Eventually, she asked me if I thought I’d ever leave you for someone else. This was almost two weeks ago, but it feels like a lot longer. I stared at the ceiling, thinking about how to answer her.
“I don’t know,” I said, kind of annoyed. “Why?”
“I’m only asking, would you?”
I want you to know that I’d never even considered that question before she asked me. When I tried, I couldn’t think of any way I’d ever be better without you than with you.
I knew what she was really asking. After another pause, I said, “Would you want me to?”
“You should pursue your happiness. Ideally, what do you want?”
“We have plans,” I said carefully. “I like the way things are.”
I knew that spelled trouble, and I was right. She didn’t say anything else then, but the next time I saw her was the last time we had sex. She looked at me the whole time, like she was asking me again silently, asking if I was sure. It really threw me off. When we finished, she sat up right away and didn’t look at me again.
Buttoning her blouse, she muttered, “You miserable shit. You’re going to have to choose, and it isn’t going to be me.”
I stayed quiet. Why should I have to choose? If I did, though, she was obviously right.
When I saw her at the door the next morning, my hope that things were alright broke to the front of my mind, waving its arms frantically, pretending it had won. Francesca pulled off her suede gloves one finger at a time, then stepped inside.
“I considered phoning you, but I thought I’d better see you instead.”
“You don’t have to call.” I moved toward her to put my arms around her waist.
She turned aside, started to raise her hand, and said, “No, that’s not why I’m here, Aaron. I’m ending this.”
“What the hell? I thought you liked the way things were!”
“Not entirely!” She looked at me like I was an ass for even saying so. Just like that, it was a fight. “This isn’t fair to any of us, you or me or Natalie.”
“That’s the deal! We get together, we keep it simple, and to hell with the rest!”
“No. Every time I see you, I have to face the fact that you’re going to break my heart some day. You know this, but you don’t care! I’ve found the tipping point, Mister Verlaine. Today’s the day the pain outweighs the fun.” Each time she made a point, she brought her hands up in fists and punched downward, like she was pounding them on a table that wasn’t there.
I saw what she meant then, but I was still pissed. “Oh, great. Just, suddenly, you’ve had enough, and you call it off.”
“I’ve been in Natalie’s shoes. You’re doing the same thing to her that Monty did to me. Do you think she’d put up with it the way I did? You’re not going to do this, so I’ve got to – and damn you for making me be the one. Grow up!”
“Yes! You’ve got it all! I don’t have a plan B. I’m jumping off a cliff, and it’s you with a sharp stick making me do it.”
I couldn’t believe her. I sighed and looked away. She followed my eyes to the picture of you and me in the Poconos and said, “You’re not going to keep her. You’re too easily distracted.”
I was stung. “It’s not like I jumped on the first woman I saw. I didn’t want just anyone, I wanted you. I wasn’t even thinking about anyone else before.”
“Well, it wasn’t me with the doe eyes every day. I was minding my own business, you could have just as well done the same.”
“Don’t forget, you’re the one who came over here.”
“And how long were you going to keep dancing around me at the coffee shop if I hadn’t? Go ahead, lure the lonely lady into your little lust game, everything will be fine. Just fine. “
She reached behind her and opened the door. I was just glaring at her. Before she left, she said, “Next time you’re in a relationship that goes pear shaped, I hope you have the decency to walk away first.”
I called after her, “I’m sorry!” She was running down the steps and said something I couldn’t hear clearly. I grabbed my hair with both hands, breathed in and out slowly, and went to the bedroom to lie down.
That was the first half of one of the worst days of my life. I spent the rest of the day swaying between numbness and panic. All I had to eat before work that night was a bag of popcorn. That was a good thing, it turns out, because I think I would’ve barfed right on the floor behind the bar otherwise.
I was fried like a basket of onion rings when I got home. I couldn’t do anything but get myself in the door and fall on the bed. When the answering machine beeped around two a.m. and I heard Francesca’s voice, I seriously thought I was dreaming about our fight for a second. I’d been replaying it in my mind the whole day. Then I lifted my head and listened helplessly to the same message you were hearing.
“Aaron, you bastard. I’ve been drinking for several hours at another bar, and I have a few other things to tell you before I forget. The drinks didn’t help me forget ....”
You sat there while she went on, staring at me with your wide eyes and tight lips. A few minutes later, I was getting dumped for the second time in the same day. I hope to God I never have to go through that again, especially in the middle of the fucking night! You wouldn’t even let me go rest on the couch, which was humiliation heaped on misery. Luckily, Paulie let me wait until he got back from work the next day before telling him why you kicked me out.
Oh, Nat … how much longer am I going to be hearing Francesca in one ear telling me to grow up, and you in the other ear telling me you’d been waiting for me to fuck up our relationship? That really hurt, you know. It’ll be a while, I guess.
I still love you. That feeling hasn’t gone away. And you might find this hard to believe, but I’m not mad at you for ditching me. I didn’t expect anything less from you. Being without you is going to be hard at first, and being without her will too. I’ll always appreciate the good times we had and all the ways you helped me. If I never find anyone else as great as you, I’ll probably deserve it.
You don’t really never want to see me again, do you? I’m looking for a place near where the store’s going to be. I’ll call you once I move in and give you my number. Maybe when you’re ready to talk to me, we can have lunch some time, or at least a drink. You can tell me about what crazy shit Geraldine’s up to at work, or whatever. Until then, I’ll be thinking about you and wishing you the best. Take care of yourself.
(“Feel U Up” © 1989, Controversy Music ASCAP)