From my bookshelves: Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies (Scribner, New York: 2009).
She is beautiful, blond with bright blue eyes. She is intelligent, a graduate of New York University with a film degree. She is accomplished, having been an actress with a recurring role on the hit TV show “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” as Detective Stabler’s wife. She is wealthy, her career and patrician family circumstances having left her well-off. And she married a handsome intellectual, a college professor of poetry with whom she had two wonderful sons.
Isabel experiences a life-changing tragedy when “Sylvia”, a new professor from France, joins the faculty at the college where her husband teaches. In less than a month, her married life of six years goes from idyll to hell on earth, when Sylvia and Isabel’s husband “Josiah” begin an affair that breaks a family apart.
Attempting to confirm that Sylvia was her husband’s mistress, Isabel invites her to a movie and confides her fears about her husband’s involvement with someone else. Isabel’s other friends, when told, had reacted with shock and anger. Sylvia gives a nonchalant shrug and a heartless reply. “Happens every day,” she says.
It’s the story of a woman’s heartbreak, a marriage that ends in divorce, and a family that ends up separated, an old sad story that too many of us know well from personal experience. What makes Isabel’s story worth reading is how well she describes the pain of rejection, the devastation that comes after, and the healing that follows.
Isabel’s narrative is easy to relate to. It’s about having to watch the one you love most in the world slip away before your eyes into another’s arms, and being helpless to stop it despite all your attempts to keep together. But relationships need both people to survive, and not just one, and the end was inevitable. At that point, she chose to stay strong and focused on her sons, and moved on to an even better life.
Here’s the part where Isabel realizes that her marriage has broken down beyond repair:
“No, no, no. No, Bully. Whatever this is, stop it,” I said.
He cried even harder.
“Please, baby. Don’t go where you are going. Stop – we will be all right. Please, Josiah.”
“Nooo,” he groaned. “No, we won’t.” He could barely get the words out. “We won’t. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”
“What? What can’t you do?” I said. I was crying now.
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t,” he cried.
“Yes you can. Baby, please. Stop,” I said.
But he was gone. I knew he was. He was leaving me and I knew from the way he was crying that he wasn’t going to come back. He had crossed a line and I was on the other side of it. He had decided and it broke his heart.
After the divorce, Isabel met and married “the love of her life”, lawyer and journalist Peter Lattman. ”Josiah” (DeSales Harrison) married “Sylvia”; Isabel is now friends with them both.
Image of Isabel Gillies here.