penetrate the windows of my bedroom, unlike the crisp fall air.
I shiver and pull my cardigan tightly around me. I’m still cold. I look around for my shawl and spot it lying on the chair near the door, where Deb is standing, looking at his shoes. He’s already halfway out the door, a voice inside me snidely says.
He looks up and our eyes meet. I get up to retrieve my shawl and my movement makes him move – a jerky, unsure twitch, so unlike him that I almost smile. He is watching me like I’m a rabid dog. I calmly sit back down on the bed and wrap the shawl around me.
“Are you going to say something?” His voice sounds loud and awkward.
“No,” I say. I don’t offer any explanation. Why should I?
“So, we’re just going to leave things like this?”
Even though I am not looking at him I know he is rolling his eyes in frustration. He sits down on the arm of the chair, one leg firmly planted on the floor while the other dangles precariously in the air. He must be uncomfortable, but our room has become so infused with my silent rage that he tries to take up as little space as possible.
“Laila,” he says. “We can’t leave things like this.”
“I’m not leaving anything.”
For the first time, he looks ashamed. “I know,” he says. “I don’t want us to hate each other. We’ve been together for so long. I don’t want things to end badly.”
Short concise sentences, bullet points, cutting straight to the chase. No time to waste. But time is all I have. Time is all that is left of my life with him. If I were to look back on the last seven years, I would say that what I had with him was lost and borrowed time. It was never mine in the first place.
I should have known it was a bad idea from the beginning. I should have listened to my mind. I should never have followed my heart. My mother told me that marrying a Hindu boy was a mistake. She told me that our cultures were too different, but Deb and I, being the overly educated, pseudo-intellectuals that we were, promised ourselves that religion would never be an issue. We both spoke Bengali and in our naïve mindsets, that was enough. In our home, we pompously told all our friends on both sides, we would have the Gita and the Quran sitting side-by-side.
We didn’t realize that our backgrounds, our upbringings, no matter how westernized our years in New York had made us, would never leave our hearts. Instead, our religions stood on the outskirts of our marriage, shaking their heads in disapproval, raising their eyebrows in skepticism. It was like a constant hum that was always there in the back of our minds. That hum was there when we got married, and his mother turned her head away during our vows. It was there in the countless phone calls that we never got from her. It was there in my mother’s silences on the phone. It was there in my father’s eyes.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when he came home from work today and told me that he was leaving me. I also should have guessed that he was seeing someone else. A recently divorced friend of mine told me that she had known her husband was cheating all along. She just hadn’t had the heart to face it. He had been pulling away from her both physically and emotionally, she said. They lived a cold and uncomfortable existence until he finally told her that he was leaving her.
So when Deb came in and took off his suit jacket and hung it up carefully, slow and deliberate movements, and then went and stood near the door of our bedroom and told me that he wanted a divorce, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. But I was. Somehow, you never think that your husband will be the asshole who leaves you for another woman. You think that these things only happen to other people. Never to you.
“Laila,” he says. “We’re not happy. It’s not working.”
I want to ask him when he came to this profound conclusion. Was it before or after he slept with his whore? Is she a Hindu? I had to ask. I almost broke when I heard the answer.
“We’ve been unhappy ever since we found out about…the kids situation,” he says, looking down at his hands.
Why does he have to bring this up again? I don’t understand why he keeps harping on it. Three years ago, after two years of trying for a baby, we went to see the doctor and she told us that we couldn’t have children – or rather, I couldn’t. Although she didn’t use the word ‘barren,’ that’s all I could hear in my head – a stony, dark and empty word, which landed like a cold bullet in my stomach.
After the initial shock came a pain which I never thought I would get over, a dull depression that shook me from inside, kept me from wanting to wake up and get out of bed. Then came acceptance, like a slow and steady landing, which equalized all my imbalances.
I wanted to adopt, but he refused. It wasn’t the same thing, he said, raising someone else’s child would never be enough for him. I tried to tell him that it would be our child, no matter what, but his mind was already made up. Now that I think back, he was probably already planning his escape.
Our marriage wasn’t strong enough in its foundation to withhold the weight of infertility. It tipped over sideways and crumbled slowly, bit by excruciating bit, until he found another woman, one who was probably perfectly capable of bearing children.
It was obvious even in our names. Debashish and Laila. His name, meaning ‘blessed by the Gods,’ was full of hope and life, whereas my name, meaning ‘night,’ was all about darkness. At least that’s the way it seems now, with him leaving me for a new life, and me curled up in the shadows of our old one. His future, blessed with fresh starts, and mine, with nothing to look forward to except nighttime, when I can close my eyes and escape everything.
“God, Laila,” he says, sounding exasperated. “Can you please say something?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Say something,” he says. “We’re ending a seven-year marriage and you aren’t even blinking an eyelid. It’s like you don’t even care. What is wrong with you?”
I love how I’m the bad guy all of a sudden. Men have this amazing ability to deflect the blame away from themselves and onto you. Deb has made it into an art form. It has happened so many times that I am used to it by now. We argue because he has done something to make me mad, and somewhere in the course of the conversation he switches the blame for something on me, making me feel wrong-footed and confused. I end up spending the rest of the time defending my case and forgetting what I was arguing about in the first place. The irony of it makes me want to laugh. He’s leaving me. He cheated. But I’m the person who doesn’t care.
