A Short Story of Money and Friendship in Three Parts
Featured in Rita Watson’s nationally syndicated Relationships blog: www.ritawatson.com.
When my best friend Julie told me she was splitting with her husband, it didn’t come as a complete surprise. She’d sounded uncharacteristically tense when we talked on the phone over the past few months. We hadn’t had an in-person heart to heart since the winter before, when on her 41st birthday, she talked in desperate tones about facing the future with her husband, Dave.
Since then she had stopped complaining about her husband, hardly mentioned him at all. Our telephone conversations skittered over the surface of things – updates of her hectic job and crowded commuting days, contrasting with self-deprecating anecdotes drawn from my less eventful life – which went from a corporate whirlwind to a first-time suburban housewife – thanks to a relapse of a chronic illness about which I am often in denial. Nonetheless, courtesy of my company’s short-term disability insurance, I felt a mixture of childlike glee and adult guilt at my first laid back summer in decades.
With the anticipation of a child going on a favorite play date, I awaited seeing Julie in person for the first time in months. When I flung open the door to embrace her, standing before me was a woman with a pinched, tormented face. Her emaciated frame said it all before she delivered her news. It was painful to see her lovely, happy-go-lucky self suppressed; I was glad she was exiting a torturous situation.
She told me of her plans to divorce just before we sat down to watch a dance recital held in the Riverside Cathedral, whose majestic grey stone silhouette dominates the western shore of the upper west side of Manhattan. Four springs before, Julie and Dave were married just a few blocks east, in another great Cathedral, on a small budget but in great peripheral splendor, in one of the chapels of St. John the Divine.
Four years before, I had shopped with Julie at Laura Ashley for her wedding dress, observed her arrange the entire event elegantly but cheaply — negotiating with chaplains and cajoling florists and caterers to offer their services as wedding gifts. I’d seen her research, book, and single-handedly pay for the honeymoon.
The misty weather that day suited a ceremony in the dark cathedral. Outside, the spring foliage was bright green and new, the trees just bursting into flower. She’d instructed the minister that Children and the Will of God be mentioned during the service. To honor her husband’s Scottish heritage, bagpipers played Amazing Grace at the exit, and the sounds moistened our eyes. As if on cue, one of the peacocks that prance around the rectory burst into plumage: a good omen.
But four years later, as I look back, I see it was a false omen.
At the reception, as dry ice clouded the stage, eastern flutes piped over the soundtrack, and the dance performance began. The dance’s theme centered on the ancient Greek legend of the Minotaur — the half-human, half-bull god who, the program notes explained, “represents the collective dark roots of humanity that have been denied, repressed and locked away.”
It was a bit too obvious an analogy to the realities of marriage Julie and I both knew too well — realities white-washed by images of happily ever after, Baby Gap and Range Rovers. We both knew what it was like to feel, within the framework of marriage, like the Minotaur, his dual nature a shame to be hidden by the ruling gods.
Julie and I didn’t have to talk much about the problems that killed her marriage, or the ones mine barely survived. We’d dissected them endlessly over the course of our eight year friendship, analyzing the challenge of asserting our feminist selves within the framework of marriage, deconstructing each power struggle in detail, all the while looking forward to the happy resolution when career, husband, home and child fell into place.
After the performance I drove us up to the suburbs where we now lived, and bought my friend dinner. The end of a marriage called for a solemn observance of its own. (End of Part One)