by K.A. Franks
A separated couple pretend to be happily married during the holidays for their families.
|Perfectly Happy with the Way Things Were
A lot of people say that marriage is a beautiful thing; a sacred union of two souls. But what they don’t tell you is that marriage is merely a way of legally recognizing two people's relationship. Why should a civil or religious ceremony be the deciding factor on whether or not two people live together as sexual and domestic partners? Why is it that when two immensely capable adults decide to live out their lives together, the rest of the world only sees fit to join them together formally in wedlock?
Wedlock--doesn’t the very word itself sound unbelievably insufferable? As a matter of fact, in wrestling a ‘lock’ is known as a hold in which one wrestler twists or puts pressure on part of the other wrestler’s body. Do you see where I’m going with this? I just wish I'd realised all of this, before I got married; three and a half years ago.
I was born in London, England. My mother, Susan Thomas was a prominent British actress who married the renowned Swaziland-born English author, Roger Thomas. I’m sure that at some point in time the two had genuinely loved one another, but by the time my eighth birthday had come around, any soft-hearted feelings the two had shared had all but diminished. Though their time together produced two children, myself and my younger brother Mark, their time apart brought to light an entirely new individual: our Australian stepmother, Dory.
Although I would love to tell you that my childhood memories consist of nothing but happy, healthy recollections, I’m afraid I cannot; seeing as though in all actuality, they do not. When I finished my college A-levels I wanted nothing more than to read English at a university far, far away from London. And with that, I somehow ended up across the pond at San Francisco University.
It was there that I met, the man that would later become to be known as: my husband, John Harrigan. John had been at SFU studying art. We had had a few of the same basic courses together and had become friendly. Our time together at SFU had lead to our friendship, which had then further led us to love. Following our time at university, we had begun living our post-grad years together; as a mature, adult couple. John would cook the meals, and I’d clean up the kitchen. I would do the laundry, and he would put it away. To me, John and I were perfectly happy with the direction our life was going in, but that all changed the year I turned twenty-five.
“Caitlin,” John said, one night as I was unloading the dishwasher. “Do you think it’ll ever happen for us?”
“You know marriage.”
“Why? What’s wrong with the way things are now?”
“Nothing, but I just think that since we both know the direction we want our lives to go in, why not?”
And it was at that very moment that I suddenly drew a blank. I couldn’t think of one significant reason why he was wrong; not a single counter thought entered my mind. After all, I wasn‘t just in love with John; I loved him. Around John I was able to experience enjoyment that I had never before experienced. Whenever I was with him I felt this sort of incredibly intense, positive emotional feeling that I didn’t feel with anyone, but him. I mean it wasn’t as if I were some silly eleven year-old with a schoolgirl crush or infatuation. I loved John. I truly, wholeheartedly loved him. And so with that I agreed.
Three and a half years later, here we are. Me--Mrs. Caitlin Harrigan; the modest writer, who seems to attract nothing but rejections and John, my incredibly successful illustrator husband. Unfortunately, for the past six weeks we have been living apart. Me at my friend, Andrew’s apartment and John in our newly furnished, post-wedding home. I don’t know why I ever thought that things could stay the same between us, once we were married.
B-Ball Hash Out
When John had finished tying his shoes on the gym’s bleachers he headed towards his best friend, Henry, who was already on the court.
“Well, what exactly did she say to you John?”
“She said that I was suffocating her!”
“You,” Henry laughed.
“Yeah, I know. But I think there might be something more to it though, you know? I think she may have been…”
“You don’t think she was cheating on you, do you?” Henry asked, as he dribbled the basketball down the court.
“Well, Henry that was the only other reasonable explanation I could come up with.”
“I don’t know, man. I guess I just never would’ve pegged Caitlin as a cheater, but then again you never know,” Henry said as he tossed John the ball.
“Well thanks a lot Henry.”
“Oh, you’re welcome, man. I mean what are friends for,” Henry said as he attempted to block John’s shot. “Well do you think you’d have an idea of who the cat she was cheating on you with was?”
“Yeah,” John said as he aimed the ball towards the basket. “I think I have a pretty good idea.”
