Consolations of the Worst-Case Scenario

ROUGH DRAFT v2

CONSOLATIONS OF THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO
What are we except the stories we tell about ourselves? – Old Proverb
Part 1. The Throat of Exaltation
I met her at work. Linda had been a contract employee for about three months when I was hired as creative director. She said I didn’t even look at her when we were introduced. I guess that’s the first time we met. I don’t remember it. The first time I remember was in the elevator. But even then we didn’t say much. Small talk. Most of our initial contact was via email.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: This thing we’re doing
I have to warn you about a few things about me: 1) I can be intense; 2) I can be needy; 3) I can be intensely needy. I have a tendency to push, push, push because I want so badly for you to pull.

The logistics of corporate cubicle life were exacerbated by her height, 5′ 1″, and pretty much kept her out of sight, if not out of mind. The rest of us were visible upon standing, but she didn’t clear the carpet walls and could move with stealth. Her desk was so far removed from the rest of the department that it looked like she was being punished, banished to the Communications Gulag. It did help her sneak in late. Linda was always late. To everything, not just work.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Absolute appreciation
Did I have to go there? I did. But there’s a good reason. You and I connect on such an intellectual level. I absolutely eat your brains. And I think you’re so fucking funny and interesting that I could listen to you speak for days. The mythical, perfect filibuster. That I don’t ever want to get too far off the road map to your being a woman. And a sensual being. And of the body. Corpus. Animus. Spiritus. So while this particular comment manifested in the profane, and perhaps ridiculous. It was rooted, and I do choose that word deliberately and carefully, in the fertile soil of absolute appreciation.

Text Message: I smell like blood & come and 2 much wine.
“Okay, I had to call. You win best text of the day.”
“It’s only 5:30 a.m.”
“Trust me. You win.”
She knocks on my door at precisely 2:20 p.m., precisely 20 minutes late. It’s Sunday afternoon–Easter–but the day couldn’t be more secular. I’ve had almost two bottles of Cabarnet in anticipation of her arrival, with a steady diet of sushi and sad bastard music to set the correct mood: Longing. Lounging. Raw.

I open the door and I can smell her before I see her, that unique amalgam of Camels, Maybelline, and chardonnay. I find myself sometimes, in our first times together, grabbing the short hairs near the back of her head to pull her smell to me, perhaps being rougher than I initially intend, because the urgency to have her inside me some way has become so strong. Of course, she shrugs me away. And with the frailest of gestures makes light of the heaviness of my movements.
She sat on the couch again as I finish plating the sushi; I pour her and myself a glass of Johannesburg Riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle and make my way back into the living room my way to the door.
“Hello, Lovah,” she whispered.
“You’re late.” She reeked of weed. Not unusual.
“Oh, but I bring gifts. Had to make a pit stop.” Which meant she had spent the last two hours with Jenny refilling her medicine cabinet full of self-medicating medications.
“I like surprises,” I said, though I was pretty sure what was in store. She put her arm around my waist as we kissed, long and slow; her fingertips tracing up my torso and neck, then stopping, resting on my cheek. We stared in silence.
“Angel.” She breaks the spell. I walk back to the kitchen to get the sushi and wine; she retrieves a small baggie of white powder and a jar of dried mushrooms from her purse. “Surprise!”
“I don’t wanna do any coke. It’s a school night. But ‘shrooms seem like a good way to not celebrate Easter.” She chops a line with her credit card.
“Suit yourself.”
“You wanna eat first? I get the runs just looking at that shit.”
“I’m okay. I’m starving.” She rolls up a crisp twenty and snorts the line, then chases it with a shot of Riesling. We click glasses and drink. “Cheers.” I grab a handful of mushrooms, chew them into an earthy paste, clear my mouth with my wine. She extracts five small buttons from the bag and swallows them whole with the rest of her glass. “I don’t know how you chew that shit.” We kiss again and I can taste the sweetness as I touch my tongue to hers. “Let me try the sushi,” she says.
It’s ahi tuna from Central Market. The back strap is cut into small, deep-red fillets, which I’ve positioned, just so, over hand-rolled balls of rice, dressed with rice-wine vinegar and wasabi.
“Careful,” I warn. She places the entire piece first into a rivulet of shoyu, then whole into her mouth. Her eyes water as the green, horseradish mustard does its work. A tear makes its run down the right side of her face stopping just above the corner of her mouth. She’s smiling.
“Mmmm,” she hums with a look that is equal parts culinary and carnal.
She is still smiling as we kiss and touch each other, not with the animalistic urgency from earlier in the week–there’s no groping–but with a conspicuous tenderness. She felt to me like love personified, bone and muscle and flesh pulled tight over the angles and curves of her soft, warm body.
The mushrooms were kicking in. With my head on her lap as we lay on the couch, I opened my eyes to see her at the center of shapes and colors, her smile so soothing. I was eating Jelly Belly’s and M&M’s left over from stuffing Easter eggs for the kids’ baskets. And as sensual pleasure upon sensual pleasure multiplied–the intense sweetness of the candy, the light touch of her fingers through my hair, the creamy softness of her smooth legs against the nape of my neck, the quiet pleading of Ray LaMontagne singing Please, and the beautiful kaleidoscope visions of her face–the afternoon meanders into dusk until she announces she has to leave.
“Him?”
“Two more weeks, sweet boy.”
“Him.”
“He’ll be gone forever in two weeks.”
“Then?”
“Then we’ll be together forever.”
“Forever?”
“Forever.”
Forever is a long road.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Easter Eggs
I spent the night after you left-tripping balls-eating chocolate Easter eggs. Crunching through the candy shell and letting the sweetness slowly dissolve on my tongue. It’s comforting. The sweetness. I use it as a proxy for my longing. The gentle ache you represent. Understanding always that the presumption of any future is a slippery slope. And dangerous to delicacy. The chocolate dissolves before the shell and as I lay on my back with my eyes closed I smile at the metaphor.

It had been five days since we slept together for the first time, three since she tried to break up with me. On my 39th birthday. That was Thursday. So long ago. Residual guilt, perhaps. We’d met after work every night for two weeks (“I have to work late”) as she painstakingly purged him from her life, her life from his. And there was to be no wiggle room between her two lovers. She broke up with him just after midnight, early Tuesday morning; I was inside of her by eight o’clock that night. We stayed in bed until two the next morning; he called twice–and she answered–as we lay together naked and sweating under the down comforter and slowly spinning fan.
“I’m at Erica’s,” she lied.
“I thought you broke up with him?” I whispered.
She covered the mouthpiece, “I did.”
What she actually told him was never made explicit, but clearly, when he called, he expected her home, in a bed he expected to share. A few months later, after she had moved in with me, I asked her if there was, indeed, any crossover.
“You went back to his house, that night of the conference. We were supposed to meet after you got off work. You cancelled at the last minute. Remember?”
“Yeah. I think he called Jenny that weekend. Ordered party favors. You know?” Jenny Minh–the Dragon Lady of Spicewood Springs.
“I know.” I hate Jenny so much at that moment. “Did you fuck him?”
“I can’t remember.”
“You can’t remember?”
“No.”
“Mercy fuck?”
“Probably.”
And again there was that strange vacuum. But not quite a twinge of sexual jealousy. At the time I was upset, for sure, but for a lack of companionship, for being the one not chosen. I had reassured myself then that these things take time. Like a game of pick-up sticks I needed to be patient. I needed steady hands to extricate her from the pile of former lovers and current suitors, to remove her from the situation without disturbing any of the others. Without disturbing her. So I got drunk and steadied my hands. And waited.

