1. Amelia: Modern Love Amelia MODERN LOVE
I FOUND OUT MY MARRIAGE was over the day my “Modern Love” piece appeared in the New York Times. The Modern Love piece about my thoroughly modern love with my husband, Thad, about our decision not to have children, about how we were choosing travel and wanderlust instead, living life on our own terms.
Little did I know that he was really living life on his own terms. While I was going to work every morning and he was “writing his first novel” in the dated downtown Palm Beach apartment that his octogenarian grandmother rented to us for next to nothing, he was actually playing house with a CrossFit obsessed god named Chase. In fact, when I ran home from work to show Thad my piece at nine that morning, it wasn’t Thad I found on the wood-framed yellow couch in our living room. It was Chase. I knew him because he was a hairdresser. My hairdresser. But I had never seen him quite like this: his neon green boxer briefs accenting his spray-tanned abs—both of which clashed horribly with the sofa, I might add—sitting nonchalantly under the portrait of Thad’s grandmother. She smirked inside her gilded frame, hair in a bouffant, choker pearls tight around her neck, earlobes dripping with rhinestones. It didn’t take long for me to put the pieces together.
I dropped the newspaper, the pages falling through the air in slow motion.
I wondered if Chase had bathed in the pink tub in the tiny master bath, if he had watched soap drip off his toes against the green tiles with hand-painted daisies, chipped and faded with age. I wondered if he had drunk vodka out of our crystal glasses, the ones I was certain were of a vintage that potentially contained lead and that, every now and then, I was positive were poisoning me.
As the last page drifted to the floor, I realized I had just written my love story for the entire world to read. And now it was over.
A baffled, wet-haired Thad emerged from the pink-and-green bathroom, a floral-print towel wrapped around his waist, and explained that I never came back home once I left for work, as though I were somehow in the wrong for discovering his affair. Lie to me. I promise I’ll believe you, I thought. But he didn’t. Instead, he tossed out the idea of the three of us—Thad, Chase, and me—living together. Ironically, our love was not that modern.
When people would console me later about the divorce, they would say, “Well, at least you split up before you had children.” I didn’t include in the column that I’d abandoned the idea of motherhood when I found out I was infertile at age fourteen. And I definitely left out the part about how the egregious number of baby showers I had attended over the past several years had made me curious about what it was like to feel flutter kicks in your belly. It had made me wonder what it might be like to take part in a rite of passage that was as normal to my friends as getting our first training bras or learning to drive a stick shift.
Their words made me realize how alone I felt, how I had made a decision to never let anyone into my life who would love me unconditionally, or, maybe more important, that I would love unconditionally. People always think being loved will change them. But that’s not true. It’s really, truly loving—with the kind of love you couldn’t take away even if you wanted to—that turns you inside out.
Cold panic washed over me. I felt myself back against the wall and slide down it until I was on the floor, the last page of newspaper crumpled in my hand. That paper was the only thing keeping me tethered to earth. As it always did when I felt like I was losing control, my recurring nightmare flashed through my mind. In it, Daddy is washing his old Cadillac in the gravel driveway of Dogwood, the sprawling waterfront home that has been in my family since before the Revolution. My father is a small farmer, and, well, the family money has all but run out. They could sell the valuable property, make a nice life for themselves somewhere else. But then, my mother argued, where would that leave Aunt Tilley?
Daddy’s nearly vintage Cadillac is dripping wet, and he is wearing one of those infomercial shammy gloves, rubbing soap circles on the car’s body.
The house starts off in good shape, like it is in real life, largely because Daddy, my brother, Robby, and I can fix absolutely anything. I could paint trim better than any professional by the time I was twelve years old. Robby can fix a refrigerator, rewire a car, splice cable, anything you need. Even still, as a child I always had the feeling that the grand home filled with heirlooms—the mahogany dinner table where Washington once carved his initials, the gilded china, the monogrammed sterling silver—was falling in around us. The fading opulence seemed incongruous with the too-small dresses I was squeezing into for the third year in a row.
As Daddy washes his car in the driveway, Aunt Tilley walks out on the porch in one of her Victorian getups, complete with corset and parasol, which she took to wearing after she lost her mind, before I was even born.
Only, when I look up, it isn’t Aunt Tilley who is residing in the east wing now. It’s me. Old, alone, and crazy as a bat, with my beloved family home falling down around me. And Trina, my sister-in-law, is calling, “Amelia, darling.” That’s when I wake up, sweaty and cold.
Some people dream about losing their teeth. I dream about losing Dogwood.
I never told Thad about the nightmare. Now I was glad I hadn’t. Because, it seemed, I was destined to become the spinster aunt in the attic, the subject of many a good Southern cautionary tale. Just like my poor, dear aunt Tilley. She was a little unhinged, but she was still my favorite.
No! I scolded myself. I was not Aunt Tilley. I was Amelia Saxton, investigative reporter, award-winning journalist, seeker of truth and lover of righteousness. I tried to convince myself, as I walked out the door, completely unable to hear what Thad was saying as he ran after me, that this was better. This facilitated my life plan: Rise to the top of my game as a journalist. Check. Become executive editor. Check. Become managing editor. Check. Next stop: editor in chief. My husband, Thad, was an anchor around my neck. Of course, true love had also been a part of my life plan. That was when the tears began. He had been the one my heart searched for. He had been the one that changed everything. The thought split me in two: How will I live without him?
But I was a girl who had grown up huddling by the cast-iron radiator in my too-big room when we didn’t have enough money for the heat bill. I was a teenager who had replastered living room ceilings after a storm caused them to cave in. I was a woman who had discovered pay inequities in local manufacturing and exposed that the largest business owner in town was preventing women from exercising their legal right to pump breast milk at work. I was a warrior. I always had been. The dissolution of my marriage was nothing more than a bump in the road.
No use crying over what could have been, I reassured myself as I wiped my eyes, stood up straighter, cleared my throat, and dug around for my concealer. Modern Love, take two, equaled solitude. It equaled throwing myself into work. My writing had always been my only real safe place. By getting lost in someone else’s story, I could blissfully forget my own, at least for a little while.
And the interview I had scheduled that morning would lead to a story that I felt in the marrow of my bones would be groundbreaking. It had taken me months to get this interview in the first place, and I knew I could never reschedule, despite the fact that my entire life had just gone up in flames. Even as sure as I felt, though, I couldn’t have predicted how important that one interview would turn out to be.
But life is like that. Sometimes the nothing moments are everything.