Well I’m a runnin’ down the road
Tryin’ to loosen my load
I’ve got seven women on my mind
Four that wanna own me
Two that wanna stone me
One says she’s a friend of mine
— “Take it Easy,” The Eagles
Is that what he said? OK, well, then that’s where we’re at. You spend your best years being a cook for a guy and his other wives, bear a quarter of his children, fix the goddamn van when it overheats every other week because we live in the freaking desert, and then he starts in with possession. Yeah, right, buddy. I don’t need to own you. I own the van. My father left it to me in his will. He hoped I’d use it for deliveries, if I ever opened a bakery.
In the glovebox, I found a picture of myself with long, shiny hair, auburn in the sun, hands on tiny hips. I loved my hair. The others complained about pulling strands out of my famous Lasagna Bolognese. Then they complained about the sauce. Amateurs. The me in the picture once studied at culinary school and received top grades from a chef in a toque. I wore the puffy hat that looks like a cloverleaf yeast roll. So Sandra brought home some cheap-ass hairnet from Walgreens. I went into the bathroom, and instead of putting it on, I hacked my hair to the scalp. Left it for her to clean up.
My three-year-old, Ellie, has my auburn curls. When I found the photo, she grabbed it. “She pretty!” she said. Then the little devil asked, “Who dat?”
She was on her way to being a chef, baby girl. Forget that I didn’t finish the program after meeting him. He wooed me by cooking a terrible meal. I chipped a tooth on the steak. The next night, I brought groceries and my All-Clad pans. By the end of the week, I’d braised and butterflied in his kitchen (cooktop and range to die for). His face glowed with joy, and no doubt relief. Would I stay? he asked. Maybe forever?
I never officially dropped out of school. I’m practically still enrolled.
On my alone nights I imagine how quiet it would be if it were just the two of us. Dinner for two. Nobody complaining about Georgette’s dried-out Beef Bourguignon. Marinate it a day ahead with a packet of Lipton onion soup mix, I tell her, but she never listens. When was the last time we went out alone? He used to have a great sense of humor. “Honeys, I’m home!” he’d yell from the front hall. When we were dating, if you could call it that, he’d use the other wives as an excuse to stay in. Don’t want to exclude anyone, he’d say. Pretty expensive to buy filet for five. I don’t need filet. I’d take a drive-thru burrito and a matinee. I don’t even care what’s playing, though given my druthers, I’d lobby for the new Julia Roberts. He’s not a fan, but it’s easy enough to reimagine these imaginary dates. In my daydream, he has another face, another body. In fact, he’s another person altogether: Stefan, from high school. He swam competitively and was built like a beautiful inverse triangle. His body was my favorite geometry problem. I spent hours in his twin bed, trying to solve him.
3 & 4. Ann & Susan
We wanted kids for as long as we’ve been together. The ad in the Winslow Pennysaver was something we clipped and hung on the fridge. Hunting for wives, plural, in the Pennysaver? Who’d ever be that desperate? The “Desperado,” we’d call him, taking out a carton of milk.
When the plastic bin factory shut down after the BPA scare, both of us were suddenly out of work. I was on the lid line, Susan did boxes. We met in the Quality Control break room, which they padlocked on the day of the announcement.
The ad quickly became less hilarious. I called; we met at McDonald’s. He bought me a vanilla shake. Once I’d scoped him out, I told Susan to come inside. They really hit it off. I’d never seen Susan giggle or flip her hair before. Package deal, we insisted, and he said Sure. Once a month, he makes a point of packing everyone in the van and heading to Laser Tag so Suze and I can be alone. He’s never asked to watch us have sex. Which there is less of, these days.
It’s a place to live, and I suppose he’s decent, if you’re into dudes. Like lots of young people (not me), Susan had an experimental phase with men. She calls him “semi-attractive,” and when it was our at-bat, she took one for the team. We’re having a boy in June. Our first.
I married that sick fuck straight out of high school. Divorced him two years later when he started talking about “bringing more ladies aboard.” Like I was a-sail the S.S. Polygamy. No thanks, dumbfuck. If I had a nickel for every time he’d nudge my foot in bed and say, Hey, gorgeous, don’t you wish someone would cook us breakfast? Wouldn’t you love a hot platter of eggs sunny-side up on the table, staring at us?
I’d have a lot of nickels, is what I’m saying. At least enough to buy a goddamn Grand Slam breakfast. That’s how you get some hot eggs made for you. You don’t get an additional wife. You go to fucking Denny’s.
Does he think I’ve forgotten his parents? He swore he was different. Before the wedding he severed family ties, though nobody knew where his mother wound up. Some say Florida, working Disney cruises. I heard his dad moved, too. I heard plenty of stories. You can’t believe everything you hear.
Phil says I talk about him too much, all these years later, and he’s right. Thank God we never had kids. Thank God I got out when I did. Thank God somebody else is making that man his eggs sunny-side up. I like mine scrambled, personally.
I have private nicknames for the regulars at the diner. He’s the only one with multiple monikers. Whiner McWoebegone. Sir Blabs-A-Lot. Mr. Blue. He drinks more coffee than anyone I’ve ever seen. I could pour all night and he’d never have enough.
You ever get exactly what you thought you wanted? he asked once. He was sifting through bills and cursing at his laptop. How are we ever gonna afford college? The oldest three maybe have ROTC possibilities, but my youngest? Low muscle tone. Don’t you have to scale walls in the Army? She’d never make it.
I nod and pour, nod and pour, when inside I’m all like, SHUT UP. I commute to community college, work thirty hours at this craphole, and finite math is literally killing me. That’s $338 per credit hour down the drain. And meanwhile, I’m supposed to listen to Old Baldy the sad sack.
He says, Couple of my… my wife, that is, wants to join that ladies’ gym, Curves. But it’s expensive. And I can’t make everyone happy. Her, that is.
Look, these are not my problems. Curves? Really? How about a walk. A Jane Fonda DVD. Some sit-ups and push-ups in the living room.
Nothing I can do about it. There’s seven of these guys for every one of me.
He found me on Facebook; he has not aged well. His hair is like a farcical tribute to mullets. His pictures are filled with women and children. Relationship status: “It’s complicated.” His wife must have a gaggle of sisters.
He keeps poking me via the “poke” button. Poke, poke. Where am I being poked? My response: ignore, ignore.
Remember the sweet times of our youth? he messages me privately. You knew me like nobody before or since.
I remember that he strung me along with a handful of other girls. I remember the intense gaze when I thought he was going to kiss me on his parents’ staircase, but never did. Upstairs was the bedroom where his mother had found his father in flagrante delicto with her own sister. This aunt could’ve been ostracized. Instead she moved into the guest bedroom.
Before we went off to college and his family moved to another state — everyone assumed Utah, but actually it was Nevada — he picked me up to go the lake, to talk.
Just talk? A hint I dropped like a cartoon anvil.
Of course, he said. At the lake he’d given me the look again. Those lying eyes.
Now a married man pokes me from a great distance. I’m not your poke-hole, I imagine replying. I’m the poke-hole that got away.
I think of his wife and kids, and I click delete. This is me, being a friend.