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02 April 2012 @ 10:33 am
The Real LJ Idol: "Clarity"  
real lj idol | week 21 | 1024 words
Bridge – an Idol Intersection with similiesslip (her story is here).


I think my wife is having an affair.

I didn't want to believe it at first. They say the spouse is always the last to know.

But she seems to be running errands a lot more often, and getting home late from work. Sometimes the kids are asking about dinner and Laura's not even back yet. That's not like her. Usually, she at least phones to let us know.

I know her mother isn't sick, and I'm pretty sure Laura isn't either. If anything, she's got a glow. Her hair always looks pretty, and she dresses nicer, but it's more than that. There's a spark to her that I haven't seen since she got pregnant with our first child, Maggie. Don't get me wrong, Laura has always looked good—still sexy as hell, no matter what she says. But kids and work and the whole routine, they'll take it out of you. God knows, I'm ready to hit the La-Z-Boy when I get home, and veg out in front of a ballgame for a few hours…

I didn't want to assume anything, when it first started. Things happen, you get tied up at the office (it's sure happened to me often enough). I ordered pizza for the kids a couple of times, made grilled cheese a few nights, scrambled some eggs or heated some soup. I'm no good at cooking, but I'm not completely incompetent. It's not what the kids are used to, though.

I think the main thing is that if she is cheating, then I have to decide what to do about it. A guy my age doesn't want a divorce, and the kids would hate that. What's more, they'd probably hate us.

But what other choice is there? Could I stand to stay married to her after that?

I still don't know what the hell she was thinking. I thought I was giving her everything she wanted. We've got the kids and the nice house, and enough money for soccer league and trumpet lessons. It's not super-fancy, like some of her friends' houses, but I'm doing the best I can. She still has to work, or we couldn't pay the bills, but I thought she knew how tough it was out there? My numbers are good, but sometimes I struggle to meet quota. I hate that after-hours schmoozing, but what can you do? I have to make the boss happy and the customers happy, and if that's what they think they want, then I'm stuck.

If an asteroid fell on that damned golf course tomorrow, I'd be the happiest guy in town. Sometimes I dream about setting it on fire, just so I can go to the kids' soccer and baseball games on Saturdays, like all the other Dads.

This isn't how I thought things would turn out. When I met Laura in college, she was so pretty and nice, so different from the party-girls I'd dated before. She was quiet, but she had depth.

"We'd make an amazing team," I told her, and I hoped with everything that she'd believe it.

We got married after graduation, and lived in a tiny two-bedroom house with a yard hardly big enough for a few flowers and a patch of grass. We still thought it was heaven. We had nothing but each other then, which was all we really wanted anyway. Maggie was born four years later, and the house felt a little crowded, but it was good. When Laura got pregnant with Billy, we decided to move. My job was doing well, so we bought the place we live in now. Four bedrooms, a big yard, and a mortgage that went from manageable to borderline after we added another baby and the Recession took hold.

Still, I thought we were doing all right. We never had big, ambitious plans, we just wanted a good life together. It was a busy life, sure, and between the kids and the house and her job, Laura seemed a little stressed sometimes. But I thought we were making it.

Guess I thought wrong.

The sex was still good, even though I could tell Laura's heart wasn't always in it. But better too often than not often enough. My brother claims that's why he ruined his marriage over a secretary from his office. Our secretary sticks pencils in her hair like they're chopsticks, and I'm honestly not sure how she made it out of high school, so there's no temptation there (but I'm still not going to risk it).

I never even saw the possibility of Laura cheating. How could she do that to me—to us?

To our kids?

Our youngest is only seven, and even Maggie's still a kid at fourteen. A divorce would rip their lives apart.

Sometimes, I get so angry that I want to pin Laura to the spot and make her admit how she's betrayed us. God, who wouldn't?

But then I think, What if the kids heard us fighting? When Laura was out late again last week, little Susie asked me if Mommy was ever coming home again or if we'd gotten divorced. The kids have friends whose parents have split up, and I'm sure they talk about it.

Funny, I didn't put the pieces together until Susie said that.

So now I know, and I wish I didn't. What the hell am I supposed to do? Bow to my wounded manhood and push for a divorce? I'd probably lose the kids, and I don't think I could take that. Losing Laura would be hard enough…

Seventeen years—that's how long we've been married. There's a wedding photo in our bedroom, with the date underneath:

Harold Evan Hartley and Laura Ann Mitterton, 1995

We were so young then, so in love and full of promise. We had our whole lives ahead of us, our own story we were going to write together.

God help me, I still want that, no matter what Laura might have done. Maybe I shouldn't, but I still love her, and we've built so much together.

How can I honestly think about throwing all that away?

