Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Jessica was practicing the art of patience.

Centered, present, breathing slowly, she pulled into the drive way and sat in the car. She found herself doing this more and more and the other day she realized what was causing this pause, causing this moment of consideration before entering the house.
Sitting outside John's home, allowing one song to end, another to begin, she realized she was considering, carefully, what she wanted to find when she went in side.

Years earlier she had learned that most anxiety could be controlled with a certain amount of controlled visualization: picturing the road she would drive down, what she would wear, how well an event would go.

But somewhere along the way she had begun to sink into a kind of trance when her nerves were high, inadvertently shifting between possible scenarious, envisioning these options involuntarily, like flipping through a catalogue,  one scheme after another until the right one fit.

When she realized what she as doing it struck her was how ludicrous it was. This was her boyfriends house, this was a place of comfort and joy, of spontaneity and fulfiment.  Why was she preparing herself so intently for every interaction.

And when she realized the answer to that question she was even more taken aback: she was preparing herself to find John:  sad. She was preparing herself to find John forlorn, or annoyed at her presence. She was preparing herself to find him, taken off guard, and unhappy to see her.

After months of dating she had still never walked in the house and had him be anything other than welcoming, loving, voracious and involved.  And this made her suspicious.

Because she knew, somewhere, inside, that John was sad. Not just sad, but heart broken. She knew there was a distant part of him living elsewhere, and the fact that this was so removed, so very privately guarded, frankly, gave her the willies. It was creepy and offputting, in the most private of moments.

But not as creepy as sneaking around the house, which she found herself doing the other day, peering in windows, hoping to see...what? John in tears. John looking at old pictures? John masturbating to pictures of his ex wife?

She had no idea what she hoped to find but by the time she got truly close enough to a window to really peer in she'd realized what she was doing, backed out, and come to the front door.

And now, although she resisted the idea, she knew she was about to do that again, and no amount of meditation, no amount of reconfiguring her reality would stop her.

So quietly she crept around the house, peering in one window after another, until a voice startled her:
If this is some sort of sex game I'll leave, but otherwise you better tell me what you are doing.

Crap. Max.

Max was smiling but you could tell he wasn't entirely convinced that she was up to harmless fun.

Umm, I am locked out. locked out. Just looking for an open window.

Damnit, she wised she were smarter. She probably could have just winked at him and alluded to something dirty but instead she sounded guilty as hell.

And to make things weirder, Max had a key.  And John was late.

So, sitting in the living room, fetching Max a drink, they set about the slow awkward process of pretending each of them wasn't avoiding a conversation.

The question he was avoiding was clear.  The subject on her mind, outside her confusing behavior, however, was even more pressing and more uncomfortable.

Because, see, she knew Max was having an affair with Helena. She hadn't been looking for that information, but yesterday, driving by their bar, she had looked up to find him leaving the apartment upstairs, saying goodbye in an unmistakable manner.

And the fact that John had not told her about this, for some reason, really bothered her.

But sitting here, looking at him, making small talk she was suddenly very aware why John had not told her:  Because John, very clearly, had no idea. And she did. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Ann would probably would paint a picture of some sort of quick and angry implosion of their relationship. Some sort of monumental betrayal. But Max knew it happened far more gradually, far more quietly.

If he were to be honest with himself, he had first begun to consider the end of their relationship that day that Helena came by, but looking back he knew the break up had already begun to sprout wings. And yes, he had felt an intimacy blossom that day with Helena, but that intimacy only highlighted a certain comfort and trust missing in his current relationship.

By then they were already arguing: screaming, negotiating, trading one happiness for another, attaching deadlines and ultimatums to even the most trivial frustrations. It was endless and unpredictable and it only escalated after that day, evolving from annoying and slightly tittilating to frustrating and exhausting.

And it was bad, that anger and the freak outs and the inability to pull out of furies that seemed attached to nothing.

But that was nothing compared to when the quiet that began to take over. The Nothing. The increasing decision to withdraw more and more into each others individual lives, the moments when he would have a funny thought, or experience despair, and choose not to share it.

And then there was this night. They had both gone out, separately, but had ended up, briefly, at the same party. By then she had already, once, moved out and moved back in and they had experienced amazing breakup sex and moments of relief and gratitude. But then they settled back into something like their old relationship, but something slightly ghostly, with something key missing.

At the party they had spotted each other and waved. Waved. Not a cute little wave, not a dorky teasing wave, but the kind of wave you reserve for your employer or a distant friend.

Then, noting how strange that must look to each of their friends, feeling how strange that should actually seem to them, they had made their way across the room, and kissed and hugged awkwardly. Absent minded and unaffectionate. And they traded some sort of promise about texting each other at the end of the night to possibly end up at the same place again and that sounded fine and they continued on.

