Life was perfect for Mary Jo Eustace: a newly adopted baby daughter, a family holiday in the sun. Then her actor husband Dean McDermott announced he was leaving her -- for his co-star
I AM lying by the pool in Palm Springs, nursing my obligatory margarita, when I notice that my husband is nowhere in sight. In fact, I've been losing track of him all day. I do vaguely recall seeing him about an hour ago, but he was on his cellphone, earpiece planted firmly in place, pacing back and forth like a demented receptionist. I assumed he was talking to his agent but I wasn't really sure.
There have been a lot of phone calls since he joined us a few days ago on our little family vacation. Between the extended telephone time and the three-hour trips to the gym, I've barely seen him at all. Now, usually I don't mind this sort of thing; most often, I welcome it. Being married as long as we have, alone time is actually a good thing. But this time, something seems different.
First of all, I was left alone in the San Fernando Valley. I'd never experienced a Californian summer before and I was beginning to feel like I had an egg on my head that was in a perpetual state of being fried. Secondly, my actor husband went back to our native Canada to shoot a television movie about some woman who gets hit on the head and then can predict the future. It was the usual low-budget schlock, made for a network with romantically challenged viewers suffering from low self-esteem and minor learning disabilities.
At least, I think that's what he told me, but I might not have been fully listening -- I was too busy secretly hating him the whole time he was gone. I kept imagining some hot assistant getting him iced lattes and wet towels while I was slogging it out in our little bungalow with two kids, praying to God that our air conditioner wouldn't break or that the state of California wouldn't drain the world's energy supply.
When my husband did call, he would try to update me on the movie -- I think there was some sort of love story and a couple of murders involved -- and tell me how great he was getting along with his co-star, Tori Spelling. Apparently, she was fun and caring and much hotter in real life. I assumed this was a good thing. At his farewell dinner party before he left, jokes flew at the prospect of working with the daughter of a Hollywood mogul. Would she be so surgically altered that he'd walk right by her? Would there be love scenes and could he get a body double? The usual juvenile crap. I even suggested he befriend her. "Who knows?" I laughed, it might be good for his career.
But apparently, at the end of the day, jokes aside, Tori wasn't so bad to work with after all, and things were moving along quite nicely.
I guess they got pretty busy with the night shoots because it was impossible to get in touch with Dean. Now, usually I would have made more of an effort, because I did wonder where he was at two in the morning, but I was having a problem sustaining interest. Truth is, I wasn't really paying much attention at all. I was horribly sleep-deprived and couldn't focus on anything. We had just adopted a baby girl, three weeks before he left, and, at the ripe old age of 43, I was finding it extremely difficult to concentrate without my requisite eight hours of sleep. Throw our active seven-year old into the mix and the few remaining brain cells I had were definitely overworked.
Now here he is, back from Canada, and I believe staying at the same resort as we are, but completely impossible to locate. I put down my drink, sit up in my lounge chair, and look around for my wayward husband. I see Jack, our son, swimming in the lavish salt-water pool; not much of a surprise since we had become official pool whores this summer with all our aquatic hopping. I spot our friends a few chairs away, monitoring their daughter as she attempts to drown elderly guests.
We had been planning this vacation for months -- the two couples, our kids -- a time to regroup before we headed into another school year and the grind of an actor's life in Los Angeles. I decide that I should really try and track down my husband and ask our friends to watch my son as I set off to find my missing partner.
I figure that I'll head back up to the hotel room and give Dean a call. I can guarantee that wherever he is, his cellphone is not far away. I pick up our infant daughter, who is lying next to me, and breathe in her smell of sun and fresh air. She is growing at an alarming rate and feels solid and safe in my arms. I hold her close and kiss her sweet little face, still caught off-guard that she is actually ours.
Before I head back to the room, I consider for a moment throwing on my cute little cover-up, but then say, "Screw it." For some reason, I've always convinced myself that I can carry off anything. The more understated (ie, broken-in) it is, the better. Through the years, there have been many family interventions over my attachment to certain items of clothing -- an old striped shirt, a tired pair of boxer shorts, a threadbare Winnie the Pooh nightie -- and, of course, my inability to let go.
