I’m writing this post because David forced me to.
Oh, I’d be happy to sit here hunched over the computer, alone and embattled in my own head, occasionally staring out the window and wishing someone would, I don’t know, publish, hell, read my book, which I have not yet totally finished, but no…
That will not satisfy the Australian. He has shamed me into posting the first chapter and has asked me to ask you to write back and comment about said chapter and give, like, feedback. Your opinions. Your harsh, soul-crushing opinions.
The very thought of it makes me want to vomit. Really, I have a pail here. I’m ready to hurl.
Oh, but that’s not the end of it, people. Then he wants you to call your Uncle Herb the well-known literary agent or your sister Barb who just happens to be the editor at Harper Collins who by coincidence handles memoirs and hook me the hell up. He’s like trippin’, but I must humor him lest he be intolerable to live with.
Anyway, a draft of my first chapter (a draft, not a final) is right after the jump. That’s all I’m going to tell you, no intro, no pitch, no info about the book, not even the title. Just tell me if you want to read chapter two because really that’s all that matters.
And thanks for this. Oh yeah, and be gentle.
Chapter 1. I Am a Stalker…
This little fact dawns on me while I am sitting in a bush on 68th street, one of the prettiest tree-lined blocks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Yesterday, I wasn’t a stalker.
I was a regular, slightly un-coordinated, respectable-looking girl with a job on Broadway that sounded completely glamorous to people outside New York, but was actually the equivalent of dog walker in terms of power in the entertainment industry. I had about $423 in my checking account, a pleasant cockroach-free, rent-stabilized apartment on Central Park West, a closet full of very nice evening dresses, a useless graduate degree, a gay best friend, the ability to achieve orgasm on demand, an old, fat Pekingese named Dave and two extremely lazy Persian cats named Murphy and Victor.
These are all things that can make a girl have a happy life. But I wasn’t happy. I hadn’t been really happy in years.
And I was sure of this now because I was sitting in a bush.
You can’t be happy if you find yourself hiding in the street in front of your fiance’s house, squinting up at his floor-to-ceiling windows, wondering if that weird shadow in the bedroom that looks like an eagle thumping a badger with its talons, is actually the man you love, making wild, silly, gory love to another woman.
And this wasn’t just any man, mind you.
This was the man around whose neck I had hung all of my expectation, like one of those enormous blue diamonds from Titanic, all sparkly and pretty and neck-breaking. I didn’t just love him the way mere mortals love other people.
No. My love was crushing.
I had, over the course of two short years, slowly broken down my bones into sand and pebbles and kneaded myself into soft clay, reforming myself around him. If ever a girl had been sucked down the toilet hole of self-immolation, it was me.
I was gone somewhere, only my eyes were left and they were no longer focused on myself. They were gazing, upwardly and adoringly at a man who, at one time had probably been wiping the smell of another woman’s perfume and vagina off his face, while he professed his unflagging love for me.
He didn’t deserve my affection. But really, I wasn’t doing it for him.
When I spoke of our relationship to anyone outside of my head, I was a fortress of bliss. I told people about our trips and his gifts. I recounted the lovely things he said to me. I smiled a lot. I could turn one of his flippant, off-handed compliments into a declaration of his unending affection.
I often spoke of our love for each other in the company of others. I did it, so that I too, could be convinced that the man I loved, loved me back. The more I talked, the more I hoped my words would cleave us together.
But our relationship was a ramshackle house. It was falling down from the rafters. Large timber logs protruded in curious angles and plaster littered the floor. It was a relic. An after thought. Something irrelevant. Something I had dreamed up.
Still, I walked through the rubble, stepping over debris like it wasn’t there, humming to myself like a Stepford wife, fluffing the dust out of the pillows and pulling the cobwebs out of the corners with the handle of my broom. I was barely aware that the roof was about to cave in around me.
And then, one minute it was a relationship and quite literally, the next minute, it was over. It happened that fast. The house finally gave way.
I was at the Eugene O’Neill, a prominent Broadway theatre, seeing some show that I can no longer remember. Jack wasn’t there, but everyone knew me because I was his fiance. Being with him made me popular. I couldn’t walk through a theatre lobby without 12 different people stopping to chat me up.
