A funny, wise, and bittersweet story about love, marriage, and discovering too late, that you made a mistake.
The first time he called he told me this whole long story about meeting me at a party and seeing me in the library and being in the same English class as my roommate Piper. By then I was too embarrassed to tell him I didn’t know who the hell he was, so I said, yeah, sure, lunch would be fine.
When I interrogated Piper about him, she said, “Michael Wedlan? Oh yeah. Real cute. Real smart. Nice guy. But not your type.”
“Why isn’t my type cute, smart, and nice?” I asked.
“I think Michael was in Vietnam,” she said. “All his English compositions are about jungles and mutilated bodies.”
“Oh,” I said, the corners of my mouth grimacing downward. “Not my type.”
It was 1972, and in the interest of school spirit, I’d done my share of protest marching and candle lighting and banner drawing, but I could never quite work myself into the proper frenzy. I descended from a long line of mild-mannered, extremely pleasant people who, having successfully escaped the pogroms of Czarist Russia, promptly dedicated their lives to avoiding anything smacking of politics. Other students were so passionate about hating Vietnam. But I didn’t want to hate anyone. I was having a good time.
Michael suggested we meet at the YMCA cafeteria. In my three years at the University of Illinois I had dined in many of the finer culinary establishments in town—Burger King, Steak ’n Shake, the dorm—but never the YMCA. I stood in front of the TODAY’S SPECIAL: CREAM OF MUSHROOM sign, surrounded by sounds of scraping chairs and clinking silverware, waiting for someone who might have been a soldier in Vietnam, someone who might have actually napalmed babies and burned villages.
What if the guy was insane? The papers were filled with tales of crazy Vietnam vets. What if I was about to have lunch with a crazy man?
The more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. Plenty of women knew men who would kill for them. But I was about to meet one who knew how.
Piper had instructed me to look for a sort of tall guy with sort of dark hair and maybe green eyes. “That’s it? Nothing more specific?” I said.
“If you mean will he be carrying a weapon and have a jagged scar across his face—no, Franny, probably not.”
As I was checking my watch and thinking maybe soldier boy wasn’t showing, a tall dark-haired man with green eyes walked up, radiating confidence with his straight posture and square shoulders, like someone had stuck a yardstick down his back.
He was wearing a white shirt, rolled up at the sleeves and tucked into his jeans, which surprised me. I guess I was expecting fatigues.
“Oh good, you waited,” he said, guiding me toward the cafeteria line. “Do you know what you want to eat?” This was a man who got right down to business.
I stared at rows of little dishes filled with balls of egg salad. “It all looks so healthy.” I said the word healthy like the food was repugnant.
“You’re not into health food?” he said.
“Not unless I can wash it down with a Twinkie.”
Michael paid for his tuna fish sandwich and glass of milk, and the red Jell-O, Coke, and French fries on my tray, after saying hello to the salad lady and greeting the cashier. He was awfully friendly for a killer.
In this memoir told with self-deprecating and wry humor, a forty-two-year-old woman falls in love, packs her bags, and moves to the city that eats its young.
When Randy Arthur of New York City separated from the first Mrs. Arthur, he left home with two suitcases, the stereo speakers, an agreement he’d get the children alternate weekends and every Tuesday and Thursday night, and a Five Year Plan.
It broke his heart to leave the children, left him broke to leave Mrs. Arthur, but after years of feeling unappreciated by the woman he’d married twelve years earlier, it was a decision he felt compelled to make.
As Five Year Plans go, Randy’s wasn’t up there with, say, Stalin’s Five Year Plans to industrialize the Soviet Union, but still, he felt a strong commitment to it. He’d focus on work, the children, pay the bills – and have lots of short term, non-committal, no strings attached relationships with a variety of beautiful women.
He was honest with the women he dated; told them right up front that he didn’t want to get involved. But of course they never believed him. He was too attentive, too affectionate; in lieu of their names he called them “sweetheart” and “beautiful,” leaving each woman under the impression that she was his beautiful sweetheart.
As soon as anyone got too close, attempted to buy theatre tickets for shows months away, or suggested he redecorate the living room of his small one bedroom apartment, maybe hang some pretty curtains, he said a gentle good-bye. His priority was the children whom he never introduced to any of the beautiful sweethearts; he didn’t want eight-year-old Phoebe and five-year-old Benjamin growing attached to women who would soon be moving on. It was a good plan, and because of his up-frontness with each succeeding participant, arguably an honorable plan, and should have been reasonably successful if he hadn’t screwed it up in Year Two.
