When Riley and I got married we had known each other for ten years. We had been best friends for nine of them and I had loved him for six. I knew him. Knew the music he liked, the way he looked when he was worried, and that when he said something was "great" he meant that it was shoot-to-the-moon-and-back fantastic. I thought that living with him would be more of the same. Young, foolish Meg. Living with a man is a wonderful, infuriating kind of thing and it is never more of the same. His sports consumption alone was a shock. Any sport, all sports, all the time. I once walked in on him and his brother watching a re-run of a mens college volleyball game .... from 1998. We had only been married about a month when I became (and remain) very territorial about food. Riley eats quickly and in man size quantities. I eat slowly and...in man size quantities. Ordering pizza brings out the worst in me. I actually start throwing elbows to keep him away from my slices. Down, boy, this half is for me. And then finally the most startling revelation of all, this man, who I have known since he was a boy, and I speak different languages. At times we cannot understand each other. And never had that been more obvious than it was after the birth of our first child.
Things changed after Margaret. I loved my husband and daughter, but couldn't feel much else. The postpartum depression slinked about the house until well into Margaret's first year and the shock of first time motherhood had leveled me. I couldn't pick myself back up. When I finally stopped crying on bathroom floors, I decided that must mean I was happy. Riley and I didn't fight, but we didn't laugh, either. I collected recipes I never cooked and started books I never finished. I had lost myself and couldn't be bothered to do a thing about it.
One night Riley came home from school, the baby was asleep and I was watching TV on the couch. My hair was pulled back, I was wearing three day old jeans and a t shirt I slept in the night before. I didn't get up when he walked in.
Hey, Riley. I'll make grilled cheese for dinner. Just give me a minute.
His eyes were grey and he looked so upset. I stood up.
If you don't want grilled cheese I can make something else.
He shook his head once and the words came out,
Megan, I married a girl that wears lipstick. You're so different now.
His sentence landed between us and for the first time in a long time I could feel something. I was angry. Angry at my wrinkled t-shirt and stale dreams. Angry about the dishes in the sink and that I hadn't written in over a year. And I was furious with this man that could walk through the door and tell me I had changed, before he had even said hello.
He tried to explain himself, we fought and I wouldn't listen. And then he left. Because I had told him to, had told him I couldn't be in the same room as someone as selfish as him. Someone that couldn't understand what I had been through, what had happened to me. Get out, I said. I don't care where you go or how long you stay gone, I just can't be here with you now. The car pulled out of the driveway and the house was quiet. I cried on our bed, my body stretched from one corner to the other.
How dare he? Who the hell did he think he was? He married a girl who wore lipstick? Was this the 1950's? Didn't he know that in the past year everything had changed? Life had become deeper, but it had also become harder. He left for school and work everyday. He walked in the world before returning home. I walked with a stroller before returning home for story time and diaper changes and a third change of clothes after the seventh time I had been spit up on. Yes, he had married a girl that wore lipstick and dresses and earrings. Someone that ran to the door when he came home. He married a girl that wanted to write and explore. Someone that could look at herself and be happy with who she saw. Didn't he know I missed that? That I woke up at night panicked because another day had gone by and I had become an even vaguer version of myself? My life had grown and there was no room for who I used to be.
Didn't he know what I had given up?
And that final question shocked the tears dry. Didn't he know what I had given up? And I knew he did. He understood exactly what I had given up. He married a girl that thought she could do big things and wanted to live a hundred bright colors at a time. He married a girl that wore lipstick. And then Riley had seen me put away dreams and settle for what I thought life was supposed to be. My husband had watched the woman he loved pale and wilt. And that man, who was driving in the dark somewhere, had come home to tell me I didn't have to give anything up. In his own crazy, seriously-what-dialect-is-that language, he was trying to say, Please Megan, let me help you have it all. And I, acting on preconceived notions and frustrated with myself, had told him he was selfish, told him to leave, told him to be quiet.
He came home and I met him at the door. I was sorry and he was worried. We spent the night talking and then not talking (if you know what I mean). I was married to a man that could see me even when I couldn't see myself. Early the next morning, I fell asleep to the sound of his breathing and didn't wake up once. The next day I showered, made breakfast and kissed him before he left for work.
And then I put on some lipstick.