The two brawny guys in the backseat of my taxi — old friends, it appeared — were talking as guys do.
“She’s so hot. Grant me that, dude. I mean, she’s the hot nurse!”
“Yup, Mandy is hot. Everybody knows that, genius. It just doesn’t concern you. You’re engaged, T.J. Remember that? And Ally is such a great girl. So I just don’t know what the fuck you’re thinking.”
As happens on busy nights, I was driving two separate fares: the guys in the back were going to Bacon Street; another man, maybe 40, sat quietly in the shotgun seat bound for Williston Village.
“I do love Ally,” T.J. rationalized to his friend, “but Mandy and I have been circling around this for years. “That’s what I don’t understand. Should I really be getting married if I still have the hots for other women?”
“You hearing this?” T.J.’s friend asked, raising his voice to enlist me in the conversation. “Could you talk some sense to my idiot friend here? I’m just — what’s that word? — exasperated.”
“Sure, I’ll take a crack,” I replied as I swung a left onto Bacon, home of the original Seaway Carwash, reputedly the oldest in northern Vermont. When the street was redeveloped a few years ago, the business moved farther south down Shelburne Road. I was glad it survived; I appreciate the continuity.
“T.J., listen up,” I commanded, taking the tone of a coach at half time. “It’s just a choice, brother. In the end, that’s all it amounts to. You give up one thing to get something better, something permanent. You found a good woman who wants to marry you? Well, don’t fuck it up — you dig?”
Pre-marriage, anti-jitters speech delivered, I dropped off the two men and continued on with my seatmate. He seemed somber and hadn’t joined in my banter with the other guys. Nothing wrong with that. While I enjoy conversing with the customers, I’m equally happy with silence.
As we cruised along the interstate en route to Taft Corners, first I heard a deep sigh, and then, “I don’t know why I even went out tonight. It’s only depressing.”
I said, “Well, it’s good to get out of the house every once in a while, right?”
Ignoring my pablum, he continued, “I don’t even know what the point is — it’s not like I’m looking for a woman. I’m separated from my wife of 15 years. The last thing I’m looking for is to hook up with somebody else.”
“That’s rough,” I said. “You got kids?”
“Yeah, we have two daughters — 7 and 14. And that was the roughest night of my life, when we sat them down and told them I was moving out. They were both in a puddle of tears. The little one really didn’t understand exactly what was going on, but my older girl said the next day, ‘Yeah, it made sense.’ Her saying that was totally depressing, too.”
“What do you think happened?”
“Well, we married real young, and Josie was born the second year. My wife says she felt like she ‘never had a life.’ Then she began working when the younger one started kindergarten, and that kind of backfired, ’cause now she says she no longer needs me. Is this just how women are these days? I feel like I can’t win.”
“It’s so hard for any couple,” I said. “Way back when, roles were more defined in marriage — the husband did this and the wife did that. I’m not saying the situation was great, or enlivening for either party, but at least everyone was on the same page, more or less. Now every couple has to invent the relationship from the ground up. And then, once the kids start coming? I sympathize with you, man. Have you and your wife tried counseling?”
“She’s been seeing a therapist, but she says she doesn’t want to do couples counseling — at this point, anyway. She’s encouraging me to also see somebody on my own.”
“Are you gonna?”
“I’m considering it. But then I start thinking, If she’s just not happy being with me, then why should I stay with someone who doesn’t want to be with me? You get the thought process, right? My mind goes there a lot.”
The man was staying at a condo deep into Williston, well beyond the golf course. He was in pain. If we exist as human beings in order to experience love, then losing love is the greatest heartache of all. It can feel as if the entire point of life is slipping through your fingers and there’s nothing you can do to make it stop. If this sounds like a cliché, wait until it happens to you.
“So, buddy,” I picked up the conversation, “your mind is not your friend in the situation where you find yourself. You want to get your wife back, you gotta surrender your ego. I mean, that’s step one. Step two is doing everything that might work. You got to be willing to turn yourself into a fucking pretzel, if that’s what it’s gonna take to demonstrate your willingness to change. In my experience, women are tough, and they’re practical. They won’t give up on a marriage lightly, but if they feel they have to, they will move on. So no time for half measures. You see what I’m saying?”
The guy seemed a little taken aback by my forthrightness. Maybe I was a touch over-the-top with the Dr. Phil act. But, as the kids say, it’s all good. He chose to open up with me, and, in the moment, I was moved to respond with some relationship advice. I can live with that.
“I do see what you’re saying,” he said after thinking for a moment. “First thing is, I got to stop feeling sorry for myself. I’m really getting pathetic.”
“I don’t think so at all. You’re just a man trying to save his marriage. Nothing pathetic about that.”
The man smiled for the first time since he got in my cab. “Who do you like in the tournament this year?” he asked.
“Well, Harvard is in for the first time in, like, forever.” I replied. “It’ll be fun to see if they can win a game or two. How about you?”
“Miami Hurricanes, baby. For me, it’s all about the