When I fell in love with my husband, I fell in love with all of him. He’s a funny, critical and brilliant musician and producer who loves food, satire and fighting for what’s right in the world. It never really occurred to me that the musician part was going to pose a problem.
But my husband is a touring musician, which means he’s away for long stretches—weeks, sometimes months on end—where he’s only available to talk on the phone for a few minutes at a time. There are small breaks in between when I resent him and rage because he’s messing with my flow (leaving piles of change, guitar picks and receipts like sticky obstacle courses through the house), and then we fall back in love all over again. But like everything else, his chosen profession got so much harder after we had our son.
It’s so unbelievably hard when it’s just my son and me. I feel a crushing fatigue that never really lifts, no matter how much chocolate or caffeine I inhale. I plan playdates and buy birthday presents and shuttle the small boy from parties to karate to soccer to piano. I swallow the feelings of invisibility that surround me. The person I remember myself being feels so very far away—dancing until my feet hurt, sleeping in, going to movies…it’s all gone. I’m on the treadmill to the next PA day or trip to the grocery store. Once, I got in the car and drove all the way to Ikea just so I could cry in a clean bed. And my son becomes my confidante, asking me how my day was, did I get enough sleep. The weeks grind by. The treadmill squeaks under my tired feet. I yearn for the occasional touch when the cashier hands me my change.
My husband FaceTimes, texts and calls as much as he can. And each day he looks more and more concerned about how we’re doing. A foam sword in the eye doesn’t help, nor do the colds, frozen pipes, sick parents or snowstorms that always occur when my husband is on a guilty beach with a mojito. I stop wanting to talk to him or see how his tan is coming along as I wander in after shovelling the walk. I become an overused machine that has no off switch.
It’s around this time—generally the fourth week of a six-week tour—when people start feeling badly for me. Friends offer to take my kid off my hands for a few hours so I can buy food, do laundry, go to the hairdresser (my white dreads are unintentional). It was one of those times when a nice couple invited me over for dinner and a playdate on a Sunday night.How to build a village
The meal was warm, consoling. A roast chicken with potatoes and carrots, a lovely salad. A glass of wine. I relaxed. I reclined. The family was so kind. Then, just as we were stacking our plates, the doorbell rang. “Oh, this is our nanny. She’s our babysitter, but she’s so much more. We just love her and the kids love her and she’s part of the family.” And there she was. Looking me up and down, and filling her plate with breast and thigh.
I felt kind of silly. Like I was reading something that couldn’t possibly be written. This person I didn’t know was making conversation with me while the hosts cleaned and refilled glasses. The children ran up and down the stairs but were mostly out of sight. I was just a person. Not a mother or a wife. Just a person talking to another person who seemed to care so much about my interests, the ins and outs of my day, my Netflix list. She got all my jokes, appreciated my randomness and didn’t seem to notice I hadn’t slept in six years. After the meal, she shook her finger at the husband while giving me a sideways look. “Where have you been hiding her?”
I blushed but was confused. I guess I was just a new breath of fresh air. A joke she hadn’t heard yet. I zipped up my son’s coat, and we made for our late bedtime. What a great night, I told them. What a treat. I can’t thank you enough for giving me the break from making dinner.
And then the nanny said: “Can I email you? You know, to plan a playdate for when I have the kids? We can have a tea in the park while they play.” Of course. That would be nice. Something to do in the day.
And I drove home with a little smile on my face. How nice—an unexpected friend. But she’ll never email me, and that will be that.
The next week, the couple asked if we could do it all again at my house. For reasons I cannot comprehend, I suggested they invite the nanny. I cooked something simple and put on perfume.
We spent the night laughing. And then it was time to pack up the kids for bedtime. As the family complimented my salad and searched for missing socks, we all hugged one last time. That’s when I noticed the nanny wasn’t putting on her coat. The husband said to the nanny, “Aren’t you coming?” Her response was unforced and easy. “I’m going to stay and help clean up and put the boy to bed.”
My face turned red. I took a swig of wine as they walked to their car and told her she didn’t have to stay. Upstairs, I read stories of Brainiac and Spider-Man, the Sub-Mariner and Thor, but all the while my heart was pounding. I thought that for sure she’d left while I sang lullabies and kissed his little forehead. But there she was in the clean kitchen with a fresh bottle of wine. We descended to the recently renovated basement and climbed aboard the “boat bed”—a couch so carefully chosen for family movie nights.