But moments later he looked back on the wave and suddenly realized what as missing from their current relationship, what was no longer there that was making it so shadowy, so quiet, so empty: hope. Not love, not lust, but hope. He knew he stilled loved her, and he certainly still wanted her, but he no longer believed, on any level, that it would just work out.   And somehow that seemed reasonable.

Crystallizing this thought had sent him into a mild panic and he texted her to meet him, please, earlier then planned. He sent her wild, hopeful romantic texts that they cast off the rest of their plans that night, get a hotel room, do crazy dirty things all night long. With the last surge of energy, hope, and real lust he would remember feeling for her he proceeded to text her, to call her, to try and find her. It became imperative they end the night together, it became impossible that they not end the evening as a team.

Sometime around 2am she came hope and muttered something about her phone battery dying, but he could feel it was too late. Standing there, in the kitchen, watching her barely make eye contact, taking in her slight annoyance, he was struck by how different their nights had been. How much the last moments of his relationship with Ann had existed only in his mind, only for Max.

He could see the wisps of their relationship leaving out the windows, the doors. He could feel the last few years blurring, disappearing in the distance, taking on a sepia toned quality of memory.
The loneliness, the feeling of slippage, was overpowering and so he excused himself and went to bed.

Sleeping on opposite ends of the bed that night he found himself thinking of a close friend of his who had died not so long ago. The moments of sickness leading up to her death and how death was already there, but still held at bay, weeks beforehand. He had known it was coming and sometimes even prayed for it to come sooner or later, because it was already so very there, such an imposing presence. But then, the moment she died, it was suddenly clear that he had been wrong: death doesn't come until it comes. And he became overwhelmed with the notion that he could no longer give things to this person, no longer take things away. What had existed only moments ago, a soul to share things with, was painfully absent, and already he wondered if he had ever, truly, grasped that presence, and how he was going to be able to grasp it's absence.

And so, laying there, that night he was struck by how much watching a relationship die was like experiencing a death, hanging on, resenting the suffering, but still never being able to truly grasp the weight of his absence.

Sometimes he would still dream of that night and wake up in a panic just wanting to get Ann back, get time back. Then, as the cobwebs cleared he would marvel at how endings have a way of breaking time, fracturing the past and rewriting everyone's role, recasting every relationship with new light from the future.  

And how now he would wake up next to Helena, gaze upon her and touching her in the dark never imagine her as anything but eternal.


"They say the more you love, the more love you have to give. Life has taught me it how easy it is to love more than one person"

Helena had picked up the pencil, and then decided to write this in pen. She wasn't sure if it was a letter or a journal entry or just some thought on a future scrap in a drawer. But the phrase had been rattling around in her cage for hours now and she wanted to say it out loud, write it down for posterity.

Helena had heard that sentiment before, but suspected it was meant to be about relatives, about friends, about puppies and children and all of the beautiful unique snowflakes she would be fortunate to to meet. She suspected it was meant to be a platonic sentiment.
But due to a possibly evolved perspective, or just an inconvenient glitch in her DNA, Helena had found it had broader applications.

To be more succinct: this was not the first time Helena had found herself simultaneously in love with more than one man.

The first time this had happened was in college. She had been madly, intensely focused on Miles, who was dating a friend of hers, sort of, kind of, just enough to be around more than usual. It had been the kind of crush she actually hadn't expected to come much of anything because he was, very simply, so damn beautiful. He was cool. He dressed how she would dress if she were a guy, he had a music collection way bigger than hers and knew more about movies than anyone rightly should, at such a young age. He was, in a word, ideal. So when Miles had dumped Julie, and had suddenly turned his attention on her, she was so very surprised, so overcome by the sense of a bank error in her favor, that she went for it, even though she was, at the same time, very clearly falling head over heels in love someone else, someone very wrong, in every possible way, for her.

What made Tim especially wrong for her was that has was, by everyone's estimation, a complete and total asshole. Cute, yes, and smart, definitely, but with offputting aesthetic and political inclinations and a talent for purposely alienating anyone he didn't think highly of. Which initially included Helena until one night, while especially drunk, she explained to him, in no uncertain terms, how stupid his opinion on some political issue or another was. The next morning, wandering down to the commons she found Tim suddenly friendly, and ten times as charming as he had been before.

And so there she was, in love with Tim and falling in love with Miles, and quite frankly sleeping with them both, and too overwhelmed to even hide it. And she kept waiting for her heart to choose, for her disturbing lack of morality to get the better of her, for the virtues of one to supersede the others. But while she found herself growing fonder of Miles by the moment, more impressed, more clear on how perfect a match her was for her, she also found herself having amazing, almost clairvoyant conversations with Tim. With Tim she had sex that made her forget her friends, her classes, and sometimes even her name. With Miles she was heady with pride, swooning with admiration and wanting to make out endlessly, in private, in public.
And the more she gave into either experience, the more she wanted them both.

