Ryan is obviously feeling agreeable, so after Mark is gone, he walks with me to Reckless Records. This is something he always refuses to do with me, using excuses like, “you’ll be in the for hours and it will be boring” and “I have better uses for my time.” I realize right away that his presence is affecting my ability to relax and enjoy myself, so I just pick up my special orders and then we leave.
Now what? Ryan is hinting that we should go back to my place and play Scrabble. No way. I can only see that leading to one thing, since we’ve only successfully finished two games of Scrabble in our entire relationship. Generally when one of us senses an inevitable loss, the board gets tossed aside and clothes come off. Neither of us are very good at losing.
Since neither of us can come up with a plan, I decide to go home. First I walk him back to Mark’s place for his car. He’s trying to sell me on various plans.
“What if we go to dinner at Thai Lagoon?” No, I’m not hungry.
“We could see a movie.” No, there is nothing I want to see right now. (And really, I can’t sit still for that long without smuggling in liquor….and since I can’t drink right now…)
“Well, what if you come over to my place and I can show you this new painting? And you could see Sadie, because she misses you?” No, I really should go home and work on some stuff (this is said ambiguously, because I don’t actually have any “stuff” to do).
“Okay, well what if we go to Rainbo and get an early cocktail?”
“I can’t do that…I can’t really drink right now?”
“Since when do you turn down a drink at 4 pm? Have you taken up religion or something?
I hesitate for a moment. “I mean, literally…I can’t drink. Doctor’s orders.”
His face crumples. “Oh, yeah, right. I guess I thought you were okay.”
I put on my brave smile (I’m becoming really accustomed to playing this character). “I AM fine, but I just have to take it easy for a while, you know? My body needs to recover. And not just from, uh, you know, that night…but all of the abuse I’ve been heaping on it for the last few months.”
He’s silent, but he looks like he wants to say something.
“Hey, let’s sit down on the sidewalk here for a few minutes and have a chat.” I gesture toward an open stretch of concrete.
Nobody talks for a few minutes. And then he turns to me and say, “I’m really sorry…” And then he chokes.
I put my arm around him, because I don’t know what else to do. I want everything to be better; I want to build a time machine and rewind to months ago, and do it all over again. I want to make the right decisions and change our path. Somehow we would still be in love with one another. Our lives would be productive, healthy, and happy.
But all we have is right here. I can’t change anything. I know that the only things I can say to him to make him feel better are lies. Or at best, only half true.
He looks at me. “I’m sorry I didn’t visit you in the hospital.”
Lie number one leaves my lips. “No, it’s okay. I’m glad you didn’t come. I mean, I was really too sick for visitors and you know, I looked really awful. I wouldn’t want you to see me like that. I was covered with weird bruises and blotches. And I was really yellow. So, it’s good you didn’t come to see me.”
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In my most feverish moments, I couldn’t stop wishing that he would walk through the door. I was certain that all of my ailments would be cured by his presence.
A few days before his death, I will think of that time in the hospital, how I wish I could have begged him to be there. And I will say to him, “If you’re not there when our baby is born, I will never forgive you.” It is one of the few times I am completely honest with him about my feelings. There is something exhilarating about shedding my mask of toughness and indifference, even if it’s for only one sentence.
“You’re right. I couldn’t have handled seeing you that way…because I feel responsible, at least in some way. I mean, I know you actually carried out the action, but I feel like I pushed you into it.”
Time for lie number two. “No, no. It’s not your fault at all. Like you said, I did it.”
Deep down–and I won’t admit this to anyone ever–I blame him. Well, I blame myself for being foolish and hotheaded and cowardly and weak. But he DID give me the push. Months of feeling inadequate, always wondering what my shortcomings actually were, wishing I could somehow be better, right, good enough….that all came from him. He would build me up with compliments and romantic gestures, and then pull the rug out from under me with one simple statement like, “it’s just that there is something wrong about you.” And who says something like, “every time I said I loved you, I was lying?” It’s as if he was tired of waiting for me to trip and fall down the well, so he just gave me a big shove…and then in a fit of instantaneous regret, he grabbed onto a strand of my hair at the last minute. By then it was too late; I was already plummeting toward a bottom of unknown depth.
“I’m so sorry. Please tell me that you forgive me for everything I said. And not visiting you. And yelling at you on the phone. Just tell me that you forgive me for everything.”
“Of course I do.” And I kiss him on the cheek.
I’m surprised that my nose hasn’t grown twelve inches just then. Because lie number three is the biggest of them all. I don’t forgive him. I’m so angry at him for saying really shitty, hateful things. I almost hate him for calling everyone we know. I am sickened by the way he practically crowed “she did it because of me” every time someone picked up the phone. I want to hit him because he painted himself as some sort of victim, trying to extract every tiny drop of sympathy out of every individual.
I hate him for not visiting.
I hate him for never calling me while I was in exile in Pennsylvania. I lingered by the phone every night, trying to act as if I wasn’t awaiting a call.
I hate him for pushing, pushing, pushing.
I hate him for pointing out the flaws that make me hate myself the most. He found the folder hidden in the back of my brain labeled “all of the things i suspect are wrong about me.”
I hate him for letting me thing that it was okay, that we would never become addicts, that we were the only ones who knew some divine secret that would keep us safe.
But instead, here I am, sitting on the sidewalk somewhere west of Damen and north of Armitage, smiling like a saint, and saying, “I love you.”