The Joy of Indifference

I write often and hate exclamation points.

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
It is amazing how an email can make you reconsider your life. Before you read it you have the perfect life and family. One that others envy, even off of Facebook. Then a few characters later and you’re pushing the rewind button on your life wondering where that path between what you believed and what was real veered off.

Was it at last year’s company picnic? Or that vacation you took to the Mattson’s beach house? Was it your decision to chop your hair off in the pixie style even though he loves it long? Was it the weight you gained with the baby that hasn’t come off in the six years since?

There had to be a precipitating factor.

Or maybe it was just the culmination of a hundred little things like working late and being too tired to cook weeks on end. Or maybe it was forgetting to snuggle in the morning or kiss goodbye before work. Maybe it was leaving him on the couch when you could’ve woken him up and encouraged him to come to bed with you. Or maybe it was pretending to be asleep when he finally did come to bed. Maybe it was spending the entire weekend in the same yoga pants you put on when you came home Friday night. Or maybe it was the way you stuffed the remaining food on the kids’ plates into your mouth instead of shoveling it into the garbage can. Maybe it was laughing at his requests to go running with him or letting him Uber it home from the airport instead of picking him up at the security checkpoint with a funny sign like you used to. Maybe it was the fact that all of your conversations revolved around the children or your crummy coworkers.

But this is not a crime to solve. There’s no motive that will help you here.

He had told another woman he loved her, one he’s not related to. He had called her words in this email that you had never heard come out of his mouth. His tender admissions to her something completely foreign to you even in the beginning of your relationship.

This woman didn’t seem to mind if he snored or left his dirty socks on the floor. She appeared to like his laugh which was always a little too loud for the conversation at hand. She liked his corny puns and this email was peppered with them. There was no beginning awkwardness to their discourse. It was solid and joyful, comfortable and yet passionate, something you don’t quite remember. Were the two of you this way once?

You searched to see if there was more. How long had they been corresponding? How long had they been intimate? How long had she known your husband better than you had?

The first email from her six months ago conveyed an intimacy that preceded the correspondence. That meant that he had deleted their initial emails but at some point didn’t feel like that was necessary. At some point, he either fully trusted you not to read them or he simply no longer cared if you found them.

For six months these emails had been out there protected only by an email password that you have always known, your cat’s birthday. And every time he had received an email, he had slid it into a folder entitled “Joy.” You weren’t sure if he did that because he figured you’d never look in a folder of that name or that was the feeling she gave him.

You make a mental note never to use that word again. But then you think better of it and decide to use it in every sentence when he gets home.

“So what brought you joy today?”

“Do you know what I find particularly joyful?”

“Our kids are such a joy, don’t you think?”

“I heard the cutest name for a dog today...Joy. We should go look for one this weekend.”

You could do that and watch him squirm. The kids would look at the two of you strangely. Maybe you could even get your youngest to sing that song from Ren and Stimpy again “Happy, Happy. Joy, Joy.”

You pour yourself a glass of wine and think about your 25th reunion next month. What if you had to go stag? Nope. You wouldn’t go. You’d make up an excuse like a last-minute work “thing.” You gaze at the fridge thinking you hear that last slice of chocolate fudge cake from his birthday calling your name. That’s when you see your sister’s wedding invitation and think about how awful it would be to attend that alone. Maybe you could miss your flight. But while that might get you out of the rehearsal dinner, how many days delayed could you be? Maybe all flights from Minneapolis could be canceled due to a snowstorm in the middle of summer.

But maybe this doesn’t have to be the end. Maybe you could just close out of this browser and not give voice to the fact that your husband is in love with another woman. Maybe you can just pretend it never happened. Look the other way like women from previous generations did. Keep quiet for the good of the family. You would keep your husband and the children would have a father in the home and not be part of a broken family.

The kids would be less likely to end up in prison. Your daughter would be less likely to seek solace in the arms of inappropriate men and bad relationships. She would not look to replace her father’s love with men near her father’s age. Your sons wouldn’t need to feel protective of you and disillusioned in their own adult relationships. And the baby wouldn’t have to feel like daddy no longer loved him and left because he forgot to pick up his Legos for the last time.

You could keep all of your couple friends and you wouldn’t have to be seated at the singles’ table at formal functions. Your female friends wouldn’t need to look at you like competition and their husbands wouldn’t gaze upon you like an injured animal left at the side of the road.
You can ignore “joy” and leave your retirement, checking, and savings accounts intact. You won’t have to check the divorced box on any applications. You can remain in the house that you spent so many years making your own. You can keep the land and Mr. Whiskers and the kids won’t have to ask where they’re spending Christmas or Thanksgiving each year. You can stay a family even if he would never stick your emails in a folder entitled joy.

No, you could make this work. You could power through it. You could be strong and ignore his infidelity.

You could. There are so many reasons why you should.

And yet you can’t.

For the respect of your daughter and the example it will give your sons, you need to say, this is not acceptable. You need to tell him you’re not happy because you know--even though he has “joy”--he won’t say it. He won’t be the one to cast you off, though his heart already has. He won’t allow your friends to know he was the bad guy in the situation. No, he would suffer in silence listening to hi joy complain how she never gets holidays with him. He will do that until the kids are all grown and he can then meekly ask for a trial separation because you’ve “grown apart.”

No, you must be the one to strike the death blow to the marriage. To call it “time of death 2018” but when you do you both will know it’s been living on life support for some time now. The mechanisms of everyday living and familial responsibilities keeping it going. But it’s time to call it. To put it out of its indifference.

Because that is what it’s become, not torment, not hatred, not aberration.

Indifference. The worst of all states a marriage can succumb to.

But who will you be if you’re not his wife? And where will you live if not your house? And how will you fit into the social dynamic of your friends? Yes, your. Plural.

So many questions swirl sickeningly in your gut and mind, a churning ocean of what-ifs and hows. You glance at your watch, the one he bought you. Then you shut the computer and await his key in the door. Tonight you will have a real conversation; maybe the first ever. And you will do what no one has had the courage to do yet.

After all, he has found his joy. It’s time you find yours.