This, initially presented an amusing challenge to everyone involved, but as anyone could have guessed, the charm was short lived, and one, then the other, began to mistaken her fickleness for lack of intention, lack of feeling, and, frankly, and quite possibly lack of a soul. And so she found herself getting over two, very different, but very deep heartbreaks at once.

You'd think she would have learned her lesson.

What was that adage? If at first you don't succeed....

Jesus. And the irony of it all was that Helena couldn't even really believe in half the things she was experiencing. While she supported "alternative lifestyles" in theory, she knew they were not for her in practice.  Years ago, acknowledging her inability to "shut off her love" valve, Helena had joined a polyamorous society. When she had first discovered that such things existed she had been thrilled. Convinced that she was just more flexible, just more open than most people, she filled her head with rhetoric, tossing off the proprietary sexist roles our monogamy centric society had cast before her. And, finding herself uniquely popular in this new group, she took on one lover, than another, shared deep beautiful thoughts moments with them all, relishing the ability to do so without the guilt she had become accustomed to. Finally, a world in which she could love Tom, Dick, AND Harry and not have to lie to any of them about. Finally a sophisticated circle of men and women who understood that shades of grey could be managed with respectful and open communication.

The only problem was: she discovered most people did not manage these complex relationships with open OR respectful communication. In fact, she found that most polyamorous people were dicks. Maybe it was just a glitch in the system, maybe just bad luck. But, heady with freedom from "rules" she found her new group of friends more squirelly, more secretive than her past lovers, apt to push boundaries and consistently interested in squirreling out of even the smallest emotional obligations, she grew to feel a certain repugnance towards the movement as a while. And in the end, she became convinced that adults, like children, needed boundaries and discreet choices.

Sometimes one has to make a choice and stick with it, damnit.

That was when she met John. And, looking back now, she marvelled that she had gone that long only loving him. Sure, she had experience transitory crushes, sure she had lusted and covetted. But these were brief thoughts, usually symbollic and generally hormonal, and she always found herself returning, relieved,  to the incredible, solid, universe they occupied.

And yet here she found herself, once again, orbiting two distinct planets, oscillating in emotions, and completely fine, on some level, with the dichotomy.

She couldn't deny that she was, every day, falling more and more Max. She was stunned by their compatibility, amazed at how little so many of the horrible, annoying character traits she had always assumed would annoy her, consume her with jealousy, actually proved an issue. She was almost free, for the first time in her life, from her consuming self awareness when she was with him. And she was absorbed in many deeply erotic ways.

But she wasn't sure how much of this had to do with the fact that she wasn't any closer to getting over John. In fact, as she spent more time with Max, she found the nostalgic, personal feeling of attachment for John bubbling to the surface more and more. She didn't desire so much as yearn for him. She was finding herself intensely protective of their shared memories, all that they had been through together.

But maybe that was because she was sure, if John ever knew the whole story, he'd probably never speak to her again.


It was really infuriating.
Ann went through her box of tupperwear one more time. Piled, perfectly nestling, she pulled them apart, matched them up. Yep. no doubt about it, one missing lid.

Motherfucker. She had packed every box carefully, gone through every drawer. She had made sure to leave absolutely nothing at Max's. She had taken her spices, even flour, she had taken any spoons, forks, even used yogurt containers. She had ripped apart music collections, she had gone through photos, artwork. Anything she, on any level, might have brought to the table was in a box, somewhere, in this room. Except one damn lid. Asshole.

She had felt no reservation and little guilt gutting the house of everything conceivable imagined as hers. Max had shown little appreciation for what she had owned and as far as she was concerned he had no right to it. Leaving behind only his dusty, old, barely antiqued furniture, a couple of rusted pots and pans and a refrigerator filled with about 75 condiments she slammed that door.

Renting out an apartment in the busiest, hippest, noisiest part of town, overpaying for this sleek and modern loft she had felt a certain righteous glee. She had gone to Ikea. IKEA! Max would have lost his mind! She bought mid century modern knock offs, left and right. Cubed, sleek tables and couches and chairs with hidden compartments and convenient design. She even bought artwork there, which artwork she had always, secretly, sort of appreciated, and hung it on the walls proudly.

Fuck Max.

And fuck Helena too. She honestly couldn't believe it.
She an Helena had been friends. True, not close friends, but friends, nonetheless. She had hosted Helena, bought her gifts, went out of her way to cook meals and show up at parties so Max's best friend's fucking wife would not feel left out.
And this.

