I moved in with her and her parents, Carl and Tina, when my family left for London. Carl and Tina treated me as if I were their own. They coached me through applying for schools, made sure I did my homework, and kept me on a curfew. Carl routinely tried to persuade me to become a doctor, like him and his father. By then, he knew that Gabby wouldn’t follow on his path. She already knew she wanted to work in public service. I think Carl figured I was his last shot. But Tina instead encouraged me to find my own way. Unfortunately, I’m still not sure what that way is. But back then, I just assumed it would all fall into place, that the big things in life would take care of themselves.
After we went off to college, Gabby in Chicago, myself in Boston, we still talked all the time but started to find new lives for ourselves. Freshman year, she became friends with another black student at her school named Vanessa. Gabby would tell me about their trips to the nearby mall and the parties they went to. I’d have been lying if I said I wasn’t nervous back then, in some small way, that Vanessa would become closer to Gabby than I ever could, that Vanessa could share something with Gabby that I was not a part of.
I asked Gabby about it over the phone once. I was lying in my dorm room on my twin XL bed, the phone sweaty and hot on my ear from our already-hours-long conversation.
“Do you feel like Vanessa understands you better than I do?” I asked her. “Because you’re both black?” The minute the question came out of my mouth, I was embarrassed. It had seemed reasonable in my head but sounded irrational coming out of my mouth. If words were things, I would have rushed to pluck them out of the air and put them back in my mouth.
Gabby laughed at me. “Do you think white people understand you more than I do just because they’re white?”
“No,” I said. “Of course not.”
“So be quiet,” Gabby said.
And I did. If there is one thing I love about Gabby, it is that she has always known when I should be quiet. She is, in fact, the only person who often proves to know me better than I know myself.
“Let me guess,” she says now, as she takes my carry-on bag out of my hand, a gentlemanly gesture. “We’re going to need to rent one of those baggage carts to get all of your stuff.”
I laugh. “In my defense, I am moving across the country,” I say.
I long ago stopped buying furniture or large items. I tend to sublet furnished apartments. You learn after one or two moves that buying an IKEA bed, putting it together, and then breaking it down and selling it for fifty bucks six months later is a waste of time and money. But I do still have things, some of which have survived multiple cross-country trips. It would feel callous to let go of them now.
“I’m going to guess there’s at least four bottles of Orange Ginger body lotion in here,” Gabby says as she grabs one of my bags off the carousel.
I shake my head. “Only the one. I’m running low.”
I started using body lotion somewhere around the time she and I met. We would go to the mall together and smell all the lotions in all the different stores. But every time, I kept buying the same one. Orange Ginger. At one point, I had seven bottles of the stuff stocked up.
We grab the rest of my bags from the carousel and pack them one after another onto the cart, the two of us pushing with all our might across the lanes of airport traffic and into the parking structure. We load them into her tiny car and then settle into our seats.
We make small talk as she makes her way out of the garage and navigates the streets leading us to the freeway. She asks about my flight and how it felt to leave New York. She apologizes that her guest room is small. I tell her not to be ridiculous, and I thank her again for letting me stay.
The repetition of history is not lost on me. It’s more than a decade later, and I am once again staying in Gabby’s guest room. It’s been more than ten years, and yet I am still floating from place to place, relying on the kindness of Gabby and her family. This time, it’s Gabby and her husband, Mark, instead of Gabby and her parents. But if anything, that just highlights the difference between the two of us, how much Gabby has changed since then and how much I have not. Gabby’s the VP of Development at a nonprofit that works with at-risk teenagers. I’m a waitress. And not a particularly good one.
Once Gabby is flying down the freeway, once driving no longer takes her attention, or maybe once she is going so fast she knows I can’t jump out of the car, she asks what she has been dying to ask since I hugged her hello. “So what happened? Did you tell him you were leaving?”
I sigh loudly and look out the window. “He knows not to contact me,” I say. “He knows I don’t want to see him ever again. So I suppose it doesn’t really matter where he thinks I am.”
Gabby looks straight ahead at the road, but I see her nod, pleased with me.
I need her approval right now. Her opinion of me is currently a better litmus test than my own. It’s been a little rough going lately. And while I know Gabby will always love me, I also know that as of late, I have tested her unconditional support.
Mostly because I started sleeping with a married man.
I didn’t know he was married at first. And for some reason, I thought that meant it was OK. He never admitted he was married. He never wore a wedding ring. He didn’t even have a paler shade of skin around his ring finger, the way magazines tell you married men will. He was a liar. A good one, at that. And even though I suspected the truth, I thought that if he never said it, if he never admitted it to my face, then I wasn’t accountable for the fact that it was true.
I suspected something was up when he once didn’t answer my calls for six days and then finally called me back acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I suspected there was another woman when he refused to let me use his phone. I suspected that I was, in fact, the other woman when we ran into a coworker of his at a restaurant in SoHo, and rather than introduce me to the man, Michael told me I had something in my teeth and that I should go to the bathroom to get it out. I did go to the bathroom. And I found nothing there. But if I’m being honest, I also found it hard to look at myself in the mirror for more than a few seconds before going back out there and pretending I didn’t know what he was trying to do.
And Gabby, of course, knew all of this. I was admitting it to her at the same rate I was admitting it to myself.
“I think he’s married,” I finally said to her a month or so ago. I was sitting in bed, still in my pajamas, talking to her on my laptop, and fixing my bun.
I watched as Gabby’s pixelated face frowned. “I told you he was married,” she said, her patience wearing thin. “I told you this three weeks ago. I told you that you need to stop this. Because it’s wrong. And because that is some woman’s husband. And because you shouldn’t allow a man to treat you like a mistress. I told you all of this.”
“I know, but I really didn’t think he was married. He would have told me if he was. You know? So I didn’t think he was. And I’m not going to ask him, because that’s so insulting, isn’t it?” That was my rationale. I didn’t want to insult him.
“You need to cut this crap out, Hannah. I’m serious. You are a wonderful person who has a lot to offer the world. But this is wrong. And you know it.”
I listened to her. And then I let all of her advice fly right through my head and out into the wind. As if it was meant for someone else and wasn’t mine to hold on to.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t think you’re right about this. Michael and I met at a bar in Bushwick on a Wednesday night. I never go to Bushwick. And I rarely go out on a Wednesday night. And neither does he! What are the odds of that? That two people would come together like that?”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Why would I be joking? I’m talking about fate here. Honestly. Let’s say he is married . . .”
“We don’t know that. But let’s say that he is.”
“Let’s say that he is. That doesn’t mean that we weren’t fated to meet. For all we know, I’m just playing out the natural course of destiny here. Maybe he’s married and that’s OK because it’s how things were meant to be.”