His best friend Dan who now lived in California suggested Randy call Linda who lived in Chicago, best friend of Dan’s girlfriend Lynn. And if you failed to track that, ignore it, continue on, and go with the flow.
“What do I need with calling some woman who lives seven hundred miles away?” Randy said to Dan. In the interest of male bonding they spoke on the phone almost every week.
“My gut says you’ll like her.” Dan had a large gut so Randy tended to trust it. “She was here last year right before you were. She’s tall. Dark hair. Decent body. She wrote a book. You should read her book. See what you think.”
“What’s her book about?”
“Her dead husband.”
“Great. Already she sounds like fun.”
“What have you got to lose?” Dan said.
“Airfare,” Randy said.
But after Randy’s current girlfriend started mumbling things about maybe leaving a toothbrush at his apartment, Randy began to think there might be certain advantages to dating someone out of town. Get together. Share a few laughs. Score some easy gratuitous sex, then escape on a plane. Talk about your no strings attached. The only thing better than a woman you don’t plan to see again is a woman you’ll never run into again.
So he called me.
A whip-smart, cynical writer, assigned to write about New York City romance “in the style of Nora Ephron,” learns to open her heart to the one man who can go one-on-one with her.
Ten minutes after saying “I do” at the Garden City Hotel in Long Island, I was already having my doubts. But how do you say “I don’t” to a man who’s considered quite the catch. Everyone was constantly telling me—even strangers—that Evan Naboshek, of the firm Naboshek, Halla, and Weiss, was a fabulous hell of a prize.
In answer to the question, should anyone ask, “So how’d you two lovebirds meet?”—it started when lovebird #1 stepped out of a cab into a puddle. I was trying to open my umbrella at the same time I was juggling my grocery bags, spilling tomatoes, peppers, onions, three frozen-lemonade cans, and a dozen eggs onto the sidewalk. A dashing stranger went dashing after my produce, holding his umbrella aloft like Don Quixote.
That’s all it took. I fell in love.
Evan has all the tall, dark, and gorgeous attributes that add up to trouble. The deep-set eyes. The Roman nose.
The square jaw that I later wanted to slug. Despite the rain, his custom-made suit looked perfectly pressed, and when he handed over a runaway onion, I noticed his French cuffs with the gold links and that he wasn’t wearing a wedding band. Not that a bare finger’s any indication of a man’s availability, but at least you’ve got a fifty-fifty shot.
Balancing his umbrella over both our heads, Evan helped me restuff my plastic grocery bags and escorted me to the corner garbage can, where I ceremoniously dumped the sticky egg carton. The tomatoes, peppers, and onions also met their maker. The dented lemonade cans survived, but my dignity was a goner. Rain will wash away the mess, my knight in shiny tailoring assured me, his words sounding like a song lyric. I pictured droplets dancing around Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard; rain cascading over Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell. I wanted to sing: The sun will come out tomorrow!
Back then, I was still capable of dreams.
“Next on your agenda?” my rescuer asked, his smile revealing the best set of veneers this side of a TV anchorman.
I opened my umbrella. “Home,” I said, nodding at my apartment building, your basic white-brick Upper East Side building. “I splurged on a cab so I wouldn’t get my groceries wet.”
“Well, that didn’t go well.” He laughed. But not an at-me laugh, more of an at-the-situation laugh.
Beneath our now-adjoining umbrellas, he told me he was a partner in a law firm and would be happy to help me sue Mother Nature should my grocery debacle result in whiplash, adding, though, that he didn’t usually specialize in curbside accidents. His expertise was divorce.
If only I’d listened.
I thanked him for pursuing my salad ingredients and said I could probably manage the last twenty steps without requiring legal aid.
He invited me for coffee to help me de-chill from the rain.
“You aren’t a married divorce lawyer, are you?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’m a happily divorced divorce lawyer.”
Like I said, trouble, trouble, trouble.
He waited in my lobby while I hurried upstairs, jammed my lemonade cans into my freezer, googled him, changed out of my wet shoes and shirt, spent three minutes blow-drying my hair into a semblance of presentable, and returned downstairs.
Evan was talking into his cell phone and held up two fingers to indicate he’d only be two minutes. Except he was still on the phone fifteen minutes later, so maybe what he was really doing was making a peace sign. While I sat in the chair opposite his, I waved hello to my neighbor, Mrs. McBriarty, who was passing by on her walker. I went and checked my mailbox, then came back and sat down again across from my future husband.
