Tiberius never wanted to divorce Vipsania. When her father died leaving her stepmother, Julia the Elder, a widow, the Emperor Augustus (Julia’s father) acted. Augustus forced Tiberius (his stepson) to divorce Vipsania and marry Julia. How forced it was is open to question. Tiberius was an ambitious man and such an advantageous match cemented his position as heir apparent. If Robert Graves is to be believed, Tiberius attributed his ambition to his mother, Livia’s, constant pressure, “it is our mother who makes me so,” he says to his brother Drusus. Tiberius’ ambition was fulfilled in the end. He became Emperor.
Ambition came to be the snake in our garden. He had such grand plans: marriage, finish his PhD, a couple of top-flight postdocs, tenure-track position at a top-notch research school, two children, all with his dutiful wife at his side. My ambitions were not so lofty. Wherever we went I needed to work. It was that simple. I had grown up without much and I was not going to be in a position where I could not support myself. I knew the two-body problem meant moving around a lot, something that I was not too keen on; having an established career and all. I suggested that we be a bicoastal couple. I would remain in New York, he would take the postdoc out west, and we would see each other whenever we had enough vacation time. He’d fly east and I’d fly west. He didn’t think it was a good idea that we be apart so early in our marriage. I didn’t think it made a bit of difference. I thought it would be fun. I thought our rendezvous would have been hot and exciting, with a touch of the illicit. He was adamant in his disagreement and so I packed my masters degree and we started off on our journey, secure in the knowledge that I could get a job anywhere.
When we arrived in the middle of nowhere in the intermountain west, I knew it was going to be a long-haul. Watching Sesame Street made me homesick for New York. I was isolated and alone. I found it hard to relate to people who found me to be a “fast-talking, hard-charging New Yorker”. After six months, I got an adjunct position and held on. The second postdoc brought us to small town California. I was unable to get any work in my field, despite multiple interviews, so I looked elsewhere. When I showed up at a local fast-food restaurant who put out an open call for job seekers, I found scores of men chatting away in Spanish in line ahead of me. I left, went home, and cried. I spent all day indoors: cooking, cleaning, running errands, watching movies, not talking to anyone. At dusk I would venture out and go for walks. His bosses ran out of money and eight months later we were driving back East with another postdoc, this time in Philadelphia. This was his third postdoc in three years.
The cracks in our relationship had become full-blown fissures. I was devastated mentally and emotionally. I was also recovering from major surgery. He had come to see me as a childlike invalid, and yet he set me up with herculean tasks. He gave me four days to find an apartment. He bet me I couldn’t get the apartment packed in a month. I wasn’t supposed to lift anything over 15lbs. Three years after his PhD and there was no tenure track position, no house, no children. His bossed had all been stupid and had not seen his full potential. The market was bad, but it wouldn’t last forever. It was just us, but it wasn’t us against the world. He had interviews that came to nothing. He was invited to and took a fourth postdoc, only to leave before being fired. We bought a house, but I never really found my place; never settled in. We tried having a child, but that’s a tale for another day. He became more and more rigid and distant and mean and desperate. The physical tics got worse. He stopped holding my hand, stopped being affectionate. He said he couldn’t stand it when affection didn’t lead to sex. I told him I didn’t like it when sex didn’t start with affection or asked what’s wrong with affection for its own sake. He became coarse and crude-grabbing my crotch (I hate that word) or pinching my nipples. It’s fun once in a while, but not all the time. It reached a point where I didn’t know to whom I was coming home.
They say life is what happens in between plans. Life didn’t happen the way that he wanted, but he couldn’t change his plan. If anything he held to it more tightly than ever. This is what I want. This is what I deserve. This is what I will have. I tried reaching out, making suggestions, but tired of being rebuffed I withdrew. His mother made suggestions; she didn’t know what she was talking about. In the end, I made the change he could not when I told him, if you are unhappy I do not want to be the cause of your unhappiness. Looking back, I think he wanted out much sooner.
One night, this was when we still lived in New York, I came home from work to find him grumpier than usual. He said he was hungry. When I asked him why he didn’t eat, he said he wanted to wait and eat dinner with me, which I thought was rather sweet. I told him to have a snack next time so he wouldn’t be so hungry, then we could have dinner together. His response was, we need to talk. He gestured to the living where I sat down. He sat down and said your job is having a negative effect on our marriage. I said this job is what allows us to live in this apartment. It also allows you to keep seeing your neurologists and me to keep seeing my doctors. This job is what allows us to go on vacation once in a while. I’m not quitting. This is important to me. After that, the epostcards and gifts he sent while away at conferences stopped.
In the end, he will get what he wants. His ambition, like Tiberius’, will be fulfilled.