It's almost four o'clock when I pull into the garage attached to the house, bags of wine and groceries loaded into the trunk of my convertible. Correction: my Mercedes-Benz SLK350 roadster, storm red with a retractable hard-top. It was my husband's present to me for my thirty-fifth birthday. I think, with all the extras he had added onto the car, it cost close to a hundred grand. But that's like nothing for Paul, he probably paid it off in cash. This car, which costs a couple of years' worth of salary for the average family, is a sum of money my husband scoffs at. He also scoffs at the fact that I still insist on grocery shopping for the household. He likes to tell me that we don't need to stock the refrigerator with anything other than bottled water and zero-calorie sports drinks, because we have enough money to afford eating out two, three times a day. But that's not how my mother-in-law and I roll. That's how he rolls. He's an arrogant son of a bitch. He never used to be, but since his business took off, it's been...different.
I didn't need a house this big. Our house is almost six thousand square feet. That's a lot to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. That's a lot to clean. My mother-in-law, my MaMa, tsk-tsked at him when he insisted that she leave her home and move in with us after PaPa died. She didn't want to leave her split-level ranch, the one she'd owned for better than thirty years, to move into this ostentatious excuse of a house that the three of us live in now. I mean, there's a full-sized tennis court in the backyard. A tennis court! Next to the in-ground swimming pool!
The house is empty, which means that MaMa has gone out with her friends to play bridge, and I can fill the refrigerator with groceries without any interruptions. I bought plenty of non-fat vanilla yogurt for Paul, because he's been on this fitness kick for the last seven months. All he eats is broccoli, hard-boiled eggs, skinless chicken breasts and non-fat yogurt in addition to his protein shakes and bars. Which is why I laughed so hard when he suggested that we dine out three meals a day. I mean, what would he order? Would we go to a five-star restaurant for dinner so he could order a skinless grilled chicken breast with a side of steamed broccoli? Or six perfectly hard-boiled eggs with all but one yolk removed?
I bring in all the groceries from the car - excuse me, the SLK350, as Paul is wont to remind me to refer to the car as - and place them on the enormous grantite-topped island in our even more enormous kitchen. Our kitchen is like a shrine with all its grantite and marble swirls. Then I begin the monotonous task of putting them all away in our top-of-the-line Sub-Zero refrigerator. I place all forty-two containers of yogurt on the middle shelf with an exacting science. Yes, forty-two. Paul pops yogurt like candy, having one with all six of his daily meals, each spaced three hours apart. Once all the cartons are lined up in their specific (read: anal-retentive) space, I open up one of the three eighteen-count egg cartons that I purchased for my husband. I place the eggs in a pot of water and position the pot on top of the stove burner.
As the eggs begin to boil away on the stovetop, I put the rest of the groceries in the refrigerator. It doesn't take me long. There's plenty of room in this fridge, much more room than I have food. Per Paul's orders, I can't keep too much food in the house, because it might tempt him to cheat on his diet. It's probably the reason he wants to eat out three meals a day, there's less temptation than at home. I hear the gentle bubbles, the water coming to a slow boil, and I move to the stove to turn down the burner and set the timer for seventeen minutes. I watch the eggs boil and contemplate how I'm going to end my marriage.
I love Paul, I have always loved Paul, but he doesn't want to have children. All I have ever wanted is to be a mother, especially since he more or less forced me to quit my job because it was messing up his income tax bracket. I think a baby or two would complete our lives, give some meaning to this otherwise vanity case of an existence we have. But Paul doesn't want to. He likes his life, our life, the way it is now. He likes having money to spend on frivolous items, like this damn convertible. Again, excuse me, the SLK350. He likes going to the gym and working long hours and eating his yogurt and his broccoli and his damn hard-boiled eggs like it's his hobby.
When we got married ten years ago, we pledged to each other that we would start a family. At thirty, when my biological clock began ticking, he said no. He said he wasn't ready, that his business was taking off, and he needed five more years of time and expenses before we would be ready to have children. Then he told me to quit my job and come up with a hobby. So in the last five years, I've learned to cook. And bake. And clean. And maneuver around the grocery store with more grace, ease and class than June Cleaver herself.
