Spoiled Cereal

by Tamara D.

I can’t remember exactly how it felt, living inside my marriage. Sometimes, in the night’s reflection, when I wake up and all I hear is the tick and whirr of steeped silence, I search the darkened rooms of my brain to feel it. To feel anything. I’m able to dredge up bits and pieces, like waking up knowing you’ve had a dream, but only getting a few fragmented flashes of it. The same short stack of Polaroids over and over again. Feelings obscured behind glass fogged by breath. Words silenced by a mouth with no voice.

I remember standing in the galley kitchen of our 12th floor apartment on Ritson Road cooking Duck à l’Orange for my in-laws. I had never cooked a duck before and I couldn’t get over how greasy it was. And I knew that oranges were supposed to go with it, but I didn’t like oranges, so I was sure that I wouldn’t like the Duck à l’Orange.

Or I imagine myself at our melamine table preparing his place setting before bed. Cap’n Crunch nuggets spilling out of the box and into his bowl, placing his spoon perfectly parallel to the table’s edge, so that he could make a quick exit to work the next morning. And how I wrote his essays when we were in college to make sure he’d get his Theology degree. And then his sermons when he got his first assistant minister’s gig.

I remember him preaching the Ten Commandments on Sunday morning, and then stealing from his day job on Monday morning. First it was a side of beef that came home hip by hind by flank day by day to fill our freezer from the meat packing plant when he drove truck. Then the computer that he brought home piece by piece, hard drive and RAM hidden under a false bottom in his lunchbox, and assembled on the kitchen table after I cleared our evening meal, and as I washed dishes and stared out the window in silence at couples taking an evening stroll in the park behind our complex.

I remember how my heart leapt when the red and white Snowbird jets came out of nowhere and crested the hill we rested against, the powerful force and crescendo of nine jet engines reverberating as my cheek nestled into the familiar flannel and warmth of his chest, his heart beating against the palm of my hand. Taking a deep breath in, as deep as my breath could take me, and inhaling the scents of fresh earth on a spring day, clean laundry, and Old Spice cologne. 

I remember that we had sex every night, but I can’t remember if it was good, bad, or average. I do remember the porn flicks that he rented, and how he’d lie on the couch transfixed on tits and ass as I gave him blowjobs. But it didn’t have to be porn. It could be anything, even Jeopardy or the national news. And his eyes never left the screen, even during the commercials. That’s nearly all I remember about our marriage.

Except for money and how stingy he was with it, unless it was for something that he wanted, like a new pair of cockatiels or a parachute or chrome footboards for his Harley. He doled out forty bucks a week for groceries at Knob Hill Farms – sardines, canned peas, anything three for a dollar – and I have no idea how we got by on that, or how we made do with even less some weeks when I needed tampons or birth control, or the time I skimmed off the kitty for six months because I needed a new pair of winter boots.

In the still of the night, when all I can hear is the hum of the furnace, memories of our everyday life sift through the mesh sieve of my mind into nothingness. And I’m left peering into the vessel of our marriage, feeling and hearing nothing. No talking over dinner, no saying goodnight. Only saying I’m sorry over and over again for things I didn’t know. Maybe, when it comes right down to it, that’s why our marriage failed. Or maybe it was the cereal. The morning he freaked out because I had set out the bowl and spoon, but hadn’t poured the Cap’n Crunch. I think about that day every time I see that Quaker box and saluting commander with my husband’s fucking moustache in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. And even after all this time, 35 years later, I still wish I had followed my friend Rose’s advice and poured the milk on his cereal the next night. All hell would have broken loose then, but it might have been worth it.

The first time we split up, it was on his terms. Needing to clear my conscience but not feeling particularly repentant, I confessed to the affair while we were on our way to church. I had hoped that a visit to God’s house would smooth it over, or at least soften the blow so that we could start to get past it. It didn’t, and a day later I was out on my ass and living with a college acquaintance and her husband who suggested, with his wife’s blessing, that sleeping with him might clear my head and help me make a rational next-step decision. When I told my husband about it in hushed whispers over the phone, he told me to pack up my things, that he was on his way to bring me home. Not that anything was forgiven or forgotten. He held my affair over my head until my neck nearly buckled.

Two weeks later, we split for a second time after he told both of our families and our few friends what I had done. More hell. And his terms. He chose my birthday to pack up and move out everything that wasn’t a permanent fixture – cupboards and closets left naked and exposed – then came to see me at work on my lunch break to let me know he was leaving. My birthday. The death of my marriage.

Needing to claim back control and the Caithness glass his mother gave me, I convinced him to move back in days later, then cheated on him before he even had a chance to get his shit out of storage. This time, it was with someone we both knew from skydiving. When it seemed like everyone but him had figured it out, and the affair had given me the confidence to believe that I would not only survive but thrive without him, I blurted it out and watched him storm out the door for the last time, fists clenched, his whole body seething.

In the end, I got both ends of a losing stick. When I tried to withdraw cash from the bank machine, I found out that he’d drained our only account. And I got a practical lesson in adultery – that for some guys the draw is only in bedding another man’s wife, not keeping her. 

Soggy Cap’n Crunch nuggets stuck to the bottom of the bowl abandoned on the kitchen table when love left. Shitting on my own doorstep by cheating too close to home so I could feel anything at all. And now, as I lie here, staring up at the ceiling, listening to breath rise and fall beside me, feeling nothing and everything all at once. The wild joy of red and white jets in formation overhead. Blowjobs scheduled with the evening news. His heart beating against my hand, and his fists clenched as he left me. Caithness glass weighing down the sermons on his desk. Stealing, skimming, and saying sorry when there’s nothing else to say. Cheating God. Cheating. And memories of greasy duck and spoiled cereal that only hold space in the silence.

About the author:

Tamara’s roots grew on a farm in the Canadian Prairies, but she now calls Toronto home. Her work explores healing without apology for the darkness. She holds a graduate certificate from the Humber School for Writers. Spoiled Cereal is her first publication.

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