The Light We Lost (Page 38)
She nodded and went back to her noodles.
I’d struck out with the Lindas.
Two weeks later, though, Darren left his phone at home when he went to the gym. After staring at it for fifteen minutes, I picked it up and decided to find out, once and for all, who Linda was. I typed in his unlock code—our anniversary—and his iPhone buzzed and shook its dots at me. The hot-and-cold feeling that had flooded my body when I first saw Linda’s name returned. I tried Violet’s birthday and then Liam’s. Then Darren’s. Then mine. Nothing worked, and I knew that if I put in a sixth wrong code, the phone would be disabled. But truly, I didn’t have a sixth guess anyway. Linda’s birthday? I put the phone down on the coffee table, where I’d found it.
I thought about telling Kate my suspicion but felt like too much of an idiot. There was no real proof. Besides, she and Tom were working through their own issues. The last thing she needed was to be dealing with mine, too. But even though I didn’t feel like I had enough evidence to warrant a phone call to Kate, I was still afraid to ask Darren why he’d changed his phone code. Who Linda was. Why she didn’t have a last name. Because once I knew he was cheating for real, there was no going back—the hurt, the betrayal, the arguments, the tears. I shuddered at the thought of living through that, of what it would do to the kids, to me, to all of our lives. It was easier to pretend things were fine.
I kept my ears open for the next few months, and noticed three or four times that he’d be talking on the phone in the hallway as he came home from work, but would say good-bye before he entered the apartment. Could that have been Linda?
He worked a couple of Saturdays in March. Linda?
He went on a golf weekend with some friends from the office. Or did he?
I barely slept those six months. I would lie next to him, wondering how he could sleep so soundly while he was keeping such a horrible secret, while he was betraying me like that. I couldn’t get the images out of my head, him in some other woman’s arms. Sometimes I’d imagine her as a blonde, sometimes a redhead, sometimes a younger version of me. No matter how I pictured it, it was terrible. I ate less. I drank more. I wondered why he’d given up on us. What made him do it.
Sometimes I wanted to hurt him as badly as he hurt me—physically, emotionally, anything to show him what he was doing to someone he’d promised to love until the day he died. Sometimes I just wanted him to tell me that he was sorry, that he’d leave her, that he loved me still and would love me forever; sometimes I thought that was all it would take for me to forgive him everything. My heart felt like a yo-yo, or maybe like a Ping-Pong ball, bouncing from one side of the table to the other. Through all of it, though, was this overwhelming feeling that I’d failed somehow. I hadn’t been sweet enough or smart enough or a good enough wife. That it was my fault he was doing this. I was paralyzed by the idea of that failure.
I think that’s why I didn’t tell anyone, really. Once I said it out loud, it became real. Our marriage had failed. We had failed. I had failed.
Darren and I weren’t having sex as often as we used to—maybe once or twice a month—which had become the norm after Liam was born. I didn’t even bother with birth control. Once I saw Linda’s name on his phone, though, there was this paradox of being so upset with Darren that I didn’t want to touch him at all, but at the same time, I didn’t want to give him a reason to fall into someone else’s arms. A few months into my spiral of suspicion, when I was staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, torturing myself with mental images of Darren zipping up some other woman’s dress, fixing her collar, sliding on her shoes, I reached my hand over to his side of the bed and slid it under the band of his boxer briefs. He was already falling asleep.
“Not right now,” he muttered, as he rolled farther away from me.
I felt like I’d been kicked in the chest. The rejection hurt, physically. How could he want some stranger, but not me?
I questioned everything he did or said in my head, my hurt and mistrust growing, but didn’t bring anything up out loud. The only good thing about believing Darren was cheating was that when I fell into a fretful sleep and dreamed about you, I didn’t feel guilty anymore.
I started reading your Facebook page more that spring. I liked more of your photos. Even commented on an article you posted. Did you notice? Did you wonder why?
Timing is everything. That’s something I’ve learned. With work, with friends, with romantic relationships—with us in particular.