I volunteer. I take three 90-minute Bikram yoga classes a week, plus 90-minute sessions on the treadmill three times a week. I go for a weekly massage, manicure, pedicure. Paul never tells me I spend too much money. He never complains when I bring home my once-monthly salon bill, which includes all the aforementioned items plus a haircut, highlight, bikini/eyebrow/upper lip wax, and facial. He says he's glad I've got something to do, that I know how to keep myself busy. And he approves of the way I look. When I look especially nice (read: when I look so good that I make him look good), he purchases something equally nice for me, like the beautiful pearl-and-diamond David Yurman pendant I've got hanging around my neck. I am his perfect trophy wife, and some days, I'm ashamed to admit, I more than happily occupy that role.
But it's not enough. I want to be a mom.
I broached the subject with him again just before my thirty-fifth birthday. It was the first time I'd mentioned the topic in five years, since the first time he shot down my request. He crisply, more like tersely, informed me that he decided he doesn't want to have children at all, they would interfere with his lifestyle, and I should just get the thought out of my head. "Or else," he warned me ominously, narrowing his eyes like he always does when he wants to get his way, "I'll start having sex with somebody who doesn't want children." He won't leave me, he'd never leave me. I'm the only woman he can trust because I loved him before he made all his money. But that wouldn't stop him from taking a mistress. Or five.
So I have to leave him. I have to be the bad guy.
I remove three bottles of wine from the grocery bag. Paul doesn't drink; it interferes with his diet and makes him "bloated." His word, not mine. So I drink by myself when I get lonely or sad, which happens more often than I would like. Sometimes MaMa drinks with me too. She still misses PaPa desperately, and she cries over how egotistical and superficial Paul has become. She raised him better than that. And sometimes, if she's had a little too much to drink, she tells me that I should leave Paul, that she would understand. "I'd miss you, Stephanie, but you have to do what's best for you." I bought a bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, a bottle of Sonoma Valley Chardonnay, and a bottle of Washington Valley shiraz. It may be just enough to placate the tears, at least for a short time. I decide on the chardonnay, because it's white and won't stain my teeth, and that way Paul won't know I've been drinking. As the eggs bubble away on the stovetop, I use my fancy gadget to uncork the wine and I pour myself a glass.
How did all this happen? How did I get here? I used to be a smart girl. I got my Bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry; I was a double-major kind of girl. I went on to get my graduate degree in biology only, because the thesis for chemistry just seemed too difficult. I suppose I could've gone to med school, or dental school, or vet school instead. I suppose I could've done any number of things. But I chose to go to ordinary grad school because Paul didn't want me to go away for my education. He begged and pleaded with me, with tears in his eyes, to continue my education at the same in-state school I'd gotten my Bachelor's degree from so that he wouldn't have to live without me. Thinking back, he probably didn't want me to be more successful than him down the road. Or maybe he was jealous because my grades were so much better than his. Paul may be a business and finance genius, but he wasn't exactly the best student. I suppose that's why he's so driven to succeed with his business. He wants to prove all his college advisers wrong.
I married him because he asked and I loved him. I wonder, do I still love him? Yes, I love him. But do I love him in that can't-breathe kind of way, that I-can't-live-without-you kind of way? I don't know anymore. I used to. But now I don't know. A lot of things have changed since he came into money, worst of all his attitude.
Paul used to be a wonderful person. He used to be loving and playful. Our first Christmas together, while we were still in college, he took me to the campus church to watch the choir sing holiday carols while the church bells rang. It made me fall for him right then, that he was soulful and traditional and so damn thoughtful. We held hands and smiled at each other, and I remember thinking, I am going to spend the rest of my life with this man. These little things, the sweet little actions, they were what made me purposely ignore the fact that Paul was controlling every aspect of my life. He used guilt and tears and anger to coerce me into doing everything he wanted me to do. And he won't give me children in return. He threatens to cheat on me. He made me quit my job and he belittles my intelligence.
For all these reasons, I need to leave him.
The timer goes off on the stove, meaning the eggs are sufficiently hard-boiled. I move to stand, looking down at the wine glass in my hand as I do so. It's empty. I drank an entire glass of wine without thinking, and on an empty stomach. Absent-minded. Miserable. My life may look perfect, but it is unbearable.
I drain the pot of the boiling water, fill it with cool water, and leave it in the sink. I will have to leave tonight, I think, and I will leave the other two bottles of wine for MaMa. She'll appreciate the gesture, as she will be the one alone with Paul from now on. Or maybe not. He'll probably take a lover tomorrow. I move back to my empty glass, where I pour myself more chardonnay and take long, solid sips. My second glass is empty by the time I hear the garage door opening. Paul is home for his quick pre-workout meal of a protein shake and steamed broccoli before heading off to the gym. I hear his car door slam and summon up enough courage in my body to tell him that we are over.