After the breakup I was lonely, so I started a reading series and invited writers I wanted to hang out with. I paid for their travel and took them to dinner and let them sleep at my house. I invited people because they were good writers or good drinkers or both. I didn't invite people I wanted to sleep with. Only one person ended up in my bedroom and I hadn't invited that person with the intention of letting him in my bedroom and had been surprised when at the end of the first night we ended up there and then the second night, too. I didn't sleep with him because I was still in love with Adam, and probably the man I'd left Adam for, also. This was my problem, falling in love with more than one person at a time. I didn't understand how other people didn't. Why I seemed to be the only one. But now I was estranged from both men and I probably could have fallen in love with the third man, the one who ended up in my bedroom twice, if he had given any indication such a thing were possible. But he'd just ended a long-term relationship. Neither of us was in any shape to fall in love. Also, he was a good friend, someone I was genuinely fond of and cared about, and I didn't want anything to change that.
Joan was the only writer I invited who I thought I might sleep with. I'd known of Joan for years, but had only met her six months before at a small writers' conference in Buffalo. We'd both gone on a whim. Neither of us was on a panel or scheduled to read. My loneliness was a motivating factor in much of my decision making that year. Several of the male writers I knew were attending the conference. I was looking for a woman I could share a room and hang out with. Joan had recently sent me a Facebook message to compliment a story I'd written. I'd read a story by her in the same journal a few weeks before and wrongly attributed the male person in the story to the man I'd left Adam for. I knew they were good friends. I thought they might be more. I think half my motivation for befriending Joan was to find out what, if anything, had happened between them, and if she knew what was going on with him now (he and I weren't speaking at this point). The other half was because she drank and smoked and appeared to be wild in a way I wasn't but wished I were.
At the conference we became fast friends. Joan is the kind of person this can happen with: completely open and unpretentious and warm, the girl everyone confides in. I barely talked to my male friends. I only wanted to talk to Joan. I was enthralled; captivated. We went to breakfast and she ordered a beer and coffee. And after breakfast: a Bloody Mary and cigarettes. I liked her for all the reasons I (thought I) disliked members of my family (read: my mother). I thought we might sleep together in Buffalo, but we didn't. Partially I attributed this to my shyness.
Six months later I invited Joan to my reading series. I'd never been with a woman, though throughout my life there had been a handful of women—my boarding school roommate, a coworker at Victoria's Secret, a woman I became friends with when our daughters were both young enough to attend weekly Story Times at Border's, another writer acquaintance—on whom I'd harbored secret crushes. Unlike the other women, Joan was completely open about her sexuality; she told me about a woman she had dated, and I got the feeling she had slept with many more. I wasn't completely sure about the chemistry between us. Part of me thought maybe it was the possibility of sleeping with Joan I was most attracted to. (Though, also, there was the thought that if she seduced me, I would not fight her, but would go along with whatever she presented as options.) I did not think there was a chance I would fall in love with her. But I liked being around her. I liked being the focus of her attention. And the possibility of everything else...
I was disappointed, then, when she emailed me a few weeks before the reading to say she was bringing a man with her. (No one else (aside from one highly-respected writer who asked if his "partner"—a less well known female writer—could read with him) had brought a significant other with them.) Had she asked if this were okay, I might have said no (though, who's kidding who? Probably not). But she didn't ask. Instead she told me her new boyfriend, a French man named Jean-Luc or Jean-Claude or something along those lines, was eager to meet me too. I looked for a picture of him on her Facebook. He was tall and thin with feminine facial features. I wasn't sure how to interpret his alleged excitement at the prospect of meeting me. He wasn't my type and I had no interest in sharing Joan with him. (Besides, I didn't want my first time with a woman to involve a man also. I wanted it to be a private moment between the woman and myself only.)
Then, a couple days before Jean-Luc was due to fly to the states, a volcano in Iceland erupted. Planes making cross-continental flights were grounded. Joan was devastated. She sent me depressed texts. She was worried Jean-Luc wouldn't make it through the ash. Secretly I was elated. I started paying attention to the news, following the volcanic activity, praying for continued ash. Then, the day Jean-Luc was to depart, the ash settled, and his flight was given permission for takeoff, and I set aside any fantasies I had about Joan.
