Katherine loves the ocean. She loves romantic comedies, Tina Turner and Jane Austen. She loves Valentine’s Day, its absurdly-shaped pink and red helium balloons and giant stuffed bears. She loves the sound of ocean waves and listens to them on CDs at bedtime at her therapist’s suggestion. As she relaxes and just before she falls asleep she imagines kissing a man on the sandy beach, like she’s seen in the movies. But not just any man-- her soul mate. She feels like he is out there somewhere, and if they ever meet, she would recognize him.
Kathrine meets a guy at the karaoke bar. His name is James and he makes her smile. Is he her soul mate? He proposes on the beach, they get married in a church, with hundreds of pink flowers and hundreds of laughing guests. She’s happy and in love. But what happens to Mr Darcy and Elizabeth after they wed? Isn’t he still the same impatient man? They spend so much time together, she’s not even sure he is Mr Darcy anymore.
They have children. He works; she works from home. They are too busy. He doesn’t take her for walks on the beach anymore. He works all the time. One night, he is not home even as they sit on the couch together. They are watching the Wedding Singer. She looks over and knows he is distracted. She is worried she has accidentally married Glenn Goulia instead of Robbie Hart.
Her worries grow. She is home alone with the children all the time. He is out working late. She is always on her laptop. He is always on his phone. Home is boring now. She watches When Harry met Sally late at night waiting for him to come home. She too wants the rest of her life to start as soon as possible. She visits internet forums, but they aren’t the same as a real life friend. She mainly likes sharing her opinion.
James is always grumpy now. And too busy to make Valentines reservations. It’s a holiday for kids anyway, he tells her, so she makes cards with their toddler. Sparkles and glitter and tears are all over her face. “You look pretty mama” says the toddler.
Katherine becomes obsessed with what James is doing. She realizes his iPad that he leaves at home connects to the email that he checks on his phone. She watches carefully one day and figures out that the pin is the same as his old bank card pin from when they first met. She starts checking his emails when he is not home. There are a lot of messages from another woman. He always deletes them, so she has to check all the time.
The messages are mainly friendly. They aren’t sexual but they are flirtatious. Katherine waits to see what will happen. In part because she is a coward, in part because she is paralyzed by the uncertainty. If there were naked pictures, she could explode. But this odd friendship has a line that hasn’t been crossed yet.
For her birthday that year, they order pizza and watch You’ve got Mail. She remembers how the email seemed so cutting edge when the film came out, but now it’s vintage. She wonders if James gets as excited to get messages from the other woman as Tom Hanks is the when he gets emails from Meg Ryan. But she still can’t mention it.
One day his message asks the other woman if she wants to work late together and then have dinner. Is this the crossed line? An internet search reveals that the other woman is blonde and skinny and a lot younger. They work together. It’s a romantic comdey where Katherine is the fool.
Katherine finds an abandoned payphone and calls the blonde’s work number. She can’t fit the stroller into the disgusting phone booth, but the toddler and the baby are both asleep, so she’s alone in there, listening to a sexy voice say hello. She doesn’t say anything, just breathes, feeling like a degenerate. She almost passes out from the smell of piss and from her anger. It’s so hot in there. She hangs up the old beatup black receiver. click.
She goes home, pushing the stroller as if it were a heavy stone up a hill for eternity.
That night James is working late again, but she knows he is not alone. She cleans the kitchen obsessively, till her hands crack from bleach, listening to Tina sing “whats love gotta do with it” on repeat. When he gets home, she is too tired to speak. She kisses his cheek and goes to sleep. She feels pathetic. She wishes she had the guts to smother him with his own pillow. The problem is that she loves him. Not the kissing on the beach love, or the stuffed bear love, or even the Pride and Prejudice love, but the deep love that comes from knowing someone so well.
When she nurses the baby, it stares up at her with its big blue eyes. They are the exact same as her husbands eyes. She cries. She remembers their walks in the waves, how his face shone when their daughter was born. How he brushes her bangs off her face to kiss her forehead. How he danced with her gramma to the polka at her parents’ anniversary party, hopping to and fro like a demented chicken. How he always puts gas in the car since she hates the smell. How he has rdad Curious George more than 100 times to their toddler. He is not Glenn Goulia, she decides. But does she still want to love him? She considers leaving. But she just stays home and prays.
Is it an answered prayers when he comes clean? He crossed one line, but stopped before the next. Katherine didn’t know there were multiple lines. She doesn’t know that she wanted to know all this.
James feels terrible. He wants to make it up. The other woman asked him to leave his wife and his kids and be with her in her apartment overlooking the beach. He looked out at the waves and felt seasick. This shocked him as he did not realize he was in so deep. He is too honest, and tells Katherine everything, how they were just friends, but she made him feel special. He had been feeling so tired before. How things just progressed without him meaning for it, and that he and this blonde were about to have sex and he would have gone through with it, but for this question. The blonde slapped him and he left. It’s over, he promises.
Katherine is angry because he does not get it! That the emotional affair is the worst part of it, and his belief that he should be forgiven because he did not do the physical act repulses her. It’s the love she resents him for having felt for someone else, not the sex claims he never had. Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken? plays in her head.
″ I don’t know if I love you anymore” she lies, ” but I will give you one more year.” If by the next year they are still miserable, she is leaving. But they have both recommitted to each other, so they are more passionate and affectionate than ever.
The next years are stable, happy, loving. They make time for each other, he works less, they have another baby. She lets go of her silly red and pink valentine love. She cherishes their honesty, the acts of service they do for each other, their cuddles, their family. When her grandmother dies, everyone remembers that polka dance at the funeral. He supports her as she cries. Their sex life is amazing. He holds her hand in church. The difficult year is hardly acknowledged. Everyone can see how crazy they are about each other. But somehow her heart is still bruised.
One day she sees a new name on a forum she visits. Immediately she is interested, as if his name were some kind of sign. #BeachBoy writes things that make her think and smile, and sometimes cry. She feels like she understands, as if somewhere on the other side of a screen is someone she used to know. She wants to ask him his real name. Why is she interested in someone she hasn’t met? She tells herself he might be a teenager, or morridly obese, or much older than her. But she doesn’t know if she would care, because it’s like You’ve Got Mail and he might see her soul. But it’s just a silly fantasy. She’s not 17 anymore, its just a daydream. You must try to ignore that means more than that, she sings.
She knows there is a line, but not sure where it is. Just the idea of someone is not really love, she tells herself, so why chase it? Beachboy might not even think about her at all or even care. So why make a big deal out of nothing? After all, she knows how it feels to be on the other shore. So she goes for a drive and, even with the baby in the back, cranks the volume. She sings along: what’s love got to do, with it, what’s love but a second hand emotion?