The Stories of People: Just Us, Part II

“Ava McLeigh?”

My body stiffened. Heart rate skyrocketed. Suddenly, a headache came on.

I knew that name anywhere.

I looked over to see her walking towards the nurse at the door. Her: the woman who, for six years, I wondered if she was real or some made-up figment of my imagination. He’d been keeping her identity from me since we met. His ability to successfully keep her under lock and key, yet have such a public relationship with her and me at the same time shows exactly the kind of man he is. He’d done it so well, sometimes I forgot she even existed.

One time, a few years ago during a heated argument he let her name slip out. Ava. I didn’t verbally note it then, but that name has been etched in my brain ever since. Marcus—oh, excuse me—Jonathan is one of the few people left on the planet who doesn’t engage in social media, though I encouraged him in the beginning for job opportunities and advancement. Ironically, his woman isn’t either. By chance, I found a piece of mail in the lap drawer of his computer desk with her name on it while I worked on a spreadsheet in his home office. That’s as close as I’ve gotten to her. They seem to live very separate lives despite their life together.

I’ve wondered what she looks like. If she looked like me. What kind of fun did they have together? Did they even have fun, or was he as miserable as he claims to be in his relationship when he’s with me?

After our first date, he’d told me that he admired me for having so much drive. I knew exactly what I wanted out of life, and had a plan in motion to get it. That was no surprise. I’ve been ambitious since my mother pushed me out of her womb. There is a strict way to achieve excellence, and my life reflects that. My home, car, wherever I am most is filled with books because learning is instrumental in the race to the top. My closet only consists of very basic colors because I don’t believe in standing out much. My hair is cut short so you can see my face, but I don’t cover it in pallets of colorful makeup like most women do these days. Sometimes, simple is best. Besides, I can prove myself without the burden of or the dependence on aesthetics. What matters most is the mind.

I may not act like many other women, but still, I am a woman. I watched Ava saunter through the threshold of the door until I could no longer see her shadow on the adjacent wall. Her hair was thick and curly, dark and shiny. Her body was tall and curvy in stature. A pretty face with tight eyes and what looked to be a tattoo on her wrist. I instantly wondered what it was like when they made love. Was he as gentle with her as he was with me, or was he aggressive and carnal? She seemed like she could bring that side of him out.

What was she here for? Is she pregnant? Doesn’t look to be.

Caitlyn, get a hold of yourself. What do you think she’s here for? She’s a woman just like you. It could be for a number of reasons.

Even if she is, I know Jonathan, and he has rigid rules on children. He refuses to be a father even though he was raised in a wonderful home by a loving family. If you want to be a part of his life, children cannot be a part of yours.

“Ms. McMain.” The receptionist was staring at me like I was an alien. Her calling my name wasn’t a question, but a demand as if to insist that I come back to Earth.

“Your appointment has been scheduled for next month, August 13. In the meantime, we’ll text you when we call your prescription in to the pharmacy.”

“Oh okay. Great.” I tried to mask my emotion by wrinkling my nose and shaking my head slightly.”Thanks so much. Have a great day!”

I rushed outside to get some fresh air. Inhale…exhale. The sun was scorching at about 90 degrees, but it was no match for the heat radiating from my heart.

There’s something about seeing someone with your own eyes that makes things so real. You realize that this bubble that you’ve created for yourself to blissfully dwell in—that you’ve decorated with the best and brightest colors– either can no longer exist or never existed in the first place. You’d been in that bubble alone, and now it’s time to come out with the rest of the world.

I jumped in my car and sat there for a moment or two. Instead of turning on my classical music, which helps me think, I picked up my cell and pressed the contact for Diana. I needed to get some thoughts out now.

She picked up on the fifth ring.

“I saw her,” I blurted out.

“….You saw who?” I could hear the cluelessness in her voice.

“Her. I don’t want to even say her name.” It was pointless though, seeing as how her name was a revolving door in my head.

“Ooooh, what her name? Ava?!”

Damn, that stung.

“I told you not to say it! But, yeah—”

“Well, I had to guess, Cait. Where? What does she look like?”

“Nothing like I imagined. Like a free, earthy Amazon.”

“Umph…That’s surprising. So, how do you feel?”

“Unnerved. Almost sick.”

“Okay, bring the dramatics down just a bit. You should definitely feel a way, but take a second to  figure out what that feeling is. It’s not like you haven’t known about her.”

