I don’t want to see him. I don’t want anything to do with him. Just the thought of him hurts, but the thought of not having his love anymore hurts more.
I have so many questions I want to ask him. So much I want to know and yet a lot I don’t think I want to know.
Was she beautiful? Younger? Sweeter? Did she kiss better? Make him feel things I didn’t? Did she treat him better in those few moments than I did in our nine years together? Did she say the right things? Was she the kind of girl he wanted, the kind of wife he needed that I could never be no matter how I tried?
I can’t think of anything else except him and her. Of what they did. Of the lies he told. Of what came after.
What is he doing here anyway? What does he want from me?
I fight back tears, not wanting to wake Lisa with my crying.
Was she worth it?
I glance at the time and will myself to sleep, but sleep is as distant as my ability to make what should be a simple decision.
What next? Do I head home…or…?
I stare at the ceiling, still dark from the blackout curtains, and look at my phone again. I’ve read countless articles on it about infidelity and adultery and cheating husbands and wives. Marriages broken after ten, twenty, thirty years. Affairs that lasted for decades.
And mine…just a kiss right? Isn’t that okay then? Doesn’t that make it nothing? But the pain and brokenness is real. And his decision carried with it the weight of so much more. I realise it doesn’t matter what was done, how long it was done for or when and where, because betrayal is betrayal.
Like a wild fire it doesn’t matter how or where it started. Once it takes hold everything burns, and like these articles, all that’s left is why. Why people do it, why people shouldn’t, why people should watch for these signs, why doing this will cause this to happen, why I should have known, why, why, why…
The screen shifts to an incoming call and for a moment I’m filled with dread. I’m relieved it’s not James, but my friend Sara, who asked me to stay with her in Europe or go to New York or both. I have another day to decide where I’m headed before Lisa flies home. I lock myself in the bathroom and sitting on the bathmat, listen to the voice I’ve missed for the two years since Sara had flown back to be with family.
“James is here,” I tell her.
“Will you see him?” she says.
“I can’t…I just…” I start to cry and I hear her repeating my name with sympathy. She doesn’t know what to say except to let the tears out and cry as much as I need to.
“I wish I could be there to hug you right now,” she says. Then when I settle, “Find a place to be alone. Go without Lisa if you have to, to some place that makes you happy like a beach or a library. You really need time to yourself to think.”
The mention of a library stirs something inside of me. There’s always been something about books that made me happy. Maybe New York City has a nice library somewhere.
“Take each day at a time. You don’t have to make a decision right now. And if you don’t want to head home, you can come and stay with me for as long as you need.” The warmth of Sara’s voice is comforting. Even with the distance, the line is clear and she sounds so close.
We chat a little longer and I feel better just knowing she’s there for me. I leave the bathroom and find Lisa still asleep. Looking up the library, I find the closest on 42nd street next to Bryant Park. It’s still closed, but I want to get out and away. I’d refused the spare keycard when Lisa had offered it to me, because I thought I’d be with her the whole trip. Now I stand next to her bag on the desk, torn at the thought of rummaging through her things without asking.
“What are you doing?” Lisa snaps. Her sleepy eyes find me hovering between waking her and picking through her purse.
“I just wanted to get the spare keycard and go for a walk,” I say.
She grumbles as she kicks off the blankets, trudges across to me, and pulls the spare keycard from her wallet. She shoves it in my hand and drops back into bed.
“Don’t bring him back here,” she says with the authority of a mother scolding a child.
“I wasn’t going to.” I don’t know why, but as I walk out, I feel angry at her words and her tone. They make me feel judged – as if even seeing him again is something I should be ashamed of. I know she doesn’t want me to go back to him. Once a cheat always a cheat. I used to take that stance too until it happened to me. I was always adamant I would walk away and that would be that, yet here I was. Torn.
I grab some breakfast and head to Macy’s near Penn Station. After spending too much time trying to justify myself – I’m just going for a walk, I wasn’t going to go meet him – I’m no longer fuming at Lisa. Instead I remember how good she’s been to me and how she’s sheltered me these last few days and taken care of me. As I walk around Macy’s, I look for a gift for her to thank her. It’s nice to shop for someone else.
I make my way up to Bryant Park and find there’s a show of some kind on. I sit on one of the stone walls and watch. Taking a photo I message it to Lisa, wondering if she’d like to join me there, but my credit has run out. A part of me thinks maybe I’m still trying to justify myself. To give her proof I really did go for a walk on my own.
I take a self-guided tour of the New York Public Library and am amazed at how beautiful it is. I reach the Rose Main Reading Room and find it closed for renovations. Sitting outside, I stare at the intricate craftsmanship of the ceiling and wish James was there to see it. To share this moment. I sniffle to hold back the sobs, aware the guide standing outside the door is glancing at me.
In the stillness on that cold marble bench, I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. It’s connected to the library wifi and a message from James is sitting there. It’s of a photo of a tree in Central Park.
Why is he sending me a picture of a tree?
Without a second-thought, I message him a picture of the library ceiling; my first response to him since I left.