Don't worry; if you've not seen the finale of The Good Wife yet, there are no spoilers here about the show. The pilot trailer is so good to see again, though, after watching the finale (or to get those of you who don't watch to go back and watch it all over again).
Had the guy I married been smarter and reached his goal of becoming governor, I could have been a good wife type, perhaps.
I’ve been legally unentangled from the guy I married for some 15 years. I say “legally unentangled” because what we had was a legal on paper relationship, really. It certainly was nothing like the marriage I have now, so I refuse to call it that.
It was only about a month ago that I woke up with this thought in my head: “I’ve always said that I don’t regret the time we had together. Well, that’s just horse shit.”
I wasn’t always so irritated about that period of my life where I was legally connected to the man I’ll call Huey. That’s not his real name, of course. My sister remarked once he always reminded her of the cartoon character Baby Huey, and I think the resemblance goes beyond physical appearance. Baby Huey was always stupidly assuming wolves were his friends and getting everyone around him in precarious situations. One difference between the cartoon character and my ex-husband, though, is that at least the damn duck eventually woke up and stood up to the wolf and helped his friends out.
That morning I called horse shit, I broke up with the childish idea that I proclaimed all through my twenties—I regret nothing! Now on the slide toward 50, I realize to regret absolutely nothing you’ve done doesn’t mean you were fearless or that you were cool. It just means you’re an asshole who refuses to reflect on their own bad choices and behavior.
So, yeah, I regret it. Pretty much all of it.
To not regret it would be worse; it would mean that I’m an unreflective asshole who doesn’t care about the needless trauma I subjected myself to. Not only am I all about self-care at middle age, but I also feel remorse for subjecting those around me to trauma. My own personal trauma was traumatic to those folks who really love me. Thankfully, though, they stuck it out.
I was married in my early twenties. I think I had just turned 22 actually, as it was the fall before I graduated from college the first time in 1992. My groom-to-be planned the wedding, mostly on his own. I was too busy being a student, which was my primary focus at the time and would be for another decade. At the time, I didn't see the warning flags waving around me. I didn't want to, apparently.
Growing up in the South in the 1970s and 1980s, I didn't know that being a lesbian was really a thing. Yes, I knew that people were gay, but most of the gay people I knew were closeted gay men. Most of the ones in my small high school (the Class of '88 had all of 60 people in it) were the guys I dated or the best friends of the guys I dated. So, recognizing that I was gay, and that my future husband was gay, wasn't realistic I guess. That either of us was gay wasn’t on my radar at all. When he asked me to marry him, I considered my age and how old other women in my family were when they got married. The timing seemed about right. I considered that if I got married I could get more financial aid to keep going to school. I liked the idea of having someone there all the time and who could help out with adult life. I said yes.
If the fact that he knew far more about color schemes for weddings and how to put together the perfect mix-tape (it was 1991, after all) weren't signs enough, I should have noticed how green around the gills his best friend was during the wedding. I'll get back to him later, but on the actual wedding day he looked like he'd come down with something absolutely fatal. He was sweaty, pasty, and anxious. If I thought he were capable of doing some hard drugs like meth or speed, perhaps that would have given me an alternative reason to his behavior--an alternative to the fact that he was in love with the guy I was about to marry.
Huey’s friend Alister was a dandy. He spent a great deal on clothes and was quite sure he was right about everything, including how Huey should spend his spare time and who he should date. Early on in our dating relationship, I was astounded and irritated that Huey would go perform domestic tasks for Alister and his sister (who probably still lives with him). He couldn’t be bothered to wash his own dishes at his place, but he’d happily go to their house and clean their many litter boxes.
Alister hated me from the start. I never was given a reason. He tolerated me, and I avoided him as much as possible. That was easy in the beginning, but once he started dating my coworker and eventual best friend we started hanging out in pairs. It got harder to avoid him.
From the outside, both relationships seemed good, I'm sure. I certainly thought that Alister and Stacy were doing well. I mean, he had such tongue dexterity that he could remove one of her earrings without using his hands. it wasn’t clear until years later that he’d strung her along. The amorous behavior that he exhibited when the four of us were together ended as soon as the door shut behind us. They, understandably, later broke up, even though he made every attempt he could to hang on to her.
Good beards are hard to find.
