Category Archives: Affair

Cliché in the city


She is in the big city, alone. She finds a popular bar on 7th Ave, one with a crush of young people just off work and ordering Bud Light in bottles. She lays claim to one bar stool, because there is always one solitary bar stool available in a crowd, even in the busiest of bars. This is a universal truth. Some folks think the world shuts out single people, but she actually believes it reserves spaces for them, single spaces that groups are reluctant to fill. 

She orders a Stella and a burger. The Australian tourists next to her are watching the Billy Joel concert on the TV above them. John Mayer is playing guitar, his eyes closed. The bartender takes care of her, with a charming Irish accent and one eye constantly scanning the crowd, anticipating the next order, collecting payment, trying not to drip beer on her sleeve. Thanks, he says with a practiced grin, over and over again, money exchanging hands over her shoulder. Excuse me, his customers apologize to her, as if they are interrupting.

She’s here because she can’t be alone in her hotel room. It’s the silence and the spaces that unnerve her. It’s knowing that Drew is out there somewhere, between the posts, behind the friends they have in common, beyond her barricade, but not unreachable.

Maybe it’s knowing she’s getting too old to be this cliché. Maybe it’s that she’s reached the age at which she feels invisible to anyone who doesn’t know her, who didn’t once truly know her.

This must get easier at some point. 

She gets up quietly, smiles at the bartender, and heads back to the hotel.

photo credit: ek2014

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Secret space


When you consider that she was the one who imagined it, and that she could have created any number of comfortable, plush, or natural settings, it’s the strangest room. There’s a narrow corridor with a window at the end, and she’s always hurrying down it, toward the last door on the right, as if someone is chasing her or someone might see her. When she enters, she quickly closes the door and locks it.

All of the furniture is along one wall. There’s an old brown couch, maybe leather, though she’s not sure if it’s genuine or some kind of vinyl imitation. It’s cool to the touch, not particularly inviting. Butting up next to the arm of the couch is a black metal, four-drawer filing cabinet that never opens. She thinks it might be empty. Sometimes there is a small, high window, opposite the couch. Other times, the room is windowless. It’s always quiet.

This secret space is where she used to go to be alone in her head. It was meant to be a safe zone, where she could slow her breath and still her mind and visualize the future. Later, this was where she went when she wanted to talk with Drew. This is where honest and soulful things were said, things that were deceptively simple, that still resonate.

The room feels hollow now, without his voice to welcome her, without the intensity of those conversations to give the room warmth and texture. She still goes, leaning with her back against the door to make sure no one followed, listening for him, to see if he has missed it too and come back.

How can he not feel her heart breaking?

She desperately needs a new door to open, but the corridor is quiet.

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The reality of silence


Silence is heavy, and not quiet at all. At rare moments, when she is home on her own, almost afraid to breathe for fear of breaking the spell, there is a welcome stillness. But it is not silent. There is a tinny buzz in her ears, and the ticking of the clock is the heartbeat of a house that creaks and groans, as if stretching cramped limbs. The sound of a descending airplane is overhead, the crunch of tires on loose gravel is in the alley, a child is calling from a backyard somewhere down the street. The rain taps the window and dances on the roof, rivulets finding their way into the bathroom upstairs, steadily dripping onto the marmoleum floor. When it stops, the birds are so cheerful, she wishes she could join them, landing lightly on the branch outside her window, simultaneously eyeing the earth and the sky.

There is a steady stream of chatter in her head, a radio channel she wishes she could turn off. She tries not to think of Drew, she tries not to think of Jake. Nothing seems right, everything is off balance, the road ahead looks empty and grey, like the sky. How not to curl up into a ball and close her eyes, tuning the world out, keeping everyone at bay? How not to give in to the uncertainty and lose her drive, her determination to live fully, to live better? This is the anti-depressant zone, where she can choose to numb herself and force her body and mind to level out, the way her friends do with their knock-off, covered-by-insurance-if-you’re-willing-to-accept-the-diagnosis drugs. Or its the place where she gives up, where she gives in to the pain and despair that make her feel alive and alone, alert and yet emotionally unavailable, where she makes herself small on the couch and watches the rain fall, tucking the stillness in around her like a quilt.

The silence is welcome. But she doesn’t know what to do with it.

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Today, she is picking herself up, dusting herself off. Mulling a setback. Contemplating progress.

“And how does that make you feel?”

Jake’s answer to the therapist’s question yesterday wasn’t fair. None of this was really about him, he said. He really couldn’t do anything about it. He had shrugged.

Frustration had overwhelmed her. Why was she here with someone who could so easily throw up his hands, who didn’t want to be in charge, who would rather reserve the right to sit back, watch it all unfold, and then blame her. Her reaction was over the top, but she couldn’t hold it back. She felt angry about the suggestion that he was the victim, that there was nothing he could do, that this was all her fault, her decision.

Grow a pair. Sayeed said the words for her, with a question mark, so that she didn’t have to own them. Barely concealing a toxic mix of guilt and glee, she had watched him wrestle with this.

And then Sayeed named something else for her, saying it before she could recognize the shift in dynamics: judgement. Yes, of course she felt judged, she said. Jake was judging her, he was judging her, she was judging herself.

Somehow, this broke through. This word, powering a fresh rush of emotion, ripped the plastic sheeting separating the present and past rooms in her head, pushing her through a divide. As she struggled to focus, she sensed something moving in a recessed corner. She felt it heating her skin, accelerating her heartbeat, changing her vision. Something deeply buried—a box, the box, had been nudged and the answers living inside were vibrating.