To: K.
From: Linda
Subject: True Romance
My love—and you are just that—I am yours in every way that I define existence as a sentient being. I honestly believe that you and I are supposed to be together, to challenge and strengthen each other, to be each other’s catalyst for greatness, self- actualization, and love. You are my life. I have absolutely no doubts about that absolute truth.
I was drunk. Linda and I got married and I was drunk. The Williamson County clerk’s office. Married. Fuck. The actual moment of which is lost to the ages. I’m not quite sure when it became real, when the clerk signed, The Informal Declaration of Marriage. That’s what the document is actually called. I think I remember choosing to do it “informally” because it was $30 cheaper and I only had about that much on me at the time; it seemed appropriate to the whimsical feel of deciding on a whim to get married at a late lunch to someone I had known for less than three months. The actual process took about 20 minutes; we didn’t even have to say “I do” in front of a judge. Which is probably why it was so easy for her to say “I don’t” just six months later.
To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: My love

My love (light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul),
This meeting is boring. And my thoughts, as they often do, return to you. What a two weeks, two months, two lives this has been. Who knows why anything happens? I’m so glad you come from a skeptical, rational place, because this supernatural, metaphysical stuff is foreign to me.
Have you noticed how our conversations are so much less about internal things than they used to be? I’m only recently able to step out of myself, ourselves, and concentrate our powers on the external.
Unbelievably, there is still a part of me that is waiting for an unseen shoe to drop, for something to take you away from me. And then every morning I wake up. And you’re there. It doesn’t make sense.

We’re watching this pseudo-motivational speaker and I’m convinced that the words “unctuous” and “platitude” came into existence so that they one day–today–could be used to describe this man and his unctuous, platitudinal presentation. He literally repeats these Aphorisms For Dummies over and over, and it’s Christian subtext is making me ill. And for a motivational speaker he has a lot of verbal tics (I was counting how many times he said, “You know?” Before I started writing to you 26 in the first 15 minutes alone). I wish you were here. You, more than most, would appreciate how terrible it is.
I’m glad you’re birthday came so shortly after we met. I remember telling you in early April that “if this thing is still happening” at the end of May that I was going to rock your birthday.

I like having you as my focus. When I said I wanted to wake up to you everyday I wasn’t trying to be (overly) romantic. I meant every word. For the past three weeks (minus one Thursday) the first thing that enters my eyehole is you’re beauty. The first thing I smell is your hair. The first thing I hear is your breath. And the first thing I feel is your skin (yes, usually your ass, but that is for another missive of love).
I love love letters. Or, perhaps, I love the idea of them. They represent our best feelings of hopes and fears and futures and happy. And they’re in our handwriting, so it’s like putting it out into the world in a way that cannot later be denied. Not that I would ever deny you. I opened the windows to let your hard rock in a long time ago. And until you say, “Stop,” my default setting is go, go, go! I love you, I love you, I love you! You saved me. Just like you were supposed to. You didn’t let me scare you. You are a warrior. My warrior. My love.

We had spent the previous night at the Omni downtown. I got the room for free through work because there was some conference or other going on. It was the night after Linda’s 32nd birthday and since we had spent the night before with obligatory family obligations of birthday celebrations, it was a good excuse for us to stay alone someplace a little more upscale than my dingy apartment and honor her birth with cheap sex and expensive wine. The room had a balcony that overlooked the atrium, and after getting sufficiently tight on two bottles of Zinfandel, I took her from behind as she held onto the railings and moaned too loudly in the hopes of our being witnessed. That’s all I remember from that night. The next morning we finished the third bottle, opened the previous evening, then had two or three double bloody mary’s before heading to work. It was in this state of mind that I proposed to her–and she accepted–via email, though her cubicle was only about 30 feet away. We were always more beautiful in the written word, even electronic, than we were in any other context and, to me, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

To: K.
From: Linda
Subject: re: True Romance
I just re-read this, while you were sleeping, and realized how completely contented and genuinely elated I remain — remain… do you know what it feels like to experience a continuous stream of elation… that’s also continuously on the rise?— thanks to your every loving action and unwaveringly adoring behavior? I really cannot describe the enormous amounts of joy and love and happiness and song and warmth, that I feel for you and that you give back to me many times over in reciprocity. My love, you are my life and my everything. Thank you for your love. I would surely die without it.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: The seams it seems
I felt the seams ripping in July as we pulled in opposite directions. Me not quite pulling yet still causing tension in the fabric by being still. Not necessarily choosing to be still but being held in place by circumstance. No matter. The cause? The symptom? The same. Stillness. It would be reckless for us to behave in any other way. And so again we dance. In great big round concentric circles (closing, closing). You and me (closing). Me inside you inside me inside you (and on and on and on and on…) Never getting to that center point of us. And maybe that center point isn’t us anyway. Maybe that was presumptuous of me to think there was an us. That it was anything at all. Depending on your mode of transport you are at least half an hour away. And as you have so often recently been, I think the actual distance lies between half an hour and never.
In the months since that night, after all the terrible things that were to follow, I often thought about that moment, and wondered if she meant it. I would also struggle with why she even married me–at age 32 I was her first husband–when she was so quick to abandon it all. Just four nights later I would be in custody and Linda would leave the apartment, never to spend another night.
Monday was relatively quiet. It had been two weeks since Linda’s sister had swallowed a handful of Klonapin, then washed them down with two glasses of vodka, landing herself at Shoal Creek. It had also been two weeks since Linda started her new job after almost four months unemployed. In her first two weeks at work Linda had already missed one day with me “on vacation,” two days attending to the needs of her near-suicidal sister, then inexplicably took a three-hour lunch to see a movie–Zombieland–with “two friends,” but in retrospect more likely for a tryst.
A day without event –Monday–therefore, came as a blessing. I had to go to Dallas for a conference on Tuesday, and since I would be driving I was in bed early (for us early was anytime before midnight) with the alarm set at 4 a.m. in preparation for the three-hour drive north from southwest Austin to the Metroplex.
We were pleasant, if somewhat awkward, the difficulties of the recent weeks stood in stark contrast to our pronouncements of the eternal and the unseen hands of providence and divine intelligence on behalf of our love for the ages.
I woke her with a long kiss just after 5 a.m. It would be our last.
On the drive back from Dallas I passed within a few miles of the house I still owned with Merry. And as the endless fields of south Tarrant County gave way to Waxahachie then to Waco, I repeatedly closed my eyes and crawled into my memory. I looked into the past, and in a moment of painful clarity I looked into my future. And blinked.
I was reminded of a night when I thought I had reached some other moment of understanding, driven by what I’ve come to describe as my “moment of existential angst.”
I was on the couch in our living room, my son and daughter both asleep in their rooms, my wife working on some project or other in our studio. I had polished off a bottle of Pinot Noir that M and I had opened for dinner and was well into a second bottle while the hockey game rattled the screen on the far wall. I was the proverbial million miles away. Living the American dream; and all I could hear ringing in my ears was the question, irrepressible, undeniable, indefatigable: “Is this it?”
I spent the next two months more drunk than sober and in so doing set into motion events that could not be forgotten or undone (it was in the bar in the hotel across the street from work that Lacey and I initiated our affair). I destroyed everything that I had spent the last ten years building. I had everything you’re supposed to want but still felt empty. I had a beautiful wife, two wonderful kids. I had a house that was three times as big as the one I grew up in. I was overpaid in a job that was unfulfilling, but guaranteed. And it wasn’t enough. The weight of what my life was becoming–had become–was squeezing me out of myself. It was considerately killing me. So, I made the decision to tear it all down. The American dream in smithereens.
Somehow in a short time we had deteriorated into an ugliness when once there was an epic beauty. We were an ugliness in ugly confrontation of our ugly selves. So much like the beautiful people we used to be, but quickly deteriorating.

