Man, I don’t know

He knows. I know he knows. He sleeps turned away from me nw. He turns out his light before I’m done brushing my teeth so that I have to stumble in the dark to find the bed-the cover- the body of the man I used to love- breathing slowly, rhythmically, mimicking sleep so that we don’t have to say pleasantries we don’t mean anymore.

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I met my husband when I was 28 and he was 32.  He was so handsome- tall, broad, blond, with a great smile.  He was so kind and funny and he adored me…me! At 27, I had recently lost a lot of weight and I was still trying to get used to my new body that men seemed to be seeing for the first time.  But he…he never seemed to notice my body.  He gazed in my eyes and appreciated the curve of my smile- never my waist. He waited until we’d known each other for one full year before asking me on a date. I was so glad he waited- it gave me time to be sure about a lot of things, him included.

On our first date he took me to an amusement park and did NOT kiss me on the ferris wheel- he waited until we were climbing the hill to the first drop off of the roller coaster; that’s when he turned to me, laughing excitedly, cupped my face and pulled me to him- quickly, but gently- that’s when I knew…I just knew.

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Now, 5 years into this perfect marriage, the man who made my heart soar like we were always on the edge on another exciting roller coaster- he doesn’t gaze at anything anymore except his phone. He makes our coffee still, but has stopped buying the creamer I preferred. He’d still record our favorite shows but stopped waiting for me to watch them. Who knew that pressing “replay” on the DVR would become a metaphorical nail in the coffin of our marriage? But it wasn’t until about 3 months ago- that’s when I knew he knew.  He always kissed me goodbye the same way- always. First my lips- quick- then he’d tilt my head and kiss me long on the forehead. Even if we were fighting, even if we hated each other- he always worked his way up to my forehead.  We would even sign our texts with the up arrow…so embarrassing. That’s what it was like with him…a constant adventure up just like that first roller coaster ride. I just never expected the drop.

It’s all so cliché. I’ve become a cliché. A sad, cheating, foreshadowed person.

I met “him” at the grocery store. Of course, we’d met before that.  We were 17- 17! I had loved him so much but college, distance, family, they all smothered our flame and even though we’d ended amicably, it still took us 15 years to run into each other in this small town.

When he saw me, he smiled and we shyly exchanged catch-up stories. He was married for 7 years to the girl he began seeing after he and I ended. He was a lawyer- successful- no kids, not ready to stop traveling.  His family was well- he was visiting them for the holiday- his wife was working.

“We should grab a drink this week! Catch-up!”

Of course I said yes.

It was all so predictable.

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Of course we talked about ending things- things with each other, with our spouses. The love story that should’ve been.  He was in my phone as “Mandy”, a useless diversion since Mandy still said “I love you” in the texts, and wrote me long messages describing my eyes and the beauty in them. I would read these messages in the bathroom before I crawled into my bed. I’d read and delete, read and delete, tattooing them in my mind so I could call them up when I needed. If my husband noticed how my showers lengthened, he said nothing. He was always asleep when I laid down anyway.

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The first time I cheated, I remember watching everything unfold as if I was floating above myself.  I was home for Christmas and so was he.  We decided to grab food the day after we saw each other at the grocery store.  He called my cellphone- in 15 years his number hasn’t changed.  We met at a nondescript chain restaurant and fell into such an easy rhythm, the conversation coming quickly, easily.  Both of our sarcastic senses of humor playing off each other.   He teased and I blushed, then I mocked and he grinned.  His phone rang, he hit ignore after checking the caller ID.  I followed suit when my husband called one half of an hour later.  We were there for 3 hours- can you believe that? We closed the restaurant and were politely shooed out by our waitress.

“Let me get the bill, “he demanded.

“No! Of course not!” I argued.

But he paid, and as he signed it he said, “I couldn’t afford to treat you in HS.  This makes me feel a little better about that.

I smiled- I couldn’t help myself.

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We walked out to his car. I had only had 3 beers but he offered to drive me home, just in case.

I didn’t say no.

Even though he had drank more, even though I was sober…even though we both knew these things.

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We pulled up to my parents’ house- all the lights were off except the front porch- where the door was unlocked like it has always been when I was younger and had come home much later.   He turned off the ignition and the interior lights came on.  I didn’t open my door and he just stared purposely ahead- we both did.

Our heads turned at the same time.

“I’m sorry for how much of a shit I was back then,” he sincerely lamented.

I laughed. “We were kids- of course you were a shit.”

And then we were both laughing.

And then we weren’t.

And then his hand turned my face toward his.

And then whether because of the beer or because we were in this time warp, he kissed me hard…and I, of course, kissed back.

That was a year ago.  A year of texts from “Mandy”; of long drives; of meet ups; of hotels and homes when spouses weren’t around; of illicit interludes in what had become such a painfully boring life.  He tasted and felt familiar now- the sex we had when we were young and inexperienced seemed like such a cruel place to have left off knowing how wonderful it was now.  His tongue felt more purposeful when it met mine, his hands didn’t wander- they caressed and his eyes weren’t the high school eyes I remembered. These eyes rarely left mine.

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The first time my husband and I made love we laughed the whole time.  He kissed down my stomach when I got a giggle a fit.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  He was hurt…but the laughter was contagious and before you knew it, we were both rolling on the bed- sides aching, belly laughing, and between all the giggles, he kissed my mouth, then my forehead, then slowly the laughter faded into the comforters and pillows while he and I faded into each other.

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I smiled up at him as he laid his weight onto me. This was my safe place- my favorite place.

I only felt guilty sometimes- very rare times. This wasn’t one of them.