Once, after we’d been married for a year or so, Alister brought a date to our house for dinner. I remember that I’d worked really hard on that dinner, hoping that maybe we could have a nice time. I baked bread from scratch, which I don’t do for just anyone. Yeast bread back then was special if you were coming to my house for dinner. It was how you knew you were in. As we were dishing out salad family style at the table, Alister busts out with the story of how an older male mentor (who was a confirmed bachelor himself, complete with a faded photograph of the lovely young lady he wanted to married who died so tragically in his wallet) had suggested once that he and Huey should just date each other.
Twenty five years later, I can still hear myself saying quietly, “If you would like to sleep with Huey I’m sure we can work something out.” I can still see the look of horror on his date’s face. Alister didn't look horrified, just confused and perhaps a little intrigued. I can still remember how great dinner tasted that night. The bread turned out great.
Of course, leading up to the wedding, I was too distracted to fully notice what was going on with Alister or to wonder why Huey was more concerned that their ascots matched than he was about how I felt about anything. I honestly have no memory of being involved in the planning beyond going to Marshall’s in Little Rock and picking out a dress that looked like something someone’s grandmother would wear to church as my wedding dress. I was on the pill at the time and had ballooned up, holding water like I was preparing for a journey across the Sahara. It would be years before I figured out that the pill contributed to my craziness.
On the day of the ceremony as my family milled about in the area designated as our preparation area, I suggested to my dad that we lock ourselves in the bathroom and smoke cigarettes together until everyone went home. Unfortunately, I don't think he realized I was serious. I should have grabbed his hand and pulled him in.
I can excuse myself for overlooking the red flags I've already mentioned. After all, I suspect everyone has cold feet to a certain extent (not that I did when I remarried later). And, all fathers are probably willing to entertain the notion of stopping their daughters' weddings. No one could possibly be good enough for their daughters, right?
What I don't excuse myself for ignoring are the red flags that popped up in the conversation we had in the car on the way to Memphis.
Him: "So, we need to promise that if we ever are tempted to have an affair, we'll talk about it first."
Me: "That sounds reasonable. I can tell you one thing--if I do have an affair, it won't be with a dude."
We laughed. Neither of us saw anything odd about our conversation at the time. It would be a couple of years before he’d break the promise he proposed. It would be even more years before I would live up to mine.
When we got married, we were still living with other people. A few months before we married, Huey needed some place to stay, so he moved in to the two bedroom duplex with me and my two roommates. The fact that things worked smoothly and we didn’t feel the anxiety over never truly being alone should have been a red flag. If I think about sharing an apartment sized for two adults with anyone other than my current spouse now, it seems like a nightmare. Heck, even living in an apartment building makes me want to break out in hives. Couples that are happy want and need time by themselves. Of course, at that stage in my life, I hadn’t been part of a happy couple yet.
Some time after he moved in, I started having panic attacks. They weren’t really obvious. Instead of hitting me in the waking hours, my panic attacks manifested in the hours where we were confined in the same room together . I started to dread bed time as I would just slide to sleep and shoot up in the bed, sure I was smothering or choking. It didn’t happen every night, but it happened with enough frequency that it was a problem. And, like all anxiety, one attack led to another as I worked myself up in the hour before bedtime, worried that it would happen again.
I was nearing graduation, too. We married the November before graduation, and we decided with the milestone of graduation behind us both (Huey had graduated the year before) that we should have our own place. We located a garage that had been converted into an apartment. I loved that little apartment. I still sometimes dream of it. It was the first detached house that I lived in as an adult, having moved from my parents’ house to the dorms, to the dorms to the duplex. Things were surely looking up, I thought. I had been cocky in my graduate school applications, though, and only applied to two schools, both of which were incredibly expensive. I did get in one of them, but without an assistantship moving and going to school full time was out of the question. I applied to my old department and was admitted but the assistantships were already gone. I was saved when the Honors College announced they had two spots open and that they would welcome me into one of the spots.
Had Huey had a real job, I doubt my anxiety would have been better. The move had been a good thing initially, but I was incredibly isolated in that summer after graduation. Huey was working for the current state auditor who was up for election in the fall. She wasn’t paying him. So, he was driving 60 miles a day or so to go to a job that wasn’t paying the rent. Our savings were getting low, and even though our rent on the apartment was only something like $225/month, we were on the edge of homelessness about the same time we moved in. I don’t know how long I was out of work; I don’t think it was long. Perhaps a couple of weeks. Huey was acting like everything was great. I remember we settled in one afternoon to watch Fantasia, which I had never seen. I couldn’t concentrate on the movie, my mind was racing. And then I was hit full force with a panic attack in the middle of the afternoon. Huey’s response was to comfort me, of course.
