(other chapters can be found scattered throughout blog)
When I got back to my room I found it freshly cleaned, bed linens had been changed and the side of the covers was folded over with a little mountain of turn down chocolates poured out on top. The excessive amount of candy was an odd but welcome kindness from the maid, for a second everything seemed brighter. My encounter with the creepy little Lord Fauntleroy faded away as I bolted the doors and checked every window for cracks. All good, sealed and locked, my fortress was once again secure. It was the only home I had left. Just the thought of my apartment made me cringe, because no matter how I imagined it she was always there with her fork. But this room was all mine, free of everyone and everything, it allowed me to be myself at my worst without limitation. I ate mountains of fries with mayonnaise, drank unsafe amounts of alcohol, rolled around on the floor in hysterical drunken fits or laid passed out hugging a trashcan full of vomit, and no one, no one could judge me. One might say I had been overreacting, in fact had I found a more lasting sober moment I would have probably said so myself, but such a moment was not in the cards. This is the nature of downward spirals, at some point all that remains is the descent.
This space was like a tortoise shell, containing all those parts of me that were soft and unseemly. Now, freshly cleaned it bared no traces of the last four days, as if my disintegration never happened. I was being offered a chance to move forward. I emptied out my shopping bag onto the bed, its primary content, the Vodka bottle tumbled out with a thud and rolled onto the pillow as if to display itself. I proceeded to mull over my options. Having sobered up some, my common sense was resurfacing, telling me that it was time to pull it together. However with it came a jarring awareness that the future I had planned for myself was no more. It’s hard to explain what that felt like, but the words “loss” and “emptiness” seemed to best encompass the entire spectrum of my experience. I felt lost in every sense of the word; I lost my head, my dignity, my pride, my plans, my home.
Being sober for the first time in days I could physically feel the holes that had been punctured in my chest, I saw them in all their mangled sadness and immediately wanted to climb inside that bottle again. Instead I climbed onto the bed and sifted through my bounty, there was candy, gum, tissues, some over the counter sleeping pills, a key chain with wiggly rubber hairs and a bunch of other little junk. I shifted my attention to the pile of turn down chocolates and unwrapped them one after another, there was an astounding twelve of them in total. I tried to test my will power and having stacked them together meditated on how I was not going to eat them. A knock on the door broke my concentration, I didn’t stir, the knock repeated, I ignored it; counting that it would just go away. Instead it became more resolute and escalated into a kind of rhythmic pounding. Still I just stared at the door determined to wish the intrusion away. In a strange display of non-compromise I sat on the bed for at least five long minutes staring at the door from which came a persistent thud. Finally I became sufficiently unnerved and curious to unfold my legs from the yoga position they were curled in. I worried for a second that the weird psychic kid and his horrifying dog had stalked me all the way to the room, but then I reasoned that this was not at all possible as neither unsupervised children nor animals in general could have possibly slipped by the front desk. I slid off the bed and tip toed to the door, leaning against it I held my breath and peered through the peephole.
A chill ran through me and I flinched, almost jumped. On the other side of the door there stood a man; he was a tall, slightly awkward looking person with shaggy hair and a short unkempt beard. I studied him more closely, from his sunken shoulders to his wrinkled shirt he looked like he hadn’t slept or changed his clothes in days. He didn’t look like himself, it was as if he was wearing a mask of a much older man. Seeing my husband in that state, mollified me in some tiny way. I watched through the peephole for another minute, as he continued to bounce his hand against the door. I felt relief. I was relieved to find that it was he because that meant I could finally ask all those questions that had been storming through my brain since the moment I saw her. Now the possibilities were endless, I could say everything that had built up inside me, I could release the pressure in my lungs, I could punish, guilt, forgive? I could let it all out and it would be done on my terms, in my house. I took a deep breath and told myself to be calm, to be dignified, but as these things happen, it was too late. My body had already shifted into a compromising high stress mode and well out of my control, my blood pressure had jumped and I could feel heat seeping out of every pore in my face. I realized that I had been tightly squeezing my fists but when I tried opening my hands my fingers shook so hard I had to close them back up.