On the phone Evan sounded like a real hardnose, demanding this, outraged at that, saying things like This matter is not closed! If you want to go to court, my client’s happy to go to court! He insisted on the house in the Berkshires and the condo in Aspen, and that the lease be paid off on the Lexus immediately. But when he did look up at me, he had this warm smile on his face. He mouthed, Just one second, then went back to being Mr. Kick-Ass Tough Guy. In the early stages of our courtship, his ability to switch personalities on a dime seemed powerful and sexy, a masterful manipulation of mood and emotions, the key to his success in a courtroom. I later found myself bemoaning that nobody warned me I’d be married to Dr. Jekyll.
Warnings? Warnings? There were a million warnings, all of which I chose to ignore. I preferred to focus on the late-night dinners at Del Posto, Evan’s car-service Lincolns versus my subway MetroCard, his three-bedroom Park Avenue apartment (so much nicer than my crowded studio apartment), the barrage of red roses, and the juicy gossip about his clients’ nasty divorces. We’d call it lawyer-girlfriend privilege when he’d tell me off-the-record stories.
“Promise you’ll pretend I never told you this?” he’d say.
“Scout’s honor.” I’d say.
My Girl Scout leader Mrs. Tuke would have been ashamed of me.
Evan liked blabbing scuttlebutt as much as I liked hearing it. The man couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Or his zipper. That little tidbit he did keep quiet.
I loved his smooth life. He loved my curvy butt. I loved the way he looked at me. He loved that I looked up to him. I didn’t question when Mr. Spill the Beans excused himself to take calls in private. I didn’t question his nonstop honeyed words. I allowed myself to believe that I was so clever, so witty, that I was his one-woman sideshow.
And, oh, how he won over my family! He admired my mother’s arts and crafts, heaped flattery on my youngest sister Lisa’s punch recipe, complimented my sister Jocelyn’s insightful observations about the ailing euro, and volunteered to play Ping-Pong with my father. Twenty minutes after meeting the guy, my parents were wanting to book the caterers. I was almost thirty-one years old; it was time, they said, and I suppose I felt so, too.
When it came to track records for romance, I wasn’t what you’d call a gold medalist. My ability to find relationships hurtling nowhere was worthy of a Hubble telescope. Sophomore year at SUNY Albany, I fell head over boots (there’s lots of snow in Albany) for Glenn-with-two-n’s Crosse-with-an-e when we got into a debate in our Great American Writers class on the subject of Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf and geniuses committing suicide. Glenn argued on the side of genius leads to suicide. I argued on the side of that’s ridiculous. We dated for two years, most of it spent arguing. Last I heard, Glenn was a magician living in Colorado and selling hallucinogenic mushrooms.
After moving to Manhattan postcollege, I often suggested to my first New York City boyfriend, Clive the Actuary, that we buy tickets for a Broadway show, hear some tunes, see some stars, although his idea of great theater was the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. To be fair, he tried. We turned down a Memorial Day–weekend invitation to Fire Island so I could see The Producers. (“The beach!” he said. “Nathan Lane!” I said.) As soon as I opened the program, twenty little sheets of white paper fluttered out, each saying that for that night’s performance, understudy so-and-so would be substituting for regular so-and-so. Clive shook his head. “Even Mathew Broderick would rather be out of town.”
Three weeks later we split up. Clive got custody of the Knicks. I got custody of Times Square.
I dated Vince, then Bobby, then Sean. I broke up with Vince, then Bobby, then Sean. I seemed to be on a six-month plan with each guy. We’d be moving along fine, and at just about that six-month point I’d ask, “So, how do you think things are going with us?” and that would lead to a discussion and the discussion would lead to a realization and that’d be that. Just to be safe, I didn’t ask my next boyfriend, Brett the Paramedic, how things were going after six months. He asked me. And that was that.
I had no idea how other women did it, how’d they know what they were getting and love what they were getting. I just kept stumbling my way from one romance to the next. Of course, the relationships started out well. I wasn’t a masochist. But before long the initial fascination would wear off; the guy with the six-pack abs was never around because he was always at the gym; the man who made me feel needed was too needy; the guy who taught me the difference between Syrah and Shiraz was a closet alcoholic. By the time Evan showed up I didn’t trust myself to know what I was supposed to want. And what with everyone I ever met in my entire life, including me, in awe of his charm and seduced by his magnetism, and saying I’d be out of my freaking mind if I let this one get away, well—suddenly I was registering at Bloomingdale’s.
Oh. And we were fabulous in the sack together. The dynamic duo. Scarlett and Rhett. Antony and Cleopatra. Tarzan and Jane. I’m sure I wasn’t the first woman to find herself wearing lace and tulle and standing with an armful of white lilies because of sex. Love may be blind, but great sex is the ultimate blindfold. I wanted Evan to be perfect, so I assumed he was. He gave me excuses; I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. He was my fiend with benefits.