You were in New York for a long weekend in mid-June. The AP was sending you to Jerusalem after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Hamas. You’d told them you wanted a breath of America before you dove into a new country and a new conflict, and they said okay. You were a pretty well-known photojournalist by then, so I guess the Associated Press gave you what you wanted. You’d been in Ukraine and then Moscow. I don’t know how you did it—a new country every few months, sometimes every few weeks. Or did moving around like that help? Make you think about your mom less, what you didn’t have less?
When you e-mailed me that you were landing on the thirteenth and asked if I would be able to get together, I wrote back yes, without even clearing it with Darren. I decided he didn’t deserve to be consulted. He was keeping secrets from me, so I could keep secrets from him.
Darren had been talking about bringing the kids to see his parents out in Jersey, and I suggested he do it that Saturday without me—that I could use a day to relax, get my nails done, have lunch with some friends, and his mom could help him with the kids.
“Sounds good,” he said. “And maybe next Sunday I can go play golf?”
“Deal,” I told him, wondering if golf meant Linda. I’d initially felt guilty that I’d lied to him, or at least omitted my plans with you from my explanation of the day, but when he said golf, I shrugged off my guilt. My omission felt justified.
I texted you that morning: How about we meet in Manhattan? Darren has the kids for the day in New Jersey. Manhattan was our borough, after all.
Great, you texted back. How about Faces & Names? Is that still around? I’m Googling.
I laughed while I waited for your follow-up text.
It is. See you there for lunch? Noon?
Sounds good to me, I wrote. Then I went and got a manicure and pedicure so my lie to Darren would be partially true. I’d never lied to him before—not like that. And I didn’t like doing it. But making part of it true helped.
It took me half an hour to figure out what to wear to see you. It was sunny and in the seventies—ideal weather—so I could go in any direction I wanted: dress, skirt, pants, capris. I settled on something simple. Jeans, black T-shirt, ballet flats, some jewelry. I did my makeup the way I used to when we were together, with a black line at the base of my top lashes. Did you notice?
I walked into Faces & Names, and you were already there, sitting on a couch next to the fireplace.
“They won’t turn it on for us,” you said. “They said no fires in June.”
I sat down next to you. “They do have a point.”
I took you in. Your hair had grown back, your dimple was there, but your eyes looked weary, tired, like they’d seen too much.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I might be getting too old for this,” you answered. “I was just thinking about that. I’m not looking forward to this assignment, and that’s the first time that’s happened.” Then you looked at me closely. “Are you okay?” you asked.
I hadn’t said a word to anyone for months, but with you I felt safe. Besides, you weren’t in my regular life; there wasn’t anyone you’d tell. Darren and I wouldn’t become gossip at preschool drop-off.
“I think Darren’s cheating on me,” I whispered. I tried to stop the tears, but I couldn’t. You held me to your chest. You didn’t say anything, you just held me. And then you kissed my forehead.
“If he is, he’s an idiot,” you said. “And he doesn’t deserve you. You’re smart and sexy and the most amazing woman I know.”
You kept your arm around me as I ordered an apple martini and you ordered a whiskey—for old times’ sake. I leaned against you as we drank them. And ordered a second round. Your body felt so good next to mine. I remembered that fever dream I had, where we made waffles in our Christmas pajamas, and I wondered what it would be like to come home to you every day, your compassion, your strength, your understanding.
My brain started clouding.
“I need food,” I told you. “I’m not used to drinking this much, this quickly.”
We ordered fried mozzarella bites and a plate of mini Cuban sandwiches. Things I hadn’t eaten in years, but devoured, trying to soak up the alcohol. Even so, when I stood up to go to the restroom, I had to use the top of your head for balance.
“Are you okay?” you asked me for the second time that afternoon, placing a steadying hand on my back.
“Better than I’ve been in months,” I answered.
In the restroom, I kept thinking about how it felt when you held me, how distant I was from Darren, and how much hurt I’d kept bottled up these past months. I craved the kind of closeness I felt in your embrace. I closed my eyes and thought about your lips against mine. The warmth and pressure of them, the taste. I imagined giving myself over to you, completely, the way I used to, abandoning all control, letting you be in charge. I wanted that. I needed that. I’d been trying so hard to hold everything together, to hold myself together, and I was done. I needed someone else to take over. I needed you to take over.