When Your Lover is Crying
by Heather Fowler
Staring in the mirror at the two of you, you want to punch him in the face during those moments when he drops his head to his hands. Who is he crying for?Himself?
And why should you feel sorry? You want to take all the pictures he shows you in his wallet of his children and extended family and burn them. You want to forbid he ever vocalize his wife's name again, Lilith's name, because A. it is tacky for him to talk smack about her to you, touching on and flaring up some deep primordial urge you have to be better, which makes you feel ugly and used and lied to later when you hear him tell her he loves her in a cell call taken in front of you, kiss, kiss, home soon, all that, and B. you are not his friend. You are the woman he just took, violently, after he reignited your conversation, yet again, with another of his silly loving you, loving her, so torn yet drunk emails that got all sappy about a weekend the two of you shared when he said he could not imagine not talking to you again and then said he was sorry and please meet him again and you did—but you are sick of his guilt, his rage, his remorse. So, while he showers this time, you make a mistress's rule guide and list of questions that becomes a fuck-off letter as you watch a French movie for the sake of uniting like impulses—and your anger mounts.
You hand this letter to him, folded up in eight tight folds; you do this right before he drives away, but he doesn't drive away then, just sits in his car in your driveway like a rube and reads. You did not kiss this letter. It says:
1. If I am like your second wife, please pretend your first is dead. Really. I don't want to hear about her. I want to pretend she doesn't exist.
2. I cannot be your therapist if you insist on making me your bed-partner. I will offer you one of two things. Sex whore or consoling friend identity, but not in the same organized session and never at the same time.
3. You are wasting my life. I should find someone who loves me. What is wrong with me that I don't do that?
4. Do you grab her ass that way?
5. What do you say to her when you do that? Do you have a nickname for her pussy?
6. Stop calling. Stop emailing. Stop lying. Stop wavering.
7. I am not the first mistress and will not be the last. I have a Ph.D. Shouldn't that protect me from this low-life, amoral shit? And yes, I do expect you come to faculty parties with me, as well as taking the time, daily, for two to three minutes while seated at your desk near the window, to tan your hand so that others will not see the white line of a hastily removed ring or the soggy skin there, which is the telltale sign that I have begged you to come or am performing illicit acts they all suspected anyway. I don't need pity from my colleagues. None of them really like me because none of us really like each other, except in isolated moments. There is no real trust. Watch for the daggers. Much like how I feel about you. Do you have to come in wrinkled and over-tired? Shower first. Where's your best face for me?
8. I hate you. It's over.
9. Flowers will not solve it this time.
10. Your wife deserves a better man.
11. Were you born this weak? What is it about you that creates your worm-like ways?
12. Don't contact me again. Don't drive up. Don't do any of that.
He cries as he reads what you wrote. "I know. I know," he says. When he is done crying, his eyes are still red. Many times, you make him cry with protesting his callousness. A part of you thinks he likes this. You walk in and shut the door. You do not come back out. A half an hour later, he drives away.
You begin a relationship with a well-balanced person. Things are oh so placid. This calm, at first, you mistake for a quiet love. A healthy change! You are promoted at work. Tenure! You are asked to serve on academic review committees and be a referee for other tenure files after your book is picked up by Duke University Press. A raise! New clothes! More conferences! You can ask lofty people to travel across continents to give talks and you are funded. The universe rewards your better choices! The new man is a faculty member whose parents loved each other a long time.
You plan a wedding. They throw rice! Buckets of it. You are forty one, in a white halter-top satin dress with a long flared and beaded skirt, but it's better than spinster-at-fifty with a love that has no name. You smile at everyone. Everyone says you look thirty in response. Later, your students come on to you, but they come on to your husband too. Come on... You're teachers. Idols. Underpaid servants of the intellectual caste. You have no interest in them except as gracious mentor. Your lover has been emailing you but you have resisted. It's like each blow he ever gave you, he understands and apologizes for now. Remember when I told you I wanted to be with you but drove the Chevy into. . .
He'd still never leave his wife. It gives you great pleasure to tell him you are happily involved with someone else. Look at my someone else, you almost brag. My someone else is smarter and better paid than you. My someone else is far funnier. My someone else loves me and I don't have to be mean to him. He's great that way.
