January 8, 2004
I, Me, Not-Husband
I am completely frozen.
I have just walked out of a pitch meeting in Santa Monica. Wilshire Boulevard is breezy and gorgeous. It
is 4 p.m. I have been married for 17 years and now, it appears, I'm not. For the last 17 years I had a wife, a family, a home, a dock in the open sea of the world.
Moreso, for the last 10 years, I've had chubby, laughing babies to return to, who then morphed into muscled cyclones, ready to hurl themselves onto my back the moment I walked through the door, then preteens, eager to sing me their triumphs, real and imaginary, at school.
At the end of the day, I knew where to go -- home.
But this breezy Tuesday afternoon, for the first time in 10 years, I will return to a house without my children in it. I will not read to them, hector them to clean up after themselves, praise their drawings, write with them, do homework with them, tell them to brush their teeth, watch them, listen to their piano practice, remind them to speak kindly, smell their sweet hair, gaze into their impossibly trusting eyes, touch their impossibly tender skin.
After 17 years, the marriage is over. We both came to the same realization on the same day -- that in the whirlwind of working and child rearing and bill paying and housecleaning -- our love had dissipated like spent steam. She doesn't want a divorce, but a chance to define herself on her own terms -- including in the arms of others -- while maintaining the option of coming back to me. To me, that's not separation. That's divorce. And although it feels like unburdening myself of 1,000 pounds of pain, I don't want it. And I do. And I don't. And I do.
So here I stand on Wilshire Boulevard, more or less a single man for the first time, with no place to go.
And every place to go.
What do I do? When I was married and obliged to go home at the end of the day, I could think of all kinds of great things to do! Disappear into a bookstore and read, visit a friend, walk on the beach, go to a hotel bar and fantasize -- just exhilarate in temporary, borrowed freedom, taking a stand for my theoretical independence as a human being. Of course, I never did those things. A good Jewish husband, I went home for dinner.
Now: Wilshire Boulevard. 4 p.m. Me. Ideas tick through my head. I could actually go the bookstore and read for four hours. I could go to a bar (but what would I say?). I could take a walk, go to a restaurant, call a friend, stroll the beach, go to a movie, listen to music, open the L.A. Weekly and see what the hell it is that people do at night. Are there sex clubs in Los Angeles? Hmmmm. Ideas tick faster. I could go to Vegas. Never been. I could drive to San Francisco -- and back! I could go shopping, gorge myself on chocolate, sit at an outdoor cafe and knowingly nod at passersby with a faux Italian "buona sera."
To paraphrase Milton, the whole world lay before me.
Only, I don't know which way to turn.
And so I stand.
Is this what single life is going to be like? Frozen? A pillar? Like Lot's wife who turned to salt for looking backward?
Eventually I unfreeze. I start driving toward -- where else? -- home, but spot a Gelson's and think one thing is for sure: I will need food. I grab a cart and it dawns on me that this time, I don't need to buy her 8,000-grain bread, her weekly round of broccoli, chicken, etc. It hits like lightning. I can buy anything. I can eat anything. I pick up a bag of brown rice and ask it, "Do I like you? Or do I just eat you because that's what we eat?"
I query the romaine lettuce and the Mueslix. I ask the organic milk if we really have a firm foundation between us worth that habitual extra dollar. I need, I tell the Empire chicken, to know just what our relationship means.
And so I stumble into the best metaphor I've inhabited for years. For two and half hours, I move slowly up and down the aisles of Gelson's, scoping out the food, introducing myself to pastas and sauces and exotic fruits. I feel like the biblical Adam, new formed, stepping out of the Garden of Eden, destined to start from scratch.
Thus I begin the process of redefining myself. I will come to understand what it is that I, me, not-husband, like to eat. I will come to understand what it is that I, me, not-husband, like to do. And I will come to understand, in stages, what it is that I, me, not-husband, value in a woman, a lover, a companion and, if there is such a thing, a soulmate.
But first, I will have to go on a date.
As it turns out, this will cost me a whole lot more than this trip to Gelson's.
Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and is CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org