The plot was hatched last night. It began as a dare by my friends Anne and Sarah, and after a couple of drinks it was settled. We would go as curiosity seekers, observers of the human condition, anthropologists of a sort. So now here we are, lurking behind a low stone wall on the edge of Central Park, across the street from the church where my ex-husband is taking a spanking new bride. We are here to spy.
Friends of mine tipped me off to where the wedding would be held. They were invited, but boycotted the festivities in a show of solidarity. Why they gave me the information, I don’t know, but it’s safe to say they had no idea what I would do with it.
As Anne, Sarah and I wait for the happy couple to emerge aglow in connubial bliss, I imagine myself a Pygmy armed with poison darts: thwack—straight into their necks. Down the church steps they would tumble, a tangle of tulle and Armani. Blood would trickle onto her lovely white dress; her high heel would impale his heart. “Such a pity,” their friends would say. “They were so in love.”
My 10–year-old daughter is a flower girl in the wedding. I never asked what her dress looks like. I don’t know who will sit with her three-year-old sister during the cere-mony or how the girls feel about this event. When their father picked them up yesterday, they were unusually quiet. “Have fun,” I said, as I kissed them good-bye, wishing I really meant it. They’d said almost nothing about the wedding, and I had no idea how to approach the topic. I felt guilty about my silence until my therapist told me that if the girls wanted to talk, they would, but not to press them. “Children of divorce are conflicted,” she said. “They find it hard to bridge the two worlds.” I know how they feel; I find it hard to bridge the two worlds too.
“What if the children see me?” I ask Sarah, as I peek up over the wall. “The last thing I want is for them to see their mother conduct-ing covert operations. They’ll think I’m pathetic.”
“You are pathetic,” Sarah replies. “But it doesn’t matter. They’ll never spot us here.” The park is lush with greenery, and we are posi-tioned approximately a hundred yards to the left of the church. I pray she is right. I wouldn’t be on this mission if I’d had time to adjust to the idea of my ex’s remarriage, but this is May and we were officially di-vorced only last August. After 10 years of marriage and two children, he left with the simple explanation that he “didn’t want to be married anymore.” The day after my attorney informed me that the divorce was final, my now-ex called to tell me he was engaged.
With the children to focus on, I’ve barely had time to figure out how to be single again—and he has a whole new wife. I have no idea who she is or how they met, which is just as well, I suppose. The less I know, the less I hurt. But still, I wonder, what kind of fool would leave a girl like me? What does she have that I don’t, other than my husband?
I don’t share my questions with my friends for fear they will answer honestly. Instead, I engage in small talk, pretend that skulking behind a giant oak with a pair of binoculars is perfectly normal behavior. Anne has appointed herself lookout, and she takes her responsibility seriously. The binoculars are hers. We pass them back and forth, adjusting the focus until we have it just right. After an interminable 45 minutes, people begin emerging from the church.
“Give me those,” I say, grabbing the binoculars out of Anne’s hands. I realize as I peer through them that there is something twisted about this. It’s sort of like watching your own open-heart surgery. Without anesthesia.
“It’s Paul and Ellie. Those turncoats!” I gasp, even though I never liked either of them. I have a similar reaction every time anyone I know walks out, including my former in-laws. Somehow, I’d hoped they wouldn’t attend.
The guests mill about the church steps in the warm spring sun. They must be preparing for some pagan ritual like throwing rice or rose petals or maybe pebbles. Pebbles would be a new and interesting thing to throw.
People tossed rice at my wedding. My mother and my Aunt Pat made little packages out of tulle, tied with pale pink ribbons, the same color as my bridesmaids’ dresses. My husband and I dashed under the shower of grain hand in hand while our friends and families clapped and cheered. I was 28 and hopeful. Now I’m 41 and cynical.
Through binoculars, I identify various other traitors. My ex walks out onto the church steps and waves like a politician. Beside him is a woman wearing a fancy white dress. I presume she is the bride. This is the first time I have laid eyes on her and I want to declare her heinous, but I can’t discern her features. She’s tall and thin, I can see, but other than that, she’s a blur.
It has been more than two years since my husband left, long enough for me to figure out that we were wildly incompatible. But seeing him standing there with his new wife almost makes me sick. If he had just told me that he was sorry or that he never meant to hurt me, maybe I could deal with this like a grown-up.
My girls appear next to their father. From this distance they look like dolls in poofy dresses. I want to know who dressed them, who helped them with their hair. I want to know if they are sad inside, or happy for their father. I want to dash across the street, snatch them off the steps and keep running without ever looking back.