I always thought they looked good, and my outfit today is no exception. I'm wearing my blue bikini with a Hawaiian motif, saggy faded bottoms, and a top missing padding in the right breast.
I gather up all the required baby accoutrements and head towards our room. On the way through the lobby, it hits me how nice it is to have Dean back home. Three weeks feels like quite a long time. I have really missed him. Besides, let's face it, this 'doing it all on your own' thing is way harder than I anticipated.
Looking back, it's funny the things you notice just before your life is about to change -- nothing. Everything seems fine, quite beautiful, in fact. I am a little tired though, and I know something is not quite right. The distance between us and the unanswered phone calls have made me feel a little jumpy. But the weather is perfect, the resort is lovely, and I'm sure if we can just locate each other and connect, we will be fine.
I get to the room and struggle to find the key. I balance my daughter on one hip, drop the baby gear on my foot and, for the 10th time that day, wonder why I can't seem to do anything right -- even finding a room key has become a stretch. I finally find it and walk into our lovely, spotless room.
The sun is streaming through the window and I go over to the balcony to watch my son swimming in the aquamarine pool. I see his blond head bobbing up and down and, for a moment, I feel a sense of extreme sadness. All I want to do is protect him. It catches me off-guard and I quickly breathe in as I hear the door close. It's my husband. He has finally remembered where our room is.
"Hey," I say.
"Hey," he answers in a numb tone. I know instantly that something is wrong. He isn't looking me in the eye. In fact, he isn't looking at me at all.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he replies.
I decide to push. "I can tell there is something wrong. Just tell me."
He turns to look at me and then decides on the floor instead.
At that second, I know. I know it all. "Have you met someone?"
He nods yes.
I start to feel vaguely nauseous. I turn to the window, as if focusing on the horizon would help. "Is it Tori Spelling?"
I turn around; he nods.
My heart stops beating and I have to remind myself to breathe. I want to ask a question but I can barely open my mouth. "Have you slept with her?"
I try and take in the news. "You slept with Tori Spelling?"
My husband is having an affair with Tori Spelling. I'm not really sure at this point if this is a dream or not. This has happened to me several times before. Not where people I know have slept with Tori Spelling, but where the difference between before and after is so huge, so life-altering, that you're not sure if it is really happening.
I look at the drapes, trying to ground myself, and notice they're a really deep shade of gold and made out of a very heavy material. Really more of a winter drape. I begin to wonder what these drapes are doing in Palm Springs. What am I doing in Palm Springs? I'm from Canada and the last time I saw drapes like these were at my friend's house, just after her mother had a nervous breakdown over a kitchen renovation gone terribly wrong.
Then suddenly, before I know it, I begin to laugh. It was all so absurd. "You slept with Tori Spelling? You've got to be kidding, right? Nobody sleeps with Tori Spelling -- not by choice anyway."
"We're soul mates," he says. Then, "She loves me unconditionally."
"What conditions?" I scream. "You've only known each other three weeks."
I'm beginning to think he might be serious and I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, or what my part is in all of this. I'm pretty sure he said he slept with her, which would make sense if he was leaving me. He would need that sort of validation, you know, for changing horses midstream.
"Look, we've made a plan and money will not be an issue. The kids will always be taken care of."
Oh my God. Kids. That's right. I look down at my daughter. The phrase 'single mother' pops up in my brain. I start to feel weightless as I cross the divide between together and alone.
"I'm not leaving the kids, or the family," he says. "I'm leaving you."
"But I am the family."
The wave crashes. Now it's I who stare at the floor. I can't hold in the tears any longer and I begin to sob. It's a sound I have never heard before. It feels so deep and so sad. My knees begin to shake and I start to become very aware of my vulnerability -- my daughter in my arms, my terrible excuse for a bathing suit -- and I actually begin to worry that maybe it's all because I look fat. Maybe he was undecided and this dreadful bikini just sealed the deal. Why the hell didn't I listen to my family and respond to all those well-meaning interventions? Who knew? A life lesson: always dress to be prepared for even your worst moment.
Is he talking?
"I think Jack should meet Tori as soon as possible. She's going to be an important part of his life."
And this is when I start to hate him just a little. Wait. Did he say there was a plan? "You made a plan? You two actually sat down together and planned this. You're going to leave me, and then what? We get a divorce and you marry her?"