Two days later, Jean-Luc and Joan were at my house. It was Friday. The reading was on Saturday. The other readers weren't due in until the next day. It was April and the weather had started to warm. We sat out on my deck and opened a bottle of wine and smoked cigarettes. Joan and I sat in one chair together, while Jean-Luc alternately stood and sat opposite us. He was, I suppose, charming in the way people from foreign countries often are merely by virtue of being foreign. He had a thick accent and I had to pay extra close attention to him in order to understand what he was saying, which sort of annoyed me. He had almost immediately compared me to an actress I find unattractive, and Joan, sensing my displeasure, had quickly argued against the comparison. And for a second I again wished she'd come alone, and allowed myself to speculate at the possibilities of three nights alone with her in my house.
We had not been talking long when Jean-Luc suddenly and fairly dramatically, turned toward me and asked if I were in love. I sat very still for a moment, considering the question. My initial instinct was to laugh. It seemed a rather cliché question for a Frenchman to ask. My second instinct was to wonder if he sensed my Sapphic feelings for Joan, and, if so, if they would bother or excite him. But then, as I was thinking, Joan suddenly slid her arm around my shoulder and gave it a little squeeze.
"Of course she is," she said, and I remember her smiling, and perhaps even winking at me. "Aren't you, sweetie?"
"Yes," I said, nodding my head at Joan rather than Jean-Luc, forgetting it was he who'd posed the original question.
"Oh?" Jean-Luc said, coming to sit straight across from me, and his interest both stimulated and unnerved me. "Tell me."
It was then that I had to think again a moment, to piece together what I'd told Joan, so that what I revealed now would not conflict with what I'd told her since we'd last seen each other, six months earlier in Buffalo. Then I'd been in a state of despair over the man I'd left Adam for, the man who was a friend of hers as well. And she, like everyone else with whom I consulted on the subject at the time, had advised me to let him go, to move on, as if it were a choice for me to make, as if he had given me the option of a real love affair, rather than merely an illusory one. In the months since Buffalo I had stopped speaking to friends about the man, allowing them to assume I was no longer in contact with him. I wanted everyone (Adam included) to believe all my emotions and efforts were going toward getting Adam back. At the same time, I told myself that as long as Adam was still seeing someone else, it was okay for me to keep texting and emailing with the other man. (In turn, I did not tell the other man I was still seeing Adam, however sporadically. For all I knew, the other man was living with a woman or seeing a woman or sleeping with multiple women.) Adam was sleeping with me, but he was also telling me we were never going to get back together. (He was also, "officially," if Facebook is the official authority on such matters, "in a relationship" with someone else.) Sometimes, when pushed, he would follow that up with, "at least no time soon." There were no guarantees.
So I told Jean-Luc about Adam and my almost yearlong efforts to win him back: how we'd broken up not once, but twice; how the first time had lasted only a month or two, how this time it'd been almost a year; how he'd begun seeing someone else almost immediately; how I'd driven to see him on Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day; how I'd spent a month making him a Jeffrey Brown inspired comic book of our relationship for Christmas, sent him a hundred handwritten Valentines; how our roles had reversed, how now when we were together, I hung on Adam's every word, waited for him to allow me to place a hand on his arm, his leg; how his resistance of me was painful and heartbreaking and terribly erotic; how the sex could be described similarly.
He asked when I'd last seen him and I told him I'd spent two nights with him at a writers' conference in Denver three weeks earlier, but how he'd refused to talk to me since then, how he hadn't acknowledged my birthday or returned my call when our dog was missing, how he was still seeing the other woman, how I was devastated. (I didn't mention the other man. I kept that devastation to myself.)
Jean-Luc seemed interested. He wanted to call Adam and speak to him. I told him that wasn't a good idea. Adam wouldn't answer or Adam would answer but not speak. He asked how far of a drive it was to the town where Adam lived. I said six hours. He wanted to drive there. I attributed this interest in Adam and my love life to the wine Jean-Luc had drunk, and to the jetlag from which he was still suffering. I figured in the morning our plans would be forgotten.