Back in January, my ex asked me if he could have the children for this weekend. Knowing what he wanted them for, I went through the calendar week by week to figure out whose weekend it was while he stood by watching. Lo and behold, it was mine.
“Well,” I said, looking up, “we’ll just have to see how you behave between now and then.” He turned on his heel and stormed out of the apartment. I’m not so hateful that I would have refused to let the girls participate. I just wanted to provoke him.
I am trying to zoom in on the scene with the binoculars when Anne says, “Jan . . . Jan . . . Jan . . . shit!”
“What?” I ask, annoyed by the interruption. Then I look up. It is Bill (fake name, real tuxedo), the best man in the wedding, fast ap-proaching. I can’t believe he has made it all the way down the steps, across the street and 10 paces away before anyone noticed.
I wish for a massive earthquake or for a grizzly bear to emerge from the trees and swallow me whole. I close my eyes for a moment, the way a two- year-old plays peek-a-boo, as in, “If I can’t see you, then you can’t see me.”
When I open them, Bill is standing directly in front of me wearing the most patronizing expression possible. You were in my wedding too, Bill, I think. How could you betray me like this?
“What’s up?” I ask, as if I just happen to be hanging out in the area with a pair of binoculars.
“Not much,” he answers. “How’s it going?”
I start babbling about how happy I am, how much fun I’m having dating. My face is so flushed I can feel the heat rising off my cheeks, but I can’t make myself shut up. Bill doesn’t say much in response, just the occasional “Uh huh,” accompanied by a condescending nod. When I am finished with my spiel, he says, “Nice hat.”
Then I remember that in an attempt to go incognito, I am wearing a baseball cap. My friend Julie gave it to me to commemorate a date I had with a guy named Jeff. He’d stood me up with the excuse that he got stuck at happy hour, then called the next day to apologize and suggest that he just Rollerblade over. “No,” I said to him. “You’re not Rollerblading over.” Julie, single as well, had my answer emblazoned on a cap for my birthday. This is just peachy, I think. My ex is remarried, and I am a walking advertisement for bad dates. Fortunately, I have the sense not to explain the hat to Bill. Instead, I just say, “Thank you,” and snatch it off my head.
I want desperately to know who else knows I am here—my ex? His bride? Or god forbid, my children? I don’t dare ask. I don’t want to have to kill myself on the spot, which seems like the only logical thing to do if the answer to any of the above is yes.
Finally, Bill reaches over and gives me a hug. “You go on home,” he says. Loosely translated, this means, “Please get out of public view to avoid further humiliation.” A million thoughts run through my head—bribing him, murdering him, begging him—anything to keep him silent. “Good seeing you,” I say as I turn to leave. Bill heads back to join the wedding party on the church steps. Soon they will be off to a soirée with free-flowing Champagne and fancy hors d’oeuvres while I contemplate playing in traffic.
Rather than emerge into plain view, my friends and I walk all the way through the park to catch a cab. On the way, we discuss exactly what it was that made us think this was a good idea in the first place. I don’t have a clue. Anne is feeling too sheepish to suggest much of anything. Sarah thinks I needed closure. “Well, I certainly got that,” I say.
We arrive at my apartment building, and I go upstairs alone, feeling like the biggest loser on the planet. The only way to deal with this, I realize, is to remain under the delusion for the rest of my life that maybe, just maybe, no one else knew I was there.
My girls won’t be home until tomorrow. With only the TV to keep me company, I can’t remember ever being lonelier. Some part of me always thought that my ex would come to his senses, beg my forgiveness, tell me what a fool he was to leave. I imagined a Graduate-like scenario, where he would turn and run screaming from the church, back to me, his one and only true love. “It will never work,” I’d say. “There’s been too much damage. Now I’m dumping you.” So much for that fantasy.
I get up off the couch to pour myself a glass of wine, light a candle, look for something to read. As I stare absentmindedly at my book-shelf, I remember the letter I wrote to my then-husband right after he left, apologizing for anything I had ever done to hurt him. I thought if I were the bigger person, he would apologize too. I wanted to know that he cared about me on some level, even if he didn’t love me.
But after today, I realize it’s unlikely that he’s ever going to apologize. And maybe he’s not even sorry. They say that acceptance is the final stage of grief. What they don’t say is that some people have to make big-ass fools out of themselves to get there.
JAN BARKER lives and works in New York City. She reports that her espionage days are happily behind her.
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