She didn't think they were having sex. She didn't even know if she cared. She had, quite frankly, always expected Max might cheat on her. He was just such a lech. He loved women in an almost fawning fetishistic way. Not just their bodies, their breasts and legs and feet. But he loved their clothing and their shoes and their hats and noticed when they cut their hair.

It initially had charmed her, when he appreciated a purse she had or was even more turned on because she had chosen the right shoes. But it quickly became infuriating when he'd notice her torn jeans or wonder: are you really going to wear those pants with that sweater? Are you really wearing pants? Tonight of all nights.

You'd almost think he was gay. But he most certainly.was.not. gay. He just...loved women.
He flirted. Shamelessly. Charmingly. All the women giggled and allowed it. He leered and danced close with other women. And although she had felt mostly secure in that he did it so publicly, she also had wondered, from time to time, if he would one day stray, one day go to far. She had anticipated it, even, had speeches and even compromises ready. After all, he wasn't the only one a libido, the only one who noticed.

But he didn't have female friends. Not close ones. Sure, there were wives and girlfriends, and sure, they had conversations, but they weren't close. He wasn't sexist, per se, just disinterested.

Until this shit with Helena. She had always known, on some level, he liked her just a little too much. He would quote something she said, or take one of her damn know it all intellectual platitudes just a little too much to heart. But it wasn't until they started hanging out, until he started actually listening and talking and laughing with Helena she truly understood how little Max had listened and talked and laughed and, honestly, respected her.

And then there was that damn book. She had recommended that book to him about 5 times and then, so convinced that it was a book he would love, she had, for some birthday, gone out and found a wonderful bound version and planted it below his pillow. And he was thrilled! Couldn't wait to read it, just after he was done with the book he was reading and then the other one on his list and he didn't want to bring such a nice book on vacation and then. Well, then, 3 years later she could picture just where that book was on the shelf when she walked in and found him reading it. Only he wasn't reading it, he was reading some paperback dog eared moisture damaged version.

When she noted the book he was excited. Beyond excited. He started to go on about this and that and how Helena had told him he would really love this one part she had underlined and how had he never thought to read this book?
Already crying she had yanked the beautiful, hardbound copy she had bought him and noted, tightly "I can't imagine when it has been right here, the whole time" and ran out.

That was the first time she had left. And, of course, he had apologized and been so sad and promised to do better and to appreciate her more. But, of course, he really didn't. And so here she sat, in her wonderful modern clean apartment with a box full of tupperware and a missing lid.

She was in the middle of composing an angry email, stunned once again at the disposable way he had treated all of her belonging and making it clear how little she thought of this, when she heard a plaintiff meow from the cat.

Looking down she noticed the cat slowly licking something off the very tupperwear top she had just been searching for.

She promptly burst into tears.


Dancing at what was most likely the edge of her sanity, Helena was putting off the final touches on closing the bar. She wasn't sure she could handle being alone in her own apartment just yet.

She had managed, somehow, to not burst into tears while they were still open, and was actually pretty proud of that fact, but she wasn't doing such a bang up job of holding it together now.

The night, for want of a better description, had really just sucked a little more than she was used to things sucking and in a year of full bodied suck. It was, in fact, one of her least favorite nights this year, and that was saying a lot.

When she had first seen John standing at the door of the bar her initial reaction had been excitement, followed by nothing short of complete panic when she recognized that Max was also at the bar.

It was a mutifaceted, multi dimenstional panic. Not only was she not prepared to see John, in general, but she most certainly was not ready to see Max and John together, and she was even less ready to have Max "discovered" at the bar in such a fashion.

She realized that she wasn't really ready to be the bad guy. If there was one thing she was still enjoying, albeit in increasingly small dosages, was the sense that she had emerged from her break up "the bigger person". And even during the initial stages of her friendship with Max she could still hold onto that sense. They were still just friends, after all, and she was still the woman whose husband had left her for another woman. And so when John burst out with that crude, direct question she was very aware of the catapult she had taken off her pedestal.

But even that was tolerable. In the back of her mind she had been preparing for John's rage, for John's complete and total sense of betrayal.

What she had not been able to anticipate, had not ever imagined herself to believe, was that she might incur John's ambivelance. And once the original altercation had passed, once the questions had been answered and the tables had turned, once she had invited John to sit and have a drink, she began to really understand her role in this situation.

That is, she began to understand her own impending irrelevance.
Watching John and Max bond over Ann, watching them reestablish their friendship and act like boyscouts earning their new found divorce badges, forced to listen and play friendly barkeep she finally understood how this all was going to go.

Ofcourse, quite naturally, John and Max would stay good friends. And ofcourse, even more naturally, John would completely move on, grow even closer to Jessica, and take on a role he was very comfortable with: stable and dependable friend as Max's went through yet another painful break up. And, ofcourse, Jessica would be at his side as Helena became the ex wife on good terms and occasional bartender.