“You remember that weirdo touchy-feely, editor ‘friend’ of hers that she’s been staying with ever since she moved out, right?”
“That cat, Andrew? Andrew Phillips?”
John nodded as he tossed the ball back to Henry, “Yeah, him.”
“Man, that cat is sleek. Smooth and shiny. Suave and well-groomed. That dude could’ve been the tone-deaf, sixth member of N‘Sync and the girls would‘ve been like Justin who?”
“Shoot John, he could‘ve been the only rhythmically challenged, lily-white member of Boyz II Men and the ladies still would‘ve flocked to him."
“And John this right here, man this is coming straight from the heart. As you know, I myself am a heterosexual, good-looking woman loving, black man. But even I would sleep with Andrew Phillips, if I was one of those brothers on the down low, you hear about all the time on the Oprah show.”
“Henry," John shouted. "I get it!”
“Okay, okay. Sorry, John. Sorry. I’m just saying, that if I was in a relationship with a female that was hanging within any close proximity to Andrew Phillips, I’d cut my losses.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Strange
John arrived home in an even lousier mood, than when he had left. Basketball with Henry had proven to be aimless. After watching the two movies he had picked up at the local video rental box, John sat on the edge of his living room couch crying as he watched the end credits scroll upwards.
“First you let Leo die in the ocean. And then in the next movie, you go out and attempt a risky home abortion while he’s away? Damn you, Kate Winslet! Damn you! Leo was good to you. All he ever did was love you and this is your way of loving him back? Well, forget it cause he’s gonna get over you. Him and those two kids are gonna move far away from Revolutionary Road and that damn Kathy Bates and that loony tune son of hers. And they’re gonna carve out a whole new life for themselves, just you wait! Just you wait and see!”
Suddenly the phone rang. John threw back the green and white afghan blanket that had previously covered him and ran towards the phone in the kitchen.
“Caitlin?” he said when he answered.
“No silly. It’s me, your mother.”
Suddenly John’s voice turned from hopefully optimistic to horribly surprised.
“Yeah, honey. Is something wrong?”
“Oh, no,” John lied. “Caitlin just went to the store and I thought she might have forgotten something.”
“Oh. Well you and Caitlin are exactly the reason I called.”
“Yes, dear I was just calling to make sure that the two of you were still on for Christmas.”
“Christmas,” John repeated nervously as he ran his fingers through his unkempt dark hair.
“Yes, honey Christmas--the holiday that we all celebrate once a year, on December twenty-fifth. Well, most of us anyway.”
John had been so preoccupied with his existing marital troubles that he’d completely forgotten about the world outside of his life. November had come and gone and with it taken one holiday already. It was now the first week of December, and Christmas would be here before he knew it. John would need to come up with a plan, and soon.
After he’d finished talking with his mother, John hung up the phone. For a moment or two, he paced around his kitchen floor debating on whether or not to dial the phone number that lay hanging on his refrigerator door. John took the piece of paper down and held it in his hand. He’d only managed to dial three out of the seven numbers on the page when he was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Caitlin!” John said staggeringly, when he opened the door.
“Hello, John. I had my key, but it didn’t seem right using it, with all considering.”
For a while, John stood outside his front doorway just staring at Caitlin in astonishment.
“Well are you going to invite me in? Or are we just going to stand out here all day?”
“Invite you in? But Caitlin, it’s your house too.”
“I know that, John. But could we just pretend that the last six weeks haven’t been completely irrelevant?”
“Okay, then,” John said as he stepped aside to let Caitlin walk in to the house. “Well I guess first things first, w-what are you doing here?”
“Well,” she said as she slid the green and white afghan over to sit down on the couch. “I received a rather unexpected call today.”
“Three calls actually.”
“Hmm, you don’t say?”
“Yes, John. One from Mark and then another from my father.”
“Oh, how are they?”
“Oh, they’re fine.”
“Oh, good. Good. And who was the third one from? Your mother?”
“No, John. Yours, actually.”
“Mine?” John winced.
“And well I thought it only fitting I come over here myself to tell you.”
“Well, what did she want?”
“She was wondering what dessert we were planning on bringing for Christmas, since I was already at the store.”