“I don’t know what to do with you. If you don’t get better, you’re going to have to go to therapy.”
The suggestion was enough to shake me out of the panic attack; anger became my primary emotion. I’d done nothing but try to make sure we were ok since we’d gotten together. I’d let him move in with me and paid the rent. I worked in the Writing Center and also worked on the side typing papers and helping other students to make ends meet. And now, a year after he’d graduated he was working for free and I was paying for his gas.
And I needed therapy.
I kept quiet and started planning. In the meantime I took work at a telemarketing office until I found better work at the local laundromat doing intake of laundry service drop offs. I spent the summer in the heat of the laundromat washing other people’s dirty drawers. But, hey, it paid the rent. And it actually was a pretty ok job. I got to read books and the owner was a nice gal who often bought lunch for the two of us. I survived the summer, and I passed the job on to buddy when school started in the fall.
With the fall, the election happened, and the candidate didn’t win. We went to the watch party and the next afternoon, Huey was giving me the silent treatment. At some point, I finally brought up the issue of pay for the work he’d done to help the candidate. The night before, she’d patted him on the arm and said something like, “boy, it sure did cost a lot to run. I really appreciate your help.”
Which translates to: “Well, Buddy, I lost so you’re shit out of luck in the pay department.”
The few times I asked in the previous months about his getting paid he’d maintained that she was going to pay him when the election was over. The morning after the loss, he changed his tune. “I just don’t feel comfortable asking her to pay me. She lost. It just seems rude.”
“You know what’s rude? Not paying you. What’s rude is you stringing me along for months when I was down and needed you to help.” I stood a little taller. “I tell you what. Come Monday you have a choice. You can drive to Little Rock and go into her office and tell her she’s going to pay you for the work you’ve done or give you a paying position now or you can get out.”
He balked. “I just don’t know if she has anything to offer me.”
“I bet she will find something. It’s either that or I call the newspaper and every local TV station and tell them that she let you work for nothing and then backtracked when she lost.”
She apparently realized what was at stake, as she did give him a position in her office. Thus began a short career for him in politics that led to some shady dealings with a crooked Chinese business man and years later interviews all around by the FBI. The Senate hopeful he’d worked for made some bad choices, including abandoning the Democratic Party, feeling they’d turned their back on her. Her protege would later became state treasurer before being sentenced to 30 months in jail for taking bribes.
Somewhere along the way, I guess it became clear to Huey that he wasn't going to make it in politics. As far as I know he never ran for a single office. Instead, he'd spend a lot of time trying other ways of being showy--everything from donning the identity of The Misfit, an amateur wrestler in Mississippi, to now becoming a minister and "life coach." I suspect that part of his reasoning for not running for office is that he simply hasn't done the work required to get support. Another part, though, is quite likely that he knows that if his past behavior is put under scrutiny that he wouldn't stand a chance.
Often when people break up, it is the result of bad expectations. Specifically, the person they were with wasn't who they pictured them to be. I have always been pretty above board, to the point that when Huey's mom expressed hope that we'd have kids soon (at the wedding reception) that my mother responded, "She told me when she was about twelve that she hoped I would be happy with the grandkids I get from her sisters, as she wasn't having any kids." When Huey's mother looked crushed, my mother quickly said, "Oh, I'm sure she changed her mind once she got older."
I hadn't. And, I didn't. I've never felt the biological need to have children beyond fleeting moments when in my late twenties I might feel a pang in my ovaries upon seeing a dimpled baby. Being a mother to a child I gestated has never been part of my plans, and I have been pretty open about that well before I started having grown up relationships. I've loudly proclaimed that I'm too selfish--and I am. In order for me to have become a parent would have meant putting off everything else. I know other people manage to have kids and a career--that's just not how I operate. I tend to be all in.
So, I suppose I could never truly be an Alicia Florrick. It wasn't in the cards for me to be a Hillary Clinton, either, who so obviously is a model for Alicia.
Thank goodness for that.
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