She also hadn't realized how ill prepared she was to listen to Max talk about Ann. He hadn't said word one about Ann, to her in, weeks and although she had been observed, first hand, his emotional state as Ann threatened to leave, prepared to leave and then finally left, she hadn't known, or wanted to know, the details. Listening to his stories she realized what a bit player she had been in Max's life, as well, as he went through the initial stages of his divorce.

And so what had very briefly felt like comforting "old times" had devolved into a ball of rage and depression over her own impotence as she watched John get Max's keys, as she HUGGED them goodbye, and as they left, and she went back to tending bar.

She was, infact, replaying this broken record in her head, devising a variety of speeches to Max for the next time she saw, should he have the audacity to casually drop by again, when he knocked on the door.

For some reason her rage and dissapointment came out as casual annoyance and she found herself making a joke of it
Oh good, my couch was almost lonely.
And she was completely and totally unprepared for that kiss.

Which was probably why she burst into tears the second it began and shoved him away.

She walked over, sat on the low end bar and began one of the many speeches she had been preparing all night, a speech that sounded much less dignified through tears:

I am not interested in being someone you kill time with while you deal with your real life. I am not interesting in a creating a safety haven away from your real life in which I can be your sort of companion and your sort of friend and your sort of girlfriend while you keep the main important details of your life to yourself and you continue your real friendships on elsewhere.

He walked over to get closer to her and she slid even further away.
I'd like to at least try to pretend that I am a real human being and that is not my role to help other people move on with their own lives.

This actually seemed to make him a little angry and he approached her further. Speaking like a parent he noted: then I'd like you to pretend that I am not some sort of ogre, here and I'd like you to pretend that I wasn't the one who started this. I'd like you to pretend that you, maybe, had apart in the role you are now playing when you came to my house, that first time, and over and over again.

She didn't know what to say.

He came in even closer, and he was staring and she couldn't avoid eye contact without looking over his shoulder, directly, or without looking down, and so she started at his hands until he asked, quietly:
Why do you think I come here?

I've been asking myself the same question: because you are lonely? because you can't stand to be alone? Because there is nowhere else to go?

He was very close. Standing close enough that he was, basically, standing between her knees as she sat on the bar.

I come here because I want to see you. I come here because I want to be around you. I come here because I don't exist anywhere else. Even when I am at home, at work, I am here, talking to you. I tell stories to you. I save things to tell you, anecdotes, jokes, thoughts, they are all yours. They belong to you. I have conversations with you even when you aren't in the room and then I look forward to having that conversation again.

You came to tell me things? You want to sleep on my couch and tell me things?

He shook his head, leaned in, and whispered in her ear, I think I am very tired of just telling you things...but if I am going to see you naked, you,atleast, are going to have to allow me kiss you.

That made her laugh, a little too hard. But when she was done laughing she very much allowed him to kiss her.
She was pretty tired of stories as well.


It was one thing to accidentally find yourself involved with your best friends ex. To experience a series of random occurrences that allowed you to fall, horribly, for your friends wife was one thing. It was quite another to deliberately build a secret and clandestine friendship that was going to fuck everything up.

Max knew this. Max, despite appearances, was quite aware of the desperate wrongness of his current situation.

But here was the thing: if Max was being truthful, while Max was being honest, then he had to admit a key and clear element in this story: from the moment he had met Helena he had known he would sleep with her.

Understand: he hadn't just known he that wanted to sleep with her.
That wasn't anything. That was par for the course.

The fact that most women that Max met were the subject of atleast a dozen dirty stories by the end of the night was an uninteresting, barely relevant detail.

And truthfully, there were a lot women he had met he had that he wanted to sleep with much more than Helena.

But meeting Helena he had experienced a strange precognitive sensation, like arriving at a blind date and finding relief at the obvious attraction. He had experienced that sense of reassembling reality: when you know what is just around the bend, when you know you've met someone you might end up with, when you meet someone you might really get to know.

But being as she was John's girlfriend, he had only barely acknowledged that feeling. It has been strange, and then it had been almost funny, and then he had dismissed it. And when it became clear she would become John's wife, he had filed that thought away, and embraced their love with nothing other than complete authentic enthusiasm.

He had, infact, mostly forgotten that feeling until recently, until things had...changed.

And as much as Max liked to engage in a certain amount of denial, he had to admit things had changed.

But exactly how, exactly into what, he was not sure. He just knew they had hit a stasis and were both quite clear that they were more comfortable in that grey zone than anywhere else at the moment.
Which suited Max fine, except for that feeling, except for that nagging, re-born memory.

And he was thinking of just that memory when John walked into the bar. He was having just that guilty, often, surprising paralyzing thought when John asked them, with uncharacteristic crudeness:
were they fucking.