I knew it wasn’t about me, but his importance made me important and until I was important myself, or at least felt that way in the world, I would be a happy parasite and enjoy what I could.
Danny stopped me on the way in. He was a theatre producer like Jack. I don’t think Danny and Jack ever really liked each other, certainly I never heard Jack say anything nice or generous about him, but they acted like they loved each other, all that male back-slapping and smiling and clinking their scotch glasses, like they came out of the womb together.
“Hi Danny, how are you?”
We air kissed. He told me I looked beautiful. And I did that day. I was done up within an inch in my life.
Then, Danny dropped his eyes. He couldn’t look at me.
“Look, uh, sorry to hear about you and Jack. “
It was like my hearing checked out for a minute. What did he say?
I’m speechless and my mouth is sort of hanging open like a trout.
“Uh, well, you know, he told me about you guys…”
I’m struggling to say something back to him, but nothing’s coming. Just air forced out of my wind pipe. I feel lightheaded. I know there is nothing to lean on nearby.
This is bad. I decide this is bad, right at that moment. This is really, really bad. Whatever he is about to say is so bad this guy can’t even look at me.
I steel myself for a split second. Right now, right now in this very moment, everything is fine. I think maybe I can run away. Just flee the building and not hear whatever is coming. Just stick my fingers in my ears like I’m three and sing something wacky and loud and out of tune until he just gives up and mutters something profane and walks away.
Who am I kidding? Things had become ludicrous between Jack and me over the last few weeks. He was everywhere, but with me.
I felt his absence every second of every day, even if we were in the same room, the same bed. He was just gone. The more I tried to bring him back, the farther away he fled. It had become a cat and mouse game - I chased and he ran. I chased harder, he ran harder.
I asked him if there was someone else, another woman, possibly in Germany or France, two places he traveled often. I asked him every other day in the beginning of our “cool” period. Every time he acted like I had said the most ridiculous of things. Every time he told me I was being crazy and insecure.
He actually used the words “crazy” and “insecure”. I hated those words. I didn’t want to be crazy or insecure. I decided to be the opposite of those words – cool, accepting, kind, generous, allowing him lots of space and room to work this through. That was how I handled our “cool” period.
I was the Mother Theresa of not-crazy and not-secure.
My relationship strategy was to wait this out, let him have his little crisis, and hope that one day I would wake up and the skies would be blue and cloudless. He would see my value if I just kept the course.
I’d say that I was naive, but this would be so far on the other side of obvious it isn’t even worth mentioning.
So, Danny is standing there, looking all kinds of uncomfortable and I know he’s going to finish this thought. I know everything will change when he does. I know what he is going to say.
“Uh…What?” I hear myself say.
It sounds like I have tube socks stuffed up my nose.
“Yeah, well, you know, I was talking to Jack yesterday at, uh, the office a-a-and…”
He’s stammering. He knows he stepped into some weird relationship confusion and he’s searching for the exit. He’s staring off behind my shoulder. Any minute, he’ll see Patty Lapone coming in the door and make a run for it.
“…well, he said you guys had ended it, man.”
Then, because he had to say something else, “…that sucks.”
Oh God, to actually hear the words from this relentless jerk. Now, he was looking at me with all kinds of pity. He was trying to read my face, searching for my reaction.
I gave him nothing.
Somehow I draw the drapes closed in my little ramshackle house. I put on my public face. I am good in public. Someone might have passed out drunk in their bowl of soup at my ramshackle dining room table, but you won’t ever hear about it from me.
I smile, swish my long blond hair around a bit, a fantastic prop for such iffy occasions and say something like this,
“Oh that. Yeah, well, these things happen.”
I touch him on the arm warmly as if I am reassuring him.
“We’re good, Jack and me. No worries.”
That could mean so many things. It could mean, “You’re wrong asshole, we’re still together.” Or it could mean, “Yes, I was actually there when we broke-up. In the same room. I’m not an idiot.”
Either way, I’m covered.
I give him a quick cheek kiss, tell him it was nice seeing him and with my hair billowing out behind me, I spin around and pound down the stairs to the rest area. I don’t hit the stairs before the tears start filling up my eyes and a choked sob comes barking out of my throat. I don’t know that I fooled anyone, but I was happy not to burst into tears in front of the biggest jerk in the world.