I tried not to think of the worst. Six months earlier when we began the flirtation that led to the furtive grasps and stolen kisses she, technically, still had a boyfriend. The haunting echo of her calls to him saying she had to work late while she sat across the table, our fingers interlocked. Me? Mesmerized. The images came flooding back. The stolen afternoons at Shady Grove or making love in my apartment were explained as visits to her sister. Hearing the same explanations and my doubts had grown legion.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved her. I believed I did. And I believed at the time that she loved me. But given this distance from that moment of impulse, it was more likely a confluence of factors, not the least of which were alcohol, fear and lust. The dissolution of our marriage was such a slow-motion, year-long train wreck that I didn’t quite have the respect for the institution I once had, though given the marriages, including my own, that I had been a close-up witness to, I didn’t think much of it to begin with. Our de facto announcement was a change in status on Facebook, another whim done without much consideration, that unintentionally hurt several people with the notice of our nuptials coming worldwide instead of intimately.

Blog Entry: Townes
Life is mostly wasting time, trying to avoid pain, and gorging on whatever we think will give us two seconds of pleasure. Whenever I’ve been foolish enough to trick myself otherwise, the pain has been tenfold because I wasn’t bracing for what I should have known was an inevitable blow. What she did was evil, but I was worse: I was stupid. And I’m not stupid. I was careless and ignored a timeline that begins with human history before our consciousness and finished with her. No one comes from it undamaged.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: re: re: Coincidences
I closed my eyes, and missed the moment that yours changed, from stare to simmer. And God damn me for not admitting there was a difference, immediately after I did. There were too many things being slipped under pillows, erased with cause, or whispered when I was sleeping. And as we all know, there’s no such thing as a coincidence.
I call Linda at work and get her voicemail. I try her cell phone, but don’t leave a message when she doesn’t answer. We had had an argument the night before. Her phone bill, for the second straight month, was over $250, a result of hundreds of text messages between her and Jenny. Jenny was her dealer. Jenny was her pimp. She and her ex-boyfriend John had burned through 25 grand on crack, meth, X, weed, and the occasional escort for their drug–addled sexual escapades. She explained he was relatively inexperienced sexually and he was eager to be where she was. A place which eventually included multiple partners for her, male and female, while he watched. The truth is most people would be inexperienced in comparison. A short time after we were married she confided that she had had at least 150 male lovers and 20 female since the age of 13.
She referred to herself as the Ethical Slut.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Supernatural indulgences
Why was I so convinced that this was different? It felt different. Because you called me, “Angel?” Ridiculous. Yet, because we met at a time when I was fragile, I likened your existence to the proactive, blessed supernatural. I wanted so badly for the fairy tale we started in those beautiful emails to be real. I was too busy writing the screenplay to a miracle to be interested in the dissonance of reality, and paid a hefty usury for the indulgence.
She used sex to further whatever agenda was current. She claimed to regret only one of the thousands of sexual adventures in her history: in her late teens she ordered X from a dealer when she knew she didn’t have any money. When he arrived to deliver, it was early. The party hadn’t quite started. She pushed him into a vacant room and onto the bed. She unzipped his pants and pulled out his erection, lifted her skirt and put him inside of her. All of this without a word, as they both silently comprehended that this would be his payment. She pushed on him until by his moans she could tell that he had come, then got up and walked out of the room and back to the other room. It was the only time, she claimed, to betray the moral code of the Ethical Slut. She felt like a whore, and to cleanse herself of that dirty transaction took two hits of X and gave two to a friend, then proceeded to fuck two boys at the party.
I must confess that as we first became lovers, I found her stories incredibly arousing. In fact, one of our favorite games was to re-enact her sordid trysts. She would describe them in great detail and I would imagine myself the drug dealer, T.A., boss, boyfriend, or random stranger. I told her I was not a typical man in the sense that I didn’t quite feel sexual jealousy, especially about her history. And I meant it. One could argue that by marrying a woman with her past I really had no choice. I could either be okay with it or suffer. I made the argument to myself that it would be hypocritical of me to begrudge her her sexual life. I hadn’t had as many lovers, but I certainly was not living by some code–however dubious–like the Ethical Slut did. My sexual history was full of shameful couplings involving coercion, betrayal, and lies. She had only one regret, that one time admitting to literally being a whore. But as I would learn over the next few months, Linda used the truth like she used sex: to further an agenda. And when the truth was inconvenient, or threatening, she lied.
The first lie I caught her telling was something I really didn’t even care about: cigarettes. I didn’t smoke and during our courtship she did so quickly and apologetically, though in retrospect it may have been an excuse to be alone. As I waited in whatever restaurant or bar we were in she would, unmolested, returned phone calls or text messages while she smoked a cigarette or three. I remember telling the bartender at Friday’s, “I’m heels over head,” as I watched her through the window pacing and smoking. The bartender smiled warmly and to my great pleasure said, “Relax. She likes you, too.”
“She does, doesn’t she?” I couldn’t care less if she smoked or not and never once asked her to quit. When she moved in with me our first night together as co-inhabitants she pulled a pack of Camels from her purse and declared–unilaterally–that this was to be the last one. Of course, she never quit. Cigarette smoke is impossible to hide from a non-smoker. Like a work-day drunk who’s slugs of booze reek to the sober, I smelled her first lie on her hair and in her fingers; the taste of her tongue a portent of things to come.

Blog Entry: Correlation not causation
The tortured artist is one of the prototypical characters of modern pop culture, with examples across the spectrum of the creative process. And, it’s hard to articulate why this particular subset of artists grabs the yoke of people who struggle with mood disorders, but there is an obvious and tangible correlation. It’s not a coincidence that among my favorite artists are Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis, Janis Joplin, and Hank Williams, all of whom were dead before age 30, by their own hands and choices. My favorite writers are Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath. Also dead by the ultimate self-medication. Radically different genres, but with a common thread of suffering; all singing in perfect pitch, but to the tune of The Truth The Dead Know. Clearly, however, there is nothing inherent in the act of creation that causes the obsessive, all-consuming sadness, the hopeless, Sisyphean struggle between stillness and mania, the furtive grasps at integrity and other false nobilities, or the belief that darkness must be experienced to be communicated. These seem to be bad choices. More accurately, a series of choices that, paradoxically, become a self-fulfilling prophecy and are often at the root of suffering and despair.
I loved it when life handed me that role the first time. I thought it was like an extra birthday that year. Turns out, it’s really not even a gift. You are basically the consoler of the lonely. You are tolerated. You cast stones at ghosts, sublimate claims of bias, and subsume ex-parte recollections, with indignation or sympathy being your only tolerated utterances. (FYI, use the latter sparingly. Too much and it can backfire when your affect is interpreted as pity. She’s there for validation, not actualization.) In exchange you get to be the first one to shake her out of her dress. It’s not that hard, really, you just have to not be him. It doesn’t even take that long. The bullpen’s been notified long before the starting pitcher gets the hook. Let’s take that silly metaphor another step. You are middle relief. It takes you a miraculous comeback to get a win, and you’re not even supposed to get the save. Your ERA is 9.67 because when you’re in trouble she makes you stay out there so she can save the “good” pitchers for a better situation. You do this with full disclosure at certain points in your career (hint: they’re not the high points), because you’re happy to still be in the game.
Your only leverage at that point is insider trading. You almost always end up regretting it. But, shit , does that feel good in the moment. It’s hard to resist the intoxicating, immediate rise back to prominence as you recognize that, at least on some level, what I say still matters. Since we’ve been “together” so long, long enough, you know where to go, even in the dark. In fact, at the end of our relationship, we’ve been purposefully not going there, just in case, rehearsing what you might say in your mind. You have to choose carefully. Too little and you’re pathetic, too much and there just may not be a road back. Stink look, an interjection, no permanent damage, but at least I know your salty.
The lies became more frequent, more reckless, as our time together progressed. And it’s only in retrospect that I can admit anything to myself. Clearly, I’m familiar with the motivations behind 2 a.m. text messages–quickly deleted. I know why she roamed the halls nightly. I feel sorry for the man I was, not because I think I was better than she was, but because I was so desperate to believe in something other than what? In anything? But something turned out to be just a beautiful imagining. It was hard to be angry when truth be told, the situation required something more than my complicity.

