It must be hard being in love with someone and knowing that they’re only kinda in love with you. That half of them will never forget about that Someone Else. I never told Adam I was in love with another man—we had a good thing going, and I wanted to forget about my past, particularly the parts that involved Anthony.
“You’re an open book,” Anthony would tell me, years later, as I huddled in a freezing car with the engine turned off. I had bought some time (and privacy) from Adam under the guise of looking for my phone charger, and was indulging in a brief, forbidden conversation with my old friend.
“You’re not really great at hiding things…anyone could figure out exactly what you were thinking just by looking at you.” Spinning my wedding ring absent-mindedly with my pinky, I picked at the upholstery stitching, mulling over the idea that the lies I told myself—and anyone who would listen—were tenuous, at best.
Adam was madly in love with me, and I loved him. Every weekend he would make the four hour round trip drive from Fort Lewis to Portland, just to see me. He showered me with gifts and affection, made corny Sean Connery impressions when I answered the phone (once my mom picked up, and he had to awkwardly backtrack his way into a normal conversational voice), and took me away from my problems at home. From Friday night to early Sunday evening, babysitting my brother 6 days a week didn’t seem so bad. My mom’s wild mood swings were bearable, because I could talk to Adam about it afterwards. When Adam came to visit, my depression eased itself into manageability, and I was reminded that I was worthy of trust and love.
He was my first serious relationship, and—since I grew up in a home where autonomy was non-existent, and privacy was a joke—I never really allowed myself to pick-up the full extent of his controlling nature while we were dating.
“It’s just creepy how he follows you around and pets you,” Kelsey said on more than one occasion.
“He doesn’t pet me,” I countered, “He just kind of strokes my hair. It’s long, he likes it. He likes being near me.” Kelsey wrinkled her nose. “It’s creepy.”
The dreams were the worst part. Dreams about having sex with Adam and having him turn into my father raping me, or the other way around. I woke up aroused, and repulsed by myself.
“It’s just your brain trying to work things out,” My mom said one evening after dinner. “He’s the first major male figure in your life since your father, and your mind is making that association.” Dreams were something she took fairly seriously, and—despite my worries that it would always betray some dark, subconscious desire that she would pick up on—they were always one of the few ways we communicated with each other. Dreams were a safe zone, you could say things through your dreams you couldn’t say to someone’s face.
“So…you don’t think it’s trying to tell me that Adam is just like dad?”
“No, honey. I think Adam will do very well for himself in life. He has a mind for business, and is a hard worker.”
Several weeks later, Anthony came home. He was only in town for a few short days before shipping off to his designated station of 29 Palms Base, California. In the three months he had been gone, my relationship with Adam had descended into something painfully serious, with more than just whispers of marriage.
As we pulled into the Shari’s parking lot, we saw our friends seated at a booth just inside the diner’s large picture windows. Empty drinks littered the table, and the remains of their mostly-eaten dinners were being shuttled away by a tired-looking waitress.
“You know he’ll be back here all the time, sweetie.” I cast Adam a Look—he had spent the better part of an hour “getting ready”: Preening his army regulation haircut, helping his mom with her email, and laying on the couch with his head on my lap.
“It’s kind of pointless to go see him now,” He continued, deliberately parking in a space facing away from the restaurant. “Katie’s here, and he’s a teenage guy—he’s gonna want to get laid as much as possible before he ships off to base.” I think he liked to remind me of the hopelessness of my crush, that he was the one I was supposed to be in love with.
“Yeah, but he just got back from boot camp. And he’s my best friend.”
“I thought I was your best friend, sweetie?”
“I—of course, you know what I meant.” I flushed—angry at myself for the slip—angry at Adam for pulling it out of me.
“I know, sweetie, I’m just jokin’ with you.” Adam smiled, kissed me, and lovingly stroked my hair as we walked inside.