I sit in the booth where there was a pay phone, perhaps the last on earth. The booth is mahogany, a beautiful thick reddish paneling, very old, very sturdy. I close the little door. It’s heavy. I fumble for change. I call Jack. He’s not home. Or he’s not answering.
I cry into his machine. I keep the hurt from suffocating me by screaming at him. I am raging and hysterical and heartbroken in the Eugene O’Neill, probably the most rigid and uptight place ever to lose your cool and become hysterical. Old, well-dressed people are staring at me. It registers somewhere in the back of my mind, but I don’t care.
I realize I am slamming my fists into the wood. I feel nothing.
I cry so hard, my words are just sounds with no meaning. I can no longer understand myself. Everything I say into the receiver is gibberish. I think if I can just keep talking, I’ll still be who I am. I won’t be unrecognizable to myself. I’ll be able to keep the wall of water from slamming down around me and pulling me under the big wave.
I think that if I just yell at him a lot, he’ll decide that he must love me. I will convince him with my accusations and crazy ranting. I will show him I love him with my anger.
Yes, that’s it. Men love angry women.
It doesn’t occur to me that this is illogical and stupid. But then again, it really wasn’t about him.
And then I am done. I hang up the phone. Or slam it down dramatically. I’m not sure. Everything is all sort of dream-like and hazy now. My hand, the one that I used to beat-up the phone booth, is starting to throb. A program-giver-outer is rapping at the door. She asks me through the glass if I am alright and then, tells me the show is about to start, can she look at my ticket.
The ticket is a mashed paper ball in my hand. I open my palm. My knuckles are red and firey. The program-giver-outer thinks I might have escaped from the crazy people home. She’s talking to me now. Her lips are moving. She’s frowning a lot. She has little creases on her forehead. I can’t understand a word she is saying.
It’s like she’s Charlie Brown’s teacher on the phone and all I hear is “Bwah, Bwah, Bwah…Bwah Bwah Bwah…”
She sounds scary to me, but I notice that a big strand of my hair is matted to my face with tears and snot and I know my face is all red and blotchy because that’s how I get when I sob uncontrollably and I’m sure I look like a nut to her.
“I’m going to the women’s room first,” I tell her, still not sure what she asked me.
“Show’s about to start, okay?” she says.
Her voice is all soothing, sing-songy and high-pitched like she is talking to an infant. I think that this might irritate me on a normal day. Today I don’t care. She is strictly background.
I go to the bathroom. The mirror is a crude reality. It’s worse that I thought. It’s not simply the hair matted to my skin or the runny nose or the blotchy skin or the eyeliner on my cheek or the black mascara under my eyes that makes me look so bad. I mean, that’s all pretty bad, but it’s the stuff that won’t wash away that is the problem.
The abandonment has set into my bones. I see it. It is permanent, I think. I am gutted. My eyes are red, but beneath that is the knowledge that nothing is safe. No one can be trusted. My instincts are not to be counted on. My choices about what is right and wrong are faulty. The whole world, my whole unhappy, safe, predictable world shifted, as if on earthen plates.
And the house has crumbled. There is no broom, no humming, no pretending that anything can fix it now.
I see all this in the mirror.
It is right there and when I comb my hair and re-apply my make-up, I will not be able to cover it. Everyone I meet will know that I wasn’t good enough for a man who couldn’t even tell me to my face he was leaving me.
That’s pretty low, to be not good enough for a horrible, despicable person.
But my face tells no lies. That’s how not good I am. I couldn’t go to the show. It wasn’t even a possibility. Not only could I not sit through another round of whatever piece of staged drivel was playing and focus on something beside my own misery, but I couldn’t sit still. I had to move. Pace. Do something. Anything. I couldn’t not cry.
I couldn’t pretend that everything was okay.
And this is how I ended up on 68th Street.
And I stayed there for quite some time - in that bush, just staring up at the windows squinting every time a shadow or two passed and ruffled the curtains. I was squinting a lot. I was bobbing and weaving my head this way and that trying to get the best view. I even brought binoculars but people walking down the street stared at me like I might be a criminal and so I thought it best to put them away.
