Fiction Fiction 2009


What I know now is that I should not have continued shelling out 200bucks a pop to you. On some days I felt you two were picking up a frequency like a dog whistle that I just wasn’t able to hear. Of course, you might just have a great gift for empathy, but then I’d have to ask where was this gift when Jerry was trying to have me committed to the attic like that woman in Jane Eyre who set everything on fire.

But being normal wasn’t enough for Jerry, he had to always be into this or that. He always had a new hobby, and he’d go at it full tilt for a few months and then move on to another interest. He was into Sudoku and then pottery, model trains, and beer making. He wanted to take dancing lessons, and then he got interested in a kind of tag wrestling that involved grown men moving all around one another and then grabbing and holding. I referred to it as “homoerotic dance,” and he accused me of not being open-minded, and I just said, “Whatever.” I told him that I’d never in my life had any trouble finding somebody who wanted to dance with me, and he should remember that.

I am realistic enough to know that psychological or subconscious reasons often explain why people go where they go and make the choices they make. I mean, even though he tells people I’m not saved, I did grow up going to church, right? And where I went, a virtual feast of questionable things was happening, so I’d be a total fool not to question. Youth directors and choir directors and assistant this and that who took a “special interest” in the children. Some liked young girls and some liked young boys. “(I’m a) Boy Watcher.” Remember that commercial? Or worse, remember those sunglasses? A slit of polarized glass so that no one could tell where you were looking—creepy. And that’s why I told Jerry that if he was having some thoughts in those directions, he needed to spend some time with himself and his thoughts and his impulses and come to a personal decision. And of course, that is when he came to the personal decision that he needed to rededicate his life to the Lord and that he needed to bring me along with him. I might add that Jerry goes to a church where people want to heal homosexuals and those who are pro-choice.

You must get tired of hearing the same old thing over and over, because of course marriage fighting isn’t really about the toothpaste cap left off, or the toilet seat up, or who loaded the dishwasher last. All that little nitpicky stuff usually means: You get on my fucking nerves so bad I can’t stand it. It means: What happened to the person I thought I was marrying? It means: You don’t like the cat, so I don’t like you. It means: I pretend I’m asleep when your hand brushes my back. I pretend your hand belongs to somebody else.

Now, I’m not trying to tell you your business, but I think if I were you, I would have a series of questions that lead to a big yes or no answer. Should I get divorced? Ding ding ding—the answer is yes. I mean, I realize that a lot of people go into your business for a little self-help, and that’s where you might very well overlap a little bit with Jerry being born-again. People with mental and emotional problems very often seek refuge in the church and the field of psychology. I’d say about 80 percent of you probably do that. And that’s fine if a personal weakness leads you to a calling. I can dig it. I mean, that is what led me to interior design, after all. Everyone in my town would tell you that I grew up in a rat-hole firetrap and that my chosen profession was all about bringing color and clarity and order into a life of chaos. I mean, my mother couldn’t help that she was one of those people who never cleaned house and never cared if anything matched or not. And my dad was a fireman, who should’ve known not to have stacks of papers everywhere with both of them chain-smoking. The cobbler’s children go barefoot, like your girl I met one day on a bathroom trip, but I’ll get back to that in a minute, if I remember.

By the way, if you are actually reading this letter, don’t think you can charge me for the time, like that lawyer keeps doing every time I e-mail or call him back to answer a question he asked me. Just the other day he said, “How are you doing?” And I said I wasn’t saying unless he stopped the clock and kept it stopped until I was done. I think he had trouble in that moment figuring out what part of himself was human and what part was not. That was the only time I had ever heard him pause in conversation, like he’d shorted out or something.

Some of my conversations with my lawyer have reminded me of those little games you had us play, which you need to know right up front do not work at all. I think you’d have to be a total idiot or someone who takes Mensa quizzes regularly to fall for such simplistic crap. I mean, anybody who ever saw Annie Hall knows to read the subtext.

You look so pretty today. (Like a bitch who spent too much at Nordstrom’s.)

Why thank you, love. (Fuck you.)

What I know now is that, just by way of thinking those thoughts, I should not have continued shelling out 200 bucks a pop to you. I’d have done just as well to rent a boxing ring for an hour. There’s a test right there. Get in the ring and if you are—in a great moment of anger—willing to drive your fist into the face of someone you promised to cherish forever (especially if the genetics have worked such that those are now the same eyes you associate with your children), well then, Houston, we’ve got a problem.

So I wonder about you. Like at the end of the day, do you put your feet up and tell your wife all about us? Do you open a bottle of wine and snuggle on that big divan up in your room (I made a wrong turn once going to the bathroom) and say, “Thank God I am not living such an unhappy existence”? Does this thought make you love her more? She looks a bit older than you, and so I did wonder (when I saw the photo on your dresser) if she had had a husband before you and how you had adjusted to that or if you all have some different kind of marriage like mentor/mentee, or mother and child. Truth is, you seemed a little too interested in a lot of what Jerry had to say, and since this is my last letter to you, I’ll just go ahead and say that. On some days I felt you two were picking up a frequency like a dog whistle that I just wasn’t able to hear. Of course, you might just have a great gift for empathy, but then I’d have to ask where was this gift when Jerry was trying to have me committed to the attic like that woman in Jane Eyre who set everything on fire.

I have to admit I was curious about you and your life, especially after I met your kid and saw your room, and what I observed undermined my confidence in what you might or might not know. I mean, those enormous ornate cornices you all chose in your bedroom I can overlook. That is my business after all, and a lot of people make the unfortunate mistakes you did. Yellow really is a hard color to pick and work with. Any artist will tell you that. But my advice would be to go in there and start from scratch. That overhead light looks like something Liberace might’ve had in the bathroom.

I think your job would be easier if you had a chart of sorts that told people how they should feel. Here is a normal range of jealousy, and here is where you went off the deep end. Here is true compassion and concern, and here are feelings that are malicious and calculated. That’s what I’d say about Jerry putting me on the prayer list at his new church. People keep leaving fruit on my steps, and I keep driving over to Jerry’s house and throwing it through the window. “Stop praying for me!,” I said, and he said, “I can pray for whomever I want.” He said he would continue to pray for those like me—the sick and deranged. I didn’t say what was on my unbrushed tongue, which shows how far I have come from the anger of it all. I am evolving each and every day. That’s what I told Jerry when he sighed and stared to the heavens and mumbled something on my behalf. Instead of putting a foot in his face, as I wanted to, I just told him how at my church, my own personal testimony had inspired many. How I told I was born into chaos—a swirl of dust and stacked newspapers and old plastic-lined drapes that had not been opened in years—how my parents had sex that one time and then I was on my own tidying up when no one was looking and reading house magazines about decluttering and complementary colors. “I am so evolved,” I told Jerry, “I never had wisdom teeth. I have an innate sense of when to get rid of what I don’t need.”

So, do you ever wonder what happened to us? Good old Jerry and Hannah. We went to a mediator after you, and we’re still dealing with the lawyers, the kids going back and forth every week like little ping-pong balls. I know you see these disagreements all the time, often enough so that perhaps you can predict the ending to those like us, but aren’t you ever curious, or is it just part of the job, part of the day, like you’re just one of many stops on the Underground Railroad? Or maybe not, since I can’t imagine a slave choosing to go back or to just sit and talk indefinitely. Emancipation was a word on my mind before I even knew it was there.

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Jill McCorkle is the author of five novels and four story collections. Her most recent collection of short stories, Going Away Shoes (from which this has been adapted), will be published in September.

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