Blog Entry: I love you but you’ve chosen darkness
In times of trouble, we invent definitions of our desires as unique. We forget that somebody in this world, probably more than one, is sick of the person or situation we put on a pedestal. When ruled by our feelings, we are incapable of making clear choices let alone rationally reflecting on their consequences. People trapped in this cycle repeat patterns of counter-productive and self-destructive behavior. The tortured artist is the prototypical example. But even the word tortured incorrectly implies an outside source that is somehow in control. That pain is self-chosen.
Fast forward again to my fucking idiocy. How many times have I relived that night with pointless, hopeless lamentations of, “If only,” or “Why?” It was Wednesday; the weekend had passed uneventful. Which then? Was a good thing. My kids had spent the weekend with us and after the histrionics surrounding my last year with Merry, I was loath to even disagree in front of them. So we spent Saturday and Sunday with smiles painted on our fake faces, watching kids’ shows and wasting the afternoons lounging in the pool until dusk. Sunday even ended somewhat tenderly when Linda slid under the covers and pressed her body against my back. “I wish I had met you earlier.” The sound of my son and daughter down the hall, giggling not napping.
“Why?”
“They should be ours.”
In the months since that night, after all the terrible things that were to follow, I often thought about that moment, and wondered if she meant it. I would also struggle with why she even married me–at age 32, I was her first husband–when she was so quick to abandon it all. Just four nights later I would be in custody and Linda would leave the apartment, never to spend another night.
Half asleep on the couch in our living room, I can hear Linda getting ready in the master bath. I had fallen asleep just after dawn; it took a few seconds to realize that the previous evening’s hostilities were not, in fact, a bad dream, but had actually happened. Any remaining doubt was removed as she barked, in a blouse and panties, with a terse, “Are you going to work today?”
“What do you care?”
“You’re right, I don’t. We’re supposed to meet Rick and his wife for dinner.” Which meant she had to meet him to deliver his bi-monthly supply of pot. She had been acting as an intermediary between Jenny and a group of stoner friends–actually all of her friends fit that category. She got her pot free, her friends got stoned, and no one had to know about the Vietnamese pimp she got her drugs from. Win win.
“What are you a dealer now? South Austin your territory?”
“I’m going to cancel.”
“No. I don’t want to be that couple.”
The problem is we were that couple. And I couldn’t figure out why it was happening.
Monday was relatively quiet. It had been two weeks since Linda’s sister had swallowed a handful of Klonapin, then washed them down with two glasses of vodka, landing herself at Shoal Creek. It had also been two weeks since Linda started her new job after almost four months unemployed. In her first two weeks at work Linda had already missed one day with me “on vacation,” two days attending to the needs of her near-suicidal sister, then inexplicably took a three-hour lunch to see a movie–Zombieland–with “two friends,” but in retrospect more likely for a tryst.
A day without event –Monday–therefore, came as a blessing. I had to go to Dallas for a conference on Tuesday, and since I would be driving I was in bed early (for us early was anytime before midnight) with the alarm set at 4 a.m. in preparation for the 3 hour drive north from southwest Austin to the Metroplex.
We were pleasant, if somewhat awkward, the difficulties of the recent weeks stood in stark contrast to our pronouncements of the eternal and the unseen hands of providence and divine intelligence on behalf of our love for the ages.
I woke her with a long kiss just after 5 a.m. It would be our last.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Sugar
I remember you like sugar on my tongue dissolving, sweet and quickly deteriorating. I drank heavily through most of our courtship which at the time seemed like forever but in reality took less than 11 days to consummate and five weeks to make real. March 27 at the Mohawk (“I think he has a crush on you,” and ”I think I can flip her”) was just five Fridays before Ray LeMontagne.
In the previous week I’ve been trading emails and phone calls with two of the three “loves” of my life; Linda completed the triumvirate. And as she began to pull away, I found myself turning to the past for counsel and comfort. As I expected, I received neither from Merry.

Blog Entry: Phantom Pains
The short distance I’ve covered since April, belies the activity. I was too long clinging to assumptions that are more accurately described as delusions. In retrospect, it’s easier to see the logic, that when not convoluted by false hope, was pretty accurate in its forecast. I hate that I was right. There was an agent, actually two, a catalyst, and a verified, repeatable result. This is a cold comfort. As with a more accurate morbidity calculation, I would’ve preferred being wrong. And every new prediction manifesting as predicted, casts more doubt on the past. In fact, I’ve stopped asking questions, because more often than not, I’d prefer not to think about the almost certain answers, or my pusillanimous complicity in the willful suspension of disbelief.
Now I’m left to the forensic work. Self-flagellating with scenarios of how, when, and where, but most of all wondering who? I don’t care who it was with, but if it was premeditated, then who benefit? Isn’t that a strange logic to find comfort in? A simple cost-benefit analysis provides the only plausible scenario, that I can see, especially given history, that doesn’t require a plot. Patterns emerge, and this suggests an archetype. Right?
It’s also true, however, that an agenda was certainly adjusted at some point without my input, and the attempts to obfuscate that adjustment were inarguably the product of intelligent design. Cruel, but intelligent. The irony is that the symptoms of this campaign and its execution (the unexplained lost hours and hidden accounts, the immediate deletion of text messages, etc., etc.), though uncomfortable, were tolerable and, in fact, only possible with my acquiescence.
This is a first for me. An epilogue without mercy, constantly speaking truth to historical lies. And like the phantom pains of an amputee, the hurt was realized long after the actual betrayal.
Maybe the time shift occurred with our frequent invocation of the divine. I like that idea; it gives a certain Homeric quality to six months that might otherwise be considered wasted. The more likely culprit was insomnia; days without sleeping are 50 percent longer after all. She called me in mid-April at 2 a.m.–probably high–and I answered clearly without clearing my throat–definitely drunk–I don’t remember the conversation, but I can easily divine two of its lasting effects. The first was a reinvigoration of my pursuit of her, which to me made our coupling not a maybe but an inevitable. The second, ironically, had the opposite effect which was to sow the seeds of doubt about her middle-of-the-night communication habits. Her early calls to me were to set up surreptitious trysts while her boyfriend slept. What did she say while I was sleeping? Like later in July, her 3:15 a.m. text message to another man, “Hey, Elvis,” was never explained with anything except, “I don’t remember sending it,” and that bullshit sounded so familiar. Did that send us down the path to that terrible night in October?

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: re: re: I miss I’m not sure what
The dissolution of our marriage was both of our faults. It saddens me, too.
And, of course, boredom leaped melancholy to become heavy-hearted sadness.

