• • •
I’m not going to take Thumper. This pain of living without both of you, it’s too hard. It’s too lonely. It’s too sad. I can’t do that to you.
• • •
I can’t see through my tears anymore. Looking at these is sort of like standing in a burning-hot shower and seeing how long I can bear it. I’m way past the point of worrying about whether this is wrong. I know it’s wrong. I know he isn’t sure whether he wants me to see these. But I also know that I have to read them. They matter too much. I care too much. It’s too much.
These letters are the evidence of how ugly our marriage has become and yet proof that we are tied to each other. We can hate and love, miss and loathe each other all within the same breath. We can never want to see each other again while never wanting to let go.
He hates me as much as he loves me. I hate these letters as much as I love them. The pain and the joy are locked together, tightly bound. I read the letters over and over again, hoping to separate one from the other, hoping to discern whether love or hate wins out in the end. But it’s like pulling on the ends of a Chinese finger trap. The more I try, the tighter they cling to each other.
When I finally get hold of myself, eyes dry, nose running, light-headed, I go into the kitchen and pull a piece of bacon out of the fridge. I put it in a pan. I wait for it to sizzle and pop. When it does, I put it in Thumper’s bowl. He comes running as he hears the sound of the bacon hitting the stainless steel. He eats it within half a second. I pull out another piece and put it in the pan as he waits. That’s when I really put the pieces together. If Ryan sends me that e-mail about me keeping Thumper, then I won’t see him in a few weeks. I really will be on my own for the foreseeable future.
On a scale of one to ten, how bad is it to log into someone’s e-mail without them knowing?” I ask Rachel over the phone. I’m sitting at my desk at work. I’ve read the e-mails tens of times. Some parts I even know by heart.
“I guess I’d need to know the particulars,” she says.
“The particulars are that I logged into Ryan’s e-mail and read some of his e-mails.”
“Ten. That is a ten out of ten. You should not have done that.”
“In my defense, they were addressed to me.”
“Did he send them to you?”
“They were in his drafts folder.”
“Still ten. That’s really bad.”
“Wow, you’re not even going to try to see my side of it?”
“Lauren, it’s really bad. It’s dishonest. It’s rude. It’s disrespectful. It completely undermines—”
“OK, OK,” I say. “I get it.”
I know what I’ve done is wrong. I guess I’m not really wondering if it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong. What I’m looking for is for Rachel to say something like, Oh, yeah, that’s wrong, but I would have done the same thing, and you should keep doing it.
“So I should not keep doing it?” I ask her. Maybe if I go about this directly, I can get the answer I’m looking for.
“No, you absolutely should not.”
“Oh, for f**k’s sake!” I say. I should not have done it. But what can I do? I already did it. And does it really matter if I keep doing it? I mean, it’s already done. If he asks, Have you logged into my e-mail account and read my personal e-mails that were addressed to you? I will have to answer yes whether I did it once or one hundred times.
“Let’s say he addresses another one to me, though,” I say. “Then it’s OK to look.”
“It’s not OK to be checking in the first place,” Rachel says. “I have to get back to work,” she adds. “But you better cut it out.”
“Ugh, fine.” It’s quiet for a moment before I ask my final question. “You’re not judging me, right? You still think I’m a good person?”
“I think you’re the best person,” she says. “But I’m not going to tell you what you’re doing isn’t wrong. It’s just not my style.”
“Yeah, fine,” I say, and I hang up the phone.
I walk over to Mila’s desk.
“On a scale of one to ten, how bad is it to log into someone’s e-mail without them knowing?”
She looks up from her computer and frowns at me. She picks up her coffee cup and crosses her arms.
“Is the person you? And the other person Ryan?”
“If it was . . .” I say.
She considers it. “I can see where you’d think I was the person to help you justify this, because really, I would probably read them if I were in your position,” she says, swiveling back and forth in her chair. A victory! “But that doesn’t mean it’s OK.” Short-lived.
“He’s writing to me, Mila. He’s writing to me.”
“Did he send them to you?”
“WHY IS EVERYONE SO PREOCCUPIED WITH THAT?”
Everyone turns and looks in my direction. I switch to a whisper.
“The letters are for me, Mila,” I say. “He didn’t even change his password. That’s basically like he’s admitting he wants me to read them.” I’m now too close to her face, and my whisper is breathy. I’m pretty sure she can tell I had an onion bagel for breakfast.
Mila politely backs away a bit. “You don’t have to whisper. Just don’t shout. A normal tone of voice is fine,” she says in an exemplary normal tone of voice.
“Fine,” I say, a bit too loudly, and then I find my rhythm again. “Fine. All I’m asking is that if you were me and you knew that he was writing to you, baring his soul to you, saying the things that he never said when you were married, saying things that broke your heart and made you cry and made you feel loved all at the same time—if that was happening, are you telling me you wouldn’t read them?”
Mila considers it. Her face turns from stoic to reluctant understanding. “It would be tempting,” she says. I already feel better just hearing that. “It would be hard not to read them. And you have a halfway decent point about the password.”
I pump my fists in the air. “Yes!” I say.
“But just because something is understandable doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
“I miss him,” I say to Mila. It just comes out of my mouth.
Mila’s resolve fades. “If it was you writing the letters, would you want him to read them even if you didn’t send them?”
My gut answer is yes. But I take my time and really think about it. I stand and look at Mila and consider her question. I put myself in Ryan’s shoes. The answer that keeps coming back is yes.
“Yes,” I say. “I know that answer seems self-serving, but I really mean it. He said in his letters that he feels like he often didn’t tell me how he really felt. That he kept a lot of stuff inside just to make things easier, and then he started to resent me. I did that, too! I would sometimes choose to just go along with what he wanted or what he said so that I didn’t cause a fight. And somewhere along the way, I started to feel like I couldn’t be honest. Does that make sense? Things became so tense, and I started to resent him so much that I was suddenly furious about everything, and I didn’t know where to start. I think he feels the same way. This could be an opportunity for us. This could be what we need. If it were me writing to him, trying to bare my soul, trying to show the real me, I would want him to read it.” I shrug. “I would want him to see the real me.”
Mila listens, and when I’m done, she smiles at me. “Well, then, maybe it is the right thing for the two of you,” she says. “But you’re taking a huge risk. You need to know that. This could be exactly what he wants. He may be happy to know that you can understand him better and that you know the deepest parts of his soul and you accept him for that. That might be what he’s hoping for.” From her tone, I can tell that she’s not done, but I wish that was the end of the sentence. “But he also might be furious.” Here we go. “He might be livid that you betrayed his trust. He might not trust you again. It could be a terrible way to start off this new chapter in your lives together. When the year is over and he comes back, how can you tell him all that you know? Are you going to admit what you did? And do you really, truly, in your heart, feel like he is going to say, ‘OK, sounds good’?”