I went to bed alone and thought about Adam, how he was probably with the girl he'd been seeing since we'd broken up eleven months ago. I got out of bed to find my phone and brought it back with me to text the man I'd left Adam for. The man lived in another state and we had not seen each other in ten months or talked on the phone in nine. We talked almost daily via text messages and emails and it was hard to know what I felt for him. It seemed like loving him was irrelevant but in some strange way he felt for a time like my only friend and he was for that same time the one person I could count on to talk to me (excluding the brief lapses when he wouldn't – for days and, once, weeks at a time—speak to me at all). There had been times I had convinced myself, or almost convinced myself, I could go on living like this indefinitely, ie, loving and communicating with a man I never saw. Mostly, though, I was lonely. And the romance of the idea—of speaking to this man whose intellect and writing I admired greatly and who seemed, if he was being honest with me, and I had no way of knowing if he was, to live a mostly hermetic life—was failing to be enough to counteract my loneliness, and may have, in fact, been serving to increase it. I was desperate for someone to touch me. I was never going to sit on a couch and watch TV with this man. I had waited a year. I still did not know where he lived or with whom. I was not angry with him but I no longer felt a responsibility to him. I thought a year was enough of one's lifetime to set aside.
I texted the man to ask him what he was doing. He texted back that he was not doing anything. He asked if Joan were here and I said yes and I said that I wished he were here, too, and he did not respond to that so I said "goodnight" and he said "night" and I set my phone on the table next to my bed and went to sleep.
In the morning Joan came down in a t-shirt and I made her coffee and tried not to make it obvious I was studying the outline of her breasts. I had overnight given up the idea of being with her, or of being with her that weekend. She and Jean-Luc were getting along or not getting along and either way they were engrossed in one another and I was supposed to be obsessed with Adam. We smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and waited for Jean-Luc to come down.
In a couple hours my friend James would arrive so I told Joan about James. James was a writer also and would be reading with Joan and another woman at the reading that evening. Adam and I had known James almost as long as we'd known each other and the first time I broke up with Adam it was because I thought I was in love with James. It was embarrassing how often I had misunderstood love or mislabeled it. I regretted the way I had addressed and handled my emotions during that time because nothing much had come of them and now Adam and James and I were no longer able to be friends as we'd once been. If Adam and I were to get back together, I would have to end my friendship with James and I didn't want to end my friendship with James. I wanted to continue to be friends with James and the man I'd broken up with Adam for the second time, though I did not want Adam to remain friends with the woman he was seeing, and would not have understood his wanting to.
I had a bad habit of making my life about the people who were no longer in it.
I briefly wondered how this might be different if I fell in love with a woman rather than a man, if Adam would be more permissive and understanding. In the past—when we had discussed the possibility of my dating a woman—he had said that he would be, but I thought he was wrong, I thought he believed that because it had not yet happened. I thought if it did, if I truly fell in love with a woman, he would discover that he was as jealous and insecure and threatened by it as if I'd fallen in love with another man.
I tried to picture myself in love with another woman. I looked at Joan and imagined us going on weekly dates, making out in the back of a movie theater, waking up beside one another on Sunday morning. I had the sense that it would fizzle out quicker than with a man. I don't know why I thought this. Maybe it was because I'd never actually been with a woman. I still had a hard time believing it was possible to love a woman as a man. I couldn't picture myself sobbing into a towel on my bathroom floor for an entire summer over a woman, for example.
I wanted to ask Joan about this, about dating a woman and a man simultaneously, if it ever worked out, but by then Jean-Luc was coming downstairs. Right away he wanted to know how far of a drive it was to Adam's. He was still keen on going. He wanted to leave Sunday morning. He thought he could convince Adam to take me back. He had no idea how angry Adam still was. But they went ahead and changed their flights. Adam was two hours from the Chicago airport. They'd fly out of O'Hare early Monday morning. I was supposed to meet James in Chicago Monday night. He was doing a reading with mutual friends. The man I'd left Adam for the second time was going to be in Chicago too. He and I had discussed the possibility of seeing each other also. "Can you be chill?" he had asked me in a recent text. I didn't like the implication of the question, the way it portrayed me as the (emotionally) unpredictable woman. I thought it was an unfair portrayal. I thought given the circumstances, I'd shown remarkable level-headedness and restraint. I could have, for instance, shown up at a number of public events at which I knew he would be present. I could have forced him to see me. Part of me wanted to tell him I was still seeing my ex. I thought it might do his ego some good to know he wasn't the only one with whom I was uttering (or in his case, texting) the words, "I love you." (Or the only one with whom I meant it.)