This was one of those rare, but incredibly aggravating occasions when no matter how hard I tried to contain myself, my nervous systems betrayed me. It was completely uncontrollable and always embarrassing. Once in the middle of a business dinner I found myself so rattled by an insensitive comment made by a coworker that against my every effort tears started to roll down my face. The awkward silence which fell over the table in response to my inappropriate crying made me feel even worse and so embarrassed that in order to avoid breaking out into a fully fledged bawl I had to rush off into the ladies room. It took me months to live down the incident, I had to be all self deprecating and humorous about it around my coworkers. “Ahahaha those pesky hormones” In truth the guy who made the offending comment was an asshole and I wish I had it in me to tell him to stick a sock in it right there and then, rather than cry. I always believed that this was an example of why a chemical emotionality put women at a disadvantage in poker, business, and most importantly love, especially with the latter being a combination of the first two. I ordered myself to get it together, after all the timing was perfect. I was alright for the time in days, cleaned up and reassembled. My room was immaculate not counting the twelve scattered candy foils. It was a dignified staging. Despite these considerations the more I stalled the more self conscious I felt. In an effort to intercept the cowardice swelling inside my stomach I gripped the door handle and jerked it open.
He looked startled to see me, like the last thing he expected was for this door to actually yield. We stood opposite each other at a loss; locked in an awkward stillness. My whole adult life I believed wholeheartedly that I could never be an actor in this kind of theater, because my relationships were too evolved to be dragged down into such clichéd dirt. Now standing there all sweaty and petrified, a jilted wife and her guilt wrecked philandering husband, I thought it was unfortunate that there was no protocol for this sort of scene. Some sort of manual I could have studied to prepare for this possibility would have been nice.
The ironic thing is I never really believed in the sanctity of marriage vows, the frequency with which people broke them alone made it impossible not to keep a skeptical eye on the entire institution. I perceived marriage vows as just an exercise in romanticism and wishful thinking. They did not factor in the fact that with time people can change, grow apart and even fall out of love. Since none of these events can be foreseen, how could anyone make promises about the things still pending and unknowable? In my opinion it was the personal integrity and quality of the individuals involved which made for a substantive relationship, regardless of whether the eternal element panned out or not. My understanding of life and my values were built on this premise, a premise shattered by a barefooted girl in my kitchen and a fork. She created a vortex through which everything I believed in was funneled, my husband came out the other side a complete stranger, but what was worse I came out a stranger too, shapeless and uncertain of anything.
(other chapters can be found scattered throughout blog)
Seeing him in my doorway I knew that he was a stranger, but still I was filled with want of him; my heart ached and did not abide the mind. I was suddenly filled with panic, dreading the possibility of actually learning some measure of his truth. My arm, entirely on its own, moved to swing the door shut, but he anticipated this and put his shoulder forward, the door bounced off of him. There was nothing left to do but to let go and let him inside. I walked away towards the bed signaling him to enter. He stepped forward; his tall lean frame seemed to have lost a foot of stature as he crossed the threshold of my room. Before anything could be said and against every rational inclination in my body, I knew that I would forgive him. It was a sentiment very contrary to what I ought to have been feeling, but I consoled myself with the thought that if there was anything that could serve as indisputable proof of true love, it was my willingness to forgive. Seeing him in distress completely overtook my own hurting and left little room for any thoughts in me other than those of reconciliation. He looked at me with guilty eyes for what felt like hours, but was probably only a moment, then finally spoke.
“Charlie, I’ve been so worried, I thought something had happened to you… I reported you missing to the police yesterday.”
“I have been here, Matt.” I padded my voice with indifference, hiding. I knew it was all over, but knowing that I would forgive him did not relieve me of my anger, it exasperated it. Punishment was not to be forgone. There was so much I wanted to say, so much scorn had accumulated in me over these past days and I just wanted to scream into his face until he understood me. There was a cannon ball in my gut and I couldn’t wait to hurl it at him. But above all, despite everything he did, I simply wanted to confide in him. The comedy of this was not lost on me. I felt like a lamb, which, having been mauled by a lion, seeks her assailant’s ear to complain of the wounds. He was my best friend, the one person with whom I had shared every detail of my life, with whom I foresaw all of my tomorrows, not being able to talk to him was perhaps the most trying element of the whole ordeal.
“Your parents have been worried sick too, I have been so sick about this, so mortified Charlie.”
I shrugged and sat onto the bed, reclining against the backboard. With him standing as he was, sheepish and small, I suddenly was calm. Stupidly, I then thought I had the upper hand. For a moment I relished it. A woman scorned seated before her licentious remorseful husband about to beg her forgiveness, it was the stuff of novels.
‘You are right.” He stammered “I don’t know why I am telling you this, it’s not important.” He paused as if he just didn’t have the words, then continued.
“I can’t tell you how relieved, how…. happy I am that you are ok, you have no idea, haven’t slept in three days, I am just so happy you are okay, I was so worried, I could never forgive myself, if something had happened to you, never “
He was talking fast; repeating himself, like a hamster caught in a wheel. I could tell that his nerves were getting the best of him, I smelled the blood, and pounced. The lamb became the lion.
