I SHOULD HAVE CHEATED
"Mimi, I really need help."
"Anything," my grandmother says over the phone from her retirement home in Akron, Ohio, and I swallow my intense relief. She's the oldest in our family -- she'll understand the question I have not been able to ask anyone else.
"Is it about the wedding?" Mimi sounds concerned. I hear the background sounds of her puttering around the kitchen, clinking mugs and glasses. "It's okay to be nervous. And it's months away, there's plenty of time left for you to worry."
I close my eyes and lean my head back against the bedroom wall. "I guess it's kind of about the wedding. More about... Carl."
"What about him?" Her tone sharpens. My grandmother, a stooped woman of 93 who's fended off widowers for the past decade, sounds ready to kill my betrothed without further evidence. "What's he done?"
"Nothing!" I'm close with my grandma, but we've never been this close. There's a generational gap, and I'm sure she will be astonished by my asking this. She was born much closer to the 1900s than I was. Surely this is a matter of propriety.
"Mimi, you know life expectancy for humans is like, getting close to a hundred now. Right?"
"Right..." She sounds lost.
"And you know how they say, 'the first person to live to one hundred twenty-five is alive today'? It got me thinking." I'm desperately hoping that she will arrive at the conclusion before I have to say it.
"Uh huh." She's not arriving.
"So I might be married to Carl for a century." I say this in a harsh whisper, as if someone in my empty apartment will hear me.
After a few beats of silence, my grandmother says, baffled, "And?"
I release an impatient huff of breath. "Mimi, I won't experience another... man... for a century! A hundred years! And then I'll die!"
"Oh. Oh." She clears her throat. The silence lengthens between Akron and Boston, heavy and pulsing and awkward.
Another fear grips me, wild and primal. "You can't talk to Mom about this."
She surprises me by laughing, which turns into a wet, hacking sound. "Oh, believe me, kiddo, I won't."
This ridiculous anxiety has gripped me since my surprise engagement a few days ago. "Am I insane to get married so young, or am I creating a problem out of nothing? Carl and I have already been together for years, so I don't know why I'm freaking out about this now. You and Papi were married for what, sixty-something years?"
"Sixty one. Oh, I should've cheated." Mimi says this like it's nothing, waving the words off like they're no bother whatsoever. My lungs implode, crumpling inward toward my guts like paper.
"What?" I squeeze this word out on the little air that's lodged in my throat.
"I didn't, of course. Your grandfather would've killed me. But I guess that's a lot more accepted these days?" She chuckles. "Not killing. The affairs, I mean."
The ground is crumbling beneath my feet. The world I thought I knew was a false prop in an old western, a wooden building face with nothing behind it but emptiness. "Mimi, what are you saying? You didn't love Papi?" If my grandmother didn't love my grandfather, then love is not real. Those wedding photos, the anniversary cruises they took every year. She'd been so happy.
She blows a raspberry. "Of course I loved him. I just loved other people too. Marriage doesn't stop you from looking at the menu once you've ordered, honey."
It doesn't escape me that she says "people." My grandmother, who was born during the Great Depression.
"Does that answer your question? I mean, I love you, kid, but you're my granddaughter. This is weird."
I laugh. "Yes, that helps a lot. I think. Thanks, Mimi."
We speak a little while longer about our respective goings-on before she ends the call to meet her fellow retirees for dinner. I remain on the bed, cell phone in my hand, cat by my feet.
I call Carl. He picks up on the third ring. "Hey, babe."
"Hey there." I debate engaging in small talk before my question, and then I can't help myself. "Honey, you know how when we're fooling around, we sometimes talk about adding other people?"
"How would you like to explore that?"