When we’re finished, he curls beside me- we always joke that I’m the big spoon. I smile as I slowly fall asleep.

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When I wake up, it’s dark outside and I feel him still asleep, breathing rhythmically beside me.  The clock flashes.

2:12 AM.

“Fuck!” I choke out. I can’t’ fucking believe this- I cannot fucking believe I was so fucking dumb. I jump up out of bed and shimmy into my jeans.  He’s stirring and then he bolts up. “Fuck!” He agrees.

We both scramble to put on our clothes. I get my pants half way up my legs and watch him struggle to do the same.  He stumbles a little, then falls, and in spite of the seriousness and urgency of the moment, I choke back a laugh.

“Are you laughing??” he asks roughly.

“Why would I be laughing?” I ask back through poorly disguised giggles.

He glares at me through darkened eyes and gathers himself up. He buttons his pants, strides toward me and pulls me to him.  He kisses me, hard, then bites my neck. “That’s for laughing at me,” he says seriously, but with the faint shadow of a smile.

I check my phone and see no missed calls.  I throw my phone back in my purse, take my shirt back off, unbuckle my pants and clear the space between me and him.

“But what about…” He starts.

“Fuck it.”

And then we are electric.

 

The Ugly Princess

Once upon a time there was a princess who was very very pretty.  She had an easy laugh, and was known throughout the kingdom for her kindness. Men, women and children sought advice from the kind, wise, and pretty princess. She was honest and fair and helped those who asked.

One day, a handsome prince came from a land far away to see the princess who everyone spoke of so fondly.

He arrived, and the princess, dressed in a beautiful gown called him into her court. The suitor laughed uproariously the moment he laid eyes on her. “Why, you are kind of heart, your face is pretty, but you are far too plump to be my queen- to be truly beautiful.”

And with that, the prince rode away, his laughter heard long after he faded into the distance.

The princess, not used to such cruelty, wept, filling the pond that she sat beside with tears.  The princess cried and cried and as the leaves fell and the winter came, the tears froze. The villagers, missing their happy princess, took the frozen tears and used it as a looking glass.  Surely, the princess would see her beauty through her grief and return to her kind ways.

But as the villagers lifted the heavy oculus, a strong wind blew, the balance was jarred, and the mirror crashed breaking into millions of jagged pieces on the ground.

The princess looked down on the ruin from her balcony and saw only her warped reflection in the pieces on the grass.  Not even her face was beautiful.  The broken glass showed only her tear-stained face, puffy eyes and red nose.

Devastated by her atrocious appearance, the princess returned to her chambers, heartbroken, vowing to never leave.

After beginning this period of isolation, the castle’s fool would be sent every day to try and entertain her by telling her jokes and stories.  Each day, the princess would sigh heavily and wave him away, never leaving her bed, tears still occasionally spilling down her cheeks.

One day, the fool could no longer idly perform while the princess sat, sullen sad.

“Princess,” he asked, “why do you cry?”

“Because I am hideous. My kingdom deserves a beautiful ruler, not a fat, ugly, princess.”

“Princess, you are very beautiful.  You helped so many. Your heart is so good, your wit is unmatched, and your intelligence is far superior to any King in any of the kingdoms.  Your kindness has been sung about by bards traveling across the world.  You are beautiful in ways that shine through your eyes and make your face glow.  You are beautiful.” And the fool left.

The princess fell asleep but sent for the fool the next day.

“Fool, my suitor called me plump. How can I believe you when you say I’m beautiful?”

“Princess, you are soft and commanding and strong.  Where he saw “plump”, your kingdom sees lush and voluptuous; jovian and curvaceous. Your body is beautiful.”

With that, the fool left again.

The princess slept, more peacefully, and called for the fool again the next day.

“Fool, the looking glass showed me my hideous face. How can you say I’m beautiful?”

“Princess, the mirror was made of your own tears- how can one see through their own grief? Your skin is an unmarked buttermilk, creamy and warm, your eyes are the color of emeralds, but large and full of knowledge.  Your lips are like a scarlet bow, and your cheeks two apples.  You are beautiful.”

The fool turned to leave, but the princess called him back, rising from her bed.

“Fool…I’m scared to look in the mirror…what if I see what he saw?”

The fool walked up and stood boldly in front of her.

“My princess, let my eyes be your mirror. Do not worry about what he saw- he was a true fool. Use my eyes and see what I see.”

The princess took the fool’s face between her hands and tilted it down and looked into his deep grey eyes.  She saw her reflection and was overwhelmed- how stupid she had been.  For even though the fool’s eyes provided a clear mirror for her to see her appearance, she now saw that the fool was blind.  He knew she needed to hear kind words regarding her appearance, but what he truly thought was beautiful was her heart which you don’t need eyes to see.

The fool leaned down and kissed the princess on her scarlet lips. He tilted his mouth to her ear and whispered.

“My princess, you are the loveliest creature in this world.  You sparkle even in the cloudiest weather.  You lead by kindness and strength.  While beauty might be important to the foolish prince, it is not important to the people who trust you to rule them.  Your kingdom needs you, as do I.  It is sad without your light.  You bring us beauty, therefore you are beautiful.”

The fool did not leave, but gave his arm to the princess, and together they emerged onto the balcony where the people applauded the return of not her emerald eyes, scarlet lips, or mocha hair. They applauded her kind eyes, her wise mind, and her joyous laugh.

And the princess turned to her fool and kissed him again, this time crying tears of joy that pooled to create a small reflection in the stones.  She looked down, and filled with love, saw that she was truly beautiful.