"You can do anything." Being married to Josh was an exercise in sorting the wheat from the chaff. The voice talking to me was raspy. I heard him clear his throat. The hand on the back of my head was warm, long lazy fingers massaged me carelessly, his fingers tightened as I turned. I went back to lie back on the bed, Josh sat next to me and repeated his words. "You can do anything."
I had just gotten out of the shower at a very nice hotel. We were supposed to be going to a party my work was hosting. I could tell Josh didn’t want to go. If I reminded him that he was the one who had signed us up for it he'd get mad at me. My mind went back to the day we had received the invitation to the company Christmas party. Printed on elegant card stock it belied the cheapness the company showed its "valued" employees. I had set it aside with the rest of the junk mail furious because the company I worked for had given me a one and a half percent raise after my performance review. To me a raise like that was no raise at all. It was a slap in the face to me because that year our company posted record profits. Josh picked the invitation up, read it and smiled. "You know you want to go. How come you’re setting this aside?"
"I don’t want to go. Which is why I set it aside." His hand grabbed the invite before it fell into the garbage. "We’ll dance the night away. It’s open bar, free food and free drinks." His quick eyes scanned the invitation again. "Your company is going to pay for our hotel room? I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to go."
It didn’t matter how many times I explained that the guys I worked for were jerks. I was sick of getting up at five and not getting home until nine o’clock at night. Josh was mad at me every time I came home late. Back then having a career was important to me. I was sure that my hours of faithful service would be worth it some day. I was confident that the people who worked with me appreciated what I did until my review where the manager told me I was getting a one and a half percent raise. I was so mad at him I couldn't say anything. It wasn’t even a cost of living adjustment. I was a furious, disgruntled employee and I didn't care who knew it. Standing in the kitchen looking at the card reminded me of everything I hated about work. Meanwhile Josh filled out the RSVP card and licked the envelope shut. "We should dress up for the party."
I don’t want to portray Josh as dumb but those were his exact words. Looking back I realize he probably said things like that deliberately. To try and get my mind off of whatever I had been thinking about. Right then I was thinking that it was late, I wanted to go to bed and the kitchen was a mess because Josh had decided to try and make soup. Never one to follow recipes it looked to me like he had added spices as randomly as he did everything else. If I said something about it he would throw the fact that I changed recipes in my face. The difference was I had been making chicken noodle soup for years. I had a good idea of the flavors and seasonings that would work. Clumsily I knocked the container of cinnamon over. Only Josh would put cinnamon in chicken noodle soup and only I would knock it over. Powdery cinnamon sediment settled over me and my dry clean only shirt. It sounds crazy now but that was when I knew that I was done with Josh. "It’s over Josh. I can’t take this anymore."
"What?" It was obvious that he didn’t see the kitchen the way I did. His hand reached for another beer. I watched the cap miss the garbage can. I bent down to pick it up, the crinkled cap cut into the palm of my hand. I threw it at Josh and went downstairs to do the laundry. That night Josh wanted to have sex. I could hear the apology in his voice when he spoke. "I didn’t mean to make a mess today."
I told myself I wasn’t going to get into a fight. I was the one who had stayed up doing laundry when I should have gone to bed early. Josh could have thrown a load in the washer when he got home. It never occurred to him that he could help with things around the house and it never occurred to me to ask him for help. Now I know that he was young. Josh was immature but instead of talking to him about it I was a bitch. I used things like the dishes and laundry to make him feel guilty. Housework gave me victim status. I was a martyr dying to wrinkle free shirts and neatly vacuumed corners that Josh never noticed. Things like that are clear to me now but at the time I laid in bed seething at him. Our bodies were touching but there was an impenetrable, impregnable wall of ice between us. Back then I had a better body than I do now. I remember his hand rubbing my arm appreciatively. "I’m proud of you." Josh only said things like that in the dark, when it was safe. I turned away from him to wipe away the tears. Eighteen months into our marriage it seemed like Josh and I couldn’t get anything right.
The Christmas party was one of the worst parties I’ve been at. Josh was a jerk, the people we were sitting with were idiots. One of the guys I worked with said something stupid. Josh is the kind of person who doesn’t care what things look like to others. After the fork bending genius made a comment about the scarf I was wearing Josh stood up, pushed in his chair, threw his napkin down and walked out of the banquet hall without asking me whether I wanted a ride home or not. People at my table told me Josh would be back but I knew better. Josh was gone. Hindsight is supposed to be twenty-twenty but I’m still not sure how I should have handled Josh leaving the party. I could have made an excuse for him, I could have left the party myself. Briefly I considered it but I knew I was getting customer service award. It was going to be something I could throw in the face of the guy who gave me a one and a half percent raise, the award was what I wanted Josh to see. I had told him I was getting the award, that’s when he had said that he was proud of me.
