And there it was. Only eleven days more and I would have been wrong about her. But I was right. On the very day that the country inaugurated a pussy-grabbing misogynist into the white house, she did what I thought she would do. She published the photo on social media. The photo that I predicted she would post sometime in January of the new year. The photo I had expected, yet not quite prepared myself for. The photo that impaled me with a reality that was harder to bear than I thought, was there, piercing and jabbing at my chest from the screen.
It was J. his left arm encircling her waist, his right hand pulling her in at the belt, her left hand resting on his chest, their lips locked and smiling, their eyes closed, patrons sitting on barstools behind them watching screens beyond the frame. It was not exactly the photo I thought it would be.
As cameras broadcast the inauguration of a narcissist on the 20th of January, I avoided television, I avoided the news, I avoided adding any points to any ratings like the great majority of disappointed, disillusioned Americans. Briefly, in search of some form of entertainment, I logged on so I could forget that we still lived in a society so full of hatred for women in power that they would let a charlatan, and his band of pirates, in to rape our Lady Liberty. If I thought I could just escape what was going on in the world, I was wrong. Somewhere along the way, I learned to care. And once you start to care, you realize how much it hurts. Like a clap of thunder pulling me from my soporific lull, she broadcast her love for J. with a quote from Shakespeare,
My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep;
the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.
I was too stunned to remember that the story of star-crossed lovers she quoted from was a "woeful" tragedy. I was stunned, you see, because the photo I had imagined was more like the one she had posted six months earlier, as she embraced and kissed J.’s friend from “the group”. That one was broadcast only six months after the photo of her embracing and kissing her husband. So, "by January", I thought, "I bet she'll post one of those with J". Her timing on Inauguration day was astounding.
She was “fresh meat” (a newly single woman) in “the group”, that same group of friends that J. and I fought about on New Year’s Eve three years ago, so I knew who it was when J told me he was seeing someone from the group. But, the photo she posted on inauguration day was different than the ones she had posted of J.’s friend and her husband before him. In this photo, the man she was kissing was engaged in the activity. He was returning her affection. And that’s what stunned me.
You see, it was only three days after a narcissist won the election that he began a relationship with her – only seven days after the day that I angrily pulled on my boots at J.’s kitchen door as he stood, pleading, “don’t leave!” It was only the Saturday night before they hooked up that I was lying in J.’s bed contemplating surrendering to him again after months of waiting for him to take that ninth step - holding out for a different ending to our story. They got together on the Saturday after the rainy Saturday night that I raced back to my apartment from his at midnight and posted a scene from Sleeping with the Enemy to thank him for reminding me of … that side of J. “Be glad!” I thought to myself as I stared at the photo, “you didn’t give in”. But I wasn’t glad.
The sky was clear and warm that Sunday evening last June when the man staying with me called out, "Paulina, someone's here to see you!"
“Me!?” I was fearful. Who would come to my house unannounced? “who is it?”, I asked climbing back upstairs. I was afraid it might be the opioid-addicted ex-roommate who had picked my lock when I tried to evict him.
“don’t know - good-looking fella.”
Now I was perplexed. The drug-addict would never be that, even in the best light. The old-fashioned, Southern mechanic living with me would also never use “good-looking” to describe any of the men I had been dating. He might have answered, “Stocky” for one, or “a gentleman” for the other, and “a good ole boy” for the other. But not “good-looking” – none of them would be that to this ole Hoss.
I made my way to the front door, and there he was. His big shoulders leaning into the door frame, his dark eyes lifted from under arched eyebrows, sunset bouncing off his shaved head, his massive, broad chest caved in beneath slanted shoulders, his thumbs tucked into pockets thrust forward from his hips - it was J.
“Well, this is a surprise. What are you doing here?”, I asked the man whose last words to me had been, “I have nothing to say to you.”
“Did I come at a bad time?”, he whispered, shrugging, as if he'd interrupted a moment between me and the shirtless, pot-bellied man who opened the door.
“um..No!” I said and turned to go back upstairs. J. followed me in. “What are you doing here?” I asked again.
“I was just driving by……” and he continued to evade my question as I washed my hands, followed him to his car, and sipped my wine from across the table. His eyes were so dark and liquid, his skin so smooth, his lips so red and moist, his demeanor so inviting - he went on and on not answering my question and all I could notice was the way the buttons on his white shirt pulled from the mass of chest beneath them. There it was, ladies and gentlemen, the cause of all human suffering – desire.
“So…what, J. Did you suddenly decide you had something to say to me? You realize now that you love me and miss me and decided to just drop by?” I said, finally, as he drove me home.
“Something like that.”
It was enough. The departure to Jersey of my dear friends, the ones who took me in at 3 in the morning when I was forced to leave the apartment I shared with J, had left me lonely. Summer loomed and the prospect of long beach days lost in the short season, made me wistful. The stoking of my desire, the words I put in his mouth - they were all enough for me to make excuses for all that he had put me through. With those words I relieved myself of my role as a self-possessed, world-travelled business owner. As the music played and the breeze blew in through stars spread out before us, I felt like a young girl again with a sweet boy, who was bad for me. Perhaps as a clue, the radio played,
“Suga, how’d you get so fly?”
Yup. Just like sugar, his sweetness, his interest, his soft approach raised my dopamine – turned me into a dope fiend. And just like sugar, there was no substance, nothing to hold me over until my next fix. There was no talk of what had happened between us. There was just a constant craving for some acknowledgement of his abuse, a constant brain fog from his deflections, regular mood swings as I reacted to memories of his outbursts, and a need for satisfaction that never came. But always – there was always that brief rush of sweet when he stood too close, or ventured a smile, or touched me. It was always too brief, too rushed, but just enough to make me forget how satisfied I was without it.
Like any other addict, love addicts are largely in denial about what they do and the trouble it causes. I thought maintaining a friendship with J. meant that I was strong and in control. But, it was time. In the words of Robert Palmer, I, had to face it. I'm addicted to love.”