Here’s an alternate beginning to Goddess of Suburbia. Kind of like those old Choose Your Own Adventure books…
It all started with a request – one little request – and my desperation to please, my desperation to make sure that my husband, Nick, never strayed. But, that one little request has left me nervously glancing in my rearview mirror as I make my way to ShopRite on this achingly beautiful October day. It’s the kind of day that reminds me why autumn on Long Island is my favorite season – blue skies and no humidity, the tiniest bite of a chill in the air, mild enough though, that the sweatshirt jackets necessary this morning will be stuffed in backpacks by this afternoon. I would love to take a detour, take my four year old son, Sam, to the playground. I would love to catch him at the bottom of the slide, give him a push on the swings while he pretends to be on a spaceship, valiantly pumping his little legs.
Only, I can’t. I check my rearview mirror again as I pull into the parking lot. Are they still there? Where will these pictures end up? How much more can my family take? Like the silver spheres of a pinball machine, these thoughts bounce around my brain. And I curse that one little request my husband made – I really do – because it became something bigger than either of us could have anticipated and instead of saving our marriage, it destroyed it. Though, I suppose it was on that path already and this just hastened the final blow.
I trusted Nick – really. I trusted him as much as I ever trusted anyone, actually more. But, he’s the proverbial traveling salesman. He’s away at least one week out of every month and often more, giving him plenty of opportunity to have an affair – or at least a fling. Even worse, his job hawking restaurant supplies brings him into contact with all those svelte, little fashionistas manning the helm of swanky restaurants. Somewhere in the back of my mind was this tiny fear that one of them, young and beautiful, would catch his eye.
My senior year in high school my boyfriend cheated on me with Angela, a vicious wisp of a girl with black slashes of eyeliner and garnet lips, her halo of buttery blonde curls in stark contrast. She’d trip kids on crutches, laughing as they splayed out on the floor and tormented anyone showing even an ounce of flab in the locker room. For all I know, she punched puppies too. She thought nothing of stealing someone’s boyfriend – to her that was even better than finding your own.
So, it didn’t mean a thing to her that Jason and I dated for almost a year. She could give him what I wouldn’t and that was all the ammunition she needed. I had let Jason get to third, but I was a virgin and terrified that if we had sex I’d get pregnant, my parents would find out, it would hurt, Jason wouldn’t love me anymore or I would suffer some unknown punishment for my wanton behavior – not necessarily in that order.
I finally decided right before our one year anniversary that I loved Jason and wanted to lose my virginity to him. I had it all planned out – it was perfect. I knew his parents were away for the weekend – I would show up at his house in my new blush lace bra under a pale pink, deep V-neck sweater, a condom tucked into the pocket of my favorite faded Levi’s. My health teacher had handed out the condoms the week before and I hid it from my parents, sticking it in a small pocket inside my backpack.
I even bought Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers at the little liquor store that never checked IDs. The six pack was tucked under my arm as I climbed the steps to his massive oak door. I rang the bell, but there was no answer. I tried the door handle and it opened, so I walked in. And there to the left of me on the couch in the formal living room was Angela straddling Jason. They were both naked and the plastic under them made a creaking noise as Jason jumped up, almost knocking Angela to the floor. As he did, a crystal tumbler flew off the coffee table shattering in what seemed a million glittering shards. Another tumbler with a mere trace of amber liquid – scotch I assumed – sat next to the empty spot. All I remembered thinking as I ran out of that house was that I hoped they cut their bare feet on the shards of crystal – in my poetic teenage mind those sparkling fragments represented my broken heart.
The next day Angela said, “Well, maybe if you’d done it sooner, he wouldn’t have cheated. He got more from me in two weeks than he did from you in a year. I mean, who waits a year to do it?” As I walked away biting my lip and blinking back hot tears I wished that I had smacked her. I never spoke to Jason again, never asked him for an explanation – I didn’t want to hear it.
I’ve worried about an Angela showing up in every relationship I’ve had since then – someone who can give my boyfriend or husband exactly what he wants. With Nick, the final nail in my anxiety was the fact that putting on the charm is part of his job, part of why he’s so successful. It worked on me. I was a pastry chef at one of those swanky restaurants when our glossy haired hostess brought Nick back into my kitchen. Our eyes met over the loveliest tinplate madeleine mold he was showcasing and I was gone. He had the longest lashes I had ever seen on a man, black fringes that framed gorgeous azure pools. He didn’t even have to tell me that his mold would turn out the most delicate madeleines, didn’t have to sell me on the twenty nine piece pastry tube set I ordered, either. Ditto for the six piece pastry cutter set and the tinplate brioche mold. I would have ordered his whole damn lot if I didn’t have the restaurant’s owner to answer to.
When he delivered my order, there was a rolled up note tucked into the largest pastry tube. It was written in neat script on cream paper with deckled edges. I bit my lip and tucked my hair behind my ear, before daring to look down. It simply said, “I’m sweet on you.” A grin spread across my face. So corny, it was cute. Plus, I was always a sucker for good penmanship. My mother always told me, “Look for a man with good penmanship – it means he cares about the details and will take the time to do things right, instead of just rushing through them.” It had been so long since I met someone I was excited about.
If I had really thought about it, I would have realized that good penmanship is a pretty flimsy reason to fall for someone (in fact now, I’d do the opposite – I’d look for someone with messy writing, maybe it would mean that he’s not all about appearances). But it wasn’t just that penmanship and those blue, blue eyes – Nick swept me away on whirlwind dates. We had great sex – really great sex. He asked me once if I married him for the sex and I had to admit, “Well, yes, actually I kind of did.” But, I reasoned, his generosity in bed reflected on him as a person, so it wasn’t that shallow. A marriage based on sex – a house of cards if there ever was one, but it worked for us…