What if I told you I could still feel your mouth on mine? I can still feel the delicate throb of over-used lips. What if I told you I could still taste you? I can still swallow the minty cigarette spit.
I don’t think you’d believe me. Honey, there is a lot more than land between us now.
It wasn’t that long ago that you were lying beside me in bed sharing a Marlboro. We shared a lot more than a cigarette that night. Remember? And I miss you now, tonight, because I can’t touch a memory.
You lit me up. Wrapped in bed sheets, you’d paint me. It felt like I was being studied by an unreckoned force, captivating like I was in a movie. It was fabulous. I got such a rush from watching your magnetic eyes watch me. It was poetry when the paintbrushes flew. It would have almost been a cliché if it hadn’t felt so real. The paint thinner made me dizzy and I paled in your brilliance. I soon became your biggest fanatic. But I was too old for you. It wasn’t the math that was the problem. It was the life. But we were careless and thoughtlessly teased the seams anyway.
You can’t blur broken lines. I know you well enough to know you honestly believe what you’ve done isn’t wrong. I know you well enough to know how you turn a back-handed compliment to gold. You are a brilliant bastard, and I created a why each night just to show up at your door. I was a stupid fool to come knocking. But you were so clever with your bony hands. You’d hand me a tea cup, and then anything you said next was, well, static.
We would have these amazing conversations. I was thrilled to be privy to your darkest thoughts. I thought I was the only one to whom you bled that deep. I thought I was the special one out of the many girls who have crossed your threshold. No, it was all part of the seduction. God, you’d mastered it all. Lying really was your best attribute.
How was I supposed to know this is not where you sleep every night? Thinking on it now, it is actually funny that I really believed you didn’t own a phone because of some philosophical babble. I was that stupid that I ignored the bloated white ring on your finger even though it hung around when we were together like a dead fish.
Just think of it. While I was tucked away for the night in your arms, your wife was tucking in your baby. Maybe even with a lullaby. We, however, had rocked in different motions. You bastard.
I found out at the flea market. I’m sure you were off on another creative tangent while I was plodding through the street looking for the perfect tomato. I was going to make my special sauce for you. That recipe has been in my family forever. You didn’t deserve that tomato.
Everything went black around me when my eyes made contact with yours. What will you tell your son if he asks about me tonight at dinner?
It took a minute, but I recognized her from the portraits you’d painted of “a friend.” My body flushed when she told me her name was Catherine. And this was her son, Lucas. He’s three. He was born right about the time you met me. Of course, she was beautiful. She didn’t know about me. While I was flushing, she was fading as the realization slammed into her with such force she stepped back, and I thought she would pass out when I described your tattoo with such accurate detail a blind man could have pictured it. I wish I could say I am sorry for hurting your wife. Any of your conquests could have done it easily, but it was me.
I don’t let things lie; I don’t let you lie. It wasn’t her you were untrue to. It was me. It was me, you fool. She was really that oblivious, but she too recognized me. I am almost sorry that she believed I was only your model. And I was, until you kissed me.
I remember that first kiss so vividly my knees tingled, among other things. You really were quite debonair. I don’t think you paid me my sitting fee that day or any day after for that matter. As far as I am concerned, you owe me much more than money.
I wonder what she said to you that night when you skulked in for dinner. I wonder how you rationalized her “ridiculous” suspicions. Did she cry?
I made her cry.
Were you twisted enough to hang paintings of me in your room? Did you look at me most nights?
There wasn’t a night I didn’t dream about you.
I will never forget the look on your face when I confronted you. It went way beyond getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Then bizarrely enough, rising up from God knows where, you let loose a horrendous laugh. You belittled me and berated me, telling me I should have known.
And you were right, I should have known.
I was frozen for a moment. Then I started obsessing about your wife again. Did you laugh at her? Did she coddle you and tell you that everything would be okay? Does she kiss with her eyes open?
I asked you if she was as good as me, and I was twisted and flattered when you said, “You’re the best baby.” What a stock line. Underneath it all, you were always generic.
I was never your baby. I’ve been past bottles and diapers for years. Not you though. You were inundated with bottles and baby at home. Is that why you placed that ad in the paper?
Then everything became so clear to me.
I don’t believe I was intentional. I think with you, it is never intentional.
I think I’ll say at your funeral, “He never intended any of this,” you and I know that won’t absolve you of your faults.
What bothers me most in this hell you’ve created is that I am still not sure you loved me. I mean, really loved me. I suppose now, it is not really worth bringing up. Up until Catherine, my memories are of a man full of life and love and me.
My insecurities didn’t set in until I came face to face with your Catherine. Then suddenly I became the stray cat hanging around, starving, outside your door. I can’t believe you told me it wasn’t true, that it wasn’t like that. I don’t buy it, not completely. I just don’t know what to believe anymore.
I believed the look on your face when I punched you full force in the gut. You did more than double over. I bet your knees would still be bruised.
Oh, it was delicious, me standing there amid the canvases and sheets and you lying on the floor like a child.
I know your son won’t grow up like you. I know your wife will never completely trust another man again. Not after you.
We are all left half-empty after you.
I wonder what pained you more that night, when I shred your canvases or when I shred you?
Everything will be okay now. I felt an incredible sense of clarity as I doused the mattresses and the walls with paint thinner.
Nothing was louder than my lit Zippo dropping to the ground.
I studied you as you tried to wriggle free of those ropes. You were a mess of blood and sweat, and I still could’ve kissed you.
Yes, I am devastated. Devastated you didn’t love me half as much as I deserve.
You’re last words echoed in my head begging me, “What about my son?”
No worries. I thought we had covered that already. It is like I said before, he will never grow up in your likeness.
Never mind this anymore. I am tired of all this chatter. It is time for me to clean up this mess you’ve made so I can move on.
Burning the bed has so much irony. I wonder if you would see it the same way if your skin weren’t sliding off your bones.
I wonder if you’re sorry.
What saddens me in all of this is that you won’t see how beautiful I will be standing at your casket, how serene. I will hold white lilies and wear a big hat. I will look up at your broken wife and helpless son with a sigh. And I will know the only one out of all of us at peace is me.
If I am asked to speak I will say, “Even in death, you’ve set me free.”
Credit: Samantha Kreger Shultz