Another gray morning. The boy is up early and from the kitchen, we can hear the sound of his footsteps on the stairs. He is scowling. He announces his grievances – the difficulty he had putting on his shirt, how the cat ruined the game he was trying to play, his too-small socks. M. attempts to redirect his attention by ushering him over to the doorway, where we have marked, over the years, his height. “Look how tall you are,” we say. His mood brightens as he adjusts himself against the wall, holds his head still. He steps away to see the pencil mark, several inches above the last. “I’m pretty big,” he says, grinning, the memory of his morning’s struggles receding, “Yep.”
“The thing with married men,” C. says, as we are getting ready to leave the café, “is that they already know how to play you.”
We stand out on the sidewalk for a few minutes on the corner as the busses rush past. “When you’re single, you’re pretty much hungry all the time. But they can afford to be patient. They can wait out your resolve.”
We embrace. She feels slighter, smaller than I remember. She pulls her car keys from her bag, holds them. “And then,” she says as she takes a few steps backward, “when they see any signs of weakness, they pounce.” She holds her hands up with her fingers curled to pantomime paws.
We laugh and wave, and I watch her walk away.
By the time we get to the car, the boy has found a new complaint to register. He pouts as I buckle him into his car seat. “I wanted stars for lunch,” he says. He is talking about pasta. It has started to rain, and I can feel a few drops on my back as I lean into the car. I don’t respond immediately. Instead, as I slip into the driver’s seat, unwrap a granola bar and hand it to him, I say, “Well, here’s a little tip for you to remember. Sometimes, we all want things that we can’t have.” His lips are set in a tight frown. “That’s the truth, my friend. Deal with it.”
He is quiet as we pull out into the street. I turn the radio up.
G., too was once in love with a married man and on the night that she ends it, we meet up at a run-down, divey bar by the water. It is late in the summer and we sit out on the back patio as evening descends.
“What finally did it for me,” she says, as we are waiting for our drinks to arrive, “is that he’d say these things to me – these sweet, lovely things – with all this tenderness in his voice, and I thought he was so romantic and in love with me, and then all of a sudden, I could hear him saying these things – these exact things – to his wife. To his actual wife.”
She uses the phrase “actual wife,” and the way she says it – drawn out and exaggerated – makes me want to laugh, but I dare not.
Our drinks arrive and we raise our glasses to each other, a toast to decisiveness.
She takes a sip, then goes on, “And I figured, I may not have much self-esteem, but I think I should have more than this. I mean, at least someone who has to make up a few new lines for me.”
As I pull into the gas station, there is a white van pulling in from the opposite direction. I move slowly, assessing the distance between the van and the little concrete island with the gas pumps and the guard rails. I inch forward, turning hard to avoid the van, but instead hit the guard rails. I hear the hollow crunching sound of impact as I approach the pump.
I inspect the damage as I pump gas. The paint is chipped, flaking. A long dent. I have owned this car barely seven months. The owner before me kept it pristinely for three years and sixty-seven thousand miles.
For the rest of my morning commute, I drive gingerly, like I am coaxing the car forward with only the force of good wishes.
I arrive early to an appointment, so I sit in my car for a few minutes to wait. I’m near the park so I can watch the joggers and walkers along the boulevard. A woman in a brown sweatshirt runs behind her stroller. A man in a knit cap saunters by.
On the other side of the park, a cemetery. If you follow the road around the curve of the cemetery, along where the stone wall marks its border, you come to a shady area, a little shrouded by trees, where you can pull off the road and park.
“There,” G. had pointed out the spot as we drove past one afternoon. “Right there.” She is telling me where she and the man had first affirmed their affections.
“Really? There? In the car?”
She nods, says: “It was ridiculous. Like high school.”
We drive on. We are on our way to meet some friends for dinner.
“Is it weird to say it was strangely charming? I mean, completely awkward and ultimately not very satisfying.”
I interrupt her: “Sounds amazing.”
She goes on, “But it wasn’t really about sex, you know? Like it was never really about sex.”
At physical therapy, I say that I am regressing, but the therapist – a new one today – cheerfully explains that “flare-ups” can happen, and we should be vigilant, but not overly concerned. I am lying flat on my back while she works at my knee and along the outside of my leg. Later, she slips a pillow beneath my legs to lift them, wraps my knee in ice and turns out the overhead light. “Take a little nap,” she says. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
I briefly consider napping, but the office is noisy today. I can hear my usual therapist in the next room, lecturing about posture and the importance of balance. I stare at the ceiling. I bring my hands to my hips, poke my fingers around the bones.
I close my eyes, concentrate on the breath moving through my body – feel my chest expanding, collapsing. I slow my breathing, think of floating. Of my body, weightless – drifting.