That’s when I saw the candles flickering in the living room. I don’t know if they had been there the whole time or if someone just lit them but there was a distinct yellow glow now. I could see it so clearly. And there were shadows. More than one. Filling up the window to the living room.
There were three. And some other shadows that I couldn’t quite make out in the background. I pulled myself out of a squatting position and stepped out of the bush. A bald guy with a furrowed brow was staring at me out of a brownstone window. I didn’t care. Let the bald man stare. Let him call Neighborhood Watch. All they would find is a confused girl with a pummeled heart and binoculars stashed in her bag.
I could see the whole front of the duplex apartment plain as day. I could have been anyone on the street just looking up and noticing. The shadows were talking, laughing maybe, holding wine glasses. They, whoever these people were in my fiance’s apartment, must have been hanging out in the kitchen until now, which was in the back of the house. Now, I could see them so clearly.
They were having fun. They were happy. Who were these people?
Why wasn’t I there?
I was happy to just be one person on the street, not someone who was desperate enough to stalk and spy on the man she loved. I was just normal - a girl walking across the street to go to her fiance’s house and join a party that would be in full swing when she got there.
Maybe I had dreamed this whole last couple of hours.
Maybe I would get to the door and - I know this sounds crazy – someone would answer the door and yell, “Hey! Kim’s here!” and I would be hugged and led into the living room and someone would take my coat and slide a glass of wine into my hand and I would have to hug another old friend or two before I waded through the crowd to Jack, who would step over legs and hand bags and whatever was in his way to get to me, smiling, happy to see me and put his arms around me and whisper into my hair, “Hi, Beauty” because that’s what he always called me and I loved that he called me that and the room would be warm and candles would be melting on little plates on all the tables and wedges of stinky cheese would be half eaten and wine half drunk and it would all feel familiar and comfortable and beautiful.
I silently make a note to myself not to fantasize about happy things anymore. It was only going to make the reality harder.
I crossed the street and put the key in the exterior door of his building. I wasn’t thinking. I had no plan. I wasn’t nervous. I was numb. I heard the door close shut behind me. I just wanted to see his face for myself. I thought I would know all the answers if I could just look into his dopey Belgian eyes. If he just smiled at me like everything was okay.
I was in the elevator now. I had been in this elevator so many times - drunk, sober, in love, pissed off, deliriously happy, mad with horniness. Everything, it seems, happened in this little box. I had ended more than a few evenings here, drunk on a night of expensive wine and listening to his stupid jokes, told with his stupid accent and falling into him, crushing myself up against his body, winding my fingers through the curls in his hair, holding his face in my hands while I covered him with my giddy open-mouthed kisses until he had to carry me out of the elevator with my legs wrapped around his waist.
That was yesterday, this afternoon, two hours ago. A century.
Now, this place felt like somewhere I had been in another life – I recognized it faintly and dimly, but all its familiarity had receded and drifted away. Everything was washing out to sea.
I heard them laughing as soon as I stepped into the hallway.
There was talking, murmuring really. It wasn’t a party, more like an intimate gathering. A few close friends huddled over a hunk of St. Andre and water crackers at the coffee table, a bottle of mid-priced Chardonnay uncorked and half-blown. They were reminiscing I fantasized, old friends, but I couldn’t actually hear the words, just the tone of their voices.
At the door, I hesitated.
There was woman’s voice. Soft, but un-mistakeably feminine.
It could be anyone.
I lingered there for a moment and listened. I wanted it all to be a misunderstanding.
I wanted to hear more, get more information, so I could figure out my next step. I mean, what the hell was I going do now? Stand here with my ear to the door? Turn around and go home? What would I say to all the people inside the apartment? What if he was with someone and I saw them together? What would happen to me if I rang this doorbell?
I didn’t have to find out. Someone opened the door.
It was Sting, Jack’s next door neighbor. Yes, his name was really Sting, like the rock star - a name given him at birth that was both cool and tragic all at once.