Blog Entry: Emotionally detached analysis
Love, or more precisely the feeling that one is in possession of this emotion, is the decisive factor in determining the failure of an erotic relationship. And by this, I don’t mean that failure is the result of some absence or inadequacy, but rather it’s the mere presence of love that prescribes failure. So many of our resources are used in the pursuit of love, and the success or failure of this pursuit is so intertwined with how we define ourselves, that the day-to-day dynamic of most relationships present an emotionally unacceptable risk.
I used to wish I had the power over time and space to go back and look and listen to her. More than anything I wanted to know the truth. The more she obfuscated, the deeper my need–my obsession–to know what really happened. Now, honestly, I just try to forget. I vacillate between recognizing what brought her to my life–good and bad–and wishing I had never met her. I suppose that’s unrealistic considering she was my wife. But I’ll take to my grave a dumbfounded shock at how quickly things unraveled and how the center couldn’t hold.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Without it
Because, you see, honesty is not enough. And good will isn’t enough. And feeling. And kisses. And intention. And meaning. And, sadly, love isn’t enough. We get confused sometimes because all those things are present when the unnamed catalyst exists. But without it—IT!—these beautiful moments are just that: furtive grasps at the divine, more bricks in the wall. All squares are rectangles. But not all rectangles are squares.
Blog Entry: Phantom Pains
The short distance I’ve covered since April, belies the activity. I was too long clinging to assumptions that are more accurately described as delusions. In retrospect, it’s easier to see the logic, that when not convoluted by false hope, was pretty accurate in its forecast. I hate that I was right. There was an agent, actually two, a catalyst, and a verified, repeatable result. This is a cold comfort. As with a more accurate morbidity calculation, I would’ve preferred being wrong. And every new prediction manifesting as predicted, casts more doubt on the past. In fact, I’ve stopped asking questions, because more often than not, I’d prefer not to think about the almost certain answers, or my pusillanimous complicity in the willful suspension of disbelief.
Now I’m left to the forensic work. Self-flagellating with scenarios of how, when, and where, but most of all wondering who? I don’t care who it was with, but if it was premeditated, then who benefit? Isn’t that a strange logic to find comfort in? A simple cost-benefit analysis provides the only plausible scenario, that I can see, especially given history, that doesn’t require a plot. Patterns emerge, and this suggests an archetype. Right?
It’s also true, however, that an agenda was certainly adjusted at some point without my input, and the attempts to obfuscate that adjustment were inarguably the product of intelligent design. Cruel, but intelligent. The irony is that the symptoms of this campaign and its execution (the unexplained lost hours and hidden accounts, the immediate deletion of text messages, etc., etc.), though uncomfortable, were tolerable and, in fact, only possible with my acquiescence.
This is a first for me. An epilogue without mercy, constantly speaking truth to historical lies. And like the phantom pains of an amputee, the hurt was realized long after the actual betrayal.
I wake up on the floor in the only bedroom of my apartment. I’m parallel to the bed, but facing the wrong way. The lights are on. The fan is barely spinning; its movement looks almost accidental, as if it were being driven by exhalation rather than electricity. As consciousness slowly returns I am aware of a pain radiating down my right leg, starting with a serrated, stabbing sensation in my hip and ending with burning, near-numb needles in my purplish big toe. My left ankle literally feels like it’s on fire, but I’m unable to sit up and confirm the cause. Panic drives me to use the footboard of my bed to pull me to my knees, but the pain is so intense I crumble into a heap between the bed and the wall. Just before hitting the ground, I decide it was a mistake to squeeze a king-size bed into such a small room. The bedroom furniture was one of the few concessions I was granted in the divorce, however, and I was determined to enjoy the Pyrrhic victory.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: re: re: I See
I remember feeling shallow for celebrating so strongly the physical attraction I had for you. The truth is you were beautiful to me because I best knew how to look at you. (Even you must admit that in your most flattering portraits mine were the hands that held the camera at the correct angle, and mine was the eye staring through the shutter.) I’m determined to resurrect the best aspects of our love affair as its legacy, to pay forward the myths that you and I created then lived. Here now placed into a centrifuge to isolate the truth from all the devices we put in place to protect our versions of whatever happened. But there was a time when we spoke with ease and comfort, with lust and tenderness, with joy and intelligence. I refuse to let that die because at the moment things mattered most we both chose, in one way or another, to save ourselves.
I’m a fucking idiot more often than I’d like to admit; then again it might be that I’m most of the time brain-dead tired. I don’t sleep. I hadn’t slept. I hadn’t been sleeping well for weeks. Tension at home. Work was just work. And the melancholy–still in its initial stages and mislabeled by me as boredom. Linda wasn’t herself—whatever that is–since her sister’s half-assed suicide attempt two weeks earlier. She’d grown withdrawn, secretive. And disappeared–sometimes for hours–with the vaguest excuses that tested the boundaries of my faith and her credibility.
She hoarded both of her phones. Her personal mobile that she had used as long as I had known her and the Blackberry she had just been issued by her new employer. She began using her work tools exclusively, surreptitiously; the access she once allowed was withdrawn, not that I checked except accidentally. (Full disclosure: I checked twice suspiciously, but both times I found something never quite explained.) And that wasn’t even the cause of my sadness.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Really?
So much of my reflection has focused on the dissolution of our love. You’d never know that at one time it was truly one for the ages. I confess that for months now I’ve chosen to tread water and stay stuck in the original wreckage of our hopes. That pain has acted as my muse in your absence. Cynicism is easier to spot through tears and sounds better lashed out. But oh! what a starburst magic was our love last spring. And the endless odes typed and penned between us seemed as potent as any ever put to language. It’s hard to reconcile the warm sweetness of last summer with the cold quick bite of early fall. But it happened. It happened.
I lay in bed alone, a hockey game buzzing in the background unwatched, and contemplated the last two years of my life. The drive home from Dallas put me in a funk that I couldn’t shake. I missed my wife. Not just today; it had been weeks since I had felt the so-called divine connection between us or her loving touch. Our gazes turned into stares; we didn’t make love, we fucked. At about 7:15 p.m. I rang Linda at her office. She answered, already perturbed, “What?
“Where are you?
“I said I would call when I was headed home.”
“I know. I just.”
“You’re being needy. Intensely needy.”
“Low blow.”
“Sorry. I’ll call you when I leave.”
“Sorry I couldn’t make it to the movies for lunch.”
“Fuck you.”
“Are you sober? Is that the problem? You’re always nicer when you’re high.”
“I’ll see you at home. Stop calling.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve removed your work number from my phone. I’ll never call you again.”
“Don’t…” I hung up on her. She didn’t call back
It was almost nine o’clock when Linda got home. Eschewing our usual salutations for silence, she walked into our bedroom where her silence was reciprocated. How desperately I wanted to embrace her, to say “I love you like no other.” But, instead, all I could bring myself to do was return her angry stare. My doubts, after all, had become, legion.
We were both still up at 2 a.m. Arguing. She went outside to smoke a cigarette and I followed her. The night was cool and she held her knees to her chest like a little girl; for a moment I could see her as she must have been as a child, before she was 13, before her step-father broke her. I remembered seeing a picture of her at Christmas looking sullen, her eyes fixed on the camera, the pain visible then as it was now. Why couldn’t I comfort that little girl? My doubts had become legion.
“I don’t know what you’re lying about, but I know you’re lying. Nothing you’ve told me recently makes any sense.”
“I’m tired of talking about this.”
“So am I.”
“Then stop talking.”
“I can’t. I need to know. No one goes to the movies at lunch on the seventh day at a new job. You had already missed two days because of your sister. Then you take a three-hour lunch less than a week later. It’s not like you.
“Two and a half hours.”
“Whatever. When you say you don’t understand why that sounds suspicious you’re either lying or stupid. And I don’t think you’re stupid.” She flicked the butt of her cigarette just inches past my right ear, then stood up to go back inside. As she passed I took her hand in mine and she paused. “What’s happening?” My voice cracked and finished as a hoarse whisper. Her eyes began to well up.
“I don’t know.” She pulled her hand back and went inside. I sat on the patio until dawn.
I try to blink away the thickness in my head. I exaggerate my respiration with hard sucks and blows, and try to remember how I landed here. There was a girl. She was a hooker. I don’t know how I know that. I lent her my car. Shit. The night exists in snapshots. She drank vitamin water. I guzzled red wine. And when I was out of wine she gave me her water. It wasn’t water. She was a hooker? I don’t think I fucked her. I was robbed. I think. Vomiting in the kitchen sink. Losing focus in the living room. Reaching for the light. And falling? I still have money in my pocket. She was too pretty to be a hooker. Craigslist. Adult services. She was alone. She brought the car back. That’s all I remember.
My computer and phone–my only lifelines from this self-imposed exile–are missing. I was robbed. Maybe. I crawl across the floor slowly toward the bathroom–I have to piss–and realize I can’t call anyone for help even if I wanted to. I suppose I could scream.
From a kneeling position I use the toilet, but the searing waves of fiery pain are so intense I end up finishing on the front of the commode, on the floor, and on myself. I fall backward and adjust my position until the cramping sensation subsides, and once again stare at the ceiling. I have enough of my wits about me to see the black humor in this situation and let out a menacing, non-joyful, “Ha!” I stare up and into my recent past, my naked back on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, my mind in cold contemplation of what my life has become: paralyzed, utterly alone, covered in piss, and unable to do anything about it. And with these thoughts I fall asleep–I pass out–on the bathroom floor.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Band of Horses
The last good memory I have of you plays out to that band. And the music which seems so melancholy when alone instead conjures descriptions like longing and aching and hauntingly beautiful in this context. I watched you that day in the master bathroom, from the closet, through the shower’s frosted glass, I saw you shave your body smooth as Detlef Schrempf captured perfectly my thoughts with, “My eyes can’t look at you any other way.” The double meaning wasn’t lost on me and the beauty of the moment literally stopped me in my tracks. I stopped getting dressed and instead lay shirtless on the bed just lounging and lingering. Watching you flutter back and forth, my point of view limited by the half-opened (half-shut?) door, you in various stages of getting dressed as the song switched to The Great Salt Lake, and smiling, your reflection reflected in the foggy mirror, you finally saw me staring.

