I could tell Gabby was disappointed in me. I could see it in her eyebrows and the turn of her lips.
“Look, I don’t even know that he’s married,” I said. But I did. I did know it. And because I knew it, I had to run as far away from it as I could. So I said, “You know, Gabby, even if he is married, that doesn’t mean I’m not better for him than this other person. All’s fair in love and war.”
Two weeks later, his wife found out about me and called me screaming.
He’d done this before.
She’d found two others.
And did I know they had two children?
I did not know that.
It’s very easy to rationalize what you’re doing when you don’t know the faces and the names of the people you might hurt. It’s very easy to choose yourself over someone else when it’s an abstract.
And I think that’s why I kept everything abstract.
I had been playing the “Well, But” game. The “We Don’t Know That for Sure” game. The “Even So” game. I had been viewing the truth through my own little lens, one that was narrow and rose-colored.
And then, suddenly, it was as if the lens fell from my face, and I could suddenly see, in staggering black-and-white, what I had been doing.
Does it matter that once I faced the truth I behaved honorably? Does it matter that once I heard his wife’s voice, once I knew the names of his children, I never spoke to him again?
Does it matter that I can see, clear as day, my own culpability and that I feel deep remorse? That a small part of me hates myself for relying on willful ignorance to justify what I suspected was wrong?
Gabby thinks it does. She thinks it redeems me. I’m not so sure.
Once Michael was out of my life, I realized I didn’t have much else going for me in New York. The winter was harsh and cold and only seemed to emphasize further how alone I was in a city of millions. I called my parents and my sister, Sarah, a lot that first week after breaking up with Michael, not to talk about my problems but to hear friendly voices. I often got their voice mails. They always called me back. They always do. But I could never seem to accurately guess when they might be available. And very often, with the time difference, we had only a small sliver of time to catch one another.
Last week, everything just started to pile up. The girl whose apartment I was subletting gave me two weeks’ notice that she needed the apartment back. My boss at work hit on me and implied that better shifts went to women who showed cleavage. I got stuck on the G train for an hour and forty-five minutes when a train broke down at Greenpoint Avenue. Michael kept calling me and leaving voice mails asking to explain himself, telling me that he wanted to leave his wife for me, and I was embarrassed to admit that it made me feel better even as it made me feel absolutely terrible.
So I called Gabby. And I cried. I admitted that things were harder in New York than I had ever let on. I admitted that this wasn’t working, that my life was not shaping up the way I’d wanted it to. I told her I needed to change.
And she said, “Come home.”
It took me a minute before I realized she meant that I should move back to Los Angeles. That’s how long it’s been since I thought of my hometown as home.
“To L.A.?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “Come home.”
“You know, Ethan is there,” I said. “He moved back a few years ago, I think.”
“So you’ll see him,” Gabby said. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing that happened to you. Getting back together with a good guy.”
“It is warmer there,” I said, looking out my tiny window at the dirty snow on the street below me.
“It was seventy-two the other day,” she said.
“But changing cities doesn’t solve the larger problem,” I said, for maybe the first time in my life. “I mean, I need to change.”
“I know,” she said. “Come home. Change here.”
It was the first time in a long time that something made sense.
Now Gabby grabs my hand for a moment and squeezes it, keeping her eye on the road. “I’m proud of you that you’re taking control of your life,” she says. “Just by getting on the plane this morning, you’re getting your life together.”
“You think so?” I ask.
She nods. “I think Los Angeles will be good for you. Don’t you? Returning to your roots. It’s a crime we’ve lived so far apart for so many years. You’re correcting an injustice.”
I laugh. I’m trying to see this move as a victory instead of a defeat.
Finally, we pull onto Gabby’s street, and she parks her car at the curb.
We are in front of a complex on a steep, hilly street. Gabby and Mark bought a townhouse last year. I look at the addresses on the row of houses and search for the number four, to see which one is theirs. I may not have been here before, but I’ve been sending cards, baked goods, and various gifts to Gabby for months. I know her address by heart. Just as I catch the number on the door in the glow of the streetlight, I see Mark come out and walk toward us.
Mark is a tall, conventionally handsome man. Very physically strong, very traditionally male. I’ve always had a penchant for guys with pretty eyes and five o’clock shadows, and I thought Gabby did, too. But she ended up with Mark, the poster boy for clean-cut and stable. He’s the kind of guy who goes to the gym for health reasons. I have never done that.
I open my car door and grab one of my bags. Gabby grabs another. Mark meets us at the car. “Hannah!” he says as he gives me a big hug. “It is so nice to see you.” He takes the rest of the bags out of the car, and we head into the house. I look around their living room. It’s a lot of neutrals and wood finishes. Safe but gorgeous.
“Your room is upstairs,” she says, and the three of us walk up the tight staircase to the second floor. There is a master bedroom and a bedroom across the hall.
Gabby and Mark lead me into the guest room, and we put all the bags down.
It’s a small room but big enough for just me. There’s a double bed with a billowy white comforter, a desk, and a dresser.
It’s late, and I am sure both Gabby and Mark are tired, so I do my best to be quick.
“You guys go ahead to bed. I can get myself settled,” I say.
“You sure?” Gabby asks.
Mark gives me a hug and heads to their bedroom. Gabby tells him she’ll be there in a moment.
“I’m really happy you’re here,” she says to me. “In all of your city hopping, I always hoped you’d come back. At least for a little while. I like having you close by.”
“Well, you got me,” I tell her, smiling. “Perhaps even closer than you were thinking.”
“Don’t be silly,” she says. “Live in my guest room until we’re both ninety years old, as far as I’m concerned.” She gives me a hug and heads to her room. “If you wake up before we do, feel free to start the coffee.”
After I hear the bedroom door shut, I grab my toiletry bag and head into the bathroom.
The light in here is bright and unforgiving; some might even go so far as to describe it as harsh. There’s a magnifying mirror by the sink. I grab it and pull it toward my face. I can tell I need to get my eyebrows waxed, but overall, there isn’t too much to complain about. As I start to push the mirror back into place, the view grazes the outside of my left eye.
I pull on my skin, somewhat in denial of what I’m seeing. I let it bounce back into shape. I stare and inspect.
I have the beginnings of crow’s-feet.
I have no apartment and no job. I have no steady relationship or even a city to call home. I have no idea what I want to be doing with my life, no idea what my purpose is, and no real sign of a life goal. And yet time has found me. The years I’ve spent dilly-dallying around at different jobs in different cities show on my face.
I have wrinkles.
I let go of the mirror. I brush my teeth. I wash my face. I resolve to buy night cream and start wearing sunscreen. And then I turn down the covers and get into bed.
My life may be a little bit of a disaster. I may not make the best decisions sometimes. But I am not going to lie here and stare at the ceiling, worrying the night away.