Sting was probably 23, had a head of messy dirty, meticulously-highlighted blond hair that dusted his shoulders and a sculpted, completely hairless chest. I knew about his chest, not because I was looking exactly, but because he was a video editor and worked out of his apartment and he was, almost always, in some state of undress.
You couldn’t borrow a cup of milk from the guy without seeing him barefoot in nothing but boxer briefs and, so I was well-acquainted with the various aspects of him.
Sting’s apartment was a dark cave of equipment, wires and cameras. He ate almost every meal from the diner around the corner. Every meal out of a styrofoam container. He also borrowed a lot of condiments from us – ketchup, mostly. The guy ate more take out burgers than anyone I had ever met and yet, he didn’t have a single packet of ketchup to his name.
He was an odd duck in some ways, but he was also kind, boyish, not nearly as immature as you would expect from someone who is 23. He was sweet and endearing. He was at a stage in his life when he was trying to be, but he wasn’t quite there. The kind of guy you wouldn’t take seriously at 23, but you knew that when some of those hard edges were burned off and he had lived a little more and loved a little more and lost a little more, that at 35, he would be something wonderful and whole and complex.
I was never actually attracted to Sting in any kind of real way, but I admit that after Jack and I broke up, my first act as a single woman was to shed every ounce of common sense and self-respect I had left and have sex with Sting in Jack’s apartment on the day I came to clean out my belongings.
It wasn’t a plan really designed to hurt Jack. Again, not about him. It was more poorly conceived than anything.
Sting came over while I was cleaning out my one chest of drawers, the one that had been requisitioned to me in the great divvying of personal space.
He was shirtless, of course.
He looked at me with sad eyes. I looked at him with sad eyes. He pulled me toward him with one hand on the back of my neck. He was strong, warm, kind. I breathed into his bare shoulder for a long time. His skin was hot and clean. He smelled like freesia shampoo and youth.
Not a jaded, cruel bone in his body.
That alone made me want to bore myself deep into the warm parts of him and hide there.
The next thing I know we are taking each others clothes off as we climb the stairs only we never make it to the bed room and somewhere between the landing of the staircase and the door to the master bedroom, we have fumbling, desperate, forgettable sex on the hard floor.
I was ready for it all to end about 19 minutes before it actually did. But he was young and it, unfortunately, dragged on it bit. These things can’t be helped.
Afterwards, I felt stupid and hollow and stupid. And my knees hurt.
I never saw him again.
But when I saw him this time, swinging open Jack’s front door, in the midst of saying something funny or interesting or curious to someone behind him, a big goofy smile plastered across his face, a beer in one hand, it was without this intense knowledge of his personhood or even the most remote inkling that I would ever get to be close up to his personhood.
He was just the neighbor guy.
And the neighbor guy was pretty shocked to see me standing there.
I’ve never actually seen a full blown smile turn to panic in a single second like that before. It was like he broke some sort of maxillofacial record.
Sting’s first mistake was that he sort of swung the door open wide, not expecting that he would have to close that distance and wedge his body into the remaining crack to keep me from entering the apartment, but also maintain enough space so that he could speak to me normally and not make me suspicious that something untoward or inappropriate was happening in the apartment behind him.
This was a tall order.
“Kim!” He said, a little too loudly and a little too obviously and then, slid the door nearly shut and crammed his body into the open space.
Whoever was in the apartment, they all got very quiet, very fast.
“Hey…Is Jack here?” I smiled weakly.
Jack. The name sounded so strange on my tongue, so unfamiliar all of a sudden.
“Um, I need to talk to him…”
My voice sounds serious even to me. Too late to try to convince Sting this is a social call.
I hear a chair pushing out on the hard wood floor. A few muffled voices. Some movement, the rustling of clothes. A glass being set on a table.
“Uh, Jack? Um, yeah…” Sting glances over his shoulder reflexively.
This is his tell. Then, he pushed his weight onto one foot and tapped his other foot against the door jam. This gave him something meaningful to do while he searched for whatever he was going to say next.
Everything coming from inside that apartment was a furnace blast of awkwardness and tension flattening me. I was not one of them. I was a dreaded interloper. It wasn’t sitting in a bush that made me a stalker, it was the level of unhappiness seeping out of the crack in the door that made me one.