John cringed, “Well, let’s just say I haven’t really gotten around to telling her about us just yet.”
“Yet? John, it’s been six weeks.”
“I know that, Caitlin! Wait, so you've told your family then?”
“Well, not exactly.”
“Not exactly? Ha!” John said as he stood up and walked towards the kitchen.
“Ha? And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, come on Caitlin. Cut the crap, will you? You come in here and act like you’re so indifferent, but admit it! You haven’t told your family about us either because you can’t bring yourself to do it. Can you?”
“You’re right, John! I couldn’t bring myself to tell them and do you want to know why?”
“Because I couldn’t give myself even the slightest satisfaction of being right.”
“I don‘t understand.”
“The satisfaction that even I couldn’t make my marriage work. A marriage that was built on nothing but love. Me, the English girl who ran off to America to escape a fate that would mirror her parents and now here I am doing just that.”
“It's fine, John,” Caitlin said as she stood up and walked towards the door. “I see now that it was a mistake even coming here.”
“No!” John said as he ran towards the front door. “What do you say we just forget the last few minutes and rewind to what you were saying when you first came in? Please, Caitlin? Could we at least give that a shot?”
Caitlin took her hand off of the doorknob and returned to her seat on the couch.
“So what do you suggest we do about our little crisis, then?”
“Well to me, it sounds like there’s only one thing we can do.”
“And what do you suppose that is?”
“We’ve got to spend the holidays with our families.”
“Absolutely not! It’s completely out of the question.”
“And why not?”
“For one, it wouldn’t work. And secondly, it would never work. You know your mother, John. And not just her, your entire family, not to mention my family for that matter. They would see through our little sham in a heartbeat. Then where would we be?”
“Well then, our only other option is to pick up the phone and tell them ourselves. Right now.”
John picked up the phone and pretended to dial.
“Do you want to go first? Or should I?”
Caitlin grabbed the phone from John’s hand and placed it back down on the hook.
“If we’re going to do this, John then we’re going to have to do it right. No screw up‘s, no mixed up stories. We‘re going to have to carefully plan it all out. Together.”
Reinventing the Harrigan’s
The next few weeks passed by, faster than either one of them could have expected. Suddenly, they were just days away from their holiday showcase.
“John,” Caitlin said over the phone. “What should we bring?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking a fruitcake, but since we’re already bringing that to your mom and dad’s I guess that’s out. I mean you can only have so much of that stuff. How about a pumpkin pie?”
“Alright then. Well I should be back in a little while. Did you already pick up the presents?”
“Yep, we’re all set. Now I know you might be tired when you get back so I was wondering if you wanted me to start on everything tonight, and then you just finish what’s left tomorrow. Or if you want, we could just start fresh on everything tomorrow?”
“Well I guess we could wrap up everything tonight and then just start baking tomorrow morning. Does that sound okay?”
“Sounds fine with me. Well, Mrs. Harrigan I guess I’ll see you when you get home then.”
“I guess so, Mr. Harrigan.”
By now, the two were pros at it. During one of their many discussions about their upcoming holiday visits, both Caitlin and John had agreed that if they couldn’t convince strangers and everyday acquaintances that they were still a solid, happy couple then they would have no chance, whatsoever, when it came to fooling those who were closest to them. So together they had mutually decided to put up a united front, only two other people in the couples lives knew the truth.
“So then the two of you are back together?”
“Well Andrew, not exactly. You see we need to look the part.”
“Oh, so on the most special day of the year, the two of you are going to lie to your families until you can muster up enough courage to tell them the truth?”
“Well when you say it like that, of course it’s gonna sound all wrong.”
“No, Caitlin. I think what you’re doing is all wrong. I mean can’t you see that poor John is hurting enough as it is already? What do you think moving back in and playing house for the holidays is going to do to him?”
“John and I are both adults, Andrew. We’re perfectly capable of…”
“No, Caitlin. You‘re perfectly capable. John wasn’t built on the same assembly line as you. Hell, I don’t think anyone was built on the same assembly line as you. And I know that it was hard enough for the both of you to deal with splitting up the first time. How do you think it’s going to feel the second time around?”