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A Husband’s New Hobby Worries His Wife

I heard a whisper: This is how it ends.

Our son told us no more skating lessons. But Mark had enjoyed taking him to the rink, so he signed up for an adult beginner class. He soon bought an inexpensive pair of skates. The rink is less than a mile from our house, so he began taking some lunch hours on the ice.

I saw it clearly: My husband’s dalliance with ice skating would be our undoing.

A childhood shadowed by my parents’ divorce did not prevent me from believing in love, and finding it, but it left me on guard, reminding me that things could go unpredictably wrong.

What went wrong for my parents was that my father forged a connection with my mother’s best friend and ended up marrying her. I was 11. The relationship began when they discovered a shared interest and decided to build a sailboat from a kit. Their spouses and children looked on as the hull slowly took shape. Within a year, the newlyweds set sail on a hand-hewn boat.

Mark switched from the class to private lessons.

In our 15 years together, he hadn’t pursued a pastime or sport. Seeing him so committed to something new was a little startling. After almost a decade focused on our two children, we found that we had a little more time for ourselves. Mark was learning to skate backward, and I was heading out on occasional evenings to see plays. To show our support, we let each other go.

Soon he started to mention someone who worked at the rink.

“Ricky told me I should invest in a better pair of skates,” Mark said while scrolling online.

“Ricky has a side business selling high-end dog food,” he told me the next week. “We could look into it. Maybe Zinnia should be eating boar.”

I heard another whisper: This is how it ends. Mark leaves you for Ricky, who ice-skates and sells dog food.

We kept Zinnia on kibble with chicken, but a box soon arrived with new skates.

A few years earlier, when I was visiting my mom on the opposite coast, she asked me to go through the old belongings in my childhood bedroom closet. I sat for hours on the floor, reading notes passed in high school classrooms and flipping through yearbooks filled with messages written by people whose faces I could no longer conjure.

My mom appeared in the doorway, holding out her and my father’s wedding album. I knew it well. As a kid I would gaze at the page that froze for eternity their postnuptial kiss.

“Bring this home with you, or I’ll dispose of it,” she said in a tone that told me to take it from her.

Looking through their album this time, I wasn’t struck so much by the kiss but by a photo on the next page in which the bride and groom stand with their arms tightly linked. They are turned toward their guests, ready to walk down from the altar. But their faces are turned inward, smiling not for the camera but for each other and the shared life they had just begun. Those two people could not know what was coming.

As Mark and I passed the 10-year mark, couples around us had begun to divorce. An apartment building not far from our house was the place where newly separated dads seemed to go when they moved out.

When our close neighbors split up, I felt a deep sadness when I went past their house — and recalled the day when my father walked through our house with a yellow legal pad, making a list of what he was taking with him.

One night Mark said he had hit a plateau. His visions of smooth skating were fading. I felt sympathy but also relief, hoping this would end and he would come back to me.

Instead, he signed up for another round of lessons. Ricky showed him how to place his phone on the rink wall and take videos to examine his technique.

He showed me one. It opened with a black screen — his fleece jacket up close — until the camera revealed him as a dark figure moving farther and farther away.

“Ricky gave me his card today,” Mark said, dropping it on the kitchen counter. “Interesting guy. He’s also a makeup artist.”

I picked up the card and stared at it. It was well done, with sepia-toned makeup brushes below the text. On the back was a single brush engulfed in a puff of powder that looked to me like smoke. A large font announced: Ricardo.

This is how it ends. Mark leaves you for Ricky, who ice-skates and sells dog food and can accentuate cheekbones.

Mark began to suggest I come watch him skate. I managed not to for a long time. I didn’t want to meet Ricky. Then came a day when Mark knew I’d be driving by the rink when he’d be there. I said OK.

Entering the building, I took in a distinct odor of ice, metal and rubber. I recognized the smell from skating as a kid, when I never felt stable. I had an urge to turn around and leave. But there was Mark, moving easily across the ice, waving and smiling.

“Is Ricky here?” I asked. I figured I should face my demon.

“Haven’t seen him. Stand here and I’ll show you what I’ve been working on.”

Mark pushed off from the wall. He moved confidently to the center of the rink. It was a weekday and lessons had ended, so he was alone on the ice.

He skated in a circle and began to glide backward. He made another turn, but something went wrong. He slipped and ended up on his back — with enough force that he slid across the ice, head first, directly to me.

I knelt down next to my dazed husband.

“Are you OK?”

“I don’t know what happened,” he said quietly.

“Don’t worry, you’ll show me more.”

I heard a whisper: “I wanted to impress you.”

It was Mark.

Within a few months, he was done skating. He has now been cycling for about seven years. He rides for miles, across all terrains, and then he comes home.

A couple years ago we passed a milestone: We were now married longer than my parents. I thought of a friend who lost his father young to a heart attack, and it wasn’t until he lived past the same age that he felt his own heart might be OK.

No whispers tell me Mark is going to run off with someone from his cycling group. Now I just worry about him flying over his handlebars.

Jessica Stolzberg is a writer and freelance editor.

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