After everything unraveled, I’d rerun the Evan and Molly Show in my head, searching for the missed signals. With the genius of hindsight I’d write lists filled with signals galore.
Five things about Evan Naboshek under the heading “I Should Have Known Better”:
1. Just because a man buys his socks at Barneys does not mean he won’t wear them twice.
2. Cheap tipper when no one else is around. If he’s entertaining a client in a fancy-schmancy restaurant, he’ll be sure to lay on the 20 percent. But if some poor guy delivers spring rolls and moo shu pork on a freeze-your-ass-off night, Mr. Big Shot hands the guy a quarter.
3. Baby talk. There are some women in this world who are not comfortable being called Poopsum or Daddy’s Little Girl. I am one of them. “How’d you like the appellate judges of New York State to hear you talking like that?” I’d say, not that it did Poopsum any good.
4. Farts on cue. I suppose some people might consider this an admirable ability, people who are still in fraternities or under ten years old. “Pull my finger” is one of Evan’s favorite jokes. He can also wait an entire evening, getting through a cocktail party, dinner party, and after-dinner cocktails, saving all his best stuff until he gets home and lets her rip, often driving me out of our bedroom screaming into the night.
5. Always asks for a better restaurant table. Always. We were seated at the head table at our wedding and I was waiting for Evan to request a better table.
None of these are major enough reasons for breaking up, but all constitute possible lifetime annoyances.
Oh, and then there’s number six:
6. Left me for another woman.
That last one is a good reason for splitting up.
I found out about Evan’s messing around because he didn’t have the decency to shut down his home computer. E-mail messages with inappropriate subject headings from his legal secretary Diane Forlenza—that was her name at the time, although now it’s Diane Forlenza Naboshek—were just sitting there right on the open screen where I couldn’t help but notice them while dusting. (I was a wife who actually cared enough to straighten out my husband’s desk and dust his keyboard and mouse. Can any woman have been a bigger fool? While I was dusting Evan’s pencil box, he was dusting Diane’s.) And she was always so nice to me when I called the office. So nice that Evan would come home from work and I’d be complimenting Diane: “You’re so lucky to have her.”
Oh, Molly, Molly, Molly.
To amp up the cheesy quotient, when I was emptying my dresser drawers and tossing shirts and skirts into my suitcase, bellowing, “Your secretary? Your secretary? What could be triter!”—he had the nerve to correct me and tell me she preferred to be called administrative assistant. Like the real problem was that I’d demoted her. Bags in tow, I grabbed a taxi to Penn Station and a train out to my parents’ house in Roslyn.
At night I’d read suicidal poems by Anne Sexton. Suicidal poems by Sylvia Plath. And cynical poems by Dorothy Parker. I’d pity myself. I’d berate myself. I’d pity myself. Back and forth in my head like a crazy woman, and when I was done with that routine, I’d cry into my pillow on the convertible couch in my former childhood bedroom that was now my mother’s arts-and-crafts room, and then I’d get mad at myself for crying because crying gives you wrinkles and someday I might want to start dating again. Although not any day soon. Maybe never.
How is it some people get their hearts trampled and they bounce right back and fall in love again, no questions asked. Is it because they don’t ask questions? I could no more easily figure out love than I could figure out the insides of a toaster. I longed to believe in romance and excitement and possibility. But deep-down love, deep-in-the-ventricles-of-your-heart love, was something that happened to other people, make-believe people in fairy tales and movies.
I’d walk past the romance sections in bookstores gazing over all those covers of women faint with lust in the arms of bare-chested pirates and sweaty slave masters, their eyes gleaming with passion. Hey, ladies, have fun while you can.
I imagined their six-month talks:
DAMSEL: Well, Sinbad, you’ve been ripping my bodice for half a year now and I was wondering just where this relationship is heading.
SINBAD: Huh? I’m a pirate. Where the hell do you think it’s heading? I’m on the next ship outta town, baby.
My entire marriage lasted twelve days short of three years. It would have been our leather anniversary. I looked it up. To celebrate, I went out and bought myself a new wallet.
The divorce itself took four months to finalize, which in the State of New York with its archaic laws at the time (no no-fault, just fault fault) constituted some kind of legal miracle. (Unless, of course, a too-big-for-his-britches and often-not-in-his-britches lawyer pays off a few judges. Not that I’m insinuating anything.) To unload his guilty conscience along with his wife, Evan covered the security deposit and two years’ rent on a one-bedroom for me. My new apartment was only a block away from the puddle-laden street where we first met. I had a better view than from my pre-Evan apartment—but a more jaundiced view of love.