That burst the bubble.

The relief he felt was almost tangible. Its weight told the end of the story.
No. of course not.
He repeated. Several times. To himself, even. They had not had sex. They hadn't even kissed.
No fucking way would he every fucking fuck his fucking best friends wife. He never, ever have sex with Helena, Whatever she was. There was just no way.

It was so obvious. It was elemental. It was so clear the rest of the night played itself out effortlessly: John, sticking around, Helena serving drinks. Max, pouring his heart out about Ann, and their break up, and all the dumb shit he honestly hadn't been thinking about, but then it was right there, all the gritty detail he had to tell John, right in front of Helena, and then there was more bonding and even: closure.

And after John gave him a ride home he sat on his couch thinking of the silliness of what had transpired. The powerfully inappropriate wholly unnecessary risks he and Helena had taken, and he started to laugh. Relief was washing over even as he went to get a glass of water.

It was not until he sat down and realized, suddenly, that he believed none of it.

How much of every bit of what had transpired was a lie and how creepy it was. How disappointed he was and wrong he had felt as he insisted, beyond a doubt, beyond reproach, at the complete and obvious lack of sexual and romantic content in his relationship with Helena.

Without thinking he picked up the phone and called a cab.

Ten minutes later, letting him in , she commented with an almost bored expression:
Oh good, my couch was almost lonely.

And so he reached out and kissed her.


Something was amiss.

John was looking through the window of the bar and he was gathering up the courage to go in, deliver some paperwork, but he had gotten caught up with looking around the place, noticing recent changes, appreciating renovations.

She'd done a good job. This was a bar he would hang out in.

He was looking at some art behind the bar when he noticed Max, at the bar. He was having a drink, playing a game of Dominos with Helena. It was a fairly slow night so she appeared to be mostly hanging out with him, scanning the place, serving a drink, heading back. Max looked comfortable, jovial even.

He walked in and presented the question on everyones mind:


Of course it didn't come out like that. Not like he felt. The hundreds of ways and zillions of manners in which this phrase fit sat comfortable in the back of his mind.

It came out more jovially. Like a friend might bust out to another friend "hey man...what the fuck are you doing here?" (slap on back)

They both looked up and said nothing, and he realized he was forcing a smile. and a tone. That was the new thing with Helena, this thing where they pretended they were totally fine with each other in hopes of ringing in a new era that would, most likely, never actually occur.

She looked at him and said something about it being a public place and so he asked again.
No, really what are you doing here .

When Max informed he was getting a drink, that was too much.

I am pretty sure that is not the answer to my question.

Helena made some sort of comment about everyone having to be out every once in a while.

He looked at Max and noted, directly: Not when you are a shut in.

Max was now, clearly, uncomfortable. And John was becoming distracted. he was increasingly noting Max, and his comfort, and the fact that he was drinking out of the same glasses he had at home, and that his favorite song was on the jukebox and he wondered if she had bought all of Max's favorite albums.

He was about to ask if they were having an affair but then he had to admit the problem with that, had to own that an affair had to be had secretively and Max sure as hell seemed comfortable, here, in public with his ex wife, in a bar he had once owned. And then he also had to admit that he couldn't even really ask if she were cheating when he was practically living with another woman and had only had sex just an hour ago and yet, looking at Max, right there, he was fairly certain there was a lie in here somewhere, an undeniable betrayal.

The various what the fucks were building consensus, taking storm.

Were they fucking?

Without realizing it he asked that aloud. Causing several heads to turn.

Oh, no! Lord no! Hell NO!
They asserted this quickly laughing, nodding their heads. gesticulating madly. Not fucking. Totally not having sex. Just having a drink. No fucking.

He relaxed.

But really...what the fuck are you doing here? How would Ann feel about this?

Helena looked at him with surprise: Ann left him. That look. The reproach. The surprise. The shock.
What the fuck John, don't you know it when your best friend has been left by his wife?
News he shouldn't be hearing first here. Any where else but here.

John looked embarrassed and he tried not sound accusatory.
Why didn't you tell me?

Max glanced at Helena and said, uncomfortably: you were on Vacation...I didn't want to (another uncomfortable glance, in deference, to Helna) disturb the lovebirds.

He looked up feeling guilty and then felt worse. Dismissing all the signs, the weirdness, it made sense. Man, you are left by your wife and of course you don't want to be at home. Of course you don't want to call your friend on his love bird vacation. Of course you just want a damn drink outside your house with all its ghosts and memories.

Damnit, I am really sorry, you could have called me.

They hugged and he looked over and he saw that Helena had poured him a drink. Fucking Helena. And her look said it all: stick around, have a drink, be there for your friend.

