In the drizzle on Sixth Avenue it's murder getting a cab. Or in some cases it's adultery. At least it felt very much like that as I began my married life and my honeymoon 10 years ago this May and watched in disbelief as my new husband jumped into a cab with another woman and drove away. She was an aggressive, bottled blonde, and she was in a rush, running late for her therapy appointment uptown, I mused, or perhaps her meeting with an officious divorce attorney. I stood there stranded on the curb, completely dumfounded.
How could this happen? We were madly in love and we were heading to Japan, a place that we thought we probably wouldn't get to once we started making babies. The honeymoon was loaded as honeymoons are; but especially so because it was a last hurrah. We would drink sake nightly, eat tons of raw fish I wouldn't be able to eat when pregnant and soak in searing hot tubs said to temporarily diminish sperm count. We would go dancing with salary men and stay up all night. So what was he doing leaving me now?
The problem originated in a plane ticket issued in military time. One of us -- and we had been arguing about which one on street -- had miscalculated the hour of our departure and determined it was 11 when it was really 10. We had to be at the airport early for our international flight and had lost an hour. We'd skipped showers and breakfast and stood staring into the stream of occupied yellow cabs.
After 10 minutes of squinting into the rain and raising our arms in futile hailing positions, my husband grew more and more agitated. As he cursed, I reminded myself that his incessant energy, his essential speed was the feature that had drawn me to him initially: he reads seven books in the time that I read one, he goes running when he's hung over while I prefer to eat egg and cheese sandwiches, and now that our lives are fuller with our two children he wakes up early on Sunday morning and tries to engage me in planning the day based on our goals and priorities. It's Sunday! I sometimes want to say, but am invariably pleased when by nine he has returned from grocery shopping and sends me, often grudgingly, off to a yoga class.
So there we were and things were not going according to his plan. Or mine. We were going to miss our plane and we hated each other for it.
This is the juncture where our stories differ. He says, "Why didn't you just get in the cab, too?" But I couldn't. What happened was this: He said, "I'm going to try to hail one across the street," and then he stormed off right before the light changed to red. I remained stuck on the other side.
"Wait!" I yelled but the rumble of a massive moving truck drowned me out. He had assumed I had followed him across the street. I stared across the street; there was a brief moment, a few seconds when there was an opportunity to jaywalk but defiantly I stayed on my own side: It had become a competition; I would find us a cab before he did. I was from New York after all and he was from Texas! Then as the traffic thickened and slowed I saw it.
The blonde jumped in front of him and raised her arm, shaking it like an eager student with the right answer. He couldn't let her win and so he jumped right in front of her. She scowled as a car with an "On Duty" sign pulled to the curb. They faced each other and spoke but I couldn't hear the words they exchanged. She nodded vigorously and smiled. He wheeled his luggage to the back of the car. He lifted his suitcase up, put it in and slammed the trunk and then -- and this really got me -- he opened her door for her. Gallant. But what was his bag doing in the trunk? Maybe I was mistaken and she'd had two. She disappeared into the back seat. Then oddly enough, he hopped into the front seat and they drove away together.
The walk sign finally appeared. But they were already a block away, then two, then several. I ran a few steps, my cumbersome wheeled suitcase bumping into my hip before I stopped and screamed after him. I don't remember what I said but my throat hurt from that scream for hours afterward. I watched, panting until the taxi disappeared into the fog. When was he going to notice I was not there?
I looked at my cell but quickly abandoned it. It was 2003 and he didn't yet own a cell phone. He liked to be alone and feel free. I considered his hurry to get to JFK; he was always hurrying, striving. A lecture burned in me, how I wanted to berate him for his best laid plans, his goals, his boasts of productive days, how I wanted to cruelly deride that electric energy of his. Then my rage turned into sadness. What I wanted truly was to sit beside him in the cab, to hear about his productivity, to plan our goals for the flight, for our trip, for our whole lives together. Now we would definitely miss our plane -- that is if he became aware of my absence instead of boarding the flight! I turned and trudged back towards our apartment deciding to wait there. When the suitcase bumped off the curb onto my, now wet ankle, I started to cry.
Perhaps like most people, being abandoned by someone I love is my biggest fear. When I was four, my parents separated and my father left. It was a marital separation as common as half the married couples in the seventies and would most likely lead to divorce but I was so young, I had no way of understanding why he left. All I knew was that he was gone. He was only three blocks away, and he took us on alternate weekends while we stayed as his pathetically unfeathered bachelor pad, cooked us hotdogs and canned beans for dinner and took us to see inappropriate movies. He never left our lives but he, the man I loved more than any other on the planet, had left our daily lives, the small interstitial moments with him -- pouring our pancake syrup from a ridiculous height three feet above the table, or washing our hair and sometimes rinsing it with a splash of beer, singing us songs goodnight as he paced between our two rooms with a cigar in hand -- were over. The abruptness of his departure left me stunned.
A year later he came back. My parents just celebrated their 15th anniversary. By all appearances they are very happy. But the starkness of my father's absence has never left me, nor has the confusion and tenuousness -- because yes, loss can happen at any moment -- of his return.
Of course, as I waited for my husband in the rain, I didn't think of the mystery of my father's sudden disappearance. But the sensation of that loss, the spiked hollowness in my chest, the total confusion consumed me.
Sometimes the feeling would overcome me out of nowhere and my husband would ask, "Where have you gone?" I wondered as I huffed back to the building if this feeling that lead to my habit of removal had caused him, in turn, to become remote.
I got soaked trudging back toward our building and with each wet step I was sure it was he, not me; in this case, it was his fault entirely. I ended up waiting under the awning of The Waverly Diner, watching an octogenarian couple in the booth by the window share a plate of steak fries. They consumed them formally with knife and fork and left one remaining in the center of the plate, as if each refusing that last taste and offering it to the other. The woman finally took the last bite.
When I didn't expect it, my love re-appeared. His face was too close to mine at first, rain-streaked and out of breath.
"Sorry," he breathed.
"What were you thinking?" I took a step back to a comfortable distance. Before I could say a word, a man ran up to the awning, approached my husband and gave him some bills.
"No tip!" he said, "This is my reward. I have to see the wife." He appraised me as I glowered. "She not bad! Especially if she smile. Let me tell you, I have heard of people losing lots of things in my cab but never their wife!" At that he turned around in near hysterics and got back into his vehicle.
"I wasn't thinking. I thought you were there in the back seat!"
I shook my head and walked ahead of him continuing our absurd pursuit of transportation. "I can explain," he shouted.
"That ridiculous woman. Where was she going anyway? I've never seen anyone so pushy in my life! And you shared with her."
"She was going to Lexington and 30th."
"So that justifies it!"
"Get in, I take you." A voice said. It was the same driver who had sat waiting for us to realize we still needed him. We had just enough time to make our plane if we left immediately and so we climbed in. My husband was remiss. He picked up my hand and kissed each of my fingers apologizing to each one. I stopped crying and kissed him back and the driver laughed all the way to JFK.
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