“Something did happen to me” I echoed my thoughts with my words. “I don’t care. I don’t care that you are happy, or that you are apparently capable of some measure of guilt. I don’t care that you haven’t slept and no, Matt, I am not ok, you think I am ok? THIS is ok? You must be delusional as well as soulless and disgusting, Matt”
I liked saying his name. During our five year relationship we had always used terms of endearment when addressing each other, but now his name bounced off my tongue like rubber bullet.
“I am sorry, Lolly……”
“No!” I jumped up as if the bed had burst into flames.
“No! You don’t call me Lolly, you don’t call me anything, I don’t want to hear my name from your mouth.” All that calm I was feeling had vanished, I was livid and not in control.
I glared at him, a million things I wanted to say swirled in my mind but before I had a chance to speak again, he started walking over to me. Tears poured out and down my face, angry and mad for having lost my composure I put my hands over my eyes and broke into sobs. Hiding my face in my palms, I was, again, completely lost. All the things I wanted to say receded into an inaccessible corner of my mind and I couldn’t reach them anymore. Just one sentence hung in their place and I repeated it over and over.
“How could you. How could you. How? How?”
I felt something on my legs and looked down, through my fingers I saw him, having quietly gotten to his knees he was closing his arms around mine. I didn’t fight it. He pressed his face into my legs. We stood like that for at least a minute, slowly a new wave of calm washed over me. I wasn’t choking on tears any longer. The chaos of emotion I felt had obligingly compacted itself into a neat oppressive sadness and it hung over us like a black cloud. Finally he whispered into my knees.
“Lolli, there are no words, no words which could tell you how aware I am of what I have done…what I have done to you, to us. What I have done to us, how sorry I am.”
He released my legs but remained in front of me on his knees with his head hung low. I braced myself for an explanation. He didn’t lift his eyes, it was as if he was afraid to look into my face, but I wanted him to see me.
“Look at me.”
He looked up, his eyes were glossy like someone had brushed a coat of varnish across his face. I had never before seen my husband cry, it was as strange as the rest of it.
He got up off of the floor and took my hands into his, gripping them tightly and looking into my eyes, directly and intently for the first time since he entered.
“I don’t expect that you will ever forgive me, I am not asking that you do, but please know how profoundly I regret the way things happened.”
‘The way things happened” I thought. What does that mean, was there another way for “things” to happen? He spoke to me like I was a child, stressing each word as if to make sure that I register his exact meaning. With my hands still tightly pressed between his I started to feel dizzy.
It wasn’t right. He wasn’t begging my forgiveness. If he wasn’t begging my forgiveness then what was he doing? What was happening? Dizziness became nausea.
“I moved all my things out, please come back to the apartment, it’s all yours, I want you to have it. Lolli, I am so sorry, I am.“
“What?” I slid my hands out of his and backed away.
“What are you saying?” I was beginning to grasp what was happening, and it was a whole new kind of terrible. I realized then that through all this it had never occurred to me that he might actually want out. Never did I think past my own indignation to what his prerogative might be. This wasn’t a gash, it wasn’t a wound, this was an amputation.
“What are you saying?” I exhaled.
“I moved out Charlie, so you can come home, keep the apartment.”
“You moved out? Just like that? What?” He used to say that Love was the lost shocking act, but no, this was. It was his last shocking act. I could not believe it, it was unbelievable and horrible, it was so much more horrible than the girl ever was.
“You deserve better, I wanted you to have your home back.”
“What are you talking about?! You aren’t even fighting for me, not even trying…not for us?”
“I broke us. I know it can’t be fixed. I don’t deserve you and you deserve better, I don’t expect you to ever forgive me.”
It was like a bomb had exploded at my feet.
“Bullshit!” I screamed “ Bullshit! You are a liar! You don’t deserve me? I won’t forgive you? How the fuck would you know? Did you ask? How dare you give me this textbook crap, you, self-indulgent piece of shit. You are going to stand there and tell me that it’s the right thing, that I am too good for you, that this is not a choice you are making?! All noble and self sacrificial, how dare you?! How dare you, at least be a man and say it, scumbag! I understand it now. I do. You’re done, I am nothing to you. But this didn’t just happen right? You have been lying to me for how long now? Giving no indication of this, you didn’t prepare me, you didn’t do anything for me, you act like you care, but you did nothing to prepare me, to let this being anything other than a shock? Because why that might be distressing huh? It might get tense before you are ready. You have done what you needed for you, and now you’re tearing my heart out because it suits what you want. You are dirt. I don’t even know who you are?!”
