I sit on the sofa. I turn on the TV. I can’t relax while he’s here, but I’m also not going to stand over him.
The movers ring the bell soon after, and he rushes to answer the door.
“If you guys are going to be in and out,” I tell him, “I’ll keep Charlemagne in the bedroom.”
“Great,” he says. “Thanks.” The movers come in, and Charlemagne and I stay in my room.
I feel like crying for some reason. Maybe it’s my hormones. Maybe it’s because I never wanted Gabby to have to go through this. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to tell anymore what’s my real reason for crying, laughing, or standing still.
When he’s done, he knocks on my door. “That’s the last of it,” he says.
“Great,” I say back.
He looks down at the floor. Then up at me. “I’m sorry,” he says. “For what it’s worth.”
“It’s not worth very much,” I tell him. Maybe it’s because he has the audacity to try to apologize that I no longer feel for him.
“I know,” he says. “This situation isn’t ideal.”
“Let’s not do this,” I tell him.
“She’s going to end up with someone better for her than me,” he says. “You, of all people, should know that’s good news.”
“Oh, I know she’s going to end up with someone better than you,” I tell him. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you acted like a chickenshit about it, and instead of being honest, you lied and you cheated.”
“You know, when you meet the love of your life, it makes you do crazy things,” he says in his own defense. As if I couldn’t possibly understand what he’s been through because I haven’t met my soul mate. As if being in love is an excuse for anything. “I didn’t want to love Jennifer this way. I didn’t mean for it to happen. But when you have that kind of connection with someone, nothing can stand in its way.”
I don’t believe that being in love absolves you of anything. I no longer believe that all’s fair in love and war. I’d go so far as to say your actions in love are not an exception to who you are. They are, in fact, the very definition of who you are. “Why are you trying to convince me you’re a good guy?”
“Because you’re the only one Gabby will listen to.”
“I’m not going to defend you to her.”
“I know that—”
“And more to the point, Mark, I don’t agree with you. I don’t think meeting the love of your life gives you carte blanche to ruin everything in your path. There are a lot of people out there who find the person they believe they are supposed to be with, and it doesn’t work out because they have other things they have to do, and instead of being a liar and running from their responsibilities, they act like adults and do the right thing.”
“I just want Gabby to know that I never meant to hurt her.”
“OK, fine,” I tell him, so that he will leave. But the truth is, it’s not OK. It’s not OK at all.
It doesn’t matter if we don’t mean to do the things we do. It doesn’t matter if it was an accident or a mistake. It doesn’t even matter if we think this is all up to fate. Because regardless of our destiny, we still have to answer for our actions. We make choices, big and small, every day of our lives, and those choices have consequences.
We have to face those consequences head-on, for better or worse. We don’t get to erase them just by saying we didn’t mean to. Fate or not, our lives are still the results of our choices. I’m starting to think that when we don’t own them, we don’t own ourselves.
Mark moves toward the front door, and I follow him out.
“So I guess that’s it, then,” he says. “I guess I don’t live here anymore.”
Charlemagne comes out of the bedroom and runs over to him. He’s skittish around her, scared. Maybe that’s why she pees on his shoe. Or maybe it’s because he’s standing at the door, where we normally put her wee-wee pads.
Either way, I watch as she squats down and pees right on him.
He makes a face of disgust and looks at me. I stare back at him.
He turns around and walks out.
When Gabby comes home later that day, Charlemagne and I rush to the door. I greet her by telling her what Charlemagne did.
Gabby laughs a full belly laugh and leans over to give Charlemagne a hug.
The three of us stand there, laughing.
“My parents want me to move to London,” I say. “They said they’ll help me with the baby.”
Gabby looks up at me, surprised. “Really?” she says. “What do you think of that? Think you’ll go?”
And then I say something that I’ve never said before. “No,” I say. “I want to stay here.” I start laughing suddenly.
Gabby looks at me as if I have three heads. “What is so funny?” she says.
Between the laughter, I say, “It’s just that I ruined things with the only man I think I’ve ever really loved. I’m pregnant with a baby I didn’t plan for, as a result of sleeping with a married man, who won’t even be in my child’s life. I’m fatter than I’ve ever been. And my dog is still peeing inside the house. And yet, somehow, I feel like my life here is so good I couldn’t possibly leave it. For the first time in my life, I have someone I feel like I can’t live without.”
“Is it me?” Gabby says suspiciously. “Because if it’s not, this is a weird story.”
“Yeah dude,” I say to her. “It’s you.”
“Awww, thanks, bro!”
I’m sitting in the backseat of the car, looking out the open window. I’m inhaling the fresh air as we drive through the city. It’s possible that from an outside perspective, I look like a dog. But I don’t care. I’m so happy to be out of the hospital. To be living out in the real world. To see sunshine without the filter of a windowpane. Everything in the world has a smell to it. Outside isn’t just the smell of fresh-cut grass and flowers. It’s also smoke from diners and garlic from Italian restaurants. And I love all of it. It’s probably just because I’ve spent so much time inhaling inorganic scents in a sterile hospital. And maybe a month from now I won’t appreciate it the way I do right now. But that’s OK. I appreciate it now.
I turn my head away from the window for a moment when I hear Mark sigh at a red light. I notice now that it is eerily quiet in the car. Mark seems to be getting more and more nervous the closer we get to their house. As I pay more attention, I can tell that he’s out of sorts.
“Are you OK?” Gabby asks him.
“Hm? What? No, yeah, I’m fine,” he says. “Just focusing on the road.”
I can see his hands twitching. I can hear the shortness of his breath. And I’m starting to wonder if I’m missing something, if maybe he really doesn’t want me living with them, if he sees it as a burden.
If he did, if he told Gabby that he didn’t want to take on the responsibility, she’d fight him on it. I know that. And she’d never let on to me. I know that, too. So it’s entirely possible that I’m imposing and I don’t even know it.
We pull up to the side of the road in front of their place, and I can see that Mark installed a ramp for me to get up the three small steps to their door. He gets out of the car and immediately comes around to my side to help me out. He opens my door before Gabby can even get to me.
“Oh,” he says. “You need the chair.” Before I can answer, he’s opened the trunk and is pulling it out. It drops to the ground with a thud. “Sorry,” he says. “It’s heavier than I thought.”
Gabby moves toward him to help him open it up, and I see him flinch at her touch.
It’s not me he’s uncomfortable around. It’s her.
“Are you sure you’re OK?” she asks.
“Let’s just get inside, OK?” he says.
“Um, OK . . .”
The two of them help me into the chair, and Mark grabs my bags. I wheel myself behind Gabby as she makes her way to the front door.