I shut down all communication. I lock myself in the bathroom once a day and cut myself with a broken Bic razor. Aaron discovers this while I'm walking around naked one day, after a shower. I let him know in so many words that he's responsible. His clinginess and suspicion, and constant, low-grade criticism of me—compounding my burden as our home's primary breadwinner—have driven me to this extreme; it is my only outlet. I begin taking notes toward a memoir about leaving my husband, hoping I will force myself to finish it, but weeks go by and I can't seem to turn my rough outline into prose. I don't communicate with Daniel. I act like he doesn't exist. I continue to deny ever seeing him that night, and assume he corroborates my story because we don't hear from Heidi—it's as if we were never sort-of-friends with them. When we see their baby on Instagram, we don't discuss it.
We broke the lock on the bathroom door during one of our fights, so I announce aloud when I have to shit. Aaron comes in anyway to get something from the cabinet. A turd plops. "Oh, sorry," he says,
with no urgency. He proceeds to retrieve the item. "Okay, okay," he says when I tell him to leave. A small animal has been moving through my colon since the morning after I slept with Daniel. I've learned from WebMD that I can in fact be constipated while having chronic diarrhea because the liquid flows around the obstructions.
The discomfort of constipation blends with the lingering tenderness of my pelvic floor muscles from the abortion. A hemorrhoid on my anus has healed with a flap of skin remaining behind like a flag. I tried to remove it by cutting off blood flow with dental floss, but this only served to cause an infection and has left behind an open sore. Aaron still tries to rim me, which is painful and humiliating, but I can only bring myself to admit this sometimes, trying to spare the last of his manhood. I'm repelled by the thought of having any kind of sex with him, but if I turn him down two days in a row, he starts crying, and though I think of myself as someone who is comfortable with men crying, I've found this to only be true in theory. Aaron asks me for reports on my bowel movements, trying to be supportive and sympathetic. He wants to know when I'll be back to normal, ready to fuck him. He thinks I don't love him anymore. "How was it?" he asks every time I leave the bathroom.
Odessa calls me, and I happen to be headed to the subway, which
provides a temporal limit to our conversation, so I answer and tell
her she has ten minutes. I anticipate her telling me something along
the lines of her being at the police station with Ian because he robbed
a 7-Eleven and was caught with someone else's Suboxone. Trees are
turning amber and littering the ground in crushed leaves. I pass a
wall of vines with sparrows flitting into the thin cover they provide.
"It's nice to hear your voice," I say.
"You won't believe where I am right now," she says. Her sniffle
is meant to signal that she's crying. She pauses for effect. "I'm at the
hospital. Mission died last night."
I stop walking.
"They managed to resuscitate him. They called me at six o'clock
this morning to come get him."
I lean against a garden gate, check the time, and decide that I
don't care if I'm late for work. I'll tell the bookstore someone died. I
drop my backpack.
"He was squatting at a house in Roser Park, shooting heroin with crusties," she says. "He overdosed and they dumped him outside the ER."
"Is he still homeless?"
"He's been couch-surfing since you broke up with him."
"I thought he would've found a place by now."
"Of course you did."
"I thought you hated him."
"I saw him at Zine Fest and he gave me a Steel Reserve. We did
key bumps in the alley."
"Did he say anything about me?"
"Does that matter right now?" I realize she's calling to blame
me for Mission's overdose. He's given her the idea that I ruined his
life—that if I'd stayed with him, none of this would have happened.
I'm where his downfall began. "He's going to be okay," she says.
"Not that you asked, but he should be fine."
"I'm so glad," I say.
I imagine him sleeping on a bare wood floor littered with cat shit. Flushing the toilet with a bucket of rainwater. Jamming a dirty needle into the back of his hand. He'd wanted me to drop off the grid with him, escape the ever-present eyes of the NSA, Illuminati, and New World Order, somewhere in the disused suburbs of Berlin. I threw him out to avoid that fate. Odessa thinks I should have stayed
and guarded him from it.
"Why did he call you to pick him up?" I ask her. "Why didn't he
call his mother or one of his crusty friends?"
"And so will I, Nina. I had a hard morning, I haven't eaten yet,
but I'll be fine. Thanks for your concern."
"Don't be like that."
"My friend died today, and I'm here to be with him while my daughters hang out with the senile old lady next door, possibly drowning or choking, but don't worry about us. We're all good over here."
A hedge rustles. A piss-stenched hobo appears in my periphery, asking for change. I ignore him and he asks for my phone number. I tell him to fuck off and he threatens to shut me up with his dick.
"What was that?" says Odessa.
"Someone asking for change."
"Did you give him any?"
"No, I don't have any."
"Yes, Odessa. I'm poor, remember? My husband doesn't work,
and my job pays minimum wage, and I don't carry cash because it
costs money to use the ATM, and I can't even get approved for a
credit card. Whenever I try, my credit score plunges. Is that what you
want to hear? Am I struggling enough for you?"
"It just seems unlikely that you don't have any change."
"Why did you even call? To be a cunt? I'm sorry you're having
a shitty day. Sorry you're cranky about it. I've already been through
all that shit with Mission. There's a reason I broke up with him three
fucking years ago. It's sad that he's not doing well. He wasn't doing well
when I met him. I gave him a real life, which he didn't appreciate. You
want to take care of him? Have fun being yet another person's mother."
I hang up.
The bum has snuck into the garden next door and is tugging his
meat behind a shrub, watching me. I turn away, pick up my backpack,
and continue walking toward the subway. I reach the intersection and
an SUV cuts close to the corner, almost taking me out. Odessa calls me back. "You think I'm white trash," she says when I answer to say, "I'm not doing this."
"It's fine," she says. "I am."
"What does that even mean?"
"It means you think you're better than me. You're a big New Yorker now, a married lady, publishing one shitty book review in the Brooklyn Rail, and now you think I'm beneath you. Is this conversation even real, Nina, or is it all copy for you?"
"You're a very talented person, Odessa," I say. "You're so smart,
"I don't need you to reassure me."
"I just wonder what you could have done with your life if you
hadn't had a baby right out of middle school."
"I wonder what you would have done if your nana hadn't paid for
your fancy-ass grad school."
"Maybe you could have gone to college or pursued acting. Or biology? Politics? Travel? Become a high-class hooker? Moved to New York with Dennis as your sugar daddy? I just wonder what kind of
life you could have made for yourself. It's too bad you can't go back
"Yeah, I know what you mean," she says. "I just wonder if you
ever feel something fundamental is missing inside you, Nina? Like
there's a void inside you that can't be filled and probably never was?
Part of being a decent person that you just don't have so all that's left
of you is a really horrible bitch that no one can stand?"
"Maybe," I say.