I went on, losing myself completely in a burning venomous tirade. I dragged up everything I could think of that could hurt him. I didn’t even believe most of what I was saying, but I wanted to get him so bad I aimed for the jugular, vicious and unrestrained.
He stared at me gravely, taking in the barrage of my mutated heartbreak.
“How can you do this, tell the truth Matt, tell the truth!” A new wave of tears poured out of my eyes as my screaming turned into a plea, my heart had broken.
He stayed silent.
“Tell the truth!” I caught my reflection in the wall mirror and didn’t recognize myself. My face was so swollen from crying it looked like it had been rearranged. It struck me as being so impossibly ugly that I wondered for a second how he could have ever wanted to be with me. He didn’t respond, so I went on.
“You are a coward, I loved you with everything in me, no I love you the same even now, even now while you stand there and lie to my face, a cheater and a coward and a liar…and a disgusting human being.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore” He spoke under his breath as if fighting to push the words out.
I couldn’t hear him, but I knew what he had said, I could hear him in my bones.
“Louder, say it!”
“I don’t want to do this anymore, with you, I don’t want to do this.” He said it loud this time and lifted his eyes to meet my anger head on. It was the beginning of honesty.
These were terrible words to hear, but they were the truth. I felt them burrowing through my skin as if looking for a place to settle permanently. Having found it, those words would stay with me for the rest of my life.
“I don’t. I haven’t for a long time, you are right. I didn’t know it, I wasn’t sure, I had hope that it was a passing feeling. I didn’t prepare you because until you walked in I wasn’t prepared. I wish I knew how I felt but I didn’t till right then.”
He paused, asking permission to continue….I stood quieted, granting it.
“I moved out because I hadn’t felt right about things for a long time, I just didn’t have the guts to admit it to myself, and yes I thought that maybe I would get past it, maybe it was just a stage. You are hardly around anyways, I didn’t have to fake much of anything. And yes I am a cheating piece of shit, and I do regret it, I respect myself even less than you respect me right now, but in a way I am relieved, I am relieved you know, as I don’t know that I would have ever had the guts to tell you. And yes I am covering my ass, but still don’t you think you deserve better? Don’t you? I love you and I will always love you in a way, but I haven’t been happy, THIS is not what love should be, not to me, and maybe it’s my fault for not having spoken up, but even if I did when would you have had time to hear it. I am sorry, I am, but I am not happy and this happened because I am not happy, and we both deserve to be….. What happened is a terrible, awful thing, I am a scumbag for letting it happen, but….and I am so sorry to say this, but I am glad it did…..because I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Go on” I growled.
He looked at me, begging for permission to stop. I couldn’t give it.
“I am sorry, I don’t know what else I can say, I hate myself for hurting you, but I don’t know what else to do. I know promises, vows were made, but I can’t keep lying, we owe it to ourselves to follow our gut, I know it’s hard now but it won’t be with time, and we’ll both have a chance to be happy again.”
“I was happy, I don’t understand when were we unhappy” I wined, dumbfounded by this distance between us. When did this happen, I thought? When did I lose him, how could I have lost a whole person and not noticed? Was he that good a liar, a pretender? Or was I just that blind, that out of touch with my own reality? I thought this must have been a nightmare, just a bad dream, and surely I’d be waking up any second and breathing a sigh of relief.
My knees felt week. I understood completely. To his credit he couldn’t have been more clear. He had hoped that after I found him with her I would be the one to end things, and was surprised that despite everything that happened I still wanted him. But I loved him too much, I loved him through his betrayal and I loved him no less still as he stood in front of me, a liar, a cheater, a coward and now a deserter. I wanted to fall into his arms and seek safety there, like I used to do. I felt pathetic.
I interrupted him raising my hand in protest.
“Leave,” I exhaled the word. I had been turned inside out. An unfamiliar hopelessness filled the room, filled my lungs, my throat. It was much worse than any pain I had ever experienced emotionally or physically. I couldn’t stand having his eyes on me for another moment. But he didn’t move.
“Leave.” I growled for the second time.
He turned around and walked slowly towards the door. His relief was palpable and as hurtful as the rest of it.
“Is it her?” I regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. It shouldn’t have mattered whether he was leaving me for her or if he was just leaving me. I knew it shouldn’t have mattered, but it did matter all the same. I wanted to know, It was pure masochism.
The question stalled him mid motion as he was reaching for the door handle, the hesitation lasted no more than a second, then he turned his head and we locked eyes. His glance obliged me with an answer, a quick curtain of tears rose up in mine, obscuring sight. He proceeded to step out. The door shut behind him with a resounding crack and everything went very quiet. A tangible kind of nothingness filled my body.