These people were unhappy to have me there. I had broken up the party with my very presence, with the very idea of me. I felt the urge to apologize and run like I had intruded on something highly personal. I felt the urge to vomit.
But I just kept talking.
“Really…is he here? Because…” I sounded breathy and desperate.
I didn’t actually know what I would say to Jack if Sting actually produced him. Would I have to beg him to tell me what was happening in front of an audience? This would surely put a cramp in my desire to keep up a cheery public face.
“Jack, yeah…He’s upstairs. Can you wait here? I’ll get him,” he looked pleased to get to leave. I envied him.
He smiled at me a little out of the corner of his mouth and closed the door lightly, as if he wanted me to know he wasn’t actually slamming it in my face.
“Thanks.” I said.
That was stupid. I said, “Thanks”.
“Thanks” for not inviting me into a house where I have keys and my dirty underwear is balled up in the corner of the closet and two days ago I was cleaning the shit out of the toilet. This was my house. My future husband. My future residence. My future. And I was standing outside the door, staring at the knocker and wondering why my feet were stuck to the carpet and I didn’t just walk inside and reclaim what was mine.
Why was I standing there? Where the hell was my backbone?
Oh right. I had ground that sucker up into sand. My backbone was long gone.
That, and the truth is, I was afraid. Afraid that whatever I would find inside would be worse than what I was facing in shame and awkwardness here in the hallway. It was better to be here and feel confused and awkward than it was to walk inside and see the very reason I was made to feel awkward and confused. Whatever her name might be and whatever I would see in Jack’s eyes.
The door suddenly opened.
That’s when Alex, Jack’s brother, opened the door just wide enough to sneak through but not wide enough for me to see much inside the apartment.
Then, the door closed shut and it was just me and Alex in the hallway.
I knew Alex had flown in from Belgium yesterday, but I hadn’t seen him yet. Alex and Jack were fraternal twins and so even though it was easy to tell them apart, Alex looked enough like Jack to make my heart race a little under my jacket. Even in their early 40’s, they still had a head full of lose curls and large weeping eyes that made them both look boyish and sweet, which also made them a little irritatingly irresistible to people like me.
I took a deep breath.
Alex smiled at me sweetly, like he pitied me a little, but definately with kindness. He put his arms around me and gave me warm squeeze and whispered into my hair.
“Let’s walk, sweetheart”.
God, he sounded just like Jack. Just like he was right here. And when my eyes were closed and I could hear his voice and bury my nose in his worn-out leather jacket, God, I felt like I could turn back the clock and be back where I was yesterday.
Unhappily happy. Happy in the comfort of my unhappiness.
Alex put his hand in the small bend in my back and walked me down the hall. I was relieved to be next to him, some small comfort, moving away from the door to the building and the party that I wasn’t invited to and relieved not to be alone. I fell into his side and he walked me like a broken child down the hall and out of the building into the cold air.
Alex directed television in Belgium. The whole family was born into show business. They were famous there. Their grandfather was one of the most beloved actors in the country. Their father produced soap operas. Jack had a prominent position with one of the largest theatrical companies in the world which happened to be Belgian and Alex had a shelf of prestigious awards.
Although they were just unknown people walking the streets here in New York, in Belgium they were famous, followed by tabloids, sought after, respected, known by everyone. When Jack broke up with the girlfriend before me, a semi-famous magician’s assistant, it was written up scandal-style in the papers. When someone in the family died, camera crews lined the sidewalks in front of Jack and Alex’s townhouse, where they each lived on two floors. The very name De Martin opened doors, eyes and expectations.
This was always a bit of an issue with Jack working in New York theatre and producing shows with long-time Broadway veterans, who were a close family of insiders reluctant to let new kids into the fold. Jack had the ego of someone born into a showbiz dynasty, except here, that meant nothing. He was a guy with a big self-image without a dynasty. He was a newbie – a guy with a lot of money behind him, which made him interesting to people, but who himself was, as yet, unproven.
This rankled him. He hated having to prove himself and hated people who didn’t immediately see his talent or his breeding. He expected to be taken seriously immediately and I think he never realized that what people in New York took seriously was not him, but the seemingly infinite bank roll of the huge company he worked for. People wanted access to that money and Jack was the gatekeeper.
