I meet up with my friend Charlotte (not her real name) on a Saturday morning. Charlotte is a beautiful blond woman, with a heart of gold. Orphans need tuition? She’ll pay for it. A remote village needs a well? She’ll fund it. Daughter has a dog she can’t take care of? She’ll adopt him, and be the best dog mama on the planet. One day, she was speeding on the freeway, when a cop car appeared behind her, no flashing lights or anything, but she pulled over to the road shoulder, and the cop asked her why she stopped. She self- confessed to speeding, which the cop found hilarious, because he was simply driving behind her car, and hadn’t even noticed that she was speeding. He thanked her for her honesty and assured her that his colleagues would be hearing about this encounter. That’s Charlotte in a nutshell, good people.
The usual pleasantries out of the way, I ask how she is doing, because she is in the process of planning to leave Jeff (not his real name), her husband of 13 years, as in exactly 13 years. She is leaving him, not because he is violent, or is running a drug cartel (that she knows of), but because he is, in her words, “detached”. This man has no emotional connection to anyone or anything, except his cat. More on that later.
Charlotte and Jeff dated for a few years before getting married. Charlotte has a daughter from a previous marriage, Jeff does not have any children. He is a very successful businessman. Their dating years were ordinary, with the most excitement being on the one night when Jeff came home extremely drunk and Charlotte read him the riot act, resulting in Jeff abstaining from repeating that behavior. They got married, and settled into domestic bliss with their daughter, a dog and a few cats completing their family. Every night, the cats would settle in bed with them for the night.
Due to medical complications, Charlotte needed to undergo a hysterectomy. Because their house is quite large, she decided to spend her recovery days in one of the spare bedrooms, so the cats wouldn’t use her recuperating abdomen as a pillow when they slept at night. After she had sufficiently recovered, Charlotte moved back into their bedroom, and asked Jeff if the cats could be moved to the hallway to sleep at night.
I have to pause here and explain how strange I, a small-town Kenyan, find it that American pets sleep in their parents’ (owner is too harsh) beds. To be fair, my only interaction with domestic animals when I was growing up was either as food (cows, goats, chicken, sheep, fish) or as protection (German Shepherd Dogs). So the concept of an animal being inside a home, let alone a bedroom, is something I am slowly acclimatizing to.
So, as you can imagine, I did not find it strange that Charlotte would request some personal space from the cats. You know who found it strange? Jeff. Actually, strange doesn’t quite capture his reaction. Charlotte says he looked at her in a manner suggesting she wanted to amputate his arm. She told him that if she was to sleep in that bedroom, then the cats would have to move to cat beds. One of her geriatric cats sleeps on a heated cat bed (the struggle is real). Also, this just shows that she truly cared for the cats, just not to the extent that Jeff did, obviously. When faced with the choice of no wife or no cats sharing his bed, Jeff chose, you guessed it, the cats. And so began their 9 year separate bedrooms arrangement.
Charlotte’s relationship with her Mother In Law (MIL) has been complicated. At first, her MIL didn’t approve of Charlotte because Charlotte was not educated enough (her MIL is quite wealthy and on the lookout for gold diggers). MIL is Eastern European, and is very unemotional and detached, whereas Charlotte is warm and caring, so it was an oil meets water situation.
As they years have gone by, Charlotte has become the closest to her MIL, as both Jeff and his brother have minimal contact with her. Case in point, when MIL was admitted to hospital with heart problems, Charlotte was the one to call the hospital and speak to MIL, when both sons couldn’t be bothered. Pilot and his educated wife (who MIL loved due to her education), only contact MIL when in need of a loan, usually in the hundreds of thousands. When asked why they don’t go to see their mother, Pilot and Mrs Pilot, say they don’t have time (he is literally a pilot! And he can’t get on a plane to go and see his ailing mother? But he can call her up for a loan?). At this point, I am shaking my head in disbelief. How can people be so callous to the woman who gave them life (and money in case of pilot)? To Pilot’s credit, he calls Charlotte and thanks her for caring about his parents, because, and this is a direct quote, “my brother and I are jerks”.
Jeff, on the other hand, was avoiding dictatorial MIL because he has some explaining to do regarding a last-minute trip he decided to take.
Many months ago, Jeff, Charlotte, their daughter and a gaggle of family members were planning to fly to Fiji and have a two-week vacation (sans the kitties). The day before they were supposed to leave, Cruz, their rambunctious dog, tore his ACL and his meniscus. Someone was going to have to stay behind and care for him. Charlotte decided to forgo Fiji. Jeff offered to stay with her to help take Cruz to the dog surgeon. This gave Charlotte hope that deep inside, maybe the man she married still existed. A couple of days into what would have been their vacation, Charlotte scheduled surgery for Cruz, and that was when Jeff casually informed her that he would be going on a “last minute” business trip to Austria. “Too many balls to juggle, I had to drop one. Oh, could you please water the flowers while I’m away?” he said, shrugging like, no big deal. She was the ball he had decided to drop.
“Well, you dropped the wrong ball.” Charlotte warned him, wondering how such an intelligent man could be so stupid and short-sighted. So off Jeff went, a mother and wife free globetrotting businessman.
On the evening after the surgery, Jeff called Charlotte from Vienna, asking about her day. To recap, Charlotte had been dealing with:
- Cruz’s surgery and resulting crying (have you ever seen a dog cry? It is a pitiful sight)
- Bruises on her legs because cruise had the cone of shame, which he kept bumping into Charlotte’s legs.
- Cranky cats
- A MIA husband
- A hospitalized MIL
- A father in law who suffers from Alzheimers and had just been admitted to hospice care (again, neither son had reached out to find out how he was doing)
So, she told him that she had had a long day, to which he responded, “If I was there I would have helped you.” That was the last straw. The death knell on their 13 year marriage, 9 of which were spent in separate quarters. Money can’t buy you love.