I don’t want to be jealous. I hate the way it makes me feel and think and act. But today Ryan is meeting his ex-girlfriend Janet for ice cream.
She’s 32 and she is friends with everyone cool in Chicago and she probably knows mind-blowing sex things that I’m way to young to know. She is 10 years older than me. My youth is only a disadvantage in this situation.
I know I shouldn’t care. They broke up for a reason, right? But SHE was the one that ended the relationship. So he’s probably still in love with her, at least on some level. Right?
“I know it’s just a drawer of photographs
They’re ex-girlfriends, I try to remember that
I don’t wanna look, but I’m already hooked on jealousy”
Last week she was out of town and Ryan agreed to watch her dogs. Clearly he is trying to keep his foot in the door any way he can. He still has keys to her place, a real farm house somehow standing just west of Ashland. It is surrounded by awful new condominium buildings. For some reason, he decided to take me there. Every room was crammed with cool old furniture and charming vintage bric-a-brac. I felt hideously inadequate when we returned to my apartment filled with Ikea and thrift store furniture. I found myself wishing I could be older and cooler, with better stories to tell and really hip friends.
We were in his bathtub later that night when curiosity got the best of me. “What is Janet like?” In my mind, she was tall, thin, and fairytale beautiful.
He frowned. “This is a silly conversation.”
I was undaunted. I needed to be tortured. “Look, I’ll tell you some stuff about Brad (my ex-boyfriend). And then you can tell me about Janet. He’s about 6 feet tall and he has dark brown hair. He still wears the clothes I bought him when we were in college. He’s a scientist and he is four years older than me. We are from the same town in Pennsylvania. He’s really into biking and jazz and comic books. We moved to Chicago together.”
I washed my face, waiting for him to reciprocate.
He was silent. And then he smirked. “Well, she is about 5’5”. She has big green/blue eyes and short dark hair. It’s dyed, though. Her hair is really blonde. And um, she rides her bike everywhere. She smokes a lot of cigarettes, which is too bad, because she is far too pretty for an ugly habit like that.”
For a moment I was relieved to hear that she smoked, too. But then I was puzzled. This sounded awfully familiar to me. Oh yeah, because it was a description of me. “Is that a joke?”
“Did I mention that she looks really good in tight jeans? I mean, her pants are so tight, I can’t even imagine where she is buying them. The tag says ‘Gap’ but I’m skeptical…”
“You are the worst,” I said with a scowl.
“Let’s just leave it at that.” And then he splashed me.
It’s six o’clock and I still haven’t heard from him. He was supposed to meet her at three. And then he was going to come over to my place.
I consider taking another shower just to kill some time. Instead I decide to start drinking. I leave him a message. “I’m going to the Rainbo. Just come there when you get home.”
I sit at the bar for about two hours, trying to read. The words on the pages are just that: words on a page. I’m getting a bad feeling. And four gin-and-tonics later, I’m on the verge of spontaneous combustion. My head is filled with visions of tearful reconcillations and impromptu marriage proposals. I feel sick.
He’s probably forgotten all about me.
I can’t sit at the bar any more. I decide to go home.
The ride home goes by at lightning speed. I’ve recently realized that I develop super powers when I’m drunk. Or at least, I can pedal really, really fast.
I see a sad figure sitting on my stoop. I jump off my bike and walk up slowly. It’s Ryan, with his head buried in his hands.
“Hey…” I say this so tentatively, it’s almost inaudible.
“Let’s go upstairs. I have to talk to you.”
This. Is. Not. Good.
For some reason, he insists on carrying my bike up the stairs.
We sit side by side on the sofa in my bedroom. Awkward silence.
I decide to be brave. Maybe I’m paranoid. Everything might be fine. I muster up an impressive amount of faux cheer. “So how was your ice cream? What flavor did you get?” I notice that my hands are shaking.
He mumbles something that might contain the word “fudge.”
“Oh, wow…that’s great!” More quasi-exuberance from me.
And then he starts talking. Janet wanted to tell him that she has a new boyfriend. Actually, she’s been seeing him since the day she and Ryan broke up. In fact, she’s been in love with this guy for years. He is moving in with her. She wanted to tell Ryan before he heard it somewhere else.
I’m really not sure what to say. “I’m sorry” would be insincere.
He continues. He realizes that it’s too soon for him to be in a relationship. I’m really great, the most amazing girl he’s ever met, but it’s probably a bad time. And he needs space to figure things out and focus on other priorities. And on and on.
I’m smiling and agreeing. Nodding my head and making encouraging noises. Oh yes, I need space, too. My work is suffering and I’m used to spending a lot more time with myself and I definitely don’t want a boyfriend now. And on and on.
But really, I feel like I’m going to die. I want to jump up and scream at him. Give him a good shake. Tell him that he’s being ridiculous. There is something between us that I’ve never known before. And yeah, it’s only been a few weeks, but wow…my mind has been completely blown. I’m trying to remember that cliché about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Oh, if only I could utter half of the things I’m thinking. But instead, I’m just nodding my stupid head as if I believe what we’re both saying.
I say one more thing I don’t mean. “I think you should go now.” When I stand up to walk him to the door, I almost fall over. My hands are in fists inside my pockets. I catch my reflection in the mirror, a placid Mona Lisa smile is pasted on my face. I’m impressed with my bravery. Losing my dignity is not an option.
Just as I’m about to close the door, he grabs me, embracing me so hard, I lose my breath. “I know that I need you in my life,” he whispers in my ear. And then he leaves. For a moment, I’m so angry, I wish I could have pushed him down the stairs. I imagine the weight of his body falling three flights down and I feel almost comforted.
I walk back into my room. I cannot cry about this. I never cry.
I lay down on my rug, staring at the water-stained ceiling.
I know that I can’t start crying when I am flat on my back. It’s physically impossible.
I take deep breaths.
I count backwards from ten over and over again.
I tell myself, “I’m so glad to be alone.”
I close my eyes. The events of the past few weeks play in fast-forward on the insides of my eyelids. Long baths and sweaty embraces and sleepy kisses and wide smiles and dreamy walks.
I can’t breathe, so I sit up.
And then it starts. I’m sobbing so hard, I think my heart might jump out my chest and run away to find a calmer home. I cover my mouth, trying to hold it in. But it’s no use.
Hours later, I remember why I never let myself cry: once I start, I just can’t stop.
I think I’m going to have to call off work tomorrow.