Diana was always the voice of reason. She’s been against my dealings with Jonathan since the beginning, but because she’s my friend, she supports me. He’d always told me I wasn’t like other women, but the truth was, I was never different. She was.

“I know, but to see her was a wakeup call,” I sighed. “I don’t understand how a man can be with two totally different women. We’re nothing alike, D. NOTHING.”

“He’s a man. Why would he have two of the same kind of people? There’s no fun in that…So, besides her being “earthy” or whatever, what else stood out?”

“I can’t put it into words, but she seems so…less than. You know?”

“Uh, no. I’d say at this very moment, you two are quite the same. You both love a fucking fool.”

I see where this is going. “Not now, D.”

“I’m just saying. Think about it, and call me later…” She hung up before I could agree to end my vent session.

I looked across the parking lot where an ice cream shop was located to see a cute young couple walking hand-in-hand. The woman was smiling at him, clearly the aftermath of a joke they intimately shared. Jon and I could and would never do that. We’re only seen as colleagues in day hours. When the sky falls we’re secret lovers. I often wonder if we’re really the talented actors we think we are, or if everyone knows and is patiently waiting for the curtain to drop on our ridiculous production.

Get. It. Together. You can do better than this. You are better than this.

“I’m sick of this shit!” I screamed out and banged my leather covered steering wheel, not caring if anyone heard me through my window. I’m a top executive at a technology firm. No one questions my authority nor my intelligence. I’m known in elite circles around the metropolitan area and it’s idiotic for every part of my life to be in balance, except my personal life.

The fact is Jonathan has been a crutch for me. I’ve had no reason to deal with anyone else and their foolishness since he’s come into my life. Yes, everyone has their own version of crazy, but I’ve been content with his because I’m used to it. When I think about things we’ve experienced together, though, it angers me. I’ve shortchanged myself and my life for him and with him. It will hurt, but it all ends today.

I press MK for Marcus Kingsley on my iPhone ‘Favorites’ screen. Surprisingly, he picked up on the first ring.

“Hey babe,” he whispered. “Surprised to hear from you so early.”

“I need to talk to you.”

Here goes nothing.

Read Part I here

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The Stories of People: Just Us

“So you’re going to think about it?” He put the puppy eyes on.

I ran my foot up and down his leg, feeling his smooth hair.“Maybe. You really don’t want me to work?”

“It’s not that I don’t want you to work. You don’t really need to anymore. I know you’re always in limbo about your job.”

I shifted my eyes upward.

“You won’t look at me, so that means you know I’m right. I’m surprised you’ve lasted as long as you have.”

He was right. I love what I do…sometimes. And truth be told, it’s not the work that drives me insane, it’s the people I work with. Out of a group of say, eight, I’m the only one who doesn’t have children. When marketing events are scheduled for the weekend, someone throws my name in the bucket, assuming I’m available because I’m childless. As if letting their children run wild in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant is more important that whatever I do or don’t do.

What gives them the right to feel so entitled? They’re only kids. Cute, but also whiny, bad-ass kids who if not loved properly, will grow up to be serial killers. Who in the world would voluntarily put themselves in that situation—to be responsible for that? Not me.

Jonathan and I have a good life. We can come and go as we please without so much as a second thought. A good friend of mine, Christina, mother of three, says I’m trapped in a selfish phase that unlike everyone else, extended far beyond my early 20s. Just last year, while those  SuperMoms were begging their overbearing mother-in-laws and dinky teenage neighbors to keep their kids for a few days during Spring Break, J called me and told me to pack my bags. And just like that, we were off to London, catching shows at the West End theater. I can’t let that freedom go, so, I say “so what?” to Chrissy and anyone who has a problem with me and my life.

Jonathan is my boyfriend of about eight years. I met him during a routine stop through Barnes & Noble. He was there for intellectual and scholarly nonfiction. I was there  for magazines and coffee. We’re polar opposites, but maybe that what I like. No, he won’t likely pull me into a secluded corner for a quickie, but he’s the kind of man who keeps things together. He balances my crazy. With every mention of his name, my mother cringes because she can’t understand why we won’t marry. “Chile, when I had you, I knew you were special, but I didn’t know you were this special. Why must you go against everything normal?”