And the funny thing is, he did. And it was almost normal. Comfortable. Something had broken the tension and he spent the rest of the evening there, having drinks with Max. Helena made herself scarce, mostly, stopping by, occasionally having conversation, throwing in a word here and there.

It is all just felt so.damn.normal.

So damn normal that he even gave Helena a half friendly hug at the end of the night, grabbed Max's keys, drove him home life this was already habit.

And at the end of the night, pouring Max out of his car, turning off the last plaguing questions, he was almost comforted.

Coming home, crawling into bed with Jessica he thought about how much he had missed Helena, how, for the first time, he could imagine, someday a life with her in it, a place for them to know each other in a new way, and he wanted to tell her anything, something, everything.

He inhaled Jessica's scent and drifted off to sleep with only the smallest nagging doubts


None of this was any good.

That first time, Max standing at her doorstep, she had eyed the bottle with a critical eye ...

You know I own a bar right downstairs right?

He had shrugged, laughed, I had just wanted to make sure I sent a clear message...

And had brushed passed her, looking for glasses, opening the bottle, cracking ice.

He looked around her apartment for a while, opening cabinets, examining sculptures on the mantle. He stopped finally and stated with a certain satisfaction, I like every single thing in this apartment.

Yeah, well, this will be your favorite, then

And she opened up the backdoor and led him to the roof where she had set up, arguably, one of the best patios he could imagine.

Many drinks later he had still not elaborated on his provocative opening statement and she had seen fit to not describe the generally crushing quality of her existence. The truth was she was ridiculously happy to see him and was, for just a few moments, not regretting most of the things about her new life and she was thinking that maybe not inviting that ghost in the room would be a nice change.

Added to the list of things they did not talk about in detail were anything to do with John, anything to do with his wife, who had apparently gone on vacation with the threat of leaving, more permanently, soon, and anything to do with how she had been culpable in that equation. Mostly they just drank, talked about books and played the very slowest game of chinese checkers.

He later fell asleep on her couch and woke up several hours later looking a little guilty before looking at his keys and promising to come back and visit soon.

Which he did, mostly coming by the bar now, sometimes at odd off hours but she always let him in. Once, in the bar, she commented that serving him in off hours was quite actually illegal, and he simply noted that she should close the bar for the day, which she did.

She suggested, once or twice, that they actually drink in another bar and he simply noted that this was the only place he left the house to drink in:

You know how much I hate to leave my home.

This was true and had always been true. And he had never once had a drink at the bar when it was hers and Johns. Not after opening night. Not even for free. It was too bright, too cheery, to slick.

Now it was a different animal and she was beginning to get the sense that she had built the perfect place for him, in particular, to drink, and found the perfect couch for him to sleep on. And as she examined her reinvention she wondered if all of this new newness wasn't so much newness as a different oldness: invention in his image because she wasn't quite sure how to reinvent herself purely on her own merits.

When she noted something to that affect it just made them both uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough that he seemed to stay away longer than usual. Then he came by and proceeded to get painfully drunk. It was a pain in the ass and he was an unusually obnoxious drunk that evening, revelling in the illfated comedy of all romance and noting several times that his wife had, quite actually, finally left him.

At the end of the evening, as she was escorting him to the safety of the couch he stopped her and push her up against a wall. At first she thought he was simply going to pass out but then he looked her in the eye and suddenly seemed a lot more sober than she was expecting. He put his hand on her waist, leaned in and whispered "I can't make the first move, or I'll never be able to look John in the eye again".

No. None of this was any good. It wasn't good that it was so easy and it wasn't good that it was so hard, and it wasn't good that she was beginning to want it, and want it badly. And it was most certainly no good that she couldn't stop it because it had already happened, somewhere in the not so distant future.

When she alerted him to the fact that she never, in no uncertain terms, ever made the first move and she wasn't planning on making special accommodations he succinctly went around her home pointing out the variety of things she had bought, the special ways she had arranged them, the jukebox of albums he could have picked out himself, the books she knew he would enjoy. A world of special accommodations already made, a secret land in which their respective secrets could make perfectly no sense together.

She could have pointed out that she liked these books, and she liked these albums and she loved every piece of furniture in the room and that is was unsurprising that his friends would have similar tastes..she could have asserted that it was all for her, but she wasn't really clear that was the truth any more.

What was incredibly clear was that a series of events had set in motion a chain reaction in which they both no longer belonged to anyone in particular and were only uniquely comfortable alone together, and that was the worst part of all.

But bad, or wonderful, comforting or horrifying, it was the beginning of a dance and she felt just a little less like a ghost than she had.

And that was, well that was really something.


These days John had the constant sense that everything was a test.

It wasn't just the vague suspicion that everyone blamed him, just a little, for the breakup. It was everything, every piece, felt just a little off kilter, a little askew.