Both similiesslip and my story can be voted for along with other fine entries here.

cindytsuki_no_bara on April 2nd, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
i really like how you and similiesslip did this! i feel bad for both halves of the couple, and i like that the story has a hopeful ending.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 2nd, 2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It was interesting working on a collaboration, especially so that we were telling sides of the same story instead of a different story. And deciding on kids ages, names, and other details.

The ending is hopeful. This is one of those cases more of miscommunication and neglect than anything else, and once in awhile a marriage can survive that. When you have kids, it's sure worth it to try.

Thanks for reading, and I see that you commented on the other entry too!
notodettenotodette on April 3rd, 2012 03:34 am (UTC)
I really, really like this particular story. It's one not often told.
similiesslipsimiliesslip on April 3rd, 2012 03:55 am (UTC)
And yet, very loosely based on some experiences of people I know (at least my half) it is a story that happens, or at least people start the first point...drifting apart, feeling unappreciated, and then there comes a choice.

In some ways, I'd like to think most marriages are "happily ever after" but I think many relationships do go through some part of this (at least the questioning and considering how unappreciated they are), especially people married about as long as me and many people I know IRL (I've been married 14 years.)

The idea was all halfshellvenus's and I am very glad she was good at coming up with ideas! I thought these prompts were hard to work with at first.
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on April 3rd, 2012 05:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
sarcasmoqueensarcasmoqueen on April 3rd, 2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
Haven't read simileslip's entry yet, but I had to say I really like this one.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 4th, 2012 04:38 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!

It was interesting to write this perspective, as the character is so different from me, but I always like exploring unexpected viewpoints. I think most of us assume we know how a guy in this situation feels, but he doesn't see himself or his situation the way an outsider would.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 4th, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! My part is the "middle" of the story, and in weighing whether to have this 'bridge' the other part or to be like a bridge that remains while other things agitate underneath... I decided to do both. :)
Myrnamyrna_bird on April 3rd, 2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
The willingness to communicate and work through the crisis is what will make the marriage stronger than ever. I like that you two had the woman be the unfaithful partner in this case. It let your story portray a softer side of a man.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 4th, 2012 04:45 am (UTC)
It actually was similiesslip's idea to have the woman be the unfaithful partner. She took the first stab at the story, and then we negotiated toward something I could work with. But we were both open to writing either prompt, either side of the story, and either gender. She settled on "Straw", and after that the gender choice was hers.

When you read both of these, you see what a huge effect lack of communication can have. The love isn't gone, but each partner is drifting in the wrong direction and neither of them realizes it. They're each only seeing their own half of things.

But after understanding what the other person thinks is happening, and actually wants... I think they could easily go another 17 years and more. :)
(no subject) - myrna_bird on April 4th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on April 3rd, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
I like seeing the other side of the story here. It's one that happens all too often.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 4th, 2012 04:51 am (UTC)
I think it does-- I understand why the wife feels exhausted, but have also seen enough men (including my father) who expect or are content to let the wives work full time AND still be the primary keeper of the home and children. They don't even realize how sexist and unfair that expectation is.

At the same time, it's also easy for men to get trapped into being expected (by their employers) to go the extra mile at the office, again and again. The choice becomes, "Do it, or your job doesn't matter to you." This is coming from completely outside the marriage, but it's under neither person's control. We tend to forget those kinds of stressors, but they're hard to escape.

So glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading and commenting!

(no subject) - jem0000000 on April 4th, 2012 06:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
Kristenpixiebelle on April 4th, 2012 02:52 am (UTC)
You write character's voices do well. I could head it as if he was speaking to me. That's not easy to do and you do that well. Cat wait to read the other half :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 4th, 2012 04:53 am (UTC)
The narrative approach picked for the other story kind of drove the method I chose. They aren't identical, but my instinct would have been to write this third-person instead of first-person.

Still, I really kind of enjoy getting inside people's heads to write their POVs. Whether they're unexpected or simply outrageous (the "Narcissism" story), they're a fun challenge!
Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.n3m3sis42 on April 4th, 2012 11:48 am (UTC)
This was really well done. Both characters wer so sympathetic and your voices really meshed perfectly.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 5th, 2012 02:25 am (UTC)
I like that you found them both sympathetic, because that also shows how a good relationship can go bad between two people who both think they're doing the right thing, Both think they're trying, neither sees the rift widening, and yet...

I think divorce is probably less often about villains and victims than it is about sheer misunderstanding. If you address the problem in time, sometimes the marriage survives.