Normal isn’t my thing though. When I was 20, much to her dismay, I left school and used my loan refund to travel abroad. I couldn’t deal with the structure of school. It seemed to me the goal was to produce clones who would scrap over the same dollar to “make a good living.” I ultimately landed in Lima. There, I lived and loved like only a free spirit would. I met a lovely man, also an American transplant about two inches shorter than me and 11 years my senior. Jacque was a bronzed Adonis with red hair, scattered freckles and one dimple in his left cheek. It was with him that I confirmed the myth about older men and lovemaking. Every single time he touched me, I saw stars. I’ve searched for someone to show me those same constellations ever since, but it hasn’t happened.

Instead of stars, Jonathan gives me security, which I’ve realized is more important. When things begin to fizzle between us, I close my eyes and think of the small gifts he leaves under my pillow just to say “I love you.” Or the impromptu excursions out of the country as a reward to both of us for nailing a business deal at his stiff corporate job. Over the years, I learned that that’s the way he loves, and maybe those gifts compensate for his insecurities. The best way for me to stoke his ego is to accept the gifts and say thank you. I’ve become a pro, and honestly, I expect it.

What’s the need for marriage anyway? They never last, and what we’ve built together transcends any legal document or other people’s judgements about our love.

So after J kissed my inside of my wrist and told me he wanted to stay this way forever—just us, I made an executive decision for my own life. I kissed the tip of his nose, hopped out of bed and called my gynecologist.

***

 Although it’s a necessary evil, I still abhor coming to this place. The OBGYN office is always full of pregnant women or women who already have children. Gives me the creeps. The stacks of Parent and Good Housekeeping magazines are on the coffee tables just stare at you, as if every woman who comes through these doors automatically wants to be a mother. I’ve learned to keep my earphones in and blast music or stare out of the large window no matter what the sky looks like outside of it.

A gangly black woman with braids flung the door of the waiting open and scanned the room. You’d think she’d know my face by now.  “Ava McLeigh?”  That was my cue. Let’s get this over with.

Inside the patient room, I grabbed a few non-mom magazines to flip through while I waited. I’d already given my urine sample, so the rest of the time should be easy breezy. Trish Katy, a tall beauty, walked in with a big grin. She’s been my doctor for so long, I don’t even bother calling her such. She’s Trish, and somewhat like a sister to me after all this time. Never judges me for my rants about how my body turns on me at given second. The pain I endure during a decade long bout with endometriosis is a close second to labor pains, she says. And for that alone, I’ll pass on carrying something inside of me for nine months.

“Ava, what’s up? We just saw each other, didn’t we?”

“Yes, we did, but this is a special visit…”

She cocked her head to the right and raised her eyebrows. “Yesss??”

“Take it all out. I’ve made my decision.”

“Take what all out?”

“You know…the stuff.”

“As in a hysterectomy, which will kill your chances of having a baby?!

I stared at her blankly. We’ve been through this a million times.

She laughed. “Honey, I don’t know if that’s something you want to go through with if you’re still referring to your reproductive organs as ‘the stuff.’”

“I’m serious.”

“Is the pain back?”

“No.”

“Have you talked to your other doctors?”

“No.”

She heaved a deep sigh. “So, why are you back on this again? I thought we agreed that you would wait until you were 35 to make a decision on motherhood. Was the Mirena not enough?”

That contraption’s been knocked out of place more times than I can count. “No, you agreed that I would wait. And I’m 33…and a half, remember? There’s no need to prolong the inevitable.

I don’t want kids, and if I can be frank, I’d like to have hot sex freely without the shackles of birth control or its horrible side effects.”

This time, she rolled her eyes. Hard.

The cute little nurse pushed the door open and asked to see Dr. Katy. I grabbed my phone out of frustation ,hoping this wouldn’t be a struggle. If Trish wouldn’t okay the surgery, someone else would.

She opened the door and stood in the corner.

“So, let’s continue this talk about this hysterectomy,” as I laid back across the examination table like it was my plush sofa at home. “It needs to happen—sooner than later.”

She huffed, as if to mock me, “Well, Ava, as your doctor, it’s my job to give the best medical advice as possible. I’m saying no the surgery.”

“Why?!”

“You’re pregnant.”

She dropped my test results on the table, and then the room went black.

