Marital Duplicity; chapter two

“Megan! How are you doing?” Jasmine hugs me hard before looking me up and down.

“Hanging in.” I’m glad I put on a nice pair of black pants and a red blouse before coming over. I’ve lived in my sweats for the past two weeks, but I know Jasmine wouldn’t take kindly to me showing up in tattered sweats. She’s wearing a blue dress that accentuates her curves. She has eight years on my forty-five, and yet, looks twenty years younger. As always, I envy her curls, which are as natural as her generous bosom.

“You can do this. You’re strong.” Jasmine ushers me inside. I take off my shoes before following her into the dining room, which is empty.

“Where’s Bob?” I ask, looking around.

“Working late. Again.” Jasmine’s lips purse together before she relaxes them.

“Something wrong between you two?” I ask, concerned. She and Bob seem to have a solid marriage, but who can ever really know for sure?

“He’s just been working too much lately. He says his boss is coming down hard on the team, but he has seniority, damn it. What good is seniority if it means you can’t have dinner with your wife every now and then?” Bob is on a marketing team, which means erratic hours. He was supposed to cut back on his hours last year in an agreement he made with Jasmine, but he claimed he couldn’t do it without jeopardizing his job.

“Oh, well. It’s just you and me. We’ll have some major sister bonding time.” I sit down at the table and start loading my plate with beef stroganoff, mashed potatoes, garlic bread, and salad. Everything smells good, and my sister is an excellent cook. I take a bite of the beef stroganoff, and it stays down. That’s another problem I’ve been having—not throwing up my food. The stroganoff sits well, so I take another bite, followed by a bite of mashed potatoes. Both stay down. I’m able to eat several bites of everything before my stomach starts to rebel. I set down my fork, not wanting to press my luck.

“That’s all you’re eating?” Jasmine asks, pausing before taking a healthy bite of stroganoff herself. “You used to put away three plates of my stroganoff by yourself without breaking a sweat.”

“I haven’t been eating much lately,” I say, staring down at my plate. Suddenly, the stroganoff doesn’t look as appetizing, and I push the plate away from me. I take a sip of water to keep my food down.

“I can tell. You’ve lost weight.” Jasmine’s tone is disapproving, even though she’s normally encouraging me to eat healthier and to work out. To her credit, she never comments on my weight in a negative way. Whenever I point out that her eating habits aren’t exactly exemplary, she laughs and tells me I should do as she says, not as she does.

“It’s not because I don’t want to eat—I just can’t keep anything down.” I push the plate even further away before drinking more water. Jasmine’s phone beeps, and she glances down before flushing in anger. “What’s wrong, Jas?” I  ask, furrowing my brows in concern. I love Jasmine like a second mom, so if she’s in trouble, I want to know about it.

“It’s Bob. He’s going to be even later than he thought.” Jasmine’s lips thin out, and right now, she looks every bit her fifty-three years. “For the third night in a row. We had to miss Bible study two nights ago. I was not pleased about that.” We weren’t raised Christian, but Jasmine adopted it when she met Bob. He took her to the Taiwanese Evangelical Church in the Twin Cities, and she is now a devout Christian. She’s never worked outside the home, but she volunteers at the church three to four times a week. Once a week, she leads Bible study. Once a week, she watches the kids while Bob leads Bible study. The other two times, I’m not sure what she does, but I’m sure it’s equally heroic.

“Are you guys OK in general?” I ask, sipping at my water. I want her to be all right, in part, because her marriage with Bob is my ideal. They’ve been married thirty years, have four kids and seven grandchildren, and they still share the same bedroom as far as I know. I know that’s selfish of me, but I need something positive relationship-wise in my life. My father walked out on us when I was three, Jasmine was eleven, and Vivian wasn’t even one. After he left, my mother dedicated herself to drinking herself to death and finally succeeded when I was twenty-eight.

“I don’t know,” Jasmine says, tears springing to her eyes. She dabs at them with her napkin, but doesn’t smear her mascara in the process. I envy her that girl trait since I lack it myself. “About three months ago, he started coming home late. Not just an hour or two, but late-late. Like midnight late. We normally go to bed at ten or eleven, so that’s highly unusual for us.”

“Did you talk to him about it?” I set down my glass and focus on my sister. There are fine lines etched in her forehead, lines I haven’t seen before. Then again, she’s not wearing foundation, which is something she normally wouldn’t be caught dead without.

