VINTAGE WOMEN SITTING ON PORCHHow can I leave him? Let me count the ways.  It is perhaps ironic that I would bastardize a love poem when thinking about a leave poem, but what else can you do when love is, if not gone, then buried under decades of composting sameness and inattention? What once was hot and vibrant now chilled by cold shoulders and colder words. What happened to the intimacy, the passion that we swore, so long ago, would never diminish?

Right now I am tired. Tired of washing laundry and folding towels, searching for those elusive socks that disappear and seem to mean so much to him. I’m tired of tv sports and armchair coaches. Tired of being the “other”, rather than a significant other in someone’s life because now I am a convenience, a utility, a service provider.

Sounds hard? No, what is hard is that insistent Saturday morning poke in the small of my back at 6 a.m. as I am trying to burrow deeper into the covers so that I can sleep in past the crack of dawn because I don’t have to get up to go to the gym before getting to my desk. Hard as those fingers that press and pry my crossed arms away from my breasts, so that he can rub my nipples into firmness because he knows me that way so well. His touch still arouses, like I’m some primitive creature, and ensures that my automatic (but now unwanted) physical response signals my wakefulness, instead of my unwillingness. I want to scream – leave me alone! I am not your toy lying there for your convenience when there is nothing on the idiot box and you had a pee hard-on and can’t get back to sleep. But I’m a good-wife. Well trained to compliance…on the outside.

Why don’t I leave? Why don’t I tell him no? Two words. Two syllables. No guts.

Where would I go? I’m a nursery school assistant. I have the gross income to support myself, according to the too-cheery spinster financial adviser at our union office. But what does she know of life, this manicured ‘working girl’ with the latest hairdo and photos of her cats on her desk? Gross is the operative word. I get to keep less than half. And even if he didn’t get custody of the children, they’d have to do without, live hand-to-mouth with a mother who might be happy and free, but poor and afraid of impending ruin.

I don’t have anywhere in particular to go. I’d have to avoid going to church for a while. I’d miss that. My grandmother would probably shun me, disapproving because I didn’t stick it out like she did. She’d remind me he didn’t beat me, like grandpa did her. My false girlfriends would smile sympathetically with their lips but wouldn’t lift a hand to help. Their lives are as rich with prevarications as my own. I certainly would never move in with another man, just to have a roof over my head. Why leave something where, at least, I have some measure of control during my waking hours after all this time? Do I want to start over with tightening up my middle-aged child-bearing body, making nice-nice, sashaying into the mating dance and getting used to someone else’s habits? No, not now; perhaps maybe never.

I’m beginning to understand that men are at their best when they’re your friends. They can be sexual friends, too – because isn’t recreational sex with someone you are fond of and safe with just another expression of affection? The ultimate/intimate handshake, as it were. Men make terrific friends because if that is the basis of your relationship, you can be yourself, speak your mind, pass gas and excuse yourself with a chuckle, eat brownies in bed at noon and read books all night, because if your friend decides that he doesn’t like it and attempts that married trickery – emotional or psychological blackmail – you can take out your diaphragm, put on your tights, tell him to make up the bed himself and go home.

What would the kids think if we split? They are adults, with relationships of their own to navigate. I don’t think they’d be particularly surprised, because I think they have always seen me as something of an oddball – the combination of Earth Mother, sports nut, artist and free spirit is a volatile mix.

What would my mother really think, if I could ever pressure her to tell me the truth instead of aphorisms? Ah, now we are getting to the nub of the issue.