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Note: This is part two of the continuing story of The Coach and Me. Just a head’s up that this section is much more story-based and develops the narrative/characters.
Women can be utterly unreadable when they want to be. I think it must be an adaptive trait. Don’t give too much away when there’s uncertainty, don’t betray any inconvenient emotion when the situation is precarious. And this situation is precarious. In my fantasies, I don’t have to think about complexities. I don’t have to suspend disbelief. But now it’s time to cross the transition line between fantasy and reality and be the person I’m supposed to be in this context–a player’s mother–and not the daydreamer I’ve become. So I knew I needed to step into that role, wear the mask, be appropriate.
“I’m sorry they sent you to find me,” I said. “I was on my way back.”
“They didn’t send me. To be honest, I don’t even think they noticed me leave. Did you find the bees?”
I shook my head, sheepish. “Took a detour somewhere along the way.”
Our proximity to each other was so novel that there was a long, awkward pause during which neither of us could think of what to say. We were so used to seeing each other from the other side of the pitch, or off on the sideline. I’m normally able to think on my feet, but no words came. At that moment, I was just a body without a mind.
Finally, he cleared his throat. “I was just thinking, as I was walking over here to find you, that it’s funny.”
“Just that we’ve never spoken before, except for that first phone call last fall when I told you Jackson had made the team.”
“Please forgive me. It’s my fault. I’m the most socially awkward human being alive.”
He smiled. “I doubt that.”
“Besides, I never talk to the coaches–I figure you guys hear from parents enough.”
“I do hear from parents a lot.” He hesitated for a moment, then added, “Not always the ones I want to hear from, though.”
The conversation was getting subtler, somehow. Maybe a little dangerous. But there were still many exit ramps available so I decided to let it ride a little. “Well, to be fair, you’ve also never spoken to me.”
He nodded. “I know. And I apologize.”
“You don’t need to apologize.”
He leaned his arm against the barn and looked at the ground. “Maybe I don’t need to apologize, but I feel like I should explain.”
He looked up at me and fixed his rich, dark eyes on my face–I could see that he’d been emboldened by drink, but I also saw a seriousness of intent there. A sincerity. I was unsure where he was going with this. I’d been moving between two narrative lines for the last six months–one fantasy-based, one rooted in reality, and of course, at the end of the day, reality has to take precedence. The fantasy just adds interest to my life, an outlet for my sexual energy. It isn’t real. Everything that happens at a practice, for example, can be read either as speculative or documentary. His eyes are on me because he’s attracted to me. Or his eyes only seem to be on me, but are, in fact, looking past me; maybe he hardly sees me at all. He never speaks to me because he’s too nervous or too worried he might give himself away by his demeanor. Or he never speaks to me because he barely registers my existence.
As I looked at him at this moment, in the real world, I knew I need to be a responsible adult and choose reality, so I told him he didn’t have to apologize and he certainly didn’t have to explain himself to me.
I heard a couple cars start up over at the house, followed by some shouted goodbyes. “There you guys are,” Brad said as he rounded the corner of the barn unsteadily. He was sweating. “Mary sent me to see if you’d run away with the circus” His face was flushed and his eyes were a little unfocused. He looked around. “Where’s those bees?” J. caught Brad under his arm to steady him. “Come on, we were on our way back.”
“I can walk just fine,” Brad said, wrenching his arm free, but the force of that action sent him careening into the barn. I gently took Brad’s hand. “Will you walk me back?”
“Whaddya think I came all this way for,” he said, and squeezed my hand. “Let’s go book-lady.” I squeezed his hand back. He had no idea how glad I am that he arrived when he did.
In the days that followed, I thought about J., of course, but with the season over and tryouts looming, I knew I wouldn’t see him for a few weeks. I found myself wondering what he would have “explained” to me, if Brad hadn’t turned up at that moment. But then something that happened that shattered my world–the real world–and made my fantasy world completely irrelevant.