She couldn’t get to it in time. Just as it began to take shape, as she felt she might reach it, as Sayeed’s face lit up in recognition and he leaned forward a little in his chair, as Jake let out a breath—their time was up. Session over. Back to work, to clients, to kids, her life framed above it, like a porch built over a place where flowers had once grown.

But the box had opened and she had recognized its contents—ragged keepsakes of accusation, aggression, derision, contempt, neglect. Memories buried or cast off, scars preserved.

Judgement shapes everything about us, leaving a patina, a shine, a bruise. It scalds us, freezes us, numbs us, nips at our heels, and locks us out. Or in. Sometimes it locks us in.

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Self fulfilling prophecies


We imagine the worst to protect ourselves. Because it helps if pain comes from us rather than someone else. Because it hurts less if we acknowledge it personally, bowing our heads slightly as it comes closer, holding still until it passes. We hurt ourselves first because there is satisfaction in jerking the opportunity away from others.

Sometimes this feels smart. By anticipating the worst, we can lessen disappointment, neutralize surprise, and reduce the impact of a sting or a direct punch. We are wise in our understanding that life has its ups, but it has more downs. Recognizing the potential for failure keeps us from feeling the full impact of slamming into the wall.

We are good at this, expecting people to reject us. We excel at anticipating their disappointment, and at predicting the point at which someone will give up and simply walk away. We call this intuition. We call it foresight. What we often overlook is a self fulfilling prophecy.

What if all the energy we spend imagining the worst outcomes were spent instead on imagining the best? What is the point of imagination if we aren’t using it to our advantage? Is it a naive view, too vulnerable a position, a fool’s folly to bet on success instead of failure, to conjure opportunity instead of a dead end, to envision someone accepting versus rejecting us?

Of course not. It’s just much harder.

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The art of tension


The last text she received from Drew featured his silhouette. He was driving somewhere, north she thought, though it wasn’t possible to know. It was light outside his window, with a blur of green grass and some kind of white building in the distance. She kept pulling it up on her phone, looking at his serious face, wanting him to turn to the camera and smile, guessing at what he’d been thinking when he sent it.

She’d sent him a picture first. He’d asked several times, for the kind of photo always getting politicians in trouble in the news, the kind that suggests a weakness, a shortcoming. She had always refused, although she knew what she would send. Something sensual in simplicity and defensible as art, representative of a desire he might recognize as his own. A suggestion of where he might place his hand. This was something she understood well, foreplay from a distance, the art of tension, the crafting of a good story.

The picture had been snapped inadvertently. She’d taken her phone out to capture the morning skyline from the bridge. Traffic was barely moving, the cars in front of her crawling toward a merge at the highway onramp. The day was grey, the soft grey that comes from a lifting fog and the promise of a clear sky above. The water was smooth and reflective, and the port was quiet. With one hand on the steering wheel, she was attempting to center the phone when she’d fumbled and nearly dropped it, an audible click responding to a finger closing around the case. When she turned it over, there it was, a thumbnail in the corner of the camera, soft and utterly compelling.

Something about the image dissolved her resistance. It captivated her, the evidence, so obvious and real she could almost feel him in the car beside her, reaching over, insistent and possessive. It felt so very, very easy. So honest and legitimate to send it, so unreasonable to keep it from him. If it didn’t generate an equal and proportional response, if she didn’t feel a vibration in the air between them, she deserved every pound of backlash she’d risk to reach him.

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The tipping point

crying woman

Silence can be terrifying. The void opens and, though the span looks like something she can jump, the darkness below seems to be waiting. Breathing.

She knew she was in love with Drew, and yet it was the one thing she couldn’t say to Jake. She could tell him she wasn’t having an affair. Others might argue the semantics. She had crossed lines. But she hadn’t passed the sign that says no turning back.

She couldn’t tell Jake what she could barely tell herself. She was in love in the most disastrous way possible with someone with more scars and bigger fears than her own. She was willing to risk everything that was safe and recognizably good about her life for the uncertainty and martyrdom of Drew, an idea so humiliating and immature, it embarrassed her. This need to believe in a soulmate, a pre-destined tragedy, this pain was undoing her. But it had reached the tipping point. The place where emotion weighs more than logic and takes over the argument.

In a rare moment of courage, she asked Jake for a separation. She waited until the idea was no longer a shock to either of them, until Jake had grown weary enough to think it might be his own idea. Jake said he felt relieved, that at least they could move forward. If not with her, then without.

But reality set in quickly, logic rushing in with the kinds of questions you should be able to answer when you’ve made up your mind. Instead of feeling emboldened, her heart sank. She had expected to know, to feel certain, to be propelled out of the house, out of their life. But she wasn’t sure.

How could she move out? There was no money for separate lives. She needed to be close to still be a daily fixture in the girl’s lives, at least if she didn’t want to start a fight. If she wanted to keep them in their school, among their friends, in the upper middle class neighborhood she could hardly afford on her own, she’d have to stay. And Jake couldn’t keep the house on his own for long. He’d have to sell.

The uncertainty was overwhelming. So she started with the easy things, the things she could change without really leaving. She told her closest friends. She separated their phones, and she changed her email address. She began to look at the cost of renting an apartment. She told her mother, who listened and tried so hard not to fret aloud, it was palpable. She considered moving to the guest bedroom but Jake objected. He didn’t want to have to explain it to the kids until there was a real plan in place. He told his parents, who were furious with her. And when Jake told them he hadn’t given up, they were mad at him too.

And then she cried.

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