The Recession Phase of a Common Marriage

Mark pulled his leased BMWii into the driveway of his second-mortgaged Spanish adobe, Silverlake Hills home–five miles removed from the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The radio talk show host was doing a great job of holding Mark’s attention. So he kept listening after he turned off the car’s ignition, pulling the sun visor down to block the direct rays of the setting autumn sun.

“Divorce rates always see a dramatic rise during difficult economic times, like the bluesy times we’re experiencing right now as we come to the end of 2008,” the radio voice spoke in a smooth baritone. “It’s times like these when some husbands, especially on a Friday night, like we’re heading into today, might be more inclined to look for diversions from their mundane life at work and home. I’m talking diversions like drinking more, doing some recreational drugs or trying his luck at gambling. And who knows, he may even decide to treat himself to a stop at his favorite massage parlor where he can forget about his problems for a few minutes or more.” The host snickered. “Because he knows the minute he gets home his lovely wife is going to be eager to jump on any opportunity she can find to start talking about her favorite subject, their financial difficulties. And we know that’s the last thing he wants to hear or think about, the direct implication that he’s a failure.”

“Like talking about it constantly is going to help,” Mark said to himself.

“Ironically enough,” the radio host went on, “the reason for many of these scenarios, which take place every day, are explained in John Gray’s book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.”

All week long, Mark thought as he silenced the radio, the host kept glibly referring to the same book and a few others about how to maintain a lasting relationship.

At 35-years-of-age, he felt as though he was already wallowing in a midlife crisis that seemed to be getting worse by the day. All his credit cards were maxed out. He had less than two thousand dollars in two savings accounts. The Beverly Hills advertising firm he worked for was riff with rumors about downsizing, and April, his wife of five years, had already lost her secretarial job at city hall two months ago.

He could tell by the askew way her ’04 Mazda was parked-in front of their one-car garage–that she had not driven it during the day. At least it was paid for, he reminded himself as he crossed his moderate size lawn, which had not seen a lawn mower in two weeks, a month after he’d had to let the gardener go. Meanwhile he did his best to avoid thinking about the other chores he’d left neglected, lately. Yet the unkempt appearance of the lawn stood as a blatant reminder of how the recent real estate market collapse and subsequent financial calamities had transformed his life and ruined all his best laid plans to rise above his born West Virginia poor status.

In fact, a year earlier he’d begun thinking that with all of his wise Wall Street investments and his 401(k) he was on the straight pathway to early retirement and a future void of financial tsunamis-dressed fashionably and well-spoken. Now, though, he was more uncertain and fearful than he’d ever imagined being. It was as though fate had merely teased him into believing he was blessed and that other poor souls, less fortunate than he, were in a league of their own fool hearted making.

He placed his Italian leather briefcase down by the coat tree and hung his Brooks Brother’s suit jacket on it. Loosening his tailor-made tie a few more notches, he found April sitting in the kitchen nook, which overlooked the man-made lake and the western hills of Silverlake. Her back was to the view, though, having just finished eating a left over slice of pizza. She wore a fluffy bathrobe with her longish, dyed red hair rolled up in curlers, ending a conversation on her cell phone.

“I’ll talk to you later,” she whispered out the side of her mouth. “He just walked in.”

“Who was that?” Mark casually asked as he opened the refrigerator door, relieved to see there was one bottle of Bass left on the bottom shelf. “Sharon, I bet.”

“No,” said April matter-of-factly. “I haven’t talked to Sharon since yesterday.”

Mark broke the cap on the beer and sipped. His eyes studied April and he knew she could feel them focused on her as she stood to put her empty dish in the washer, gathering her bathrobe tight around her shapely midriff with one hand.

“So,” he said, reminded that once upon a time he thought he was a lucky devil to have the love of such an intelligent, witty, fine-looking woman, “who was it?”

“Now I have to tell you every time I talk to someone?” Her cat-like green eyes squinted threateningly as she faced him, gazing directly at him for the first time since he’d entered the room. “You already know I don’t like the idea of us paying for a divorce only to end up sharing this house as roommates.”

“Like I’m hopping up and down shouting God bless America at the top of my lungs.”

“Which, dear, is exactly why I’m trying to find a more favorable alternative. As I told you last night, that’s exactly what I would be spending my time doing-gathering information from all my resources at city hall and beyond. So don’t look so damned surprised that I’m doing what I said I’d be doing and doing no more than that!”

“You’re a real piece of work, April,” Mark said dispassionately as a way of filling an awkward silence.

“I agree.” She smiled and wiggled her hips in a sassy way. “And to some degree, I have you to thank for my awakening. It’s been quite a helpful education, too, Mark.”

“So we’re going to start the blame game again, are we?”

“That started a long time ago and it wasn’t me who threw the first blow. If you remember correctly, whenever I wanted to simply talk about the things on my mind, you acted as though I was making a personal attack on you. Then you’d get all riled up and defensive and shut yourself away in the study, when all I wanted was for you to take some time out to listen for change.”

Before he could frame a clever retort, she turned on a heel and left the room, leaving her empty dish on top of the dishwasher. Though he felt the impulse to fling his half-filled beer bottle straight through the plate glass window with the rosy sunset view, he decided that would be too primitive a reaction. Instead, he flicked on the radio that sat by the microwave oven and dialed the station he always listened to during the long commute from work to home.

“These uncertain times are rough and tough times all over and can be hell on any relationship,” the talk show host said with an exaggerated grunt followed by a short burst of snickering.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” said Mark, raising his beer bottle above his head.

“But let me tell you this, though, rough and tough times always beg for pragmatic solutions. Therefore on this Friday evening, if anyone out there listening to me has any suggestions that might help alleviate the spirits of someone who is going through the blues or through pure hell in their once happy love life, please give me a call. I’d really love to talk to you.”

Mark shut the radio off and knocked down his beer in silence.

“Solutions, my foot!” he finally said.

Then, impetuously, he began calculating how much a weekend trip to Las Vegas would cost if he was lucky enough to manage breaking anywhere near even at a friendly dice table many miles away. That way he wouldn’t have to be around to witness April when she paraded out of the house about 10 p.m., all dolled up for a night out on the town with who-knew-who. And doing the lawn, he decided while skirting the kitchen table on his way to the shower, that chore and a host of others could surely wait another week.

As the cool water cascaded down on him, he decided that losing in Vegas would only add to his misery. While consulting with a divorce lawyer, during their first meeting, the man suggested that he try to reconcile his differences with April and patch up their relationship. Until that moment, as he turned off the shower, he’d felt it was far too late for that advice to be feasible.

“Maybe I am wrong,” he said to himself with a shrug as he dried off.

It was then he decided to chill out for the night, regardless of what April had planned for her routine Friday night out with friends. In the morning, he’d mow the lawn and offer to barbecue an early meal for the two of them, like he used to do in the old days before all the finger-pointing bickering started. Maybe talking could help.

A few minutes later, in their study, he booted up their computer and went to Amazon.com. On the opening page he typed in the words: Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.

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