“I tried, Megan. He kept saying it was work-related and that I should trust him.” Jasmine bursts into tears again, and I hurry to her side of the table to put my arms around her. She leans against me, and it’s surreal to be the one comforting her for once.

“Do you? Trust him, I mean.” I squirm at asking the question, but I don’t want to dance around it.

“I don’t know.” Jasmine looks distraught, and I hate that I have to put her through this. “Three months ago, if you had asked me that question, I would have said yes. Now? I just don’t know.”

“Did you ask his work about it?” For the first time, Jasmine looks uncomfortable. I wish I could take the pain away, but I can’t.

“No,” Jasmine says softly, looking away from me. My sister is a take charge kind of woman. Grown men fear her and children snap to attention at her every command. If she wants something done, it gets done. The fact that she hasn’t done anything about this is not like her at all. I want to tell her that she should just do it, but I know how hard it is to face something you don’t want to know.

“Have you talked to his boss?” I still have my arm around Jasmine’s waist, and I give her a squeeze.

“No. I probably should, but I don’t know what I’d say. ‘Hey, Geoff. How’s it going? Is my husband lying his ass off to me?’ That would be really smooth.” Jasmine picks at her cuticles, which is another thing she normally wouldn’t do.

“How about you call him when Bob is supposed to be at work and say, ‘Hey, Geoff. I need to talk to Bob, and I can’t get ahold of him. Is he there?’ Or, ‘Can you tell him I called?’ One of those might work.” I feel awkward telling her to snoop on her husband, but my sister comes first.

“That’s really good, Megan!” Jasmine picks up her cell phone and dials. Her tone shifts to one of subtle seduction. “Hi, Geoff, it’s Jasmine. I can’t get Bob on his cell. Can you give him a message for me?” She stops, listens, then adds in tight voice, “Thank you. I’ll talk to you later, Geoff.” She clicks off her phone before tossing it onto the table. She glares at it for several seconds, then bursts into tears.

“What did he say, Jasmine?” I ask, gripping her hand.

“He said Bob left early, at two. Claimed he had a doctor’s appointment.” Jasmine’s not easy to understand through her tears. “I make his doctor’s appointments. He didn’t have one. And, a doctor’s appointment doesn’t last five hours.” Jasmine’s tears have subsided, but she’s still sniffling. “He lied to me, Megan. He’s probably been lying to me for the past three months!” She slams her palm against the table, then winces.

“Jasmine! Don’t do that.” I am alarmed because I know how easy it is to hurt yourself when you’re pissed off. I actually sprained three fingers once punching a wall.

“I am so angry at him, Megan. How can he do this to me? To us!” Jasmine leans against my shoulder, and I hug her close.

“Maybe you should ask him what he’s actually done before you go totally ballistic?” I suggest delicately. I really don’t want to push her, but I’m also concerned. She graduated with honors from Macalester, majoring in sociology, and she was going to go to grad school when she discovered she was pregnant—six months after her marriage to Bob. She wanted to get her masters and be a mother at the same time, but Bob was adamant she focus on her pregnancy. He convinced her to not go to school, telling her she could do it after she gave birth to their first child. Well, Robert Jr. was born six weeks early, which meant he spent a lot of time in ICU. Then, he was a sickly child, so it made sense for Jasmine to be a stay-at-home mom. Then, Coral came a year-and-a-half later, then Jordan a year later, then Michael. Being a mom with four kids under the age of five was hard work, even with a nanny and a housekeeper, and she never made it back to school. Her volunteer work takes up a lot of her time, but I know she sometimes wonders if things could have been different if she’d gone to grad school. As it is, her family is her whole life. If Bob is doing her wrong, it’s going to devastate her.

“I’m scared.” The words are so quiet, I can barely hear them.

“I know this is tough, but don’t you think it’s better to know?” I pat Jasmine’s hand, careful to keep my voice even. I don’t want to agitate her even more than she already is.

“I’ve been married to him for thirty years. We dated two years before that. That’s most of my life. What am I going to do without him?” Jasmine buries her face in her hands, and her shoulders shake as she does.

“Jasmine! Listen to me. You need to hash it out with Bob before you make up horror stories in your mind.” I bite off my next words which would have been, “It’s better to know if he’s been cheating on you than to live a lie.”

“I know. This is weak of me, and with God by my side, I can do anything.” Jasmine pauses and adds, “But it hurts like hell right now.”