Your someone else bores you, too. You don't tell your lover that. Your someone else is so goody goody it makes you feel rather Stepford. This, too, you hold back. Your someone else knows just how to take a perfect headshot book jacket photo. Or several. He is skilled with grilling and analyzing Nietzsche. He is wicked smart with a retort. He looks at you soulfully. You can almost hear Whitney Houston or Dolly Parton start singing "And--I-uh-I-------will-always-loooove-you," when he looks at you. He has black hair and a firm body, unlike your lumpy, crying ex-lover! He cares about your opinion. He goes jogging! My, he's a catch. You caught him somehow. Your faculty single colleagues are jealous! How did you get so lucky? They would kill to have him doing their dishes and kissing their faces.
Your lover's wife just keeps getting fatter. You see her at the gas station. How many kids loll behind her now? Twelve? Four? Whatever. And then one day, you run into him somewhere else. With a new lover. She's trash, like crumpled foil. Some bowling alley girl with dry, dyed, blond-flip hair and too much sterling. Some super-mart harlot who wears cheap heels with tight jeans, her red lipstick like a marinara smear on that crumpled foil. Your lover's new lover has a belly button piercing. Cattily, you wonder how many she has down there. She is uninterested in you in your wool suit-coat, mineral-demure make-up, and slacks. "Is this your mother?" you almost hear her taunt him after you leave.
His eyes are sad when he looks at you, though, like he knows he does a foolish thing to seek the fountain of youth in the pussy of a girl half his age. It's like his sad stare accuses you: You let me go. You let me down.
Your blank stare says back: You were a cheat and a coward. Neither of those things would change. Obviously. Look at you now. Your mistress taste declines.
He emails you a lot after that. His messages are like an old mating call or torch song that still hits some undefinable spot of satiation. He needs to see you at least once more, he says. Meet him for dinner, he says.
You tell him okay. You tell your husband you will work late on your paper on Machiavellian philosophy as it pertains to Haitian Diaspora. You tell your husband--don't wait up.
Your lover has brought you more flowers. "I don't know why I pursued that young girl," he tells you. You'd like to think now it is time for you to be the consoling friend you promised you might be if and when he was no longer your lover, but the evil eyes of the daisies he brought you make you reclaim that status of potential romantic interest and so his whimpering bothers you again. "The wife has paid half the mortgage," he goes on. "I owe her. I'm so unhappy. I was never so happy as I was when I was with you."
You sounded plenty happy when you talked to her on the phone, you think. And there is that truth/lie fracture going on again. He's a puppet. An actor. A low-stakes, soap-opera, drama man for life. He hates what he does with affairs, yet he keeps doing it. He hates his wife, yet he keeps procreating. He hates his job, yet he works it still. He lets you go, yet asks you here. The other things are too obvious to be stated.
"How are you?" he asks.
"Great. Book's out," you say. "Harv is a dream of a husband. Never cheats. So smart. The friends are all good. The book reviews are a dream. Hal Emberly of the University of Paris raved. I get triple-dip trips now. Airfare, hotel, honorarium. They think I have something to say."
"Oh," he says. He pretends to be just a friend through the rest of dinner. He walks with you along the street where you parallel parked. "May I?" he asks. He takes your keys from your hand and unlocks your car door for you. "I'm so happy you're doing well," he says. "I just felt I should check in."
"I'm doing great," you say.
But he comes up on you fast then. You feel him, his thighs and his heat against your legs. He puts his hands in your hair in that way that makes your toes curl. He kisses you without asking permission. He pulls away from you before you can either slap him or decide to enjoy it. "What the fuck, Teddy?" you say.
"I'm sorry. I had to do that," he says. "It's what you do to me."
For some reason, you masturbate later that night, thinking of him, thinking of that thing he does with his tongue while his hands plant hard on your thighs. Maybe that's why! But you sleep with your new perfect husband. You wonder what it is that makes you so unforgettable that Teddy keeps pursuing you, even though he knows you are attached now.
You like feeling unforgettable. You got to dinner with Harv. Have wine. Be collegial. Bitch about the cheap-ass administration. Talk about doing a retention thing to make more money. Harv agrees you deserve it. You are an expert on the matters found on the head of a pin. You do this again and again. You slip the silk of your nightdress over your body and cuddle up to Harv at night. You keep living. Everything is calm and gay. The journals you want to publish in will have you now. Teddy ceases to email.
On a whim, one day, you write Teddy. You send him a terrible erotic message about the goodness of that tongue thing, one that you're sure will make him stand up and take notice. You're harrowed by guilt afterward. You visit Harv at his office. Before he knows you're there, you come upon hearing Harv speak sternly to a graduate student. "I am a married man and have no interest in other woman. It's nice what you suggest and all—I mean, flattering—and I will still chair your committee, but please. Keep it business when you visit, Malorie. I am serious."
