The anger doesn't last, and for just a moment, that feels like the worst part--that I don't get to hold on to the anger for a bit longer.
It isn't the worst part, of course it isn't. But at the time, it feels like the worst part. Because with all the shit she just dumped on me, it seems like I should get to be angry. My brain jumps tracks to fear, though, and suddenly the anger is dwarfed. All the scenarios that were enraging me just a second ago are now terrifying me.
Which seems unfair.
I stare at her and she stares at me, and we both have to do it through tear-filled eyes. I want to slap her, punch her, forgive her. I want to scream and cry and ask her what I did wrong. I want to die. But really, I don't.
"Did you use protection?" That's what I ask her when the mule-kick to my heart numbs down enough so that I can speak.
"I'm sorry," she says, for like the hundredth time.
She's sorry. She's sorry. Like that makes a difference, like that makes it hurt any less. Sorry doesn't fix the hollow spot I feel on the inside, somewhere between my lungs and my stomach. That hollow spot that makes it so hard to breathe, that makes it so easy to sob.
Sorry doesn't give me back the last five years of my life, years I spent with someone I loved and someone I thought loved me in return.
Sorry doesn't erase the image in my head, her with him, crying out in pleasure, screaming in ecstasy, her nails raking down his back between his shoulder blades like they do when she orgasms. Sorry doesn't dampen my imagination, not one little bit.
And sorry does not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
"What the hell is the matter with you?" I ask her. My voice is quiet, barely above a whisper. I can't pull my shit together enough to yell. I can barely inhale right now. "Do you hate me that much, that you don't even care if you kill me? Do you hate yourself that much?"
"You just barely met him," I tell her, "You don't even know him." Even as I say it, I realize the stupidity of the statement. Like time allows us to know each other any better. If that were the case, I might have seen this coming.
"He could have all kinds of diseases," I say. It's one of those things you say, but you don't really believe. Someone you love has unprotected sex, that's what you tell them: it's so dangerous, you can't tell who has a disease just by looking, use protection. You say that, but deep down, you think that kind of thing only happens in the news. Or in movies. It doesn't happen to people you care about, and it sure as hell doesn't happen to you.
I sit down on the couch as the reality of the situation hits me. Sitting down makes me feel weak, though, so I stand back up. Her purse tumbles off the couch as I stand, and I kick it. It hits the wall with a thud and as it hits the floor, a tube of lip balm tumbles out.
"Please don't," she says. It sounds like there was going to be more, but she lets the sentence die.
"Don't what?" I ask. "Don't what?"
I smell fingernail polish. She must have had a bottle of it in her purse. Broke when it hit the wall. Good. I hope it ruins her wallet and her cell phone and all the other crap she keeps in there. Won't be ruining any condoms though, will it?
My thoughts cycle through, dragging my feelings along with them. Stupid, I'm so stupid, I can't believe how stupid I feel right now. She's been doing this for how long? Months. I never saw it, never suspected, and for a few seconds, I wish for the fear back, because this feeling so naïve, this feeling so used and foolish, it's worse than the fear.
I hate her, I want to scream it at her, grab her by the shoulders and yell into her face what a useless, trashy slut she is. I want to spray spit while I shout, across her nose and her cheeks and her tears. But really, I don't.
What if? Oh, yeah, these thoughts again. What if what if what if, like a bullet ricocheting around inside my head. What if she had gotten pregnant? Would she have told me, or would I have raised his child as my own? What if I had done things differently? Could I have kept this from happening? What if the guys has AIDS?
The fear's back, oh hi there, come on in, have a seat. Oh God.
I might have AIDS.
I try to think about the last time I read statistics about it, but it's been forever. People don't write articles about AIDS and HIV anymore, so if you want to know how many people have it, you have to go looking for the information. And why would I have ever needed to do that?
I was in a monogamous relationship, no need to worry.
And I suddenly feel stupid again.
"Say something," she says.
"How could you do this?"
"It…it just happened."
No. It didn't just happen. Stepping in front of a bus because you forgot to look is something that just happens. Burning cookies just happens. Coming home from work and finding out your wife has been screwing around on you just happens. But carrying on a three-month affair doesn't just happen. When you're renting hotel rooms and hiding the bills, that's not something just happening. When you're meeting twice a week to eat brunch and fuck, that's not a just-happened kind of thing.
That's what I want to say. But I'm still trying not to bawl, and a speech is a little much for me at the moment. So instead, I say, "Get out."
"I'm sorry," she says.
"I never want to see you again."
Everything we've built has been destroyed. The wonderful memories are a sick joke. The goodnight kisses are soiled, the good morning kisses are moronic. The times that were treasures are now cruel mockeries. The trust and the love. Lies.
"Get out!" I scream at her, and my voice cracks and the anger's back just long enough to scare her. She grabs her purse and there's a shiny red puddle of polish and shattered glass pooled along the baseboard. She hurries out the door, crying and telling me she's sorry and I have just enough energy to slam the door behind her.
Stupid, so stupid. Me, her, whoever. Everything in the world is awful. I wish I could fall to my knees and cry with masculine drama, but instead, I curl on the floor and bawl like a child. I try not to think, but it doesn't work.
Later, when the fear is back, when the nail polish has congealed along the wall and in the carpet, I pull my cell phone from the kitchen counter, trying to ignore the memory of when we first moved in and I made love to her on that counter. I scroll down my contact list until I find the number of my doctor, and hit the call button.
When the receptionist answers, I tell her that I need to schedule an appointment to get checked for STDs. In the middle of the call, I'm overcome with emotion, my eyes start leaking, my nose starts running, and talking becomes difficult. I blame it on my allergies.
"Sugar," she says, "It's none of my business, but you'd be surprised how many calls I get just like this one. And you know what? You're better off without her."
"I don't know," I say, because I can't think of anything better.
"You will," she says.
I don't believe her, but I don't feel like talking anymore, so I just listen to the clicking of her fingernails on the keyboard, and to her slow, rhythmic breathing. I'm so tired, and if I could just listen to her breathing and her typing fingers for a while longer, I feel like I could go to sleep forever.
"Your appointment's for Tuesday at 9:30."