TW: Sex, violence, and strong language.
We used to make love to The Doors.
It wasn’t even my favorite band or my go-to music genre, but something about Jim Morrison’s voice in Riders on the Storm was insanely sexy when I climbed onto my husband’s lap and invited his mouth onto my breasts; We weren’t really the type of couple that had exotic, acrobatic, or porn-esque kind of sex, but having been together for nearly 15 years, the very fact that we could both still excite the other, laughing and moaning and biting, always made me feel like we were winning. Like getting married to my high school sweetheart in my early twenties turned out to be the right choice. Like we actually did have something special and real, and we weren’t just foolish kids being stupid.
Like we actually loved each other enough to belong together.
I was thinking about all of this – the sex, the love, my husband, my life, - as I sat in the waiting room of the hospital.
How incredibly wrong I was about all of it.
“Did you hear me?” my best friend’s voice broke through my frozen stare, and the vibrant fluorescent lights slowly widened around the tunnel my mind created to keep me safe. If I just focused on one small spot on the floor, one tiny white dot in the world, maybe the truth wouldn’t be the truth anymore; maybe that could be my truth, and I could cast out all other sensations and realities.
I’ve never before, but in that moment, I envied the clinically insane.
“Uh-huh,” was all I could manage.
“Brian didn’t just cheat on you, Liz. He literally has an entire family apart from you,” Becka went on. “He wants you to donate blood to his child.”
A child he didn’t have with you.
Involuntarily, my shoulders shook, sending a shiver down both my arms, and a gurgling noise erupted from my mouth. I caught my head in my hands, and my fingers gripped my thick hair; skin cells surrendered beneath my fingernails. An image from the 90’s movie Tremors flooded my brain: something daunting waited below the surface.
This was like a horror movie. I was living in a real-life horror movie.
Somber faces in the waiting room darted towards me, jumping at my sudden outburst.
“Shit, sorry,” I offered to the startled strangers. A small ping of empathy beat against my heart. At least that was still working.
“Liz,” Becka wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into her chest; she started to rock me gently.
Initially, I leaned into it, her hold soothing and warm like a sibling or a parent. We had been best friends for just a year longer than Brian and I had been together. As cliché as can be, we all met in college and kind of formed an inseparable posse; she’d been the one to bring in Brian. I remembered the instant electricity we’d felt together, literal static shocks between our fingertips when we shook hands for the first time that later developed on other parts of our (bare) bodies…
The reverie was enough to make me vomit.
I aggressively tossed Becka’s arm off me, lunging out of my chair for the nearest trash – the small 3.5-gallon bin meant for empty water cups.
Find out your husband is having an affair – drink a very large bottle of vodka.
Find out your husband has another family – drink several large bottles of vodka, and burn his car; take his money.
Find out your husband has another family and he needs you to save one of them from a nearly fatal car accident – throw up all of your stomach acids and every childhood emotion you’ve ever experienced, and sob.
It is a feeling impossibly contained in the human body.
Black coffee, a package of Nutter Butters, and pure, sorrowful denial exited my body in a dark slurry.
There was a 9-year-old somewhere in this hospital dying, her parents hoping for someone to come to her rescue. Brian, hoping.
Hugging the small bin into my chest, I slid down the side of the water station. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck,” I sobbed between gasps for air.
Flashes of my life with Brian started to carousel through my mind. Our first kiss. Our last kiss. His smile at the altar. Our trip to Yosemite, lying on the road of a bridge, searching for shooting stars. Sleeping naked in a hammock in Hawaii. The moment he told me he didn’t want kids, and the entire week I took care of him after his vasectomy.
Last week, making love in our bed; the way his smile shown through even with me in his mouth as The Doors carried me into ecstasy.
I squeezed the bin tighter into my chest, and released more. If the waiting room full of people was watching me, I was blind to their glares.
Out of nowhere, Becka was next to me. “I’m so sorry, Liz.”
The words vibrated through the dark caves of my head: I’m so sorry, Liz.
It had been the first thing she said when I answered her call earlier. Right before she delivered this impossibly tragic and unwritable news, tears watering down her words over the phone. In the shock of it all, it had sounded like sympathy, like she was a caring friend, empathizing.
As the déjà vu echoed through my temples, a nagging and persistent curiosity whispered, Guilt.
This time, when her arms found me, it was like a snake, coiling up around its next meal.
I jolted away with enough speed that a small splash of my puke escaped the bin. Confusion and surprise twisted Becka’s face, her eyebrows and lips unsure where to settle.
“How did you know?” I spat at her.