“What?”
“I’m just watching you, baby.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Everything seems perfect. I didn’t realize how much I loved that band.”
“That band?”
“I already knew how much I love you.”
She walked to the door and like a 5′ 1″ Samson holding up our temple by the pillars, she put her hands out on either side of the door jamb. “My sweet boy.”
It was to be our last tender moment.
Summer ended today. An early-autumn cold front swept across the plains down into Texas and within a matter of hours it was all over. The summer. In the year without a summer. It’s over. Though having lived through the last two years without the months of October, November or December, I think that I prefer to miss the heat and lose Labor Day rather than mourn the more nostalgic holidays of fall and winter while drunk and alone. Often in the closet. My mind is clearer now. The dead weather has come back.

Part 2. Family Violences
“We are utterly alone, and unavoidably connected.” – Egarton Dalton
I look back and it plays in slow motion and though I lived through it, I still sometimes cannot believe it actually happened. That this is not just some phantasmagoria. She chose the worst-case scenario as her first option, setting events in motion that once invoked couldn’t be recalled. At the most crucial moments, she made decisions that I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few weeks earlier, leaving Southwest Austin unnecessarily in ruins.
To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Eulogy
Here, then, lay our reflections
Silent hymns to our complicity
The capricious change of heart and
The biases of memory
The rapture of despair and
The inevitable agony
Of off-white lies and furtive cries
And doe-eyed volatility
The promise of redemption
And shame at our complacency
Duplicitous omissions
That mock our claims of honesty
I burn for a reprise
Of our consumptive, common fallacy
The brief joy of our repose
From the familiar nihility
That nonpareil moment
Of our rage against eternity

My first instinct was to prolong my ignorance. I didn’t want to know. Claims to the contrary are invented or imagined. Ignorance was lonely, but bearable, and lacked the inevitable apathy and casual cruelty that seemed to be the fate of knowing. The paradox, of course, is that the sheer audacity, once understood, brought calm rather than the anxiety or pain I was expecting. We say we lie to protect the other person’s feelings, but really what we’re doing is avoiding our own discomfort and withholding the only thing that can actually help the other person.
Blog Entry: I had the epiphany that so much of everything I thought was spontaneous was actually premeditated, and probably on a checklist. After all the cosmic promises there was no meaningful deliberation at the end. I looked, and hoped, but there was no sense of loss. No mourning. Just the calculated efficiency of a hired killer.
Sadly, our conspicuous, public proclamations of affection given in May eventually became a threat to her freedom, and all but predicted the invocation of the worst-case scenario. I didn’t consider the possibility of it being used as an exit strategy even as it was happening all around me.
It was quick, it plausibly explained a change that couldn’t have been predicted, it minimized culpability, mitigated embarrassment about a widely misunderstood decision, it allowed the denial of proclivities, represented rebuttal as retaliatory, and generated enough disgust to preclude concern about a quick abandonment, casual divorce, and certainly no questions would be raised out loud about the apparent overlapping timelines of the replacement. Having seen what that lie looks like from both sides now, I’m pretty confident I recognize it, coming or going.
I liken this experience to Hillary Clinton’s though admittedly without as large an audience and on a much smaller stage. At face value Monica Lewinsky is merely a material participant in a personal betrayal. But in so doing, she gave Hillary something that no one else had been able to: a situation that could not be denied and the opportunity to witness at close-range her husband’s willingness to save himself at any cost.
Rational thought as a means to change is not often celebrated in love songs or happily ever-after-movies, but is the part of our consciousness best able to understand an end goal, modify ineffective strategies, repeat successful ones, and keep us on the enlightened path to self-actualization. There are brain chemistry issues for some, but even they must choose whether to seek help. Then they must make the effort to maximize its efficacy. These both are rational choices. Conversely, for a person being ruled by feelings it is difficult to recognize that change is even possible. Yet, no situation can get better without that transformation.
Swallowing gallons of wine while listening to sad bastard music is inarguably a poor strategy for feeling better or communicating with the world, a fact immediately recognized by someone whose choices are being controlled with conscious thought. In moments of conceit, i.e., most often, I consider myself the smartest person in the room. And yet, judging by my choices, I sometimes rank highly among the most stupid people this species has ever produced.
Feelings follow thoughts. And thoughts can be controlled. That’s where the difference lies.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Go fast
Speed is a selfish drug, and like most compulsive behaviors, its consistent use is rooted in egoism. This goes beyond any physical craving a person might have (though one might argue that consistent use of this kind is pathological since it is generally beyond the user’s control, i.e., you and I).

I expected a quick and merciless dispatch, and quicker rebound, having witnessed it in April. I expected duplicity in defense of reputation. I was shocked by all the lies. Others warned me of the possibility, but I disregarded them with the sincere belief that I wouldn’t have to consider it in my defense. Ignoring several chances to recant, a disconnect was revealed, so vast that I no longer had any urgency to reconnect it. Or even understand it. The scope of the act and the subsequent breach in ethics has actually given me clarity and calm. Now that I knew Linda would do anything to save the myth she created, there was nothing else to worry about. I had my first real consolation of the worst-case scenario.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: How soon is never?
I confess I let fear creep back into my awareness. A test of faith: the sharper the pain, the deeper the belief. Where is the transcendence I found last year? On the phone with my mother, the sun coming through the windows and I understood-for a second-how everything was the same. Unable to articulate the feeling I nonetheless believed it to be true. Where is that faith? That calm? That unbearable lightness of being? Where is that thread of understanding to stitch together the disparate parts of my life?
And for all that, it’s not even the worst part of everything. Individual sadness eventually subsides. But the irreparable damage to the collective belief in what is possible will probably never be made whole again in my life. It’s difficult to believe that it even exists. The unnamed catalyst without which there can be no love or true faith. Anne Sexton, wrote “Need is not quite belief.” I know you hate poetry, but she’s right.

Blog Entry: Things fall apart
The fall of a person at every level, from an individual man to Man as we see ourselves when we are at our accomplished best, doesn’t usually happen in one calamitous plunge from the heights of glory. But rather, it’s the little things we choose to do, by ourselves, when we think there’s no one watching, or when this one time doesn’t count. It’s how the path of least resistance becomes the only way in or out, and the only way we know to go. We make small compromises, but in the most important places and the result is the slow-motion free-fall of our self-actualization. Eventually we end up lower than where we started. We look around, incredulous, as if being sprawled out on the floor required a fall from grace to get there.