We finished the bottle quickly, nervously. Laughing, blushing, sometimes resting tired feet on warm legs or hair falling accidentally across a wrist. We locked eyes. Her hands were under the blanket, and I couldn’t breathe.
I said, “Look, I’m drunk and tired and maybe, yes, I think I might have a crush on you or something. I put on perfume.” WHAT DID I SAY THAT FOR? Her eyes lit up like green traffic lights. She smiled and said, “I’m glad because I’m feeling the same, except I’m not one of those perfume girls.”
“Oh. Well, I’m not one either. Heh, heh.”
What was happening? Who was this person sitting beside me? And more important, who was I and what was I doing? I felt like I was watching the whole thing from a nanny cam…which was ironic. Kind of. She started to rub my leg and lean in. I felt like I was slipping into oblivion and divorce.
“Um, this is my renovated basement, so…like…uh…what I’m saying is, this can’t happen.”
She blinked her dreamy green eyes. I looked down her shirt at the most fantastic breasts I’d ever seen. I was like a grade nine boy trying to see the bra of the girl in my math class. What?
“You need to go. I love my…my…my basement.”
She ran her finger down my arm.
“I’m way too drunk to go home now. I’m sleeping over. Let’s just lie here and fall asleep on the boat bed.”
This was going somewhere, someplace I’d never been. My son was sleeping two floors above our heads. I forced myself to stand up. “I gotta go upstairs. I gotta go to bed. You can stay, but I really have to leave.”
I stumbled up the stairs as the booze hit my brain. I could smell my unappreciated perfume. I heard her stage whisper from the front door, so I tiptoed to the top of the stairs.
“Where are you going?”
“Home. You don’t want me here. This is weird.”
“No, it’s fine. I invited you. Just stay downstairs. I’ll see you in the morning, OK?”
And then she looked me up and down one more time.
I ran to my room and changed into my old flannel nightgown, the one I had laboured in six years ago. The one I wore when I’d lie in bed and cry about my mother’s death. The same old stinky nightgown that I have pulled up and tucked behind my head because I’m too lazy to take it off when my husband and I have sleepy sex in the middle of the night.
And she was just downstairs, with her perfect, young breasts, her wanting eyes and reaching hands that were probably very skilled. She wanted me. She thought I was funny and interesting and sexy. She was waiting on my boat couch in her jeans that were tight all the way to the ankle. A poet and an artist, she wanted me and she was right there. All I had to do was walk down those stairs and slip under the patchwork quilt my mother had given me when I was pregnant. Slip my hands under her T-shirt, put my mouth on hers and let it all happen.
I could barely breathe. I walked down the hall to the stairs, one hand sliding down the railing, but then, at the very last second, I reached out behind me, and like JoBeth Williams in Poltergeist reaching for the children being swallowed up by the house and the static of the TV, my fingers clenched the door handle to my son’s room—the door my husband and I had bought off Craigslist because it looked like a pirate ship door. With my last bit of strength, I opened the door and quietly slid in.
Desperately, I found my way in the dark over jagged Lego pieces to his bed. I crawled in next to him. My angel. My saviour. My breathing calmed and I fell asleep, at last, finally safe in his arms.
The nanny stayed the whole next day, cleaning and helping out, and over the next few weeks she sent me many seductive texts and emails. We flirted at get-togethers. My eyes sparkled a shade brighter if she happened to be at the same six-year-old’s birthday party, and I always dressed up, just in case. But that was it.
And, as it does, time went on.
The best thing I did was tell my husband on the first night he got home. After a special dinner with mint ice cream for dessert, and after the boy was snuggled into bed, we tiptoed down to the basement to catch up. This wasn’t new. It was our ritual check-in after he got home from a long haul. What cities had the best food, what movies did he watch on the plane, and how did the parent-teacher interviews go, were there any cavities, the regular stuff. We are always careful with each other in this part of the reintegration—like a spaceship coming through the atmosphere, it’s a dangerous process. We could all burn up or get home safe and sound. And over the years, I know the intimacy is the thing that makes it all right. We find each other without words, but it can feel forced, so we’re careful, measured, delicate.
This time was different. I was different. I blurted it out as we sat under the same quilt on the same boat couch.
“I’m sorry. I love you, but I need more. I need more attention or for you to notice me or something,” I said. “And I only figured this out because of this really hot nanny.”
The nanny. He was shocked, but he understood. He was even OK with her babysitting for us from time to time. He trusted me, so I trusted me. It was done. The spell was broken. She was an idea or a little fairy to remind us that things can go poof if we don’t watch it. One day I’ll write her a thank-you card.
Maybe this is it.