I settled back in my seat and crossed my arms. “How much time do you have?”
The lights of the city illuminated the night sky as I looked out of Ivy’s bedroom window. This was always the most peaceful part of the weekend, when she would nap, and I would just watch her sleep before saying goodbye and boarding the late train back to New York City for the week.
Feelings of guilt always crept in right about this time because I’d once again be leaving her alone until the following weekend. There was always too much time to think here when Ivy was either sleeping or in one of her catatonic states. But I’d take these moments anytime over one of her paranoid episodes.
I contemplated what my life had become. It was unconventional to say the least and very hard to explain to anyone. Some days, it felt like there was no one else in the world who could possibly understand. So, very few people in New York knew about these weekends in Boston, knew about my life. You couldn’t explain this situation very easily to people in a way that they’d truly get it. The questions alone would make my head spin.
Why do you stay with her, Jake?
How can you fuck other women when you’re technically married?
Did you move to New York to get away from her?
The few times I’d opened up to the wrong people about Ivy, I’d regretted it. I didn’t need the sympathy or judgment of people who’d never walked in my shoes.
I was practically a kid when I met my wife.
I looked down at Ivy’s back rising and falling as she slept. We were legally married, but she felt more like a child to me now than a spouse. This wasn’t a marriage in the intimate sense or in any way that might make a marriage pleasurable.
Ivy and I met six years ago on Huntington Avenue outside Northeastern University when I was a freshman. She was dancing alone in the rain, and I was instantly captivated. The more I got to know her in the weeks that followed, the more mesmerized I became. She was like no other girl I’d ever met. She played guitar and had some gigs at local venues. As cool as she came off, she didn’t have many close friends. I became her entire life. She was impulsive, reckless and had an aura about her that was contagious.
She convinced me to run off to Vegas with her one weekend. Before I knew it, I was eighteen and married by the power vested in Elvis.
Within six months, I knew I’d made a mistake. I truly cared about Ivy, the sex was the best of my life up until that point, and she intrigued me, but I knew that I really wasn’t in love with her the way you needed to be in order to spend the rest of your life with someone. Still, I told myself that we could make it work, that I could grow to love her.
Not long into our marriage, things started slowly changing for the worse. Ivy was exhibiting some strange behaviors. At first, it was subtle, like she’d skip classes or not show up for work. Eventually, it catapulted into something beyond my control—something that would change our lives.
Ivy would accuse me of everything under the sun from cheating to plotting to hurt her. She started chain-smoking heavily. She was turning into a different person before my eyes. I didn’t understand what was happening, but my better instincts told me she was going to need me even though I was tempted to leave.
Then, on top of everything else, her mother died suddenly. Ivy had no other family except for me. She became more and more dependent, and I became more and more afraid to abandon her in that state. Eventually, it became clear that she needed to be evaluated. I’d put it off, afraid of what the doctors would do to her, but it had gotten to a point where she couldn’t even be left alone while I was at work. She’d take off her clothes and roam the street, accuse random strangers of rape, accuse me of rape or devising a plan to murder her. The list of delusions was endless.
I’d heard of schizophrenia but never really understood it. When doctors gave her the formal diagnosis, I read everything I could on it, went to support groups and tried to handle it in the only ways I knew how. Eventually, I had to put her in a group home because I couldn’t work and take care of her at the same time.
Some days were better than others. On her best day, a stranger wouldn’t be able to tell there was anything wrong. On her worst, I was scared she would take her own life. None of the meds they tried in the early days ever worked, and her illness was considered medically resistant. In the years since, they’d managed to find the right combination to help a little, but it’s still not enough. Anything that did work just kept her in a zombie-like state.
I was the one constant in her life. So, while it may have been easy for some people to say I should’ve left her by now, again, I’d tell them to walk a day in my shoes.
Did I love this woman? Yes. Was I in love with her? No. That wasn’t reason enough to abandon her, though. She needed my financial and moral support. Staying legally married assured that I could make decisions on her behalf. She needed to feel safe, and I was the only person who could give that to her. So, as her husband, I kept some of my vows. Others weren’t so easy.
I had needs.
The sexual relationship with Ivy ended not long after her diagnosis. A few years after she moved into the group home, I began to seek out other women for sex. It was always quick, non-committal, never any strings attached. I’d already resigned myself to the fact that a real relationship based on love wouldn’t be possible as long as I was still married to Ivy and caring for her. And that wasn’t going to change. No woman would be able to handle it. Ivy wouldn’t be able to handle it. So, occasional meaningless sex with women would have to be it.