To: K.
From: Linda
Subject: Someone recently asked me if I liked poetry
…and it made me think of you.
The irony, of course, is that it was never about jealousy or control. It was about respect and true intimacy that at the end, and sometimes in the middle, vanished. All the little omissions and inconsistencies were so confusing to me. She shut me out and let others in. The finite duration of our time together was to be alone.
Alone together.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: re: Someone recently asked me if I liked poetry
Asking someone if they like poetry is an intimate question. It’s not the casual language of small talk. I assumed you were trying to communicate with me about something other than e.e. cummings. Remember when you believed in my nuanced understanding of the human condition? The choice of the word “someone” and the intimacy of the question indicates, whether or not it’s a lover, or even a man, it’s something like what we used to share.
And still my love for you is bigger than…there’s no word, but it’s bigger than that. I hate myself for writing this.
To: K.
From: Linda
Subject: re: re: Someone recently asked me if I liked poetry:
Your capacity for love is tangible and sweet. That you would hate yourself for writing an email it saddens me.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: re: re: re: Someone recently asked me if I liked poetry:
Your last email may be the most condescending, fucking thing I’ve ever read in my life.

I get to the restaurant five minutes late to find Linda waiting halfway between the entrance and the back. I feel good and it’s good to see her.
“You look like you haven’t slept in a few days, “she said. “Are you drinking?”
“It’s good to see you, too.”
“I worry about you.”
“You worry about me? I’m not the one who lives at Jenny’s house. Nice environment. Is she still whoring people out there?” And before I can say anything else to ruin the moment, she reaches across the table, grabs the back of my head and rubs her fingers against the short hairs just above my neck. The moment of tenderness is unexpected and I have to blink and look away. “So, I have two theories about what happened.”
“Just two?”
“Two that I ruminate on.”
“You ruminate on everything.”
“Only when I’m running through scenarios.”
“That sounds exhausting.”
“It is.”
“Why is that?”
“Honestly? Linda? Really?”
“Tell me.”
“Everything you’ve ever said to me is in play. Are you really going camping this weekend with your brother and his girlfriend? Are you really going to see your brother after we finish here? Because, I don’t believe you. You didn’t visit your brother once in the six months we lived together and now you’re going to go see him at 9:30 when you have to work tomorrow? Sounds more like a sleepover.”
“I’m not lying to you.”
“Well, there’s the rub, isn’t it?”
“What?”
“That’s what a liar would say. A sociopath would say it as calmly as you just did.”
“So now I’m a sociopath?”
“Technically, if you were, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell me.”
“Always a wise ass. Fine.”
“The second theory I would bet my life that I was correct. And I wouldn’t lose.”
“You’re always so fucking dramatic.”
“I told you that, literally, in the first sentence of the first email I ever wrote to you that wasn’t about contracts.”
“Intense. Needy. Sometimes, intensely needy.”
“You bothered to remember?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“My default answer is ‘The truth.’ But, I wouldn’t believe anything you said at this point anyway. By the way, I brought your book back, the one about Schrödinger’s cat; the one that made me fall in love with you.”
“Keep it.”
“I don’t want it. It hurts to look at.”
“These conversations are draining.”
“Good. They should be.”
“Why?”
“Because the few moments we have we should be using to think about something important.”
“Us.”
“That’s part of it. Trust me I think about these things fifty times as much as I get a chance like this.”
“This is a chance?”
“What else?”
“Two friends meeting for a drink.”
“Fuck that.”
“We’re not friends?”
“No. You’re my estranged wife. The day we’re just friends is the day after this is over.”
“It’s over.”
“So why are we here, then?”
“You break my heart.”
“Mine’s been broken for some time now.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“For what the drugs? The affair?
“There was no affair.”
“But there is now?”
“No.”
“I don’t believe you. The bed’s not even cold yet.”
“I don’t to go over anymore”
“You can go if you want.”
“Why are we here?”
“I wanted to look in your eyes when I asked and you answered.”
“What good is that if I’m a sociopath?”
“You’re not. You’re just a liar. And to be honest, you’re not a very good one. Your voice doesn’t break but you always look away. Down, then to the right. Always. I used to play poker, remember?”
“You can be such a fucking asshole.”
“Yes. I really can. So, conspiracy theory number one.”
“This should be good.”
“I’ve seen you fall-down drunk just once, in all the time I’ve known you. In fact, it’s the only time I’ve seen you drunk. On alcohol, anyway.”
“July 4th.”
“Right. All your friends from Beaumont were there. So here’s theory number one. Someone you were pining for, but never thought would pan out, showed up that night. And wanted to hook up. But when he found out you were married, cut you off. So you got drunk. I couldn’t find you for an hour in your sister’s little house. But she knew exactly where you were. And probably why.”
“You really believe that?”
“Everything is in play.”
“Fuck you.”
“If you don’t tell anyone.”
“No, really, fuck you.”
“Wait till you hear number two.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Because you know it’s true. I haven’t even said it yet, and you know it’s true. You remember when you were cheating on John with me?”
“I never cheated.”
“Well, there was no genital exchange, no DNA on your favorite blue dress. Technically, we waited until the day you broke up, but we were cheating and you know it.”
“Whatever.”
“Yeah, whatever. Did I at least get that day?”
“Make your point already.”
“In retrospect, I realized that we never met at night. It was always during the day, or on the weekends. Or, when you ‘Had to work late,’ during the week. I remember you calling him and telling him while you were sitting with me, speaking as calmly as you are now. Toward the end, with us, remember how many nights you had to work late?”
“I did work late, asshole.”
“I know, it’s probably just a coincidence.”
“Fuck you, I’m leaving.”
“You just looked down, and to the right.”
“Fuck you.”
“No, fuck you. You really expected me to believe that after being unemployed for four months, you would take a 3-hour lunch to see a movie in your first week at work? Oh, and with ‘two’ guys I didn’t know? We all know it was one guy, and since it’s been six months he’s probably already gone as well, but I bet he’s still sniffing around. It’s your fucking M.O. Daytime dates and nighttime betrayals.”
“Stop.”
“Stop what? The mirror uncomfortable?”
“Stop. Please. Stop.”
“Why did you marry me? Was it for the story? Ha, ha we got married at lunch after knowing each other for two months? Things weren’t perfect for two seconds and you bailed. Someone talked you into leaving weeks before you left.”
“I’m leaving now.”
“Is there a road back?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think I’m glad to see you go.”
“I wish I had the energy to take care of you.”
The look on her face was so profoundly sad that I couldn’t decide what to feel. I’m disappointed in a way I wasn’t prepared to be when I walked through the door. It is these moments, ironically often triggered by sadness that make me want to be alive.