Sunday morning Joan, Jean-Luc and I showered and packed our bags. James had agreed to stay home with my daughter. Her father was coming to stay with her the next day after school. I was still supposed to meet James in Chicago Monday night. It seemed ironic I'd once left Adam for James and now here I was leaving James to watch my daughter so I could run off and see Adam. (Was it irony at play also that now that James had made himself available to me, I no longer viewed him as a romantic figure in my life? Was the unavailability of a person my chief attraction to him/her? Had Adam not become immediately more attractive once he began seeing someone else? Would I have felt so painfully in love with or infatuated with or obsessed with the man I left Adam for, had we actually dated, rather than tortured one another with a self-inflicted separation for eleven and a half months? And what did all this say about me and my chances of ever sustaining any sort of "normal" relationship in the future?)
On the way to Illinois, Joan sat upfront with me while Jean-Luc slept in the back. He was still suffering from jetlag, or his enthusiasm was waning or both. I hadn't called or emailed Adam. He had no way of knowing we were coming. Similarly we had no way of knowing if he'd be out of town or home or alone. Our only plan was for Joan to knock on his door, convince him to go out for a drink. I couldn't remember if Adam had ever met Joan; if he'd know who she was when he opened the door.
The closer we got to Adam's exit, the more anxious I became. My heart was racing and I was sweating through my shirt. I'd felt similarly on Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day. I hadn't know then either if Adam would agree to see me. I'd driven to see the man I'd left Adam for twice without him seeing me. Each of those two times I'd spent a night in a hotel in the city in which he lived and driven back home in the morning by myself. Each time there'd been some sort of lame excuse: an injured ankle or a late night at work. Each time I'd continued to text him the following day, same as normal. I overlooked his idiosyncrasies because I had plenty of my own. And, again, the romance of the situation, the self-imposed Romeo and Juliet like separation, was heady and odd and steeped in importance. Or so it seemed at the time.
Adam had never let me down. Until I broke up with him the second time. The therapist I saw after that had a field day with my childhood. It was so easy to blame for every bad decision I'd made since. It was textbook stuff. I wasn't a bad person. Treating Adam like shit was a reaction to my mother having treated me like shit.
I wasn't a bad person. I sought out drama and tension and tumult because that was what normal was for me. I didn't know what to do in the quiet moments. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. This was why I'd avoided going to a therapist for so long. They were too easy to fool. You paid them to be let off the hook. I wanted someone to tell me I was a bad person, that I, not my mother, was responsible for the shitty choices I'd made, the shitty way I'd treated Adam. So far, the only person willing to tell me that was Adam.
I saw Adam's car in the parking lot beside his house and immediately felt both a sense of relief (he was, at the very least, in town) and an increased sense of anxiety.
Adam would say this was what I sought out: the uncertainty of the situation. I had a hard-on for it. Also it kept me from facing long-term goals, like writing a novel (or getting married). My focus was much more myopic. It was one-day-at-a-time mentality. It was at-9 o'clock-when-my-daughter-goes-to-bed-I'll-drink-and-smoke-and-listen-to-sad-songs-on-my-iPod-in-the-basement-until-I-passout mentality. It was every-happy-person-is-the-same-and-boring-and-every-miserable-person-is-miserable-in-an-interesting-way logic. (Except miserable people are boring, too.)
Jean-Luc had woken up as we turned off the freeway and joined Joan at the door. I ducked down in the front seat, just out of sight. I had broken up with Adam ostensibly for another man but truthfully I had broken up with him because he had an inability to tell me no. Now I was terrified of his no's. Two months earlier he had come to see my daughter for the weekend. We had agreed he'd sleep in the basement, but I hadn't ever really believed he would. Or I had assumed I'd sleep in the basement with him. Instead it was two nights of begging and sobbing and pleading. At one point he left the house, vowing to get a motel room or sleep in his car. I was humiliated. We were both angry. But he held his ground; he slept in the basement, alone. (And as disgusting as it is to admit now (due to the clichéd nature of the admission): I never wanted him more.)