They were already leaving when we walked in. We met them in the dark, wood-paneled lobby, flanked on either side by menus behind glass, and heavy wooden plaques with engraved brass nameplates of Manager of the Year.
I could smell him, in that tiny room. That boy smell. The smell of sweat and rain assaulted me, and suddenly I was drowning in memories of exhausted, jostling bus rides home, and the endless fidgeting tics of his strong, stubby, perpetually dirty hands.
“Hey fools, what’s up?!” We were tying together strings of pulling firecrackers, and rigging them to his mom’s car. The little ones that make snapping noises when you pull on the strings.
“Hey, Anthony, good to see you, bullet-catcher!” Her car had been riddled with them: the gas pedal, the steering wheel, even a long chain from one car door to the other.
“Hey, fuck you man, alright? Us Marines gotta go in and do the real work for you Army bitches.” We hid for hours before his mom got off work. When she got to the car, not one of them snapped. Not one. His mom drove me home that night—she gave me her opal ring, “Because I like you a lot,” she’d said.
“He-lloooo—Pa-luhm-bow? What are you fuckin’ doin’, man?” I broke into a carefully-restrained grin. He was taller, now—or, at least, he stood straighter. His hair was a shorter version of Adam’s, his face, a little meaner. But the boy I loved was still there.
“Hey, fucker. Don’t give me that fuckin’ sass, I’ll beat your ass.”
“‘Don’t give me that sass, I’ll beat your ass’—shit, man, you’re a fuckin’ poet and didn’t even know it!” I socked him in the stomach as we moved outside, noticing how much firmer his stomach was—how much less of it there was.
“Augh Jesus, you bitch! Aw fuck, this is how you welcome me home?!” He doubled over, laughing, coughing, and blindly reaching out for a wall to lean against. “Aw you’re a fuckin’ asshole, man…I even got you a present…”
Intrigued (and now slightly guilt-stricken), I gingerly patted his back.
“I’m sorry, buddy….uh…what did you get me?”
Any damage Anthony took seemed to be superficial, since he immediately stood up straight and rummaged through his pockets.
“Hang on…here ya go!” With the pride of a puppy bringing you a grimy tennis ball, he held out a filthy, well-worn wristwatch. The band was black and blue fabric, the edges tufted with what appeared to be years of wear. A label on the back faintly read “IRONMAN TRIATHALON TIMEX,” and, as I leaned in to examine it closer, I noticed that it smelled quite bad. Like mud, and body odor, and that brown industrial smell that all military items seemed to carry.
“It was my drill instructor’s watch!” he beamed. “One day I asked him what time it was, and he told me ‘You don’t need to know what time it is,’ so I decided he didn’t need to know the time, either.”
The watch’s green digital face blinked the time at me: 8:45.
“But how did you get it?”
“I broke into his office and took it.”
“You what?!” But Anthony had already moved on.
“Look at this shit, man,” Anthony raked up his shirt, exposing his newly-chiseled (but still weirdly hairy) abs. “I lost 50 fuckin’ pounds!” I gave his new body only the most cursory of glances, permanently memorizing every tanned, revealing detail as I put a reassuring arm around Adam. Was this how men felt when they looked at a woman’s breasts? I was suddenly uncomfortably warm, and sweating lightly everywhere.
The brief welcome seemed all Adam and I could stand to bear—for each our own reasons. On the way back to his mom’s house, Adam slid a hand up my skirted thigh. I edged away, feigning a tease to hide the wetness that stuck to my thighs. I clutched the watch in my right hand, holding it between the car seat and the door so Adam couldn’t see.
Later that night, as we laid naked on his queen-sized, inflatable mattress, listening to the rain on the roof overhead, he ran his hand down my shoulders, hips, and thighs, squeezing my flesh as he found his favorite dips and curves.
“Sweetie, you’re just so beautiful.” His voice quivered with excitement, with barely-concealed glee that I was there. He pulled me around to face him, his petting getting heavier, more urgent.
“I just can’t believe you’re mine.”