I made it through the company Christmas party only because I had booze and friends. Some of us had a long talk about Josh and the way he treated me. At the end of the night I decided that Josh walking out on me at a public function was the last straw. Earlier I had gone to Josh's work and seen him with his arm around another woman. I stood in the doorway long enough to see them smile at each other. I drove home, packed a bag and left Josh a goodbye note. I spent the next couple of days hanging out with various friends. My plan was to show Josh that I didn't need him. It was the middle of the day when I went back home. I went when I knew that Josh would be at work, my plan was to run in, pick up some things I had forgotten and go back to my friend's apartment. I opened the door and walked into a place I hardly recognized. Josh wasn't at work, he grabbed my arm hard enough to hurt, I shook it off and looked at the hole in the wall. Apparently he had thrown the cordless phone at the wall when the receptionist told him I wasn't taking his calls. Josh wasn't a big drinker but it was obvious that he had been drinking. He looked terrible. I felt sorry for him but I was still leaving. Nothing he could say or do would convince me to give him another chance.
If I chose the wrong man to marry I picked the right one to break up with. Josh was the nicest he had ever been when we were breaking up. All the things he hadn’t done when we were married he started doing when he realized that I was leaving. Supposedly he had never slept with anyone else when we were married but he had female friends like I had male ones. I didn’t understand his friends and he didn’t like mine. We were always competing with each other, playing a game that neither of us would ever win. After I told him I was moving out Josh told me that he was going to find another place to live. The last time I saw Josh was when I helped him move out of the townhouse. Without my things there it didn’t seem like a place I used to call home. Josh surprised me by having snacks that I liked in the fridge. He told me that his parents didn’t blame me for anything. Another thing that was nice but hard to take was his apology.
The day I went back home in the middle of the day Josh and I sat down for a long talk. We agreed that counseling was the only thing that would save our marriage, Josh went to a couple sessions, after he missed two in a row I went home and dropped off my wedding band and engagement ring. On the day I helped Josh pack he handed me a brown paper bag, the kind he had taken his lunch in on the days he had actually packed one. My rings were in the bag. I started crying, he gave me a hug, that was the last time I slept with Josh and I don’t regret it either. I spent the night at his place, as far as I know it’s the last time either of us were there. I woke up to find that Josh had scraped the snow off my car off for me. There were muffins out on the counter, it was probably the first time he had ever woken up before I did. He asked me how things at work were going. Josh was the first person I told about my new job. When Josh asked if he could have my number I told him I’d think about it. He told me it was cool either way. Now I wish I would have given him my number.
One of the things I remember about that night was that it had snowed the night before. Josh knows that I love freshly fallen snow. I never saw any of the pictures he had taken with the digital camera. I refused to look at them because he had bought the camera without talking to me first. We had just found out that we were going to have a baby. Josh went on a business trip, he ordered the camera so it would arrive when he was gone. I was excited about the camera but after my miscarriage it was another reminder of things that didn’t work out. Josh’s birthday is in summer. Mine is in winter, it was something we used to joke about. How different we were and how opposites must attract because we were so compatible during the days when we were dating. It was just after Thanksgiving when our divorce was finalized. I walked outside, it had been snowing, it was still snowing but I didn’t see the beauty in it then. Josh didn’t look at me, I couldn’t look at him. We walked out of the courthouse we had gotten married in, my mom asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch but she understood when I shook my head. I had the day off, all I did was sit around crying.
The other day I ran into Josh’s mom. Josh has since remarried, I saw pictures of his children, his daughter looks just like he does. Josh’s mom talked to me for a couple minutes in the store. She loves being a grandmother, she filled me in on Josh and the rest of his family, his dad is looking forward to retirement. After a few minutes of chatting I wished her well, I asked if she’d say hi to Josh for me. She told me there were no hard feelings and to prove it she gave me a hug. Her hug was nice and tight, she told me my new winter hat looked like something Josh would pick out. It makes me look like a teenager but it’s warm so I like it. The hug and the hat combined with my new jacket should have kept me warm but as I walked across the parking lot I found that I was that much colder on the inside.