“I mean,” he says, “It’s like this marriage means nothing to you.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Really? Is that what you think?”
“That’s what you’re acting like.”
“Fuck you, Deb.” It’s out before I can stop it.
His eyes widen in disbelief. “Oh, okay, so we’re cursing at each other, now.”
Back to the deflection, the sulky tone, the injured, wounded-deer look. That’s another thing he does – he goads me into a reaction and then when I finally burst and say something in anger, he gets offended. I know all his tactics and I am so over them.
“You’re leaving me, I get it,” I say, looking out the window. “You found someone else, I get that, too. But don’t you dare expect me to hold your hand through this and make you feel good about it. It’s not okay.”
“We aren’t happy, Laila,” he says. He used to call me Lai. But he doesn’t do that anymore.
“You’re not happy,” I say. “Don’t project your feelings onto me.”
“You know, you can use all the psychological terms that you want to try and confuse me. But the truth is that you weren’t happy, either. I know it and you know it.”
“Oh really,” I say sarcastically. “Now you know how I feel better than I do?”
“You’re impossible,” he says.
“What do you want from me, Deb?”
“I want you to care!”
I get up and walk over to him then. I can’t take anymore.
“So when are you getting married?”
He looks stunned. “What?”
“When are you marrying your girlfriend, Deb? The one that you are cheating on me with? When are you marrying her?”
“I…What does that have to do with anything?”
“You’re asking me to care,” I say patiently, as if I am talking to a child. “So this is me caring. Answer the question.”
“I don’t think that’s relevant,” he says in a low voice.
“Really? Considering the fact that she’s the reason you’re leaving me, I think it’s very relevant.”
“That’s not true,” he says, looking angry. “She has nothing to do with this. Our marriage was over long before I met her.”
“Do you even believe yourself when you talk like this?”
“Laila,” he says. “Stop this.”
“Stop what? You wanted me to say something. What did you expect?”
He stands up and walks out the bedroom door, sitting on the dining table chair. I find it funny that he is subconsciously choosing all the uncomfortable furniture in the apartment.
I follow him out and stand in the hallway next to the front door.
“I want an answer,” I say.
“Why are you doing this, Laila? Why do you want to hurt yourself even more?”
I laugh then, a high-pitched, harsh, unnatural laugh. “I’m sorry, this is too funny. Are you telling me that you don’t want me to be hurt?”
“I’m saying that I don’t want you to be hurt any more than necessary.”
“And what is any more than necessary, Deb?” My voice is like ice, the laughter is gone. “It’s okay to hurt me by telling me that you have found someone else, but you don’t want to hurt me by telling me the gory details?”
“I’m sorry,” he says quietly. As if that will fix everything.
“You’re sorry,” I say. “Sorry isn’t enough.”
“What the hell do you want me to do?” He’s not shouting, but his voice has gotten louder.
“I want you to give me those seven years back,” I say. “Can you do that? Can you turn back the clock?”
He looks at me like I am crazy. I realize how ridiculous I sound, but I don’t care. Why is it that he can move on so effortlessly and I am stuck in this horrible time-freeze? I am on a train that’s going nowhere. Barren and rejected, discarded for a newer model, complete with no defects.
“Maybe we should do this another time,” he says, getting up. “I’m going to go. I think we should start living separately for now and then we will figure things out.”
“Where are you going? Are you going to stay with her? Your whore?”
He stops at the door, facing away from me. He takes a deep breath and opens the door.
“Answer me, Deb,” I say angrily.
“Let’s talk about this later.”
“Oh, so you want a reaction from me, but when I have one and it’s not according to your terms, you run away?”
But he is already gone. He has already walked down the hall and turned into the small alcove where the elevators are. I know he can still hear me, but since he is not in my line of vision, it doesn’t make a difference.
I close the door, feeling angry at both him and myself. I shouldn’t have let him get to me like that. He’s probably heaving a sigh of relief as he rides down the elevator. Instead of making him regret his decision to leave, I justified it.
Even when my life is tearing apart at the seams, I still have to play the game, and act a certain way, because when I let my emotions guide me, I pay the price. This is the lesson that life keeps teaching me over and over again.
I walk back to my room, wondering fleetingly if I will be able to keep the apartment. Or will he take that from me as well? I have had various conversations with divorced friends who told me that they had ‘bled their husbands dry,’ ‘taken them to the cleaners,’ and ‘got them for everything they were worth and then some.’ At the time, I thought it was slightly vindictive of them, but now, after trekking on this long, pointless journey for years and years only to have my husband walk out on me without a second glance backwards, I realize that this is what emptiness does. It makes you greedy and bitter. And there is no way around that, no matter how much you sugar coat it. I wonder what the fertile Hindu girlfriend will do when his finances and lavish lifestyle are cut down by 50%? The thought comforts me.
I lie down on the bed and stare out the window at the sky. The stars seem duller now, less shiny. Maybe the universe does feel my all-consuming anger and pain. Perhaps someone is listening, after all. It’s still cold in the room, and I pull the comforter over me, cocooning myself in its warmth. I take deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. I close my eyes. Then, with the steady sounds of silence surrounding me, I succumb to the night and dream about tomorrow.