And I just really needed that.
And then yesterday was her birthday. And I thought that maybe I should make her something, you know? So I made her Ryan’s Magic Shrimp Pasta. Which didn’t even feel weird. I know it was our thing, but I don’t know. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
And I made it, and she ate it, and she said thank you, and then we went out to a bar with some of her friends. And that should have been enough. That should have been fine.
But I just kept thinking about the first time I made it for you, the way you gushed over it. The way you ate so much more than you should have and you almost made yourself sick. I kept thinking about the way your eyes lit up every year when I said I would make it. I don’t think Ryan’s Magic Shrimp Pasta was about you, I realized. I think it was about me. I think I thrived on your approval. It was like a battery that kept me going. I looked forward to your birthday as much as you did. And it was because I knew that on your birthday, I was the one who made the day worthwhile. It made me feel like I mattered. It made me feel like I was doing something right.
But Emily just ate the Ryan’s Magic Shrimp Pasta and said thank you and wiped her mouth and asked if I was ready to go. She didn’t get it. And this feels so silly to put into words, but it really felt like in not getting Ryan’s Magic Shrimp Pasta, she didn’t get me.
And it made me miss you. Not you, my wife. Or you, the woman who has been with me since I was nineteen years old. You. Lauren Maureen Spencer Cooper. I missed you.
And it wasn’t a passing feeling. It was real. I truly felt there was a hole in my life and the only thing that could fill it was you.
I think this is working, Lauren. I think we’re gonna be OK.
• • •
I drove by the house this evening. I didn’t mean to. I had a dinner I had to go to in downtown, and I took Olympic back across town. I was listening to the radio. They were doing a piece about this serial killer in Colombia, and I was so fascinated I think I stopped paying attention to my driving. When I got to the corner of Olympic and Rimpau, I should have gone straight, but my hand flicked on my turn signal, and I took a right, leading me to the wrong home. It was muscle memory. You make a right turn day after day after day for years, and . . . you know how it is.
I realized I had made a mistake just as I hit the stop sign on Rimpau and 9th, but it was too late. I was going to have to drive by if only to turn around.
When my car got up to our driveway, I admit, I slowed down. I saw the light was on. And then I noticed another car parked in the driveway. I heard Thumper bark. I swear I heard him. I came to a complete stop, I’m embarrassed to say, and I looked into the window a few seconds. I don’t know what I was hoping to see. You and Thumper, probably. But what I saw was you and someone else. Someone, I’m assuming, you’re dating.
I turned off the car. I actually turned the key and pulled it out of the ignition. I undid my seat belt, and I had my hand on the door handle. That’s how close I came to walking into my own house and punching that guy in the f**king face.
But two things stopped me. The first was that I knew it was the wrong thing to do. I knew, as I sat there with my hand on the handle, that it was wrong and I shouldn’t do it. That it would jeopardize everything. That it would make you feel spied on. I didn’t want you to feel that way.
And the second thing was that I was supposed to be at Emily’s in twenty minutes. And how could I explain to her where I was? How could I have explained to you why I had to leave?
I put my seat belt back on, I put the key back in the ignition, and I high-tailed it out of there. I ran through the stop sign. I almost slammed into someone when I hit the red light onto Wilshire. I was ten minutes late to Emily’s, and when she asked, I told her I hit traffic.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a hypocrite. And when I come home, we need curtains for the front window.
• • •
Charlie just called me and told me that he’s having a baby? With some woman named Natalie? And he lives in Los Angeles now? And they are getting married?
I’m going to be an uncle, and I didn’t know. I understand why you didn’t tell me. I understand why you didn’t call. I told you not to. I brought that on myself.
But I wish we could talk about this. I wish we could have talked about this. There’s a lot to say, and you’re the only one to say it to. Part of me thinks if I saw you today, I’d fall in love with you all over again. And another part of me thinks that I would feel something entirely different. Better, even. Because you’re not just the girl I’m infatuated with, you’re not the girl I just met. You’re you. You’re me.
This year has been a success, for me. I know it’s not over. I know the hard part, getting back to a good place together, finding ways to make it work again, I know all of that is still ahead. But I am bursting with the energy to do whatever it takes. Does that make sense?
I’m ready to tackle this marriage. I was missing the energy before. And I have the energy now.
• • •
I crumble to the floor.
In all of the possible scenarios, I always assumed the question was whether or not I would end up brokenhearted.
It never even occurred to me that I might end up breaking a heart.
You have got to be kidding me.” I am standing on Charlie’s doorstep at eight fifteen in the morning, and that’s how I open the conversation. As much as Ryan’s letters left me in tears, they also made me furious at Charlie for calling him behind my back in the first place.
I slept on it. Well, really, I stewed on it. And when I woke up this morning, I was somehow angrier, even more convinced that I had been the victim of a deep and ugly betrayal. So I drove over to Charlie’s house and rang the doorbell. He opened the door, and that’s what I said, “You have got to be kidding me.”
Now he’s just sort of staring at me, deciding what to say.
“You talked to Ryan, I guess,” he says, as he leaves the door open and leads me into the living room. His tone is defensive and personally disappointed. He’s wearing chinos and a white undershirt. I’m interrupting his morning routine getting ready for work.
“Excellent work, detective,” I say. Now’s not the time to explain my hacking habit.
“Look, I had a very good reason,” he says.
“You don’t get to decide things about my marriage,” I say. “Leave Ryan out of this.”
“It’s not about your marriage, Lauren. Jesus.”
Natalie has been sitting on the couch, her hands over her swollen belly. She’s wearing thin sweatpants and a sweatshirt. “I’m going to go into the bedroom,” she says.
“I’m really sorry,” I say to her, somehow able to extract the anger from my voice long enough to speak politely to her. “I didn’t mean to ruin your morning.”
Natalie waves her hand. “It’s totally fine. I thought this moment might come. I’ll be in the bedroom.”
Charlie gives Natalie a look that says both Thank you and I’m sorry.
When she’s gone, I lay into him again. “Do you have no loyalty?”
Charlie shakes his head and tries to remain calm even while I let my voice fly. “Lauren, just hear me out.”
I cross my arms and frown at him. It’s my way of hearing him out and finding him guilty at the same time.
“Ryan is the baby’s uncle.”
“Through me!” I say. “He’s the baby’s uncle because I am the baby’s aunt. By blood.”
“I know. But still. It’s an important distinction, don’t you think? Not just your husband but also the baby’s uncle.”
“So . . . look around, Lauren. Do you see any other men in my life?”
I don’t say anything, I just stare at him.
“We have no brothers,” Charlie says. “Just me.”
“OK,” I say, agreeing with him in order to push the conversation forward.
“And clearly no dad,” Charlie says.