Joan knocked once and waited. Then she knocked again. I could see her face light up, her mouth moving. Joan has a way of making you feel at ease when she's talking to you. It's hard to tell Joan no. It's hard to believe there are people who don't give her everything she wants.
After a minute or two the door closed, Adam went back inside. Joan waved me over.
"He's going to get his shoes and a jacket," Joan said. "He agreed to one drink."
We waited for Adam and then we walked down the sidewalk to the bar on the corner. Adam and I exchanged sheepish grins. He was wearing a sweater I'd bought him. I was pretty sure I'd bought him the pants too. Later I thought about what it'd be like to date a guy whose entire wardrobe had been picked out by his ex-girlfriend. But probably you wouldn't know. It probably wasn't something the new girlfriend ever thought about. It had never occurred to me to wonder who'd picked out James' clothes, for instance, though probably his wife had.
We sat on stools at the bar and ordered drinks. I ordered a pair of whiskey shots. Two shots were the number it took to calm my nerves before a reading. I liked to drink both shots very quickly and then switch to water or Diet Coke. I didn't like the feeling of being drunk outside of my house or around people. We moved from the bar to a table and Joan and Jean-Luc sat on one side and Adam and I sat on the other and I wondered if Adam were worried someone would see us together and tell the other woman he was seeing. We had two drinks each and I did not try to touch Adam's leg or arm and Jean-Luc seemed tired and did not talk much and I was still nervous, despite both shots, and mostly Joan and Adam talked.
After an hour or so had passed we decided we were hungry and that we should go somewhere else for dinner. Adam suggested a place that had good pizza and no one pointed out that he had only agreed to one drink and now he'd had two or three and was agreeing to have dinner with us as well. We walked toward the downtown area and again I wondered if Adam were worried about running into people he knew and I thought he had avoided taking us to the bars he frequented the most but I couldn't be sure since I couldn't remember or did not know which bars those were.
At the pizza place we sat in a booth and Joan and Jean-Luc sat on one side and Adam and I sat on the other. The booth was very large and Adam scooted as far as he could to the left, near the window, away from me, and for some reason, maybe the two whiskey shots, I allowed this to bother me, where normally I would not. Normally my reaction to this would be to scoot closer to Adam but instead I pouted and scooted farther away, all the way to the very edge of the booth so that I could feel the edge underneath me.
I was quiet and Jean-Luc was quiet.
At one point Joan asked Jean-Luc why he was so quiet. "It was your idea to come here," she said.
"I cannot talk all the time, Joan," he said, and threw up his hands as I imagined Frenchmen in movies did all the times, then went back to being quiet.
We ate and Joan and Adam talked. Every once in a while Adam would look my way and I would look down at my plate or at Joan. I was tired of always being the one to try to touch him and to beg him and to scoot closer. The alcohol had made me self-pitying and childlike and stubborn. I was tired of begging.
We finished our food and walked to another bar. I walked slower and slower, purposely lagged behind. Adam let Joan and Jean-Luc walk ahead.
"What happened to you?" he asked me. "Where'd you go?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"I gave up," I said. "I got tired."
Immediately after admitting this, my mood changed again, as though hearing the words spoken aloud had reminded me how hard I had worked for this moment, how much it meant to me.
"Just kidding," I said. I grabbed hold of Adam's arm; smiled. He didn't ask me to remove it. We walked the rest of the way like that. I kept looking for someone I recognized but I only knew a handful of people in town and I didn't see any of them.
The next bar was small: a counter, a couple tables, and a jukebox. It reminded me of the bars back home, the ones in which my mother worked, the ones I'd grown up in. We sat at the bar. I rested my hand on Adam's leg. He didn't move it away like he had in the movie on Thanksgiving. We didn't stay too long, long enough for one drink. Jean-Luc's head was on the bar. He'd barely said a word all night.
It was beginning to rain as we left the bar. Joan and Jean-Luc and I still didn't know where we were going to stay. Our backup plan was sleeping in the car or trying to find a cheap motel at one in the morning.
We were halfway back to his house when Adam asked where we were staying. Joan laughed. "Our car?"