Then something else occurs to me.
"Isn't she married?" I ask.
I think I have found a loophole. She can't really marry him if she's already married to someone else. Can she?
Then he brings me back to reality.
"For now," he says.
I try to make sense of it all.
"So, are you going to marry Tori Spelling?"
I don't know what to do. Without any warning, the man who had been my partner for 13 years and our sweet little family were slipping away without any input from me. Suddenly, I felt very disposable.
"You know what?" I say, bringing out my trump card. "I'm going back home to Canada. I'm not staying here. You're out of your mind if you think you can do this to us."
Now it was his turn to react. "Are you threatening me?"
I wondered if I was. I wasn't really sure of anything at this point. All I could do was take a step back and choke out the words that I hoped would make it all go away.
"I missed you. We all missed you."
He looks at me for a beat. I think I see a crack form, but in an instant, it is gone. And just when I think I can't feel any more pain, he says, "I don't love you any more. And I don't respect you."
He takes a breath. "I haven't for a very long time."
Wait. Wasn't it just two months ago that he said he'd never been more in love with me, or more proud of how I handled this move to California? Hadn't we as a family cried and come together three weeks before over the adoption of our daughter, a realisation of our commitment as a family after so many years of infertility and endless miscarriages? I had left everything behind -- my friends and family, our new house, even my career -- so that he could pursue his Hollywood dream and ascend to the big time.
But at this point I wasn't sure any more. Maybe he had never said that, and that everything, except what was happening in this well-decorated, but seasonally challenged hotel room, had been a lie.
"I think you should leave right now," I cry. "Just get out."
"I want to say goodbye to our son first."
"No way." I feel myself starting to get mechanical. "I'll tell him you had to go back to work on your movie. You're not going to shatter his whole world. Not today."
"Fine," he says. Then Dean does something truly amazing. He opens up the closet and gets out what appears to be a pre-packed suitcase. When did he have time to pack? Was that all part of their plan? He takes the suitcase and reaches for the baby. Every instinct I have makes me step back.
"Don't even pretend that any of us matters. Just leave."
And at that moment, when everything seems completely suspended, the phone rings. It is our son, wondering where I am. I tell him that I will be down in a minute and hang up. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I am leaving and I can already see a change.
And for some reason, as I am walking out of the door, I turn to Dean and tell him that I love him, and that I always will. I don't know why I say it. I'm not even sure if it's true.
I shut the hotel room door and walk down the hall, expecting to hear his voice call my name and the sound of footsteps running toward me. Instead, there's complete silence.
Through the windows I can see children playing in the pool and the palm trees bending from the afternoon winds. But inside, it's too quiet. All I hear is the soft hum of the five million air conditioners that it must take to make this resort run. I put my hand on the glass door and push it open to the outside world. I'm surprised to see that it has remained the same, when I have become so different.
I survey the pool. Guests are relaxing and reading, enjoying the last few hours of daylight before the cooler evening air descends. My friends wave to me and I join them.
"Hey, what's up?" they ask. "Is everything okay?"
I think of telling them, but realise if I do, it just might make it real. Instead, I nod and join my son a few steps away. I hug him and notice how golden he has become in the sun.
"Where's daddy?" he asks. I take a breath and tell him the first of many lies to come. I hate doing it. I hate Dean for making me do it. "Oh, he just left. He had to go back and finish his movie."
I look at him and search for a reaction. Could he tell I was lying? Did he hear a change in my voice and know that something earth-shattering had just happened? I heard that kids have a sixth sense about these things. I scan his face for cracks and secrets, but see none. He smiles and gives me the biggest kiss ever and asks for a Shirley Temple.
And for some reason, this is more than I can bear. It is such a normal request -- something you ask for when your parents take you to a special place for dinner, or when you are on family vacation. It was so innocent and so simple, and then it occurs to me that things would not be this innocent or simple for a very long time to come.
Palm Springs by Mary Jo Eustace; extracted from The Other Woman: Twenty-one Wives, Lovers and Others Talk Openly About Sex, Deception, Love and Betrayal, by Victoria Zacheim (editor) published in America by Grand Central Publishing., $24.99