Whatever happened, you don’t deserve that
(This story picks up at the very end of "The Weight Loss Surgery Support Group, Part 1." The last paragraphs appear here to set the tone).
I had written, “Look Liz, stop, just stop, I’m already involved with somebody and I've heard way too much from you, so I'm shutting things down.”
"Fucking bastard! I tell you everything and that's the thanks I get! Not even a cup of coffee! Well fuck you! Don't you want to hear about when Mickey and Marci and I had a . . . ."
I closed the chat window and blocked Liz. Enough was too much. At that moment my Facebook Messenger flashed again. Two IMs on one night, that’s unique. Then I looked at the name. Marci. We’re FB friends but we never IMed. What other surprises could one night of blizzards hurl at me?
“JASON ARE YOU TALKING TO A WOMAN NAMED LIZ NOW?” the message screamed.
“Hi Marci, as a matter of fact, yeah, we were IMing but we're done. What’s up?”
“OMG OMG OMG. OH SHIT. THAT FUCKING BITCH.”
I paused at Marci’s explosion in type. The language didn’t surprise me so much as the timing, the sudden connection to Liz, who, if Liz were on the level, had formed an exceptionally close relationship with Marci. But what did I know about women’s lives when men aren’t around? I know nothing.
“This sounds serious and not something we should thrash out online. Do you want to talk about it? I can give you a call?”
“Please do that, I’m going to start breaking things if I don’t talk about this.”
I closed the chat window and signed off of Facebook. My eyes burned from the hours of frenzied typing, but on a blizzard-wracked Friday night, Marci wanted to talk, so we’d talk.
“Hey,” I said after she picked up.
“Hi, Jason, I’m glad you could call.”
“You sounded distressed so here I am to listen.” I had a lot of questions for Marci, but I remembered the first rule of our relationship: In a crisis, keep the focus on her. Don’t give advice, don’t shift any of the focus to me, keep the ears open and the mouth shut.
“I don’t know where to start. I’ve been an idiot, a total fucking idiot and she played me for a fool.”
I remembered Marci getting so angry in the past that she broke plates and kicked walls. This moment sounded close to wall kicking.
“I’m sorry to hear that. You don’t deserve that treatment, whatever happened.”
“I was lonely and she took advantage of that. What’d she tell you about us, at the group?”
I thought about sending Marci the transcript I saved of the chat, all 30 single-spaced pages of it, but that sounded like a good way to blast a firehose of gasoline on to a bonfire, so I skipped that option.
“She talked about the weight loss group and how much she got out of it. All the acceptance on body issues, how you were such a great facilitator and made everybody feel comfortable.”
“That’s soooo nice of her. She’s got a big mouth, you know, anything else?” The edge of hysteria faded into exhausted but pointed questions.
“You want the whole story, blow by blow, Marci? We’ll be talking until dawn.”
“The whole story at some point, but for now just highlights. It might be better if we did the rest when we’re more awake.”
“If the T’s running I could come over tomorrow, bagels and coffee in hand, like your big shaggy Saint Bernard.”
“I would appreciate that. But I can’t wait that long for some details. What else did she say? I’ll never get to sleep if I don’t know what I’m dealing with here.”
“OK, the big picture. Liz talked about a body-acceptance session that got, uh, sexual. That she was having trouble and you helped her out. Helped her have an orgasm.” My face turned beet red telling Marci this. I tried to stay as clinical as possible to avoid any sense of how the story repelled me and turned me on. “As far as I could tell, this only happened once. I didn’t ask for details.”
I heard Marci breathing, thinking. “Anything else?”
“Mickey, somebody you met at a business school event.”
“Marci, what you do with him or this Liz or anybody is your business. I never wanted her to tell me anything. If it involves Laurel, that's when I need to know. Liz is seductive. She pulls you in. She asked me questions about you but I didn’t tell her anything. I don’t know her and what happened between you and me in our marriage is our business, not hers.”
“Anything else about Mickey? I’m sorry to ask.”
“Well, yes. You had a memorable first date and you kept hitting it off. Then there was something about you giving me a special kiss when I dropped off Laurel after her weekends with me. Want me to share the details?”
I could sense her embarrassment. “You weren’t supposed to know that. I'm so sorry.”
“Sorry that I know all this or sorry that you did it to me? Is it OK if I ask a question or two?” I knew this broke the iron rule of talking to Marci on serious matters, but I couldn’t help myself. Too much information, too many memories flooded my synapses. “Never mind,” I added, “I’m a big boy. That’s the past.”