You stand outside Harv's door a long time, listen to them talk about Foucault or some similar shit at novice levels, and you are bored to tears. You picture your old lover crying. His passionate entreaties. The way he made you come and come and come. His heart of a thousand lies. He made you immortal with the coil you put him in. He made you angry and passionate and fed the hell up.
He gave you a little continuous misery. You thought you wanted out of it.
You still think you do. Harv is brilliant. A smart woman should want this sort of man. You realize you want Harv, you just want a little chase. That's what your lover wanted, too. And what you gave him. Oh, Malorie, fuck my husband, you think. Oh, please. Let me be jealous. Malorie's not up to the task, weak little admirer in skinny jeans and a tiny tank top built with strings more womanly hot against skin than she is, but she's still inside Harv's office. "Claim your fucking power, Malorie," you want to tell her. But you don't. And she doesn't.
As you stand in the doorway, assessing her, she turns bright red. "Hi, honey," Harv says, turning up his mooning gaze. He smiles at you.
You give her a glare and she flees, hurrying past like a chastened young girl caught with honey pot, like you hit her with your huge Hera hammer when you looked at her and she is already shamed and repentant for the things she dreamt about Harv—but you don't care. You didn't even bother to introduce yourself.
Later that night, you and Harv go at it again. He traces a finger over your shoulder and drops the spaghetti strap of your black lingerie chemise. He kisses the skin where the strap once was. He holds onto you. Pumps into your hips like this is his best voyage ever into the thrust ocean. It's great. Very passionate. Afterward, he smiles a relaxed smile. "Tahiti," he says. "This summer! Let's go. You and me." You don't know what comes over you. Now you want to punch him in the face for smiling. You say the first thing that comes to mind and mean it. "Cry for me." When he doesn't, naked, beside him, balled up, unmoored, you cry for you instead.
"Oh, it's all right, honey," he says. "Not Tahiti. No. Somewhere else."
Feeling all kinds of fucked up, you kiss him to shut him up. There's an email in your box when you get back to it. Teddy is still chasing. It's the chase itself, you think. That hot wire of electricity in never quite acquiring. You put one finger in your mouth and move it down to slide along your clit. You jack yourself off, imagining fucking Teddy, before replying to him coldly.
You don't write him a mistress's note this time. You keep it short and sweet. "You fucked me up," you say. "Harv should punch you in the nose for the way I sometimes think about you, but I'm done with you now." Then you think of his wife, of how you should do something nice for her—and you block his email address.
In bed, Harv snores. His ring is stuck on his over-large finger. He's gained a little weight since you married. Not much. Mostly muscle. You worry about how the gold thing strangles his finger. But, in truth, you're also glad. You settle below his ringed hand flung over your pillow, like a nesting dodo bird in a sparrow's nest, and then poke the tip of your index finger into his ring finger where the metal meets the skin to view a reassuring line of soft and shaded white. It's moist and hidden, but you can see it now that you poke skin to investigate. He's the one who sees you as a sparrow. So you mimic sparrow. You fall into the fetal round of his body, thinking: There is providence. . .There is providence.
You watch his face until you sleep. "You are everything I ever thought I wanted," you say. "But, it's true I don't deserve you." He rolls closer, pulls you in. It is its own straitjacket, that embrace. You try to get used to it, make it comfortable—yes, for your own good. You have a Ph.D. You can make the right choices. You can explain theories so complex it would take hours to convey them to your listener. But would someone please explain to you, one day, maybe in office hours, maybe as you board a bus near Teddy's and must forcefully restrain yourself from leaping through the door when you know you could get out and see him (at his office where he works alone) and find that supply closet together such that you can lift your blue skirt, spread your legs wide, let him kneel before you, and use that space, ass propped on the third shelf of that paper storage shelving unit—what the hell happened to you that made you so like him now, able to see possibilities in lost and found mirages via chasing illusory other-life rainbows seen through the creation and dissemination of your own blurring facial rain—and, more importantly, is that why you're so sad?
Heather Fowler received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. She has taught composition, literature, and writing-related courses at UCSD, California State University at Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College. Her work has been published online and in print in the US, England, Australia, and India, as well as recently nominated for both the storySouth Million Writers Award and Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, was recently featured at MiPOesias, The Nervous Breakdown, poeticdiversity, and The Medulla Review, and has been selected for a joint first place in the 2007 Faringdon Online Poetry Competition. She is Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine. Her debut story collection SUSPENDED HEART was published by Aqueous Books in December of 2010. Please visit her website at www.heatherfowlerwrites.com.