The Last Time
Early on, Husband #1 told me each of his hands had a specialty.
“This,” he held up his right hand, “is my skill hand. The other is strength.”
During sex I positioned myself on what I thought was the skill side, hoping for something better. But I must have heard him wrong because nothing changed. For months, I switched back and forth until finally I gave up.
By the time that marriage ended, my first of three, sex was reserved for special occasions or blackmail. One of the many low points of my life was when Husband #1 offered to buy me a pair of boots in exchange for a blow job. I acquiesced and tried to make a joke of it, flushing with embarrassment over the state of our marriage.
The last time I saw him, driving away with a bungee cord holding his car trunk closed, he smiled and said, “I guess we were too young.” I nodded, knowing it didn’t matter how old we were; it would have always ended this way.
~ ~ ~
Determined to start fresh, I moved to a city where no one knew me or Husband #1. I tried yoga, colonics, wheatgrass, and Christianity. Next was acting class. That’s where I met Husband #2, who was five years younger, nearly a virgin, and called me his muse.
The first time I saw him on stage, he played a filthy hermit shot by the townspeople at the end of the second act. A gun went off and he disappeared through a trap door. I cried out across the dark theater. The person behind me laughed but it hardly registered. We’d only been dating six months but seeing future Husband #2 drop out of sight filled me with loneliness.
Two days later, after a bottle of wine and candlelight dinner, I bent on one knee and asked him to marry me. He was so flustered he said yes and, before he knew it, we’d been to the jewelry store and City Hall and home again, all legal.
A year later I sat in my shrink’s office, asking if she thought it was me.
“Of course it’s you,” the doctor said. “Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“But we love each other,” I said. “Shouldn’t that be enough?”
“Was it enough for your first marriage?”
“We didn’t have anything in common. This one—we have lots of things in common.”
“Like what?” she asked.
I opened my mouth to answer but the question rattled around in my brain. We had both abandoned acting and nothing had replaced it. The day after the wedding, Husband #2 stopped playing the starving artist and applied to law school.
“I need a proper career to support a wife and family,” he told me.
I smiled until realizing he was serious.
“You know I am an only child,” he said. “I’m thinking four or five.”
I saw the look in his eye that day as he surveyed the house, the car, me. I was no longer his muse and I thought a psychiatrist could tell me how to feel about that.
“I should want all that, right?” I asked her. “Don’t I keep getting married in order to find a husband and settle down?”
“I don’t know. Is that the reason?”
“I know it should be.”
“But is it?”
I left her office without answering. That night I booked a trip to France, telling Husband #2 that I needed one last hurrah before launching our new life together. He helped me pack, tucking a pregnancy magazine into my suitcase.
In a hotel room in Paris, a man named Etienne sucked my toes as I called Husband #2 and told him to return to acting.
~ ~ ~
Husband #3 came along after a few years of one-night stands and three-month flings. This seemed, to all accounts, typical for a twice-divorced, manageably attractive, thirty-two-year-old woman.
The dating was easy—all my friends knew someone between thirty and forty years old. My only litmus was that he had to have at least one marriage behind him. After Husband #2, I didn’t want to have to explain what marriage really was.
The one-night stands took very little effort. It’s not difficult to be well-groomed, eloquent and interesting for one evening and sometimes the next morning. Three months, though, became tricky. At each three-month mark—after the realities of morning breath, running errands and meeting his family—I had to make a decision. Was he just a fling or Husband #3? Because, I told myself with the utmost sincerity, the third one would be the last.
I didn’t have the heart to break up with future Husband #3 after three months. He really was too good to let go. He was, in fact, the best person I had ever met.
After sixteen months, I exhaled with relief as we tied the knot on a cruise ship among two hundred strangers. The slate was wiped clean and I was reborn, a newborn dipped into the sea of faith.
~ ~ ~
Husband #3 donated to charity. He volunteered as a Big Brother. When I cried, he wiped my tears, and when I felt randy, he rocked me like an all-star. Like clockwork.
There was no talk of children and we agreed on everything. It took me nearly a year to realize how annoying this was. I reassured myself that this was what marriage really was—effort and security. A partnership. Ying and yang. It was okay to be boring, I told myself. That’s how things were accomplished.
After twenty-eight months, I finally admitted the truth to myself: I was a sprinter, not a marathoner.
I approached Husband #3 as he sat on the couch in the low afternoon light. I stood still, taking him in, until he noticed me.
“What are you up to, sweet cheeks?” He muted the television.
“We’ll be doing this the rest of our lives, won’t we?” I asked.
I sat next to him. He took my hand in his meaty one. Since the wedding, he gained fifteen pounds and stopped saying “bless you” after I sneezed. None of this mattered but I needed something.
“I know what this is about,” he said.
“I saw the way you looked at me. Just now. The way you always look when I watch TV. You think I don’t see you.”
“I don’t mean to judge…” I tried to regain my focus.
He patted my hand. “It’s okay.”
“No,” I said. “You’re too good for me.”
“You make me good,” he replied.
I pushed him away, unable to bear his lies about my own virtue.
~ ~ ~
On my fortieth birthday, I remained at a bar in the neighborhood long after the various friends and ex-flings I attracted like lint had gone home.
Just before last call, an old friend came in. He was an on-and-off lover and a good friend. In town for the weekend, he was always in the mood for a social call. I sat at a corner table by the defunct jukebox.
“Where did everyone go?” he asked.
“Husbands and babies and careers.”
I shrugged. “I’m the life of the party.”
“I know that.” He reached across and fingered my bracelet. “That’s pretty. New?”
I shook my head.
“You know what I did today?” he said. “Made my will. Lock, stock and barrel.”
“That’s a nice birthday wish,” I laughed.
“It made me think of the last time with you.” He signaled to the bartender. “Out of my whole damn exciting life, you are my one big regret.”
I laughed again.
“No really,” he said. “I think, if we weren’t so juvenile, we could have been real. Not,” he waved his hands around, “just doing this every six months.”
We sat in silence for a moment, thinking about what held us, or didn’t hold us, together. I twirled the bracelet around my wrist, trying to remember who had given it to me. All I could recall was that it had come in a blue box.
When the bartender called, my friend rose to retrieve our drinks. I watched him move across the room, noticing the perfect break of his pant legs over his expensive shoes. The full head of hair; the firm belly under his neatly pressed shirt. I felt the guilty pleasure of knowing he had at least one regret in his life.
“What do you think?” He handed me a drink.
I wondered if he expected me to run away with him. “Nice to know you think about me when I’m not around,” I said.
“Why not make a go? The last time. That was something, wasn’t it?”
I smiled. It had been something—bracing but comfortable. Like rediscovering lemon sorbet after years of chocolate ice cream. But it was too late for Husband #4. No one would believe me anyway.
“You’re very sweet.” I placed my hand on his arm. “But I think, either way, my destination would have been the same. You would have just been a different route.”
He raised his glass and smiled. “Happy birthday, anyway,” he said after a moment.
We sat there long past closing. As the bartender turned off the lights, I felt the beginnings of peace. Not because my life would be different, but that at some point it could have been.