It had started last Christmas. My husband had long expressed an interest in learning to play piano. His parents hadn’t been able to afford lessons when escort eryaman he was growing up, and once he was on his own, his work and family obligations made it hard for him to be able to set aside time to take lessons, not to mention the practice time he needed. As Christmas neared, I’d asked my son’s young piano teacher if she ever taught adults. Rarely, she told me–she’d discovered that adult learners tend to fall behind in practice because life gets in the way (and, she told me laughingly, they don’t have a parent nagging them to sit down at the piano). But when I told her about my idea for a Christmas gift, she agreed to take my husband on as a student.
The lessons had been a hit from day one. He came home from each lesson at her studio eager to show me what he’d learned. It started with Chopsticks, of course, but soon he was able to zip through the beginner’s version of Fur Elise. I was impressed by how diligent he’d been about practicing every night.
“Don’t tell him I told you,” the teacher told me one day when I brought my son in for his lesson, “but he’s working on a song for your birthday. It’s a gift for you.” He upped his lessons to twice a week. I assumed it was because he wanted to get extra time in on the song he was preparing to surprise me with. I was, of course, wrong.
My birthday came and went without a piano performance–or a gift. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen him peel out of the driveway at 6pm on the day of my birthday, or Valentine’s Day, or our anniversary, and return with a bouquet of grocery store roses. As I unwrapped the roses from their plastic this time, I tried not to be upset. He’d been this way since I’d known him and had chalked it up to the fact that he hadn’t been raised in a family that exchanged gifts. Granted, he’d had many years to learn a new way, but just like he overlooked many of my flaws, I decided to overlook this one, too, and thanked him for the flowers.
It all came to a head the week after the soccer party. I found out when he left his laptop open on the dining room table after taking Jackson to get ice cream. I suppose he’d forgotten that he’d linked his text messages with his iMessages. But here they came, so many chiming notifications that it sounded like a handbell choir gone loco. I went to shut his laptop and saw that it was his work friend, Phil, blowing up his phone. Worried that something was the matter, I clicked on the message thread:
“I can’t stop thinking about you,” Phil said.
“I can still smell you on my fingers,” my husband replied.
“Next time, I want you to fuck me on the piano bench.”
“My back will probably give out, but I’m willing to get into traction if I can fuck that sweet pussy again.”
My world stopped. I thought I was going to be sick. Obviously, he’d hidden her name under Phil’s contact. And he was probably standing in line for ice cream as he was responding to her messages, totally oblivious that they were popping up on his laptop. I slammed his laptop shut and sat down in the dark living room, staring at my hands. If I were writing a book and had included this plot twist, my editor would have thrown my manuscript across the room and demanded I do better, but this wasn’t fiction–this was my life.
How could I not have known? All the signs were there–I’d just misread them. Him telling me I was too insatiable, that he couldn’t keep up–it had been a lie. Ten years older than me, I’d believed him when he told me he couldn’t manage more than twice a week. Now I knew better. He was used up. On the nights he turned me down, he’d already given everything he had, physically, to her. I’d built my fantasies to fill the gaps, but they were just fantasies–they kept me from cheating. I had had no intention of ever acting on them. Meanwhile, he was living out his fantasies in the studio of my child’s piano teacher. I felt unsteady on my feet as I trudged up to our bedroom.
I sat down on the bed and looked at myself in the dresser mirror. I was now embarrassed to think about how attractive I’d felt around J.. Real or imagined, he’d made me feel seen and appreciated, and, as a result, when I looked in the mirror, I felt better about myself. Now, instead of seeing the forty-something who still looked young enough to be carded occasionally (albeit usually at the American Legion!) and who could still catch the eye of men both older and younger, I saw an undesirable nobody. My full lips, which I liked to darken with rose-colored lipstick, struck me now as crooked and ugly. My large blue eyes, always my best feature, my saving grace on those days when I just felt unattractive, were bloodshot and filmed over with tears that wouldn’t fall. Even my body, which I worked so hard to keep trim, looked gross. No amount of exercise would hide the fact that I’d once carried elvankent escort a child. I could have a core of steel, and I almost did, but there would always be that little bit of loose skin, a reminder that I brought a beautiful boy into this world. I’d been proud of that mark, because it was something I shared with my husband. Now I was embarrassed by it, because I knew the piano teacher, childless and at least fifteen years younger, didn’t have to worry about that sort of thing.