To: Linda
From: K.
Subject: Flipnotics
I remember a conversation we had last June on the way to have a few drinks I warned you about the ends of things.
In my head I could distinctly hear Robert Smith warning us through Disintegration that, “I never said I’d stay till the end.” I swear I could hear it in my head as we spoke and I said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what I’m going to do if I ever lose you.”
“Me neither,” you said. “This is it for me, too. I’m not kidding. If this doesn’t work, I give up forever.”
“I’m your last stand?” You parked. Our eyes met. And it was impossible for me to believe that you could fathom the depths I was moving under. “When it ends, it always ends badly, but what I’ve been through so closely followed by you–what you mean to me–I don’t know if I can take it again.”
“I know I can’t.”
I loved you at that moment like I never had, but you felt to me more like a child than a lover, one who so badly tried to empathize. God, how I had missed even the attempts at empathy. But how could you possibly ever feel what I felt? You had lived your whole life ensconced in beauty. You struggle, if any, was so far removed from mine it may as well have been spoken in a different language. Ironically, I couldn’t empathize. But ah! the effort. That fucking drug.
I look back and it plays in slow motion and though I lived through it, I still sometimes cannot believe it actually happened. That this is not just some phantasmagoria. She chose the worst-case scenario as her first option, setting events in motion that once invoked couldn’t be recalled. At the most crucial moments, she made decisions that I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few weeks earlier, leaving Southwest Austin unnecessarily in ruins. I lay in bed alone, a hockey game buzzing in the background unwatched, and contemplated the last two years of my life. The drive home from Dallas put me in a funk that I couldn’t shake. I missed my wife. Not just today; it had been weeks since I had felt the so-called divine connection between us or her loving touch. Our gazes turned into stares; we didn’t make love, we fucked. At about 7:15 p.m. I rang Linda at her office. She answered, already perturbed, “What? I said I would call when I was headed home.”
“I know. I just.”
“You’re being needy. Intensely needy.”
“Low blow.”
“Sorry. I’ll call you when I leave.”
“Sorry I couldn’t make it to the movies for lunch.”
“Fuck you.”
“Are you sober? Is that the problem? You’re always nicer when you’re high.”
“I’ll see you at home. Stop calling.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve removed your work number from my phone. I’ll never call you again.”
“Don’t…” I hung up on her. She didn’t call back
It was almost nine o’clock when Linda got home. Eschewing our usual salutations for silence, she walked into our bedroom where her silence was reciprocated. How desperately I wanted to embrace her, to say “I love you like no other.” But, instead, all I could bring myself to do was return her angry stare. My doubts, after all, had become, legion.
We were both still up at 2 a.m. Arguing. Deteriorating. She went outside to smoke a cigarette and I followed her. The night was cool and she held her knees to her chest like a little girl; for a moment I could see her as she must have been as a child, before she was 13, before her step-father broke her. I remembered seeing a picture of her at Christmas looking sullen, her eyes fixed on the camera, the pain visible then as it was now. Why couldn’t I comfort that little girl? My doubts had become legion.
“I don’t know what you’re lying about, but I know you’re lying. Nothing you’ve told me recently makes any sense.”
“I’m tired of talking about this.”
“So am I.”
“Then stop talking.”
“I can’t. I need to know. No one goes to the movies at lunch on the seventh day at a new job. You had already missed two days because of your sister. Then you take a three-hour lunch less than a week later. It’s not like you”
“Two and a half hours.”
“Whatever. When you say you don’t understand why that sounds suspicious you’re either lying or stupid. And I don’t think you’re stupid.” She flicked the butt of her cigarette just inches past my right ear, then stood up to go back inside. As she passed I took her hand in mine and she paused. “What’s happening?” My voice cracked and finished as a hoarse whisper. Her eyes began to well up.
“I don’t know.” She pulled her hand back and went inside. I sat on the patio until dawn. Deteriorating.
Blog Entry: Intermittent explosive disorder is a behavioral pathology that manifests as anger, sometimes rage, disproportionate to the situation at hand, immediately followed by deep remorse. For something that sounds like an awesome excuse for every impulsive stupidity ever committed, I can’t quite get behind a disorder that sounds so much like what it is.
I woke on the couch in our living room. I could hear Linda getting ready in the master bath. I’d fallen asleep just after dawn. It took a few seconds to realize the previous evening’s hostilities had not, in fact, been a bad dream. Any doubt remaining was quickly removed when Linda appeared in a shirt and panties pulling on socks as she went to the closet. “Are you going to work today?”
”What do you care?”
“You’re right. I don’t. We’re supposed to meet Rick and his wife dinner.”
“Your bloke out of pot?” She needed to meet him to split some up. She had become n intermediary between Jenny and all her stoner friends, which pretty much described all her friends. Except me. “What are you a dealer now?”
“I’m going to cancel.”
“No, don’t. Can we just get being normal?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“I’m not going to work, I couldn’t sleep.” The truth. Sort of, deteriorating. I had gone to work tired before. I was more than tired. I was deteriorating.
Blog Entry: I run. I‘ve been running. My feet blur as the cement and asphalt glide beneath me. The pace is quick, but I don’t struggle. There‘s no pain. I just move.
First down the block to Venice, then right, toward the ocean: West. Past the two-level, stucco apartments on each side of the road. Past the gas stations on each corner at Lincoln. Past the Lutheran church, a preschool, past two liquor stores and a photo supply shop, past the playhouse, then more generic stucco. Still no pain.
The sky is dark. It’s late. Maybe early. The street is full, but motionless and silent. Every car is empty, every business closed. The intersection traffic signals don’t change, they don’t even blink. The light from the street lamps falls flat to the ground.
The road forks, each prong into a cul-de-sac. I stay right until the prong ends. A small curb, two strides across the smooth sidewalk, ten feet of grass, a paved bike path, then into the sand. My feet sink and are buried. I can hear the ocean, but can’t see over the hill to the water. Each step of the incline requires a conscious effort.
The dune plateaus, then slopes downward to the black Pacific. I’m faster as the ground congeals: bare feet on the cold, hard sand until an icy shock of water. Still I run. The water rushes to embrace me; to kiss me hard the lips. I try to move but can’t, the pressure, the weight of the water. Flux and flow. Slowly dissolving into the nothing. The dream is always the same.

My eyes opened to the confused dusk that happens when you fall asleep in the light of the late afternoon. Without my glasses the clock across the room was just a blurry haze. I debated whether I had slept all night before noticing the hallway outside the bedroom was lit by the single lamp in the living room.

Blog Entry: A feeling of dread washes over me. And suddenly I’m afraid of everything. I’m scared of the dark. I’m scared of my shadow. I’m scared of strange noises. I’m scared of the silence. I’m scared of dying. And all around I see death in everything. Something is whispering in my ear. Not the low, guttural growls of horror movies, but in a tinny, high-pitched, almost silent scream. “Be afraid.”

Part 3. Letters From Del Valle
Dear Mom,
No one can quite grasp the specifics of my situation. This scares me. Each person I share my story with serves as proxy for a potential juror, eventually to be culled from my bank of peers, whoever they are. And as their eyes inevitably glaze over when I try to explain the nuances–critical to my defense!–of ghost email accounts and temporary I.P. addresses, the task of telling a cohesive narrative–a persuasive cohesive narrative–seems to be currently beyond my grasp.
I give up for the day. Today. Sunday. My third Sunday here. It’s late afternoon, maybe early evening here in Del Valle, Texas. We’re just beyond the east border of Austin proper, near the airport. Austin-Bergstrom International. Trips to and from court pass the airport each way and the freedom that place represents is a painful reminder of my current situation. Incarcerated. Sundays are normally difficult for me anyway. They have been as long as I can remember. And in my memory Sundays always play out at dusk–not quite darkness–and its reflections always tainted with a vague, unnamed melancholy. In here, of course, that sensation is realized exponentially and manifests now in a heavy-hearted silence. I can hear myself breathing.
Love, Me

Linda,
About ACL, I wouldn’t have gone, even if I wasn’t here–Hell, I missed it the last two years–but the fact that I couldn’t if I wanted to has been one of the few things this month that have made me bristle. And your favorite band headlining Saturday night had me resisting the urge to puke. I know you and your band of incestuous Beaumont idiots will be there in full force, no doubt happily numb and stumbling around Zilker as the temperature drops and the night’s tide rises.I hate your happiness. I hate the idea of it. I hate the idea of you. My only consolation in this regard is that so do you.
-K.

Dear M,
With my eyes closed, laying on two shirts spread out on the grass, I can feel the breeze blowing over my shirtless torso and tousling my hair. The warming sun colors my closed eyelids an orange pink, the smell of cut grass abounds, the wind whistles. The sensations are so sensually pleasant, that it’s almost possible to ignore the chain-link fence, topped all around with countless outstretched, razor-wire Slinkies. For one hour a day the divide between here and there dissolves so that it’s difficult to discern the difference. These past few days I’ve felt better than I have in months, maybe years. A few difficult decisions, now decided, and the whole world has become a better place. And though I may eventually come to regret what these have wrought, their sum effect cannot possibly be as bad as things have been since that night of the epiphany, now almost three years past, that soon-to-be-famous moment of existential angst.
-K.

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