The Opposite of Free
Angi Becker Stevens
I bought the cheapest wedding band I could find—$59.95 at
Kmart, and worth every penny. I started wearing it to bars not so that
men would leave me alone, but for the opposite reason, so that they
would take me home with no strings attached.
There are plenty of men looking only for casual arrangements. The
trouble is that if you are a woman and you claim you want the same
thing, men think one of two things: either you're lying, just trying to
get your hooks in and next thing they know you'll be talking about china
patterns, or you're a slut. Men, I've learned, are suspicious if you
are too willing. They want sex without commitment, but they balk when
it is actually offered. Marriage frees a girl from these things. When I
meet a man, I am trapped in a dead-end unfulfilling marriage. I am
looking for someone to make me feel desired for one night, or maybe a
succession of Saturday nights. I cannot possibly be seeking all the
stickiness of commitment; I'm already up to my eyeballs in that. Nor am
I trashy. I'm simply lonely, unappreciated, unloved. Men are free to
date me, even to pine for me, without the threat of any expectations. I
am exactly what they're looking for.
For me, the arrangement has been no less perfect. Everything is on my
terms. Men cannot call me because my husband could be around, so I have
to call them. We cannot ever go to my place. If I want to break it off,
I need only say that I am weighed down by guilt, that I want to make an
honest go of working this whole marriage thing out. Men accept
boundaries and ground rules from me that they would never tolerate from
a single woman. And late at night, I go home to my own apartment, my
own life. I stretch out in a bed that is only mine.
It sounds hopelessly naïve, but I never saw any of the ways
this could become complicated. I counted on myself to not fall in love.
I've been sleeping with David on and off for nearly a year now, though,
and I am trying to decide whether I am willing to leave my imaginary
husband for him. David has not ever met my parents or my sister or my
friends. He has never seen my apartment. And yet there are strings
attached, anyway. Sticky filaments wrapped around us like a web. I'm
pretty sure that I love him. I'm just not sure if that's enough.
"Martin doesn't deserve you," David tells me. Though he has never met
Martin, because he does not exist, David feels qualified to make this
judgment. What I'm thinking about is what I deserve, and what I don't.
Once, this kind of having my cake and eating it too seemed harmless.
All the rush and excitement of the affair, without the betrayed husband
sulking at home. I look at David now and realize he's the one I'm
betraying. The one I owe more than this.
Sometimes, I pretend Martin is out of town for the weekend on business.
David and I stay up late and sleep in, and he brings me coffee in bed
in the morning. "It could be like this everyday," he says. "Don't you
want this everyday?" I'm not certain of the answer, only certain of how
it would crush him if he knew the truth: that I am the only thing in
the way. David slides back under the covers next to me, drapes an arm
over my waist. I imagine sitting down with all of my friends and family
and calmly explaining the situation: so when he talks about my first
husband, just smile and nod, okay guys? I allow myself to pretend it
could be that simple. David breathes into my neck, and I remember how I
thought I was un-complicating my life, once. How it never occurred to
me all the ways a lie can grow, become impossible to undo.
David traces a fingertip down my arm, stopping on the band around my
finger. "When are you going to leave him?" he whispers.
"I don't know," I say. Real tears catch in my throat. "I don't know
what to do." That much, at least, is absolutely true. I clench my hand
into a tight fist around the cheap, thin ring and think how easily it
would bend, how easily it would break. How I feel every bit as trapped
as I have ever pretended to be.
Angi Becker Stevens lives in Michigan. She has had stories in Pank, The Collagist, Monkeybicycle, SmokeLong Quarterly
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201103oppos.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Thiago Fonseca.
Read other ABS stuff from the archive.
w i g · l e a F