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Listen to the Marriage

“Is there anything practical that needs to be addressed right now?” Sandy asked.

Like a student, Gretchen raised her hand.

It had been a long time since one of the couples who came to Sandy had raised a hand before speaking.

“Okay, Gretchen,” Sandy said. “What’s going on?”

“I’m worried about money,” Gretchen said. “Since I moved out, I’ve had to rent an apartment, furnish it, pay for new childcare.”

“How much money do you have?” Sandy asked.

“I don’t know,” Gretchen said. “In my checking account right now, I have three thousand dollars. The rest of our money? Steve handles it.”

Sandy turned to Steve, Gretchen’s husband. He was slumped in the chair across from Gretchen.

“So, Steve, what is the money situation?” Sandy asked.

“I just became a full partner at Simpson Weaver,” Steve said. “I had a chance to buy into the partnership fund. It took all of our uncommitted resources.”

“Are you saying that you and Gretchen have no money?” Sandy asked.

“Of course we have money,” Steve said. “I think there is about twenty thousand dollars in our Vanguard money market fund. It’s all going to work out. Now that I’m a partner, I can borrow as much money as I need.”

You had to buy into the partnership fund, but then you can borrow as much as you want? Sandy thought.

“As I understand it, you guys just sold a house in Ross,” Sandy said. “Where’s the money from that?”

“We closed escrow this morning,” Steve said. “I have a check for two hundred thousand dollars.”

Sandy’s mother had been a legendary real estate maven. In fact, this office was in one of her mother’s buildings. Sandy knew something about real estate.

“You sold a house in Ross, and the total cash you got was only two hundred thousand dollars?” Sandy said.

“I had to mortgage the house,” Steve said. “I took out every penny I could.”

“To buy into the partnership fund?” Sandy said evenly.

“It sounds crazy,” Steve said. “But that’s the way it works.”

He leaned forward in his chair.

“You think this is nuts, don’t you? You think I’ve been scamming Gretchen or something,” Steve said.

“I’ve known you for about half an hour,” Sandy said. “I have no idea what you’re doing to Gretchen. All I know is that Gretchen is worried about money.”

“So we can split the money from the house,” Steve said.

“Are you worried about money?” Sandy asked Steve.

“Not really,” he said. “Soon I’ll have my first partnership draw.”

“And you can borrow as much as you want until then?” Sandy asked.

“Yes, sure,” Steve said.

“I think you should give the two hundred thousand dollars from the house to Gretchen,” Sandy said.

Sandy saw it hit him. He almost lashed out. Somehow he got control of himself.

“That’s interesting,” Steve said deliberately, cautiously. Sandy waited for more.

“The whole two hundred thousand dollars?” Steve said.

“Yes,” Sandy said. “All of it. Gretchen has taken a huge step, moving out on her own with the kids. On top of everything else, do you want her worried about money?”

That’s right, Steve, Sandy was saying. She left you, but I want you to give her the whole two hundred thousand dollars. Can you see why?

“But half of it belongs to Steve,” Gretchen said. She looked so earnest, and so blond, blue-eyed, so all-American. It was like, What am I doing here? This isn’t my movie.

“What do you mean, half of it belongs to Steve?” Sandy asked.

“If we got divorced, half would be his,” Gretchen said.

“Do you want to get divorced?” Sandy asked.

“I don’t know,” Gretchen said slowly. “Probably, but we have two children.”

“I’m a marriage therapist,” Sandy said. “Frankly, I don’t care what the law says. You can find a lawyer to explain that to you. What I see is that you’re worried about money. I think two hundred thousand dollars would take your worry about money off the table, at least for the time being. You told me that you’re primarily responsible for the kids plus you’re working full-time. I think you’re going to need all kinds of help. Do you want to be worried about money on top of everything else?”

Gretchen lit up. “You really think I should have the whole two hundred thousand?” she said.

“Yes,” Sandy said.

She turned to look at Steve. His shirt was pressed, his shoes were shined, his pants had a neat crease. But his brown eyes had deep circles under them, and his hands shook. He was trying to hold himself together.

“What do you think, Steve?” Sandy asked.

“I think most guys would say: My wife is about to divorce me, and the marriage counselor wants me to give my wife all of the cash from the house? When legally one-half belongs to me? Why would I do that?” Steve said. “That’s what most guys would say.”

“That is what most guys would say,” Sandy said. “What about you?”

Amazingly, he smiled.

“When you said the whole two hundred thousand should go to Gretchen, I was like, Wow.” Steve paused. “I was like: What is going on here? I felt ambushed. I thought, While we’re trying to decide whether to get a divorce or not, shouldn’t everything be frozen in place?”

The last thing Sandy believed was that everything should be frozen in place.

“Do you want a divorce?” Sandy asked.

Steve didn’t answer. What was he feeling? Sandy wondered if he could talk about it. She asked: “How are you feeling, Steve?”

“How I’m feeling?” It was as if this were a question he had not allowed himself to consider.

“My wife has moved out with the kids. I just made partner at a private equity firm but I feel worse than I’ve ever felt in my life. I haven’t slept for weeks.”

He stopped talking, looked at Gretchen sitting across from him. It was as if he wanted to take stock. Who was she? He didn’t know anymore.

She’s a beautiful, smart ice princess and you really fucked this up, Sandy thought.

Would Sandy take them on? She wasn’t sure. Where were the brooding, melancholy artists? She never saw them. Was Steve brooding? Brooding, introspective, willing to change? Was it possible that he could change? Did he write poetry late at night? Did he paint watercolors? Did he realize how beautiful it was here, in this city, at this time of year?

She looked over at Gretchen. And could you change? It might actually be harder for you, princess.

Steve was looking around the office, the desk in the corner, the Scandinavian armchairs, and behind them, the big green Victorian armchair. Was he thinking it was out of place in the office? The two windows showing the top of the pepper tree outside. Sandy realized that Steve hadn’t noticed his surroundings, where he was, as he stumbled in, having trouble just getting to his chair. Now he was centering himself.

“Steve?” Sandy said.

“Sorry,” he said. “So why would I give Gretchen the half of the money that belongs to me? Why should I do that?”

“Because she’s worried about money,” Sandy said.

“I don’t want to get divorced,” Steve said quietly, finally answering Sandy’s question.

“But you are teetering on the edge of it,” Sandy said. “What you’ve been doing hasn’t worked. You should try something new. Something you would never do. Something that seems counterintuitive. Why not? What do you have to lose?”

“Money,” Steve said.

Wrong answer, Steve. Sandy just looked at him: Steve, it is all on the line right now. Do you get that?

“Try something counterintuitive?” Steve said after a moment.

“Why not?” Sandy said.

He was still clinging by his fingertips to what most guys thought. Let go, Steve, Sandy thought. He looked away, into the middle distance.

“I’m tired,” Steve said.

“I know,” Sandy said. Let go, you’ve been holding on too long, she thought.

He did. Sandy sensed him let go of the guys and the advice that never works and fall into the unknown.

“Okay,” Steve said. “Let’s try counterintuitive.”

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope.

“I happen to have the check with me.”

He opened the envelope, took out a check. He took the Montblanc pen from his shirt pocket and endorsed the check. He handed it to Gretchen. She took it. Two hundred thousand dollars.

“Thank you,” she said.

Sandy thought these were probably the first kind words Steve had heard from Gretchen in a long time. Thank you. See, Steve, Sandy thought, you tried something counterintuitive and already it’s working.

Yes, she would take them on.

Copyright © 2018 by John Jay Osborn

Listen to the Marriage
by by John Jay Osborn

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 125023476X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250234766