It was never about him. Poor bastard.
Alex and I didn’t say a word until we were half way down the block.
As I passed by the front of Jack’s building, I could see the shadows moving in the flickering light and I knew that the party had gotten underway again. I was a short blip in their good time. They had either forgotten all about me or they were chatting about me, using me to make the party seem more interesting.
“…And then the girlfriend shows up and honey, it got really exciting from there…”
I had my arm linked into Alex’s now. People lined the streets and chatted to each other as the ambled down the sidewalks. We moved in and out of the people around us, saying “Hello” and “Excuse me” when appropriate. It was just after Thanksgiving and the wreaths were just starting to come out on doors, but there were only a few brownstones decorated with flashing Christmas lights. The holiday was not completely underway.
Alex and I looked like any of these couples on the block, coming out of dinner at Vince & Eddies, going to someone’s house for a party or going over for a quick beer and shepherds pie at Old Diamond Inn. We could have been strolling back to our warmly lit brownstone and our slumbering children. Or we could have been lovers, out on our first date.
This could have been a happy day.
But it wasn’t. My head was starting to ache.
I was grateful, though, to be far away from the apartment where I was a malicious intruder, where there were all kinds of painful mysteries to solve and shameful questions that needed answering.
Alex and I walked block after block. He looked at our feet on the sidewalk and talked. I listened. He wanted to explain things to me.
He talked calmly and quietly about Jack needing time to himself, wanting to un-wind, having panic attacks, about him needing to make some changes, about being confused, about loving me but needing space at the same time, about not knowing what direction he wanted to go in.
It was all so vague.
Everything that came out of Alex’s mouth was designed to both prepare me for the worst and keep me from bursting into his apartment and seeing what was there, all the while not committing to any particular truth or storyline.
It was the stupidest conversation of my life.
I asked Alex if Jack was seeing someone. Point blank. He didn’t even think about it, like he knew I would ask and he knew exactly what he was going to say.
“This isn’t about anyone else. This whole thing is about Jack. He’s pretty fucked up right now.”
I was looking for something a little more convincing and definitive. Something along the lines of: “Oh my God, no! Jack is completely and totally in love with you. No. No. There is no one else. There never could be with Jack. He adores you. It would kill him if he thought this is what you were thinking…”
Anything short of that wasn’t going to put me at ease.
“He needs time to himself,” Alex continued.
Ugh, time. This was truly the death knell of every relationship. It’s over the minute someone asks for “time.” Every moron knows this.
I felt like I might throw up then and there.
“And he thought a party with all of his friends might help him have more time to himself?” I asked, “to think things through? To think about whether he wants to marry me?”
God. It just kept getting worse.
Alex had a response at the ready.
The two of them, Jack and Alex, could explain away anything. It was a gift. The only problem with the gift was that it didn’t last long. It was a magic spell with a time limit. You might accept their explanation in the moment, but later on, when it was quiet and your mind had time to sort through things, play with the words, you realized it was flimsy, just a wisp of truth, veiled in something faulty and manipulative.
This is why people liked them, but didn’t trust them.
I was the stupid one and trusted where I should have been cautious.
“Sometimes Jack needs to do things without you. He needs time to just be this single guy who hangs out with friends. I mean, you want to go everywhere with him. Jack needs some space. He’s just taking a little time for himself.”
It hurt me to hear him say that. I stopped walking and pulled away from him.
I loved Jack, but he was gone so much, traveling here and there, he couldn’t possibly feel like he needed more time without me. There was so much of it already. I had my faults, Lord knows I was a complex, crazy, sensitive, insecure girl, but I never begrudged him something he wanted to do or time he wanted to spend with friends or family. What Alex was saying was wrong to its core.
It was all a decoy to throw me off. I was sure of it then. All of Alex’s warmth and attention was a tactical maneuver.
“He broke off our relationship without actually telling me, Alex” I shouted at him in the street.
No more bullshit. The beautiful fairytale coach of explanations and rationalizations had turned back into the garden variety pumpkin.
“You don’t just break off a relationship with a woman you said you wanted to spend the rest of your life with by just deciding to do it one day and not informing her. That is not what decent, kind people do. It’s not what people do when they are in love.”