“I’m sorry on both counts. Yes, you can ask, since this all involves you.”
“I didn’t know any of this four hours ago, not Liz, not Mickey, not anything. How could this possibly involve me?”
“Did Liz say anything else about me and her, or Mickey?”
“No, but she kept asking weird questions about sexual consent. I didn’t get it, but I told her you were always upfront about yes and no in our relationship. Before we knew each other? I don't know. You sounded more sinned against than sinning, but that was a long time ago. The longer we wrote, the more pissed off I got at her. I wasn’t going to say anything about our relationship. And that pissed her off. I got the feeling she had some kind of agenda.”
“Did she talk about us, I mean, you and me?”
“Huh, that. She said a lot, but nothing I hadn’t heard in couples therapy. It really hurt to hear about our sex life from somebody else. How dissatisfied you always were. I guess the past is never past, is it? I felt Liz was egging me on, trying to get a rise from me when she said you said what a bad lay I was, how I couldn’t get you to come.” Now I felt more awake, the bile rising of a thousand sleepless nights in our marital bed now the source of Marci’s romps with Mickey. I had moved on with another woman who perfectly liked me, in and out of bed, and I didn’t need Marci’s validation. So I told myself, anyway.
“That bitch. That was all confidential. I was so stupid to tell that to her and . . . "
"You told the whole group!" I snapped. "You made me sound like the biggest jerk-off in the world! Next time just publish it in the Boston Globe."
"These issues in the group were so sensitive and we all agreed with the ground rules of confidentiality. I feel so betrayed.”
“That's funny, Marci, I feel the same way now. Anyway, I’m not talking to Liz anymore so that’s done. I suppose she’s not in the group. It hurts, but we can both move on.”
“There’s a lot more to it.”
“Oh, at the end she started to tell me about something involving the three of you, but I cut her off.”
She started crying.
“Marci, are you OK? I’m worried about you now. What’s going on?”
She sniffled. “I just feel so stripped and humiliated. You have no idea. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
“One last question. I’ve gotta ask, how did you find out we were chatting?”
“Liz texted me to say you two were talking and it was a very interesting conversation.”
“Crazy multitasker. Using me to get back at you? What’s her game?”
“She’s a vindictive, angry bitch. I can’t tell you how much I regret meeting her.”
“She’s not out of the picture?”
“Unfortunately not. Maybe not for a long time. I’m exhausted. Fill you in on the details tomorrow, 1 pm?”
“That sounds good, I’ll be there. And if you need me to shovel the sidewalk, hell, I guess I could to that, too.”
“I think I can handle you doing that. And Jason?”
“Umm?” My eyes were drooping.
“Thanks for listening. I’m sorry you got dragged into this.”
“We’ll sort things out when I get over there. Shabbat shalom.”
Bagels, coffee and sympathy
Laceworks of ice, like spiderwebs, covered my apartment windows when I finally dragged myself out of a deep exhausted sleep at 11 a.m. The night’s shocks clawed back into my consciousness as I burrowed deeper under the blankets. Liz and Marci and what they said about each other and how I somehow fit into their tangle pushed out thoughts of staying in bed. Marci said she’d explain the mysteries, all I had to do was fight my way through the snowdrifts of Boston from Somerville to Brookline. That sounded like a small price to pay for enlightenment. If the explanation included some erotic moments about my ex, I wouldn’t kick that out of bed.
I looked at photos of me with my South Texas chula, Miriam, from my trip to McAllen in October. We connected strongly after 30 years of no contact, picking up and going way beyond the puppy dog eyes we made at each other in high school. She was planning her first trip to Boston to see me, so I reminded myself of the past that had become the future, and shook off the other past that I wanted to leave in the past. Thoughts of my hands stroking her long black-silver hair warmed me, my own Señorita Godiva who packed her special heat whenever our bodies touched—and that’s in addition to the heat she packed in her bulletproof SUV in Texas.
I slid my feet, covered in wool socks, into my heaviest boots, jeans tucked into the boot tops, then layered on a wool shirt, sweater, Timberland coat, gloves, knit maroon scarf, pullover cap with a longhorn on it, shouldered a backpack with a paperback to read on the long haul from Davis Square to Boston Common, where I’d switch from the Red Line to the Green Line to Brookline Village. After that I’d slip and slide to the house Marci and I used to share. MBTA alerts reported all lines were running, but slowly. I settled into the clanky creaky antique T car, flipped open the latest Michael Connelly police procedural and the white world slipped by. The temperature was 10 degrees, the sky like the bottom of a cast-iron pot, blocking the sun in a noonday dusk.