That's my hope here!
(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 5th, 2012 02:27 am (UTC)
Yay! I'm glad you thought so, especially because the whole introduction idea kind of threw me for a loop. I sure wasn't expecting this as a challenge, but then I'm a n00b, so I never expect any monkey wrench that comes our way. :)
java_fiendjava_fiend on April 5th, 2012 01:08 am (UTC)
I love the perspective of the story here. I think your voice comes across really well... you can feel the uncertainty and the hurt of your character. Really, really well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 5th, 2012 02:30 am (UTC)
Thank you very much-- especially nice to hear from a man, who is probably at least slightly closer to this man's perspective than I am. Just as he didn't know how lonely his wife felt, she didn't know how financially trapped (and job-threatened) he felt. We forget sometimes that people can't read our minds and every thought-- and we may forget that even more easily after such a long time together. We expect our spouses to know us like we know ourselves, but forget that there are always limitations simply because we're only human.
Danmuchtooarrogant on April 5th, 2012 01:11 am (UTC)
Wow, this was quite a heart-rending tale. I can empathize with the narrator on so many levels, although I'd tell him that being free and fighting for what you want is Always better than being trapped. Very well done!

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 5th, 2012 02:36 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I think, after talking to his wife, the two of them could reach the conclusion that a smaller house or a lifestyle with fewer "extras" would be worth the reduced financial stress and how it's bleeding into their interpersonal dynamic.

But yes, his job in general... I would absolutely hate to be in that bind of the always-implied, "Do everything the company wants, or we'll find someone who will." What an awful situation.
(no subject) - muchtooarrogant on April 5th, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Ellakiteellakite on April 5th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC)
I know my parents truly loved each other. Let me tell you how I know this:

When I was *VERY* young (four years old), Mom cooked all the family meals. Day in, day out.

One day, she just couldn't do it any more. She had a genuine screaming fit. Said she was sick to death over slaving over a hot stove.

By that point, Dad was far enough along in his career so that he could set his own hours. So he re-arranged his schedule so that he'd always be home before 5 PM so he could cook dinner for the family.

Mom never willing touched a pot or a pan from that day forward... and Dad *NEVER* asked her to.

My parents didn't always agree on everything... but they understood what was really important, and tried to work out their problems. And for the most part, they succeeded.

A interesting POV piece. Thanks for sharing.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 5th, 2012 04:49 am (UTC)
Re: Potent.
What a great glimpse into your parents' history!

Mine had a similar (though temporary) period, when my mother went back into residency to change her focus from radoiology to psychiatry. My Dad moved half of his private practice into our house, and became in charge of most of the cooking for two years so that she could complete the program. Later, we moved to a bigger city where he felt she'd have a better chance at success in private practice (this was around '72).

He was a fairly awful cook, so I hope your Dad was better! If he's survived in that position all these years without revolt from the kids, I guess he had what it took.

I think my parents, perhaps like yours, were better at making good decisions on behalf of the health of their marriage than on the behalf of their children. But I think an intact marriage, when possible, is very important for children, so I can't argue with the results!

I'm glad you liked this, and it was interesting to see the parallels with your own story for this week. :)
Kizzyxo_kizzy_xo on April 5th, 2012 02:34 pm (UTC)
I love how you and similiesslip attacked this "two sides to one story" -- both your wistful tones, your characters' disappointment, and the spark of hope ring so, so true. I feel badly for both of them. And it's never simple as to where the cracks occur.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 5th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
It's always sad to think of bad things happening to good, well-meaning people, isn't it? But especially when it's because they somehow were both paying attention to different things.

I think that sometimes we feel as if we're saying something (by doing it, or implying it, or implying around it) and don't realize that we've never directly spelled out what's bothering us-- and that we should. It just isn't always as obvious to the other person as we think it is! And here, that could have cost these two everything...
A Karmic Sandbox: Bedroom Eyeskarmasoup on April 5th, 2012 06:57 pm (UTC)
The two of you together have been so true to the heart, so believable. Very real, and so well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 6th, 2012 05:13 am (UTC)
Thank you very much!

This was very much a collaborative effort (I saw from other stories that the approach could be handled in all kinds of ways). Two sides to the same story, and when you read them, you know exactly how those two people wound upin this crisis, even though both of thought they were trying their best to keep the marriage going. They'd just picked the wrong priorities.
lawchickylawchicky on April 5th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
I hope these characters are able to work something out! I can totally understand the drifting apart feeling, though I know from experience that it doesn't have to end that way.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 6th, 2012 05:15 am (UTC)
I can totally understand the drifting apart feeling, though I know from experience that it doesn't have to end that way.

It sure helps to talk about it, especially when your problem is one of not understanding the other person's POV. Hopefully, it changes wrong assumptions into knowledge that makes a difference in helping the relationship.

Thanks for reading and commenting!