Inching towards me with her arms out –a human trying to reason with a tiger— she countered, “How did I know what?”
I narrowed my gaze. “You know what I’m asking. How did you know?”
She stared at me, mouth open, a net trying to catch an answer. Then, her eyes flashed upwards behind me, casting out another hopeful line.
I followed her eyes, quickly finding what Becka’s gaze couldn’t ignore.
Brian was walking down the hall, his head hung lower than the dark bags beneath his eyes. He cried so few times in our years together that the signs were uniquely distinguishable. The level of stress and exhaustion on his face appeared like a Halloween mask.
Even still, I wanted to peel it off and hold him close.
Facing Becka again, I snarled, “You were here before me – why?”
Her cheeks flushed red, less like a rose and more like a spider bite, venom veining out beneath her pale skin. “I – I – shit, Liz, I don’t know –“
“Tell me!” I demanded.
Panic poisoned her voice. “I – I don’t…” Her eyes fluttered furiously as if her response was lying on the floor somewhere like dirty laundry.
“Tell. Me. NOW!” I roared.
Becka scooted towards me, her face softening as she found her calm. “Brian – he didn’t know how to tell you. How to ask…”
Rage ripped me to my feet, and suddenly I was hovering over my best friend like an aggravated zoo animal. “Liar!”
That must’ve captured the room, because Becka was cowering, searching for salvation among the strangers. “No, Liz, I swear! Brian called me as soon as he found out Bella’s condition. He wanted to know my blood type, but then we realized…”
Bella. The eerily similar name of my husband’s daughter to my best friend’s set a fire in my throat.
I let out my flames. “You realized what?! That now you also had to come clean? That you’re just as much of a betraying bitch as he is? Huh?!”
Water welled in her eyes. “What? No, Liz! I didn’t know, I swear!”
Just then, a gentle and firm hand gripped my arm. A hand I knew like my own.
“Liz, she’s telling the truth.” Brian.
I turned, and looked into my husband’s eye for the first time since I found out. He stared back, misery pleading loudly in his gaze.
“She didn’t know,” he said. “No one knew.”
Love is a strange beast. One might argue it is the Devil Himself. It deceives you. It devours you. It makes you look into the eyes of the person you love and forfeit everything else.
I could see the love in Brian’s eyes.
But not just for me. For his other wife. For his daughter. And in a brief exchange between him and Becka, his love for her, for revealing his darkest secret to me so he didn’t have to.
All of it made me want to punch him in the face.
So, that’s what I did.
“Liz, what the fuck?!” Becka was the one grabbing me now. I tossed her off in one swift jolt.
“You fucking asshole!” I cursed, the sobs showering down between each word. “Both of you, you’re fucking assholes! You don’t love me, you never loved me!”
Becka was checking on Brian’s bloody nose – kudos to me for actually being able to draw blood with my fist – when the hospital security guards rushed over to us, wasting no time to restrain my weaponized hands. I barely struggled as they began leading me towards the exit. I was shouting more obscenities at them both, but it was all a blur.
No more envying the clinically insane, for in that moment, I was the clinically insane.
The guards released my restrains outside the sliding glass doors of the entrance, taking my word for it that I did not intend to re-enter. I was rubbing my wrists and muttering to myself (as an insane individual would) when Becka came running out after me.
Through her exhausted breath, she said, “Liz, wait, I’m so sorry!”
“You can’t be on both sides, Becka. We’re done.”
Averting her eyes, she nodded, letting the cheeks stream down. “I get that, Liz, I really do. I’m so sorry,” she sniffed.
“Whatever,” was all my overloaded brain could produce. I turned away towards the parking lot.
“Wait! Liz!” Becka’s hand caught my arm. “What about Bella? She needs you.”
My arm still in her hand, I looked directly at her and said, “Good luck delivering the news to her.” I yanked my arm back and stormed off, leaving all my sympathy behind.
Between violent punching fits directed at my steering wheel and heavy crying outbursts, it took me at least an hour before I started my car. But not one of those minutes did I consider going back.
Pulling out of the parking lot, I turned up the volume on my radio, something I never listened to, but I couldn’t risk the reminders Spotify might bring. It took me a brief second to recognize his voice…
Don't ya love her face?
Don't ya love her as she's walkin' out the door?
Slamming on the breaks, I yelled, “Fuck youuuuuu!” and jammed my finger into the radio buttons, desperate to change the song.
When I looked up, a semi-truck was no more than 10 feet away, headed directly at me.
In that last second, I heard Jim Morrison:
All your love is gone…