For a moment, I think that if I saw him right now, if Ryan were here, I’d have the same look on my face as this couple has. I want him in my arms that badly. But how long would it last? How long before he said something that pissed me off?
When Rachel and I finally get headed in the right direction, we walk out onto the street level and wade our way through people hailing cabs and hopping into their friends’ cars. We are standing at the crosswalk, waiting to cross the street, when I see two people waiting for a shuttle. As quickly as I would recognize my own face in the mirror, I know what I am looking at. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I am looking at the back of Ryan’s head.
It doesn’t even register as weird at first; my brain simply processes it as a normal, everyday occurrence. Oh, here is that person who’s always around. Here he is. Except this time, he is holding the hand of a slim, tall brunette. And now he’s bending down to kiss her.
My heart drops. My jaw drops. Rachel starts crossing the street, but I just stand there, frozen. Rachel turns around to see me there, and her eyes catch mine. She follows my gaze, and she sees it, too. Ryan. Ryan at Arrivals. Ryan. At Arrivals. Kissing a woman. My heart starts beating so fast that I almost feel I can hear it. Is it possible to hear blood pulsing through you? Does it sound like a quiet, violent gong?
Rachel grabs my hand and doesn’t say anything. She is determined to get me out of this situation. She wants me to cross the street. She wants me to get into the car. But we have missed the walk signal, and we can’t just run through this steady stream of cars, as much as, right now, that feels like the only thing to do.
It’s good that she’s holding me. I fear that I lack the self-control not to go over there and knock him down. I want to pummel him to the ground and ask him why he would do this. Ask him how he looks at himself in the mirror. I swear to God, it’s as if I can physically feel the pain. It’s a physical pain. And it’s searing through me. And then the light turns, and the white walk sign is on, and I put one foot in front of the other, and I move forward, and I think of nothing but how much this hurts and which foot goes where. When we get to the other side of the street, when the walk sign turns into a red hand, I turn around and look at him. We are now separated by a sea of speeding cars.
When my eyes find him again, when they fixate on the front of his face, I can plainly see that I was wrong. It’s not him. It’s not Ryan.
I can spot Ryan in a crowd. I can recognize his scent from another room. Just a few months ago, we were separated at the grocery store, and I found him by recognizing his sneeze from a few aisles away. But at this airport, this time, I got it wrong. It’s not Ryan. All of that fear and jealousy and hurt and pain so sharp I thought it could cut me—it wasn’t real. It was entirely imaginary. It’s stunning, really, what I can do to myself with only a misunderstanding.
“It wasn’t him,” I say to Rachel.
She slows down and looks. “Wait, are you serious?” she says, squinting. “Oh, my God, you’re right.”
“It wasn’t him,” I say, stunned. My pulse slows, my heart relaxes. And yet I am still overstimulated and jumpy. I slow down my breathing.
Rachel puts her hand on her chest. “Oh, thank God,” she says. “I did not want to have to talk you down from that.”
We get into the car. I put on my seat belt. I roll down the window. It’s OK, I tell myself. It didn’t happen.
But it will someday.
He’s going to kiss someone else, if he hasn’t already. He’s going to touch her. He’s going to want her in a way that he no longer wants me. He’s going to tell her things he never told me. He’s going to lie there next to her, feeling satisfied and happy. She’s going to remind him of how good it can feel to be with a woman. And while all of this is happening, he’s not going to be thinking about me at all. And there’s not a thing I can do to stop it.
Over the course of the next few days, it is all I can think about. I am seething with jealously over something that I have no evidence of. It consumes me to the point where I can’t sleep night after night. By Friday, I can’t keep all this angst to myself. I ask Mila’s advice.
“Do you think he’s already slept with someone?” I ask her when we’re getting tea from the office kitchen.
“How should I know?”
“I just mean, do you think that he has?”
“Why don’t we talk about this at lunch?” Mila says, looking around the kitchen in the hopes that no one is listening.
“Yeah, OK,” I say.
Mila and I go out for Chinese food, and she brings it up. It takes her about four minutes. Which is four minutes longer than I wanted to wait, but I didn’t want to seem like a crazy person.
“Do you want the truth?” she says.
I’m not clear on how to answer, because it’s entirely possible that I want to be lied to.
“Yes,” she says. “I think he probably has.”
It’s a knife in my chest. I’ve never been the jealous type with Ryan. It was always so clear that he wanted no one but me. For so much of our relationship, it was obvious that he loved me and desired me. I never felt threatened by any woman. He was mine. And now I’ve set him free.
“Why?” I say. “Why do you think that?”
“Well, first of all, he’s a man. That’s the biggest piece of evidence. Second of all, you said yourself you two were not having all that much sex. So it’s probably been pent up inside of him. He probably slept with the first woman who looked at him the right way.”
I take a long sip of my soda. It becomes a gulp and then sort of a chug. I put my cup down. “Do you think it’s with someone prettier than me?”
“How on earth would I know that?” Mila says. “You have to stop torturing yourself. Accept that it has probably happened. The stress of questioning whether it has or has not happened is too much. You have to just assume that it has happened and start to deal with it. He slept with someone else. What are you going to do?”
“Die, mostly,” I say. Why does this feel so awful? Why does it feel so much more awful than when he left? Deciding to separate was hard. Actually separating was hard. But this? This is something entirely different. This is devastating. This is . . . I don’t know. It feels as if I will never feel better in my entire life.
Mila grabs my hand. “You’re not going to die. You are going to live! That is the point here. C’mon! You were not happy with him. Let’s not sugarcoat the past. You were deeply unhappy. You said yourself that you didn’t love him. You two are going your separate ways. If anything, this should just show you that it’s time for you to find your own way.”
“What does that mean, though?” I say. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?
Mila puts down her fork and clasps her hands, getting down to business. “What are you doing this weekend?” she asks me pointedly. “Do you have plans for tonight?”
“Well, I got a new book from the library,” I say. Mila makes a face but doesn’t interrupt me. “And then I heard LACMA is free tomorrow, so I thought maybe I’d check that out. Haven’t been in a while.” I made that last part up. I have absolutely no plans to go to LACMA. I haven’t gone to an art museum since college. Probably not going to start now. I just didn’t want to admit that I have no plans at all.
“Uh-huh.” Mila is not impressed.
“What?” I say.
“That sounds pretty close to what I’m going to do, except instead of LACMA, I’m going to take Brendan and Jackson to get their hair cut.”
“OK . . . ?” I say.
“I’m in a committed relationship with twins, and you’re single.”
Single? No. I am not single. “I am not single,” I say. “I’m . . . married but . . .”
“Oh, that’s an awful word.” I don’t know why it’s such an awful word. There’s just something about how all the vowels and consonants come together that I don’t care for.
“You’re single, Lauren. You live alone. You have no one who expects you to be anywhere at any given time.”