“He didn’t want to hurt you, “ he said.
It was all he could say really. I think he thought is it was salve for the wound. He had his hands in his jacket pockets now. He was peering off into space to the side of me.
“Look at me. Look at my face. Does he think this isn’t hurt?” Tears were running down my face now. I could hardly hold back this raw, bleeding pain.
“He didn’t want to see it for himself,” Alex said, struggling to keep me calm.
We were a little past that now.
“You know how he is…”
“I do?” I ask the question in my head, but Alex seems to hear it.
“He’s a coward. I mean I love him, he’s my brother, but he’s a wuss when it comes to hurting people he loves. This is the only way he could do it.”
“So, we are broken up? That’s what you’re saying, right? He is breaking off our relationship?
There is so much water filling my eyes that I can’t hold it back now. I can barely see, everything looks wet and blurry. I’m puckering up my face. I can’t control it. I wipe my eyes with my fingers. I know I am a mess.
The look on Alex’s face confirms this.
“I can’t believe this is happening…I can’t believe this is happening. God, it’s over. Just like that. Over.” I’m pacing up and down and muttering to myself. My fingers are massaging the fold of skin between my eyebrows. I’m still crying.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, he’s confused right now. Not sure what he wants. He needs time to figure that out.”
I barely hear Alex now. Whatever is coming out of his mouth is bullshit. If I believe any of it, it will hurt me.
“God, he doesn’t love me, “ I say it to myself, but I hear the words hit the cold air.
“Yes, he does. He told me that he loves you. I see it when he talks about you. I think he is in so much pain because he loves you so much and doesn’t want to do anything to hurt you.”
I shake my head, pushing away the idea of his loving me. Nothing about this is love.
I just want the details now.
“But Danny said that Jack…”
I searched his face for some truth.
“Yeah, I can’t believe that shit-head told you about their conversation.”
“So, they did talk,” I was struggling to put it all together in my head.
“You guys listened to the machine.”
Oh no. I stopped pacing and looked at Alex. There was, I’m quite sure, a look of total horror on my face.
The whole party listened?…All those people heard…?”
I clasp my hand to my mouth to keep the scream from leaving me. It just kept getting worse. I choked back the urge to vomit.
“Uh, no…not everyone…” he started again, but whatever he said this time was meaningless to me. I put my hand up to stop him.
I feel the full force of my public humiliation. It was a load of bricks being hurled at me.
Alex didn’t say anything, just stared back at me. I was a spectacle, an accident from which he couldn’t look away. What happened was obvious - Jack let people listen to me spill out my deepest pain, the pain meant only for him.
“He was upstairs. The machine came on and the volume was up. He didn’t get to it in time. The party hadn’t really started yet…”
“Did she hear it?” I was staring at him now.
Don’t. Fuck. With. Me. Asshole. That’s the look on my face.
“Yes. She was there,” he whispers and looks toward Central Park.
“Just the three of us.”
And there it was. There actually was a “she”. There was a “three of us”. This was all pretty horribly definitive.
I opened my mouth to say something, but there was nothing to say. Alex extended his arms to comfort me.
I stepped backwards.
I did not want to be contained or held or touched. I did not want to be pitied by a man who was an accomplice in my unraveling. I wanted to rage and scream and run and fly and fight and lash out. And get away. As far as I could.
This morning I woke up with a firm sense of the world, its inner workings, the man I could trust, could depend on, could love with abandon, the man who I would stay with through every trial and test, the man I would love through the best and the worst of things. It was a flawed picture, but it was a picture nonetheless. And now I was living in a world of opposites where this man was the enemy, the one person who could rip me into shreds over and over and over like a hungry lion.
I had to get out of there. Go home. Think about how to turn the world on its right side again.
Alex got me into a cab. He shoved a wad of bills into the driver’s hand and gave him my address. Then, he stuck his head in the window, smiled weakly at me.
“Take care of yourself, sweetheart.”
I told the driver to go.
I fell asleep in the cab. Somehow I got myself into my bed. I don’t remember a bit of it. The next thing I knew it was 3 o’clock the following afternoon. I was fully clothed.