Featured Artist Stories - Fiction

June 1, 2001

I should have seen this coming

by Carol Church   PrintEasy

I'll say this much for the whole thing: you find stuff out about yourself. Stuff you might never have known, otherwise. At least not till after the freaking wedding, anyway.

Email to a FriendFor instance: I turn out to be a foot stomper. As in, How could you, you bastard? (stomp). You leave me for three fucking weeks (stomp), and this is what you do? (stomp, stomp). Kind of melodramatic, I know, but it's like my leg had a mind of its own. I barely even knew I was doing it. (At least not till the cops came. Because of all the noise.)

Text BiteYou find things out about the other person, too. I mean, besides the fact that he's a lying, cheating bastard - which, heck, was plenty of news for me. Nope, there's more to it than that. There's even more to it than him telling you all the things he thought but never said, like You never dress up when we go out (for God's sake), and How come we never have sex outside?

There's the way he closes his eyes when he doesn't want to look at you. The way he can frown so hard that his bottom lip pokes out, like the President being sad on television. The surprising kinds of sounds he makes when he really cries. When you tear up, for instance, the sample invitation that came from the printer while he was gone.

And Fed-Ex it to him at his office.

Somebody ought to hire you, Annie, he said, a while ago. You could make money coming up with this stuff, I swear to God. Put up a little card in the supermarket: 'Want to make your cheating lover feel like shit? Call for the perfect revenge.' He looked at me kind of sideways, and I don't think we laughed, but maybe we both smiled a little.

Here's the thing: sometimes you forget, just for a second, that you hate him.

Probably I should have seen this coming, seen it from way back when. I'm not a complete idiot. I knew he had this idea I was the Relationship Queen, and he was just some kind of clueless knight-in-training. I knew that sort of bothered him. I even knew he had this stupid thing about how I'd slept with way more people than he had - though by the time I found that out, there wasn't exactly anything I could do about it. You don't realize, early on, when you're teasing him a little bit, making sure he knows you're not exactly a freaking blushing virgin, that later it might come back and bite you on the ass.

I mean, he's a pretty appealing guy: good-looking, sense of humor, smart as hell. The teeth could be better, I guess, but nobody's perfect. How was I supposed to know he didn't lose his virginity till he was twenty-one? How was I supposed to know I'd turn out to be only the second woman he'd ever slept with, and that the first one hadn't exactly given him a road map? You don't worry about this kind of stuff much anymore, unless you're dealing with some kind of wacky born-again Christian.

Sure, once I knew, I was extra wary with that whole male pride thing - which is a fucking landmine, like I'm making a real point to remind all my friends about now. Text BiteAnd I kept an eye out for all that what if stuff, the philosophical bullshit that reminds me somehow of all the annoying guys I knew in college who thought libertarianism was going to save the world. What if I was really supposed to be with that girl who I had that huge crush on and I was sure she liked me and then her dad lost his job and she had to transfer? What if we never figure out how to make you come during sex? What if twenty years from now it turns out that we can't stand each other? Blah, blah. Etc, etc.

But I guess I never really thought he'd do anything. When it came down to it - if it came down to it - I thought he'd look that woman in the eyes and tell her, look, I'm engaged. Maybe he'd whip out a little wallet photo, get a dreamy expression on his face. Kimberly, I like you, but...

I guess we all have our little illusions.

I'll give him this: he told me as soon as he got home. There was none of that sneaking-around shit, once he was back in our apartment, back in our bed. And at least he didn't try to keep the thing going. No mysterious long-distance on the calling card, no Victoria's Secret charges on the Visa. Believe me, I checked. (Although I hear she has a boyfriend herself. I mean, they're not engaged. They haven't already booked the harp player. They haven't gone to the damn mall and registered their set of matching margarita glasses, for God's sake.)

So, yeah, he told me. The first night he was back, that night when I was so glad Text Biteto see him after that big long conference off on the West Coast. Well, first we went through all the unpacking, the good dinner, the I'm so glad to see you stuff, me thinking everything was basically fine. Maybe he seemed a little tired, so we went to bed early. I still figured we had time for sex, even if he was sleepy. I've never known a man who couldn't wake up for that.

But as soon as I touched him, he jumped right out of the just-washed sheets. I thought maybe he'd remembered something he had to do all of a sudden, that he was being a goofball. I laughed, sitting up in my half-buttoned pajamas. Stephen, I asked, what the hell?

He stood there for a minute. Just stood there, in the middle of the bedroom floor. I watched his face fold into a funny shape, like some weird origami, and by then I knew something was wrong. I figured maybe he was going to tell me the conference went badly, that he was getting transferred, something like that. I was a little nervous, but not too much. Stephen's always been the one who overreacts.

I was with someone else, is what he finally said.

More things I didn't know about myself: I can yell for three hours straight. Sleeping pills give me a hangover. There are times when the only thing I can stand to eat is a sectioned grapefruit with one teaspoon of sugar, still cold from the fridge.

He says he was positive I was going to kick him out. He told me he knew, he absolutely knew, that I would never forgive him. He'd already phoned about airfares back to Philadelphia; when he broke down halfway through the call, the ticket agent asked him, very nicely, if he knew about their special bereavement fares.

And of course it was the first thing I said: Get out, with my finger pointing towards the door, like in every soap opera I used to watch when I was home sick from school. He nodded, tears making shiny tracks down his cheeks. He opened the suitcase he'd just unpacked, the one I'd bought him for his last birthday. His hands were actually shaking. It would have been the perfect scene, except that the cat had to come in right then and jump up on the bed, all innocent, rubbing his dumb sweet head against my arm.

I sat there and watched him try to fold his shirts, fumbling with his balled-up pairs of socks. I wasn't saying anything, right then. I thought maybe the silent treatment was as cold as I could get. I wanted cold. I wanted an iceberg straight from the fucking North Atlantic, huge and hard and as dangerous as they come.

It was the clock that did it, I guess, in the end. The new clock I'd bought him for Christmas, a pretty little thing made of polished wood that chimes so politely to wake you up. I watched him reach for it, there on the dresser. I watched him pull his hand back and go through the drawers for the old travel alarm instead, the one that sounds like a bomb alert, the one he's hated for years. I saw him back in his mother's awful old row house in Philly, waking up to that thing every day. I saw me here, alone, hearing the new clock from my half-empty bed.

It's not like it's easy, any of this. It's not like I'm not angry. Some days I practically feel myself giving off heat, like a building that's not finished burning. Some days Stephen can tell when he walks in the door that all he can do is cut up a grapefruit and keep his mouth shut.

You can think you know yourself a lot better than you do. You can plan out everything you'd say, everything you'd do, if your world came apart like a love note that went through the wash. You can watch a hundred ridiculous talk shows, shaking your head at the crazy women who stay. You can look over at your lover and pat his faithful leg and think, if you did that, I'd never forgive your dumb ass.

And maybe you wouldn't. Not totally.

Not yet.

Put it back, I said to Stephen. He looked at me, confused - thinking, what, I can't take this stupid old clock?

Put it back, I said again. We're not done.

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