I had to admire Carl. What he did amounted to adultery– I suppose it was adultery plain and simple– yet he had the courage to leave me and set up a household with Robert. For Robert, it took even more of a leap of faith, since his wife was pregnant at the time of their return from their last tour, so he was leaving an infant daughter. Beth would hardly call his leaving an act of courage– more like cowardly, craven, selfish, and cruel.
It turned out that I was thrilled when Carl decided to leave my house and my bed; like too many abandoned spouses, I was secretly relieved and wondered how Robert would cope with his pickiness, his impossible standards, and his constant demands. Good luck, Robert, I said to myself, smugly. I am not saying I didn’t love Carl when we got wed. I did. But either Carl changed, or I did, or we both did.
Beth never enjoyed Robert’s occasional meanness or his temper, but they shared a dream of home, family, military advancement, travel, success. He promised upside down and sideways to support the new baby, whom they named Deborah, both financially and physically, but Beth felt this commitment was far from solid as his visits dwindled to four times a week to twice a week. “She’s nursing,” Robert said, a valid point. Beth grumbled and fretted, fearing a future as a single mother, which was far from the fantasy she had nursed for twenty-five years.
I completely enjoyed my solitude. I could walk around the house with unwashed hair, leave dishes in the sink, wear a silk blouse with jeans, swear, laugh too loud, stay up late… It was heaven. Of course I missed Carl in some ways, but if I tallied up the pros and cons either way, solitude was a solid winner.
Beth looked weary of life when I visited her and the new baby. Of course it was a lot of work, especially on one’s own, and I tried to help when I could. I manipulated Carl and Robert to babysit late into the night one Saturday while Beth and I tried to enjoy a night out. She felt her status as new mother was stamped on her forehead and that no man would find her attractive. I told her not to worry, let’s just have a few drinks and dances and have fun. She tried and failed. I tried and succeeded. Such was life.
And then she met Roman, a retired Colonel, a widower, financially comfortable, handsome in a James Brolin kind of way, a sucker for a pretty face, and raised to believe that a white knight was the highest and truest manifestation of manhood.
Beth wouldn’t tell me how she really felt about him. But she sparkled in his presence, praised him lavishly for the way he held little Deborah in his arms, and was close to tears at every kindness he showed as if such gestures were previously unknown in her world.
Robert, in the middle of settling down with a new partner, found Roman more than a distraction. His emotions and attentions fluctuated, from catering to Carl and a new relationship, and criticizing and attempting to undermine Roman. He found there was not enough time for both.
He chose, much to my surprise, to make Roman his enemy.