What happened next followed the usual trajectory. I confronted him and he denied it. I told him I’d seen the messages, told him I knew he’d hidden her in his phone as “Phil.” That was it. He cried and held my hand, telling me he had been “confused” and was struggling with getting older. He quoted the line from Moonstruck, when the wife, who has learned her husband of fifty years, is cheating on her, tells a dinner companion that men cheat because they’re afraid of death. It took all my strength not to laugh in his face. “And what about the note?” I asked.
“The note you gave her.”
He looked at me blankly. He didn’t think I would’ve approached her, but I had. She’d handed me a note he’d written. “I’m so sorry. I assumed the note was true,” she said. After a beat, she added, “I’m horrified that you had to see those text messages.” The note was addressed to her, and said that he really wanted to get a drink with her, and a bit more. “She knows,” he wrote. “We have an open marriage.”
In the midst of all this, soccer tryouts were scheduled, and I had to ferry my son up to the middle school. I knew J. would be there, but now I didn’t care what I was wearing, or what he thought when he saw me. What was the point? He’d never really been looking at me anyway. Everything I thought I’d observed–him keeping an eye on me during practice, his promised “explanation” for why he never spoke to me–it was meaningless. Easily explained away. The delusions of a woman whose husband had lost interest in her and who was probably on her way to the dreaded invisibility experienced by so many women. When I was sitting on that bench at practice, thinking I was looking halfway decent, maybe even cute, my husband was fucking another woman. How could I have thought for even an instant that I could be attractive or desirable. Events had unfolded that indicated the exact opposite.
And as I pulled into the parking lot of the middle school with my son and saw J. standing at the fields, clipboard in hand, I was again overcome by embarrassment at the way my wild imagination had designed scenarios where I’d be the focus of his attention.
I forced myself to be cheerful. “Good luck! And don’t sweat it. You’ll do amazing.”
I watched as he joined the other boys circled around J. and the other evaluators. J. said something to them and they all simultaneously turned toward the parking lot and beckoned the parents to the field. Reluctantly, we all got out of our cars and made our way to the field. The boys were sent to warm up while J. waited for all of us to gather round him. Kayla fell into step with me. “Looks like the coach wants to talk to the parents. How was your three weeks of soccer freedom?” she asked. I glanced over at her, and she could tell at once that they hadn’t gone well. “Are you okay?” I bit my lip and shook my head, but gave her a look that I hoped said, “Later.” She got it.
As we gathered round J., I avoided his eyes. I pulled my baseball cap low and thrust my hands into the pockets of my warmup jacket. My yoga pants had a bleach stain on them. I didn’t care. I was done trying.
“Just wanted to chat with the parents for a second about how tryouts are going to roll out this year,” J. said. I hadn’t heard his voice in so long. I realized that I’d missed it. “We expect to make two elite teams this year due the excess talent at this age level. Both teams will play in the ECNL, but will have different schedules. I don’t want to say there will be a top team and a lower team, but the Black team can be considered the A team and the Blue team the B team.”
I zoned out for the rest of the talk, catching only the fact that J. would coach one team and another coach would coach the others. I didn’t even remember who would coach which team. It didn’t really matter who coached my son now. J. had reverted to being just another coach because my fantasy of his interest had imploded, and when fantasy implodes it can’t easily be rebuilt. There’s a magic in the suspension of disbelief, and once that magic is ruined, it’s over.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Kayla asked as we walked back to the parking lot. I looked at her kind face. I hadn’t told anyone–not my parents, not my friends. It was like if I didn’t tell anyone, it hadn’t etimesgut escort really happened. I leaned against the hood of my car and told her everything. It felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders, and I was moved by the way her eyes filled with tears out of compassion for me. She squeezed my hand. “Are you going to divorce?”