I stocked up on coffee, bagels and a box of donuts for good measure at Dunkin’ Donuts, then picked my way through the snow drifts to the house. The walkway remained unshoveled.
“Delivery service, your Saturday brunch is here,” I told Marci when she opened the door.
“I could use all of that,” she said.
“Want me to do the sidewalk before I come in? You don’t want to add a slip and fall lawsuit to your life at the moment,” I said.
“Would you? That would be so sweet. You don’t mind?”
“I need the exercise, and anyway, I’ve done it before. Just save a chocolate donut for me.” She took the package from me, I grabbed the shovel by the door and set to work, just like old times, but this time I did it for human kindness, not a marital mandate.
After 10 minutes the walkway to the street emerged, like a channel carved between the foot-high walls of fresh snow on either side. The sweat pooled under my knit cap and I could feel the dampness inside the gloves. Coffee and a nosh sounded like a very good idea.
Marci had set the kitchen table with cups, plates, bagels, lox (a surprise!) and the cream cheese spread we always liked. The homey feeling brought back good memories from the past. Some of them existed. Marci looked raw and vulnerable in a way she never had in our post-divorce interactions. She kept up appearances, partly from her high-profile work at Harvard Business School, partly because she loved looking desirable and put together, and partly, so I said in my paranoid moments, to rub my nose in her confident new sexuality. But today she only wanted to excite my salivary glands with our brunch—a treat I never gave myself. A shapeless Cornell sweatshirt hid her figure, with a scrunchy holding back her hair. I could see the roots peeking through the subtle red coloring job. Her natural copper curls had faded into auburn and were heading on to gunmetal grey. A wave of tenderness washed against me. We were both older and that showed.
“I forgot how exhausting that snow can be to shovel, but it’s a good workout,” I said, sipping my coffee. A pack of Splenda and whole milk—she remembered how I liked coffee.
“You always put your back into it,” Marci said, nibbling on a bagel. The food nudged the color back into her ashen complexion. Munching and chatting amiably delayed us from the visit’s purpose, and we nurtured those moments between the arrival and the leap into the abyss. Good bagels and lox can do that. My head spun again, as we sat at the kitchen table with the cat-clawed top, where so many moments in our marriage played out, far from the bed of occasional affection.
“So here we are. I get the feeling some ghosts are flying around here in the house,” I said, blowing on my coffee. “I’m ready to listen when you’re ready to talk.”
Marci gazed at the clock on the wall, ticking the seconds away, as if she wanted to turn time back, or at least stop the ticking that dragged us into our futures.
“I wish they were ghosts. They’re not. They’re real. I'd like to pound a stake through Liz’s heart. She fucked everything up. And I thought we were going to be friends. I get lonely, too. It’s tough at our age.”
“Tell me about it. Male friendship is just about impossible. It takes months of negotiation to get together with another guy.”
“The dynamic is so different for women. We get much closer but the drama comes out a lot more. I remember how you and your friends interacted. Getting together to watch the Super Bowl was a big bonding event with the pizza and beer.”
We were silent, after tripping down memory lane as far as we dared. Those memories of her during the separation with her post-surgery body flaunted in front of me still stirred thoughts of lust and shame. I didn’t want to stir those ashes into glowing embers.
“I still can’t believe what came out last night,” I finally said, shifting the conversation to the present. "Liz was so seductive. She could keep the conversation going on and on, getting weirder as we went along. I don’t know what she really wanted with me.”
Marci stirred her coffee. “She definitely wanted information, based on the questions she slipped in. She’s very sneaky. And she might have seriously wanted to meet you. Your name came up in our meetings as a catch. Cute single guy in his 40s, good provider, gainfully employed, no tattoos.”
I pursed my lips in honest surprise. From what Liz said, Marci had described me as the template for human evil. Maybe she only told me what she wanted me to hear to get a rise from me.
“I’ll take that description as a compliment. Thank you,” I said, reaching out to pat her hand lightly. She didn’t move it away. The warmth felt good against my still-chilled fingers. Our hands lingered together, an echo of what we had, now settled into support for this moment on a post-blizzard afternoon in Brookline.
“You’re welcome, Jason. Now before I start crying again, let me tell you what happened and why you’re here.”
Copyright (c) 2019 by Direct Seer.