The Stories of People: The Boy in the Picture, Pt. 2

~~~

After some months of talking by phone, Skyping and failed visit attempts, we finally saw each other again. As I sat on a breezy riverfront wrapped in his jacket, he shared that he was no longer attached and wanted to spend more time with me. I obliged and before I knew it, we entered a courtship. Those things I had been missing, like trust and assurance in men, were quickly restored.

I didn’t stop to pay attention to some of the things he’d said in conversation that made me question if he was as serious about us as he’d said. I ignored that our sense of humor wasn’t compatible even though I missed being able to belt out laughs with a man. He’d told me he wasn’t “the funny guy,” so I willingly became the comedienne. Secretly, I felt rushed into how the relationship was progressing considering how it began.

There was chemistry, but there was a small strand of something missing, and whatever that something was, it was important. To blight the feeling, I remembered that the man who made me laugh hysterically was a disappearing act who was also emotionally unavailable. I magnified how I felt when the boy in the picture ran his fingers through my hair and kissed me. Add that to listening to my circle of girlfriends dishing of their happiness for me when I thought he was too good to be true.

“Are you sure?” a close friend asked over her crackly cell phone. “He seems like a great guy, but make sure you protect your heart.” I was annoyed because she challenged me and reminded me to trust my gut.

I shrugged off her concern, as well as my own. I’d literally run into this wonderful man, and we’d already learned so much from each other. He taught me to open my heart and verbalize what’s inside, rather than putting a cork on my emotions, and I encouraged him not to sweat the small stuff. I figured we’d come into each other’s lives for a reason, if only for those.

We traveled together up the East Coast. Since my first visit to the New York City, I’d had dreams of walking hand in hand with my lover, sharing a passionate kiss on the street as the rest of the world buzzed by us. There I was in that place with that person–a perfect set-up for my dream to take shape. On a cold December morning, we caught a cab to Harlem from Brooklyn. As we zoomed down avenues and turnpikes, I laid my head on his shoulder and soaked up all the energy the city had to offer.

I was numb.

I didn’t feel what I thought I should’ve felt considering the time, space and place I was in. The feeling caused a small panic, and I tried my hardest to shake it off. Later that day, we leaned into each other for secret kisses over plates of soul food in a small mom and pop eatery. A true Southern gentleman, he and the owner talked as if they were old friends. She was enamored by his bright eyes and magnetic personality just as I was. When we visited an old friend of mine, she pulled me into her bedroom after dinner and gushed about my beau. “I wish you could see the way he looks at you. This is like a romantic comedy!”

There were many talks about our future together and what we would do the “next time we go away.” I made a conscious decision to accept that this man was real, and not a figment of my imagination. Those youthful folks in that old picture could actually be together. Don’t get crazy and mess this up, I told myself.

Just hours before our flight back home, he’d changed his reservation to remain in the city a couple of days with family to prolong going back to his stressful job. I was livid.

As we stood at the escalator to airport security, he pulled me in for a hug and asked, “I just need a couple of days, that’s all. Don’t let this ruin the good time we had this weekend. I’ll be home soon.”

I barked at him, trying make him aware of his selfish and inconsiderate move. I felt immature for doing so, but I stood in the airport security line with eyes full of tears hiding behind my oversized sunglasses anyway. I traveled back home alone.

When he returned and we resolved our quarrel, I realized that for the first time, I wasn’t keeping score in a relationship, trying to one-up my guy. I was pleased with my personal growth.

A routine call about his travel home went unanswered, along with countless other calls and texts that followed. I became worried about him and his family. Was he dead or alive? A random text reply that read “I’m okay” several days later solidified what my intuition had already told me. He was ending things. Did something happen while we were away? Is that why he stayed in New York?

For some reason he couldn’t say, we weren’t going to work as a couple. I didn’t put up a fight because by then, I was already emotionally and mentally exhausted.

I experienced a different emotion for each day of the next week, from confusion to sadness to anger to relief, and then repeat. We spoke more than once about his decision to end things, and he blamed it on a pesky personality trait–indecisiveness–which had left more than a few burned bridges in his past. My warning to him was to look before he leaps before sweeping another woman off her feet knowing she would reach a quick expiration date. There was forgiveness, but no real reconciliation.

Some time passed, and he called. I reluctantly answered. We quickly gave recaps of our lives without each other, and after a few awkward silences, it all became clear. I remembered that weird feeling I had in New York paired with other “shoulder taps” I’d intentionally overlooked from the beginning. He and I should have never been “us.” His abrupt end to things shouldn’t have surprised me either. He’d been upfront about who he was and how he handled relationships. I didn’t miss any of the signs he flashed before me, but I’d ignored my own.

Luckily for me, he had enough courage to acknowledge his feelings and take action, even though he did so erroneously. He wanted to try again, but by then, I was completely sure in my decision to pass on reuniting with him. We, or maybe, just I, shouldn’t have to learn the same lesson twice: Always go with your gut.