A PHONE OF ONE'S OWN
I should have known when Todd proposed over a chalk body outline under the arch at Washington Square Park that the path of our romance would never run smooth. Of course, I suppose the fact that he dropped the ring -- three times -- trying to put it on my finger could have been a hint as well. At the time, though, I could only gaze with love and gratitude into his eyes and at the shimmering diamond that had been willed to him as a loving endowment from his great-grandmother. But now I think those two deaths that were so much a part of our beginning were really omens that our marriage would end long before death did us part -- unless, of course, I'd killed him when he ended the marriage. But that would be another story. Sometimes, I'm still not sure if it wouldn't be a better one...
To tell this story, though, I suppose I should go back to college in New Jersey where Todd and I met. He was from the typical middle-class family -- you know, a mom, a dad, a sister, grandparents, pets, a swimming pool... They went to church every Sunday, took family vacations together and lived all their lives in a middle-sized house in the middle of a small rural town.
Maybe he was bored.
Okay, maybe not, but it's as good an explanation as any for why he was attracted to me. Of course, at the time, I just thought it was Fate -- you know, that wonderful, magical, inexplicable love-at-first-sight thing. He just couldn't resist the way the sunlight caught my gleaming red hair as I glided out of the math building and...fell down the stairs. Well, anyway, I'm pretty sure he wasn't attracted to my ballet-dancer's grace, but at least my lack of it got his attention. And where I come from, you use what you've got.
Where I come from is Jersey City. My mom was divorced three times and my brother and I had lived in about ten different apartments with various relatives and a phone number that changed so often we had to check it daily like the lottery. That's one of the things I loved about living at school. There was only one phone on each floor of the dorm so I had to share it with thirty-nine other people, but it had the same number all year long. I could actually tell somebody to call me and know that the call would get through -- to me -- provided, of course, that whichever of the thirty-nine people who'd answered the phone gave me the message -- which they usually didn't.
Boy, was I glad when somebody invented E-Mail.
But to get back to me and Todd, well, I called my mom the day after we got engaged to give her the big news. Actually, I called my grandmother to ask her to give my mom the big news since I didn't know my mom's phone number for that day, but when she got my message, she called back right away. And when I got her return one -- about a month later, and we talked at last, sheexclaimed, "Oh, Darling, that's wonderful! Let's make it a double wedding with me and Russell."
"Russell? Who's Russell?
My fiance, silly! Didn't you get the message?"
Clearly "the message" still hadn't made it through to one of us...
"Uhh...let me think about that, Mom."
And I thought about it all right -- or should I say all night. Talk about a bad dream.
Todd and I eloped the next day.
After the most extravagant whirlwind weekend honeymoon we could afford on our starving college students' budget, we moved into this apartment building off campus. The college had some arrangement with the owner so most of the married students lived there. In exchange for really low rent, each couple got a really small space with really low security. But we didn't care. We were married. We were happy. And, despite the lack of bars on our first-floor window, we slept like babies. Unfortunately, that's exactly what allowed a thief to walk in through the window -- and over the bed to the dresser with the diamond engagement ring on top -- and out again.
Oh well. We still had each other.
Or so I thought.
After we finished college, we moved into the most beautiful New York City apartment I'd ever seen. Todd and I both got jobs and everything seemed to be moving right along. But, as it turned out, Todd was moving even faster than I realized.
It seems the day he'd gone for his first job interview, he'd bumped into Shelly, an old classmate of his from high school. All he told me was that he'd found a really great job and that he'd be working with some really great people. It sounded great to me.
Apparently, it was -- so great, in fact, that three months later he came home for dinner and said he'd found a new apartment -- Shelly's.
At first, I couldn't believe it. I mean, I was the one who came from a family that celebrated divorces almost as often as birthdays, but I'd never even thought of cheating -- or leaving Todd for any other reason, for that matter.
Still, I couldnít help wondering if somehow Toddís departure hadnít really been my fault. I went over all the details of our past a thousand times, trying to figure out exactly where I might have gone wrong.
I even wondered briefly if my parents were to blame. I mean, maybe if Iíd grown up watching a successful marriage, I wouldíve learned how to be part of one.
But then again, maybe not. After all, Todd certainly hadnít benefited from example.
At last I went to church -- a place I hadnít gone in years. Desperate for answers I poured my story out on God and waited for a response. I donít know what I expected, whether a burning bush or lightning bolts, but 45 minutes later all I heard was my stomach growling.
Half-angry at God and thoroughly annoyed at my own foolishness, I got up off my knees to go home and get something to eat. I was almost to the door, torn only between spaghetti and a stop at KFC when I suddenly remembered where I was and the reason I had come here in the first place.
God hadnít been the one whoíd left... Neither had I.
Emboldened by this realization I briefly pondered turning around to ask just one more question. That death do us part thing -- I mean, it had been His idea...
But then I thought, "Why would I want to do that?" Anybody who could treat me like Todd had certainly wasn't worth going to jail over.
Besides, by letting him go, I got a very generous divorce settlement, kept my own great job -- and great apartment, and even got one little extra I'd never dared to hope for -- sole possession of the phone.
Oh, and by the way, I didn't change the number.