“I know, Jasmine. I know.” We take our dishes to the kitchen and clean them up. Jasmine always cleans as she cooks, so there aren’t many dishes for us to do. She makes us tea, which we take into the living room. We settle into the couch, and we talk for a few hours about life, love, and God. She doesn’t try to push me towards religion, but she’s very open about her devotion. Sometimes, I envy her. Her faith has seen her through some rough times, including a miscarriage, the death of our mother, and her broken hip a year ago. She’s had a good life, but she’s also worked hard to make it that way. She’s a great mother and an even better grandmother. She’s been a model wife, and I could just kill Bob for doing this to her. After several cups of tea, I stand up and stretch my back.

“I should be going,” I say, a yawn splitting my face. I’m desperately tired, and I need to take a nap.

“Thank you, Megan.” Jasmine stands up and grabs me in a hug. “Come with me.” She leads me into the kitchen and starts dishing up food into Tupperware containers. After four, I protest. I’m a single woman, and even though Rembrandt comes over sometimes, this is still enough food to last me a week. “Just one more.” She fills a fifth to bursting, then puts them all in a shopping bag. She hands it over to me and walks me to the door. She thrusts the bag at me, and I take it. After another awkward hug, I drive home.

“Meow!” Onyx trills up at me and rubs her face against my leg. I set down the bag, scoop her up, and bury my face in her belly fur. She meeps in protest so I put her down. I go into the kitchen, and Onyx and Jet follow close behind. They know they’re going to get treats, and I don’t disappoint. I deal them out with a liberal hand before putting the Tupperware containers into the fridge and the freezer. I’m vaguely hungry, but not for something so heavy. I make myself a light salad and sprinkle it with some balsamic. It’s exactly what I want, and it stays down.

I go to the living room to check my blog. I’ve received mostly positive responses. LakevilleLoonie writes, “I have been severely depressed for most of my life. When I found your blog, I was at my lowest. I was thinking of killing myself. Then I read your post on helpful tips to making it through each day, and in the last paragraph, you included a text-based suicide hotline, and I texted it. That saved my life.” I give a brief response, saying I’m so glad I could help and that they were still with us. SheSaidSeashells says, “You are the best. I read you every day. Please don’t go away.” A few negatives as well that I don’t publish. One says I’m the daughter of Satan and should be in the stocks. I roll my eyes at the antiquated language and stifle the impulse to clutch my pearls. I crack my fingers and start a new post.

My big sister is like a second mother to me. My father left our family when I was three, which caused my mother to fall apart. My mother was usually too drunk to take care of my sisters and me, so it fell to my older sister to feed me, bathe me, and make sure I got to school on time. When I needed  a bra, I went to her. When I got my period, she was the first person I told. When I had my first crush, I went to my older sister for advice. When I started feeling urges towards girl—well, I talked to my best friend about that, but no one’s perfect.

She made me feel safe in a very unsafe world. Any time my mother would go on one of her binges, it was up to my older sister to clean up her messes and to calm down me and our younger sister. She used to sing to me late at night while cuddling me in her arms after my mom passed out on the living room floor. O Sole Mio was a favorite of mine, and I would request it over and over again. She was a huge opera fan, and I learned to at least appreciate it because of her.

Even when she became a mother, she never forgot about me or our younger sister. She would bring food over every week, and it’d be enough for the whole week. It was mostly simple stuff like spaghetti and meatballs, soups, and hot dishes. She graduated to dumplings, wontons, fancy ramen, and other Taiwanese delicacies such as radish cakes. We ate like queens because of her, and that was on top of her four children.

Tonight, I held her as she cried. My whole world shifted in that moment. The woman who protected me all my life needed my protection, and all I could do was hold her. It didn’t feel like enough, but it was all I had to offer.

I write about Jasmine’s predicament without giving away pertinent details until I feel marginally better. I still want to strangle Bob with my own hands, however, for causing her so much pain. I publish the post before going upstairs to take a shower. It’s longer than usual because my back is aching, and I welcome the hot water beating down upon me. Once the water cools, I step out and get dressed. I crawl into bed, but I’m suddenly wide awake. I go downstairs, grab a Diet Coke from the fridge, a Camel Light from my pack, a mug with water in it, and go outside. I smoke the cigarette as I contemplate Jasmine’s situation. I may have to call Bob myself and read him the riot act if he doesn’t straighten up and act right.

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