"You can stay with me," Adam said, and his words sort of slurred together. I hadn't noticed how drunk he was at the bar. "My place is pretty messy but I've got an air mattress I can blow up for you."
He always seemed to drink a lot whenever I was around now that we were broken up, and I didn't know if this was because of me—some sort of excuse for his actions, for allowing me into his house, for fucking me—or if this was normal for him now. Probably it was both.
We got our bags out of the trunk and followed Adam upstairs. He lived in the upstairs section of an old house. Joan and Jean-Luc and Adam were all in Adam's office, setting up their bed. I walked across the hall to Adam's room to change into my pajamas. I was worried about what I might find, evidence of the other woman: a toothbrush, pictures of the two of them, a handwritten note. I had seen a photo of her hanging in the office over Adam's desk when I'd stayed on Valentine's Day weekend, and had avoided going in that room because of it.
I had been facing the bed and the wall behind it. I turned now to face the opposite wall, to kneel on the floor and open my bag. Instead I stood perfectly still, hands clenched behind my back, feet shoulder width apart, as one does at a museum or art gallery. Scotch-taped to the wall were thirty-five or forty pieces of paper, each one containing a poem written by Adam. He was in the midst of assembling a collection. A few were familiar to me. I had read them years before when they were originally published in journals and magazines. The rest were new and I slowly walked up and down the length of the wall, trying to skim as many as possible before Adam returned to his room. Each one of them, the old and the new, was in some way about he and I, our relationship, me. They were little snippets of our relationship—drinking in parking lots, smoking on the balcony in the silence that follows broken-up sex, my leaving—each one marked with an under layer of sadness and foreboding. They were dark and beautiful and surreal and I felt for a moment as though I were a character in a Charlie Kaufman movie, watching myself on screen. And then, immediately after that, I began to feel ugly and regretful and ashamed, because, more often than not, when Adam wrote a poem it was about me and when I wrote poems, more often than not, they were about someone else.
I was still standing there when Adam came in the room.
"I didn't know you were coming," he said.
"I know," I said, and moved to my knees, opened my bag, started to undress. I was uncertain what to do next. Every time we'd been together since the breakup there'd been a long period of drinking, intermixed with and followed by a longer period of pleading and begging, before we ended up in bed together. We sat at his kitchen table and drank and played cards and listened to music and very slowly, over the course of an evening, he would allow me into his lap. But now Joan and Jean-Luc were here. I didn't know how this would affect Adam's behavior. I worried it would inhibit him. I didn't think he'd want them to know he was giving into me. I was under the impression he wanted the world to know he was punishing me for how I'd treated him.
I took off my jeans and shirt and stood to close the door.
"Leave it open," he said. He pulled me onto the bed with him. "I want them to hear."
He began to kiss me. I was thrown off by the immediacy of the act. I was so accustomed at this point to being required to grovel. I was surprised also by his exhibitionism. The door to Joan and Jean-Luc's room did not shut. There was only a thin hallway separating us.
I was on top of him and he was talking to me as we used to when we were home alone in bed. He began to smack me also. I tried to relax but I was too aware of the noises we were making to concentrate on anything else.
"Shhhh," I said. I was more inhibited than he was. I kept thinking of Joan and Jean-Luc listening.
"No," he said. "I told you, I want them to hear."
He smacked me harder, a second and third time, and I forgot then finally about Joan and Jean-Luc. I forgot where I was, who might be listening. I slipped off him, curled sideways on top of him. I wanted to please him every way possible. I took him in my hand first and then my mouth. There was an unexpected taste. It took me a second to determine its origin. I can't remember if I looked at my hand first or if the taste was suddenly recognizable. I had started my period. My hand and Adam were covered in my blood, my mouth also, if I had been able to look in a mirror. There was an instinct to stop and an instinct to continue, a pause indeterminable to Adam.
Later, the next day while driving, I would remember how earlier that summer I had bled through my clothes. I had been standing at a motel counter, waiting to check in, when suddenly I felt blood running down both my legs. I was wearing a short skirt and the blood ran down the inside of both calves and into my sandals. I had left my daughter at the counter and spent five minutes in the motel bathroom wiping my legs and feet with a wet paper towel. I had texted the man I'd left Adam for later that evening to tell him what had happened. He had said if he were there he would fuck me and not shower and then fuck me again. I held onto that image a long time. We had never actually had sex. It was hard to think of anything more sensual.
