Modern Love: Tracking the Demise of My Marriage on Google Maps

Modern Love

Tracking the Demise of My Marriage on Google Maps

Pictures taken from a car-mounted camera can’t reveal what goes on behind closed doors.

CreditCreditBrian Rea

By Maggie Smith

My husband moved out about six weeks ago, marking the end of our nearly 19-year relationship, but Google Maps hasn’t noticed yet. That morning I had whisked the children away so he and two friends from law school could load his things into a U-Haul and drive to the house he had rented.

We had agreed that he would be the one to move out, and we agreed on what he would take: the dining room set and painting that had belonged to his late boss; the sideboards we had bought to hold our wedding dishes; and the antique armoire a neighbor in our first apartment complex had left us because it wouldn’t fit in his moving truck.

I had packed most of my husband’s things because he works long hours. I had sifted through our books and CDs, our Christmas ornaments, our coffee mugs. The blender: his. The food processor: mine. The biscuit cutter: his. The muffin tin: mine. The life we had lived, split between us.

I still haven’t seen his house, though it’s only a few blocks away.

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I’m not sure what possessed me to Google our address a few weeks ago while on a writing residency in Tucson, far from my home in Ohio, but I did, and there it was: my house on Google Maps, my husband still inside. And still, I think, in love with me. The photo is dated January 2016.

No, it is daylight in the photo, so my husband is at work. The blue recycling bins are at the curb, full, so I know it’s a Monday morning. There is light snow on the ground, and my neighbor’s magnolia trees are bare. They bloom in the spring and are impossibly beautiful for a few days, and then the blossoms drop and make a mess of both our yards.

I love them anyway.

Even though it’s winter, my son’s tricycle is on the front porch. This is what passes as bike storage when you don’t have a garage. The snow shovel is probably propped nearby, too. I can’t zoom in enough to see the yellow bag of sidewalk salt by the front door, but I know it’s there. I know the orange plastic tumbler is nestled inside it, a makeshift scoop.

I am probably inside, alone; my husband will be home in the evening. I am likely working on my laptop, clacking away with my index fingers because I never learned how to type, not properly. Maybe I’m reheating the cup of coffee I always let go cold.

In the afternoon, once the recycling has been picked up, I’ll retrieve the cracked bins from the driveway and haul them back to the side of the house. I’ll walk to pick up my daughter from the elementary school. She and I will drive together to fetch my son from day care.

The scene could not be more different from Tucson, where the landscape is red and rocky, another planet, with more stars in the sky than I have seen anywhere.

On my laptop screen I can see the windows of my house, the door, the periwinkle siding and the poor excuse for a flower bed — really just a moat of mulch. I can see the front walk my husband will come up in his suit and overcoat. It will be around 6 p.m., already dark. The children and I might see him through the storm door, and my son, only 3 in January 2016, might yell “Daddy!” and run to greet him.

That cold winter morning, someone from Google drove by and took this photo. Two-and-a-half years later, my marriage became untenable. Do I need to explain why? Do I need to say here what happened, to whom and by whom? It doesn’t matter.

In the version of my house that still exists online, January 2016, I can’t see the pairs of my husband’s shoes piled under the dining room table or his teacups forgotten around the house, brown-ringed, but I know they are there. The books he’s currently reading — so many books at once — are stacked by the old recliner, the one in which we rocked our son countless times.

My husband’s shampoo is in the shower, his razor and shaving cream by the sink. His toothbrush and pillow are still upstairs; he doesn’t begin sleeping on the couch until two summers later, and that version of our house will never be online — the version where we live together but not together.

People — other people, people like me — have questions for Google Maps: “How do I remove my home image?” “How do I update the picture of my house?” “How do I unblur my house?”

When I look at my house on Google Maps, I am looking at another life. A blurred life I’m trying to bring into focus.

“Most photography is done by car,” I read, “but some is done by trekker, tricycle, walking, boat, snowmobile and underwater apparatus.”

I learn that in 2018, Google Japan began offering the street view from a dog’s perspective. But in January 2016, we didn’t have a dog. We adopted our Boston terrier at the end of April that year. She had been abused, and her hip bones and spine jutted out from under her marbled coat.

She bit my husband on the hand the day we brought her home, when he tried to pick her up and put her in the car. But then she settled and fell asleep in my lap. When I look at the photo of my house on that Monday morning, I know I am there alone, no dog curled up, snoring, beside me. No dog with fur, brindle and white, I can bury my face in and cry. I am inside the house. My husband is still coming home. I have no reason yet to cry for him.

I know I shouldn’t torture myself. I should close my laptop, make another cup of tea, watch another impossibly orange sunset. I should write, which is what I came here to do. But I can’t help myself. I click back through the timeline of previous photos, each an iteration of my married life.

I can see November 2015: My car is in the driveway and I am in the house alone or with my 3-year-old son. He is not yet in school, only part-time day care. The Halloween decorations are still up, the ground littered with dry brown leaves. The pine tree by the front door is smothered in a cotton spider web my husband and children stretched across it.

That tree died a year later, and he crudely cut it down.

I can click again and see August 2014: My car is in the driveway, my son’s stroller is parked on the front walk, and my toddler and I must be in the house. He’s probably napping, or maybe we are stacking his bright wooden blocks on the playroom carpet. My phone is probably charging on the kitchen counter. Maybe it lights up when my husband texts to tell me if he’ll be home for dinner or not to wait.

I can see June 2012: My car is in the driveway, and the yard is dappled in sunlight and shadow. The neighbor’s magnolia trees are full and green, but it’s too late for the blossoms. I am inside, alone or with my daughter, and pregnant, due with a boy in October, after two miscarriages in two years. My husband will come home and empty his pockets on the dining room table, the same table he’ll load into a U-Haul six years later. Every night there is a little pile of him on the table: business cards, loose change, the engraved money clip I gave him for his birthday.

When I look at my house on Google Maps — having now forgotten about the sunset entirely — I see our family home. I see the house my children draw in their pictures of home, periwinkle crayon for the siding, brown for the door, black squares with pluses for windows. If I zoom in, I can see the stump of the pine. But I don’t see anything that predicts our marriage ending.

How do I update the image of home in my own mind? How do I unblur it?

“Street view is updated every one to three years,” I read.

It has been nearly three years since Google last photographed our street, which means that someday soon a car will drive by with a camera mounted on its roof to tell me what I already know: I am alone, trying to update, to unblur.

There will be no men’s shoes under the dining room table, no stained teacups. The children may be here, or at school, or at their father’s house that day.

In my driveway, there will be one car.

Maggie Smith, a writer and poet who lives in Bexley, Ohio, is the author of “Good Bones.”

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Published at Fri, 04 Jan 2019 05:23:06 +0000