I hadn’t allowed myself to consider that question yet. “I don’t know yet. I need some time.”
She nodded. “So I say this as a school guidance counselor, but if you do make that decision, consider looping in J..”
I was taken aback. “Why would I tell him?”
“In my experience with young teenage boys, the coach is often one of the most trusted adults in their orbit. Divorces are hard on kids, and having that context will help J. support your kiddo as you all go through this.”
“I guess during the soccer season he does spend more time with coaches than he does with us.”
“I’m sorry you have to go through this.”
A few days later, the calls were being made to notify the parents of rostering decisions. By this time, I was sleeping on the sofa in the den, even though my husband had offered to let me have the bedroom. I couldn’t sleep there anymore. There were too many bad memories of trying to interest him in sex only to have him beg off with an early morning meeting or because his back hurt. I chuckled darkly. I bet his back did hurt.
It was around nine when my phone rang. It was J., telling me Jackson had made the Black team. Coaches always called to notify of roster placement. It was sort of old school, but, I thought, kind of classy. “He’ll be so happy,” I said.
“I’m excited to coach him for another year. Beyond his obvious skills, he’s a fun player to have around.” It was weird having a conversation with him where I didn’t feel nervous. Nothing at stake, nothing to be nervous about. I’d also gotten over the shame I felt when I remembered how I’d let myself believe he might have been interested in me. I pictured him on the other end of the line, going down a list of names and having the same conversation with parent after parent.
“Well, I appreciate you giving him this opportunity.”
“I’ll also be coaching one of the older teams and there may be opportunities for him to guest play for us when we need him. I think he could really be an asset for us. Would he be interested in that?”
I laughed and pretended to be thinking it over. “Hmm, hold on, let me think about that YES!” Jackson would be thrilled to have been selected by J. to play up a year. I couldn’t wait to tell him.
“I’m sorry, it will probably mean more driving for you.”
“It’s worth it to see him that happy.”
We said goodnight, and I went to bed in a good mood for the first time in a week, happy for my kid.
In the meantime, my husband wanted to try to work things out, but I wasn’t sure I could do it after what he’d done. On the other hand, the prospect of divorce was so earth-shattering that I could barely face it. Unsurprisingly, my libido was dead. I’d tried a couple times in the shower to wake my body up in order to get myself off, hoping that might make me feel better, but I could raise no response. My body didn’t respond to any of my caresses, and when I tried to think of someone to turn me on, I could think of no one. My self-esteem was so shot that even when I tried to make up a lover, I couldn’t get myself to believe that this fictional individual would find me attractive enough to sleep with. Maybe, I thought, I was done with sex.
A week later, the piano teacher called me and told me that they were still meeting for sex. She was guilt-ridden and wanted me to know. I was too worn out to be outraged, too down to feel any worse. I no longer had a choice. I’d have to start this journey whether I wanted to or not. I got the name of a divorce lawyer from my literary agent and started making calls.
Word got around quick. At a practice the next week, Brad sauntered up to where I was sitting in my car, reading, and leaned into the open window. “There’s no way to ask this without being a dick, but, is it true that you guys are splitting up?”
I set my book down. “Yes.”
He shook his head. “Another one bites the dust. Damn, I’m sorry to hear that.” He hesitated. “Was there a bad guy in any of this?”
“You know I’m not going to tell you that, Brad.”
He put his hands up and backed away, grinning. “You know I had to ask.”
After he headed back to his car, I read until it got too dark, then got out and watched the end of practice. The boys were scrimmaging and J. was playing with them. I was impressed with how skillful he was and how easily he kept up with the kids. I thought of what Kayla had said–about how important it was to let the trusted adults in Jackson’s life know about the divorce. I knew I’d have to talk to him about it sooner or later, and the sooner the better. There was an out-of-town tournament this coming weekend. That would probably be the best time to pull J. aside and tell him what had happened.
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