I did not stop. I was proving something to myself, and to Adam, though he was unaware that I was. I would have done the same thing for the man I left Adam for. Probably I would have done the same thing for James and the man I'd let into my bedroom twice also. I would have done the same for anyone I cared about.
I took him in and out of my mouth several times, until the pungent taste was no longer present and all I could taste was Adam. I climbed back on top of him, unworried about the mess we were making. Afterward we would walk naked past Joan's door, clean ourselves in the bathroom before falling asleep together, the back of me pulled into his groin and abdomen, as we'd slept so many times in the past.
In the morning Adam woke beside me and immediately began to lament what we'd done.
"I fucked up," he said. Then he said it again. He kept repeating himself. I didn't know how to interpret this. I was unsure if he was referring to the woman he was seeing or to letting me a little more back into his life or both. We were turned away from each other and I couldn't help feeling a little melancholy, even though I knew I didn't have a right to.
I got up and dressed. I had to drive Joan and Jean-Luc to the airport in Chicago. I had a hotel reservation for that evening. I was still supposed to meet James and maybe the other man. I hadn't decided either way. I hugged Adam goodbye and he said goodbye to Joan and Jean-Luc and then I kissed him a second time. I never knew when I would see him again. Every goodbye was potentially the last.
On the way to Chicago Jean-Luc slept in the backseat.
Joan smiled that smile that makes everyone fall in love with her. It was a sly, slick smile. "I could hear you guys for an hour last night," she said. I thought I was a little in love with her. I didn't understand why Jean-Luc was so tired. I hadn't heard anything from their room all night. I wondered if Joan had masturbated while listening to us, while Jean-Luc slept. I wanted to ask her but I didn't have the courage. I told her about getting my period. I wanted to tell her I would perform cunnilingus on her when she was on her period, but I didn't have the courage for that either.
The hotel in which I had reserved a room was the same hotel at which I had twice met the man I had broken up with Adam for. It was also the hotel in which I had waited for him twice and twice he had not shown. I drove to it after dropping Joan and Jean-Luc at the airport. We had only managed to get a couple hours of sleep. I checked into my room and removed my clothes and got in bed. I took a picture of myself on my phone and sent it to both Adam and the man I had left Adam for. Neither responded. There was a text from James telling me he was on his way to Chicago and asking if I was still meeting him later that evening. I turned my phone off and went to sleep. A couple hours later I woke up and got dressed. I texted James back. "Sorry," I said. "I'm going home." I did not feel like seeing him or the man I had left Adam for. I wanted to be home in my bed. I wanted to see my daughter and think and figure shit out. I felt bad that James had stayed to watch my daughter and now I was not staying to see him. But he had a wife, so I couldn't feel that bad. He had had a wife the whole time I thought I was in love with him and that was why nothing much had ever happened and now I knew I wasn't in love with him and now he acted like he wanted me to be.
Later the man I'd left Adam for texted me that he did not feel well. This was his routine: make plans to see me then come up with an illness that prevented our meeting. "It's okay," I said. "I'm in Michigan anyway." I pictured him feeling instantaneously better. It didn't matter. I was learning to accept things as they were and to accept people likewise. I was trying to retrain myself to focus on the people in my life, rather than the ones that weren't. In a month I'd stop communicating with him altogether.
I texted Adam even though I knew he wouldn't text me back. I didn't shower right away. I wanted his smell to remain on me a while longer. It was April and I made a reservation for a hotel in a far off city for June. I bought plane tickets for Adam and me. I emailed him and told him not to reply to my email. I didn't want him to tell me he wasn't going.
We didn't speak for two months. On the days I thought about it, it was torturous and agonizing. But there were days I forgot entirely. I had no way of knowing if he'd be at the airport. I'd bought a carry-on in case he wasn't. I wasn't going to get on the plane without him.
Later he told me he'd had no intention of going. He'd stood by this right up until the end. He almost missed the flight because of it. We were the last two people on the plane.