He'd never been good with change. So maybe that was it. Maybe this was all just adjustment.

And then there was this love. And lust. And excitement. Or whatever it was. Whatever it was it was incredible. Instinctual.

And yet really awful. In some small way. Like a fantasy he had forgotten he had always wanted had descended and taken over the best part of himself, and then this other part, his real self was sitting, watching the greatest story unfold, alone, on the couch, constantly amused and amazed by this story, but a little uncomfortable with its earnestness. Like a movie critic watching a romantic comedy. Warner Herzog with a big bucket of popcorn being forced to watch Harry and Sally for the fifth time.

And when Jessica was around he mostly forgot this other piece of him. He became all these things he had always wanted to be. Jessica laughed and told him stories he wanted to hear and almost never put her clothing on. She screamed and moaned. She seemed to be strangely at home in her body and at home with his. With Helena there was always a sense that she was trying, very hard, to be comfortable but was always, just a bit, making the effort.And he was always trying. It was hard, self conscious.

Jessica existed with a comfortable lack of irony. And yes sometimes he did wonder, just a little bit, if this meant she was just a little less intelligent than she could have been. But an unabashed enthusiasm for herself, and for him made him want to fuck her constantly.

He was awesome. She was awesome. All his friends even thought she was awesome and they told him so, comfortingly, whenever they had a chance. "You know, she is actually pretty incredible. I know this is a big change but she is awesome."

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

And she almost didn't notice the ghost in the room, sitting next to John, a ghost who seemed to making herself at home, instead of coming around less and less, a ghost he was increasingly happy to see and he more and more wanted to talk to just for a moment.

It seemed like such a fucking cliche. "I feel like I am losing my best friend". Hell, Helena and he had barely even talked by the time she left. She was always analyzing and over analyzing and almost eerily present and it got exhausting. He'd just want to play cards and shoot the shit and he'd just find himself wishing she could be just a little more vacant, and a little more natural, a little more at peace.

But still, there had been something about her. Something that made him feel grounded, safe, motivated. He'd felt more comfortable ignoring than he'd ever felt captivated by another woman.

Looking back, well, that seemed like a shitty thing to think. So he blocked it. He blocked that thought along with another thought that frequently presented at the worst moments. A thought he hated himself for. A thought that made him resent Helena for leaving so willingly, so generously. He blocked the thought along with the constant questions he had around his wife: how was she doing, what was she doing? Did his other friends see her? Was she happier now? And who the fuck gives up a whole life as a some sort of altruistic gesture? Who is that stupidly magnanimous?

And so he blocked the thought along with the confusion and the resentment of how smoothly things had gone, how perfectly he'd been forced to play his hand, how completely he owed Helena for this new chance at happiness.

And this though was, very simply: with Jessica I am the man I always wanted to be for Helena.

How unfair was that?


"This is not going to be a story of how I got my groove back after I escaped the clutches of married life"

She put the pencil down, erased the sentence. Threw the pencil in a box of things she seldom used. She called it the island of misfit toys. It was the the box that never got unpacked. It lived under the bed and today she had pulled it out thinking it might have something of interest in it and she found herself fascinated by the pencil. Who buys a pencil? She didn't think she had used a pencil since her last standardized test. She put some teeth marks in it, because that made sense and wrote one erasable sentence.

This was getting to be a habit. The nervous tension that made her search her apartment for a change in direction.

This was most certainly not the story of how she had gotten her groove back. Looking around, she had to admit that this life was most definitely a downgrade from her previous one.

Not that she wasn't doing well. She was succeeding, marvelously, at whatever she was doing. She heard it daily and there was no arguing with the results.

Somewhere around the time she realized that she was actually going to separate from her husband, that she recognized that her instincts were beyond infallible, she began to get the sense that she was playing a supporting role in a drama she should be slightly more central to.

Waking up, she demanded the cafe, and the building it was in. She gave him the house, which was a fair trade but not the one he was expecting. Which was silly, it was a family house, perfect for a couple. She deserved the cafe which quickly moved from "bar and cafe" to simply "bar" because she had always been a night person and wasn't looking forward to meeting each morning with a smile.

That was the first thing she claimed: the right to sleep in, the right to drink heavily. She also left all the furniture and really just about everything else behind in the house which most certainly pissed off the NEW GIRL, who probably didn't want to live among every piece of furniture his ex had picked out. But that was NEW GIRLs problem.

Turning the cafe into a bar turned out to be a great business move and she was able to even afford some staff so she was taking classes again, like she had told herself she would and had wanted to for a long time.

And she bought all new things and moved into the attic apartment above the bar which she renovated with the help of someone who would drink, for free, for as long as she had the bar. And it was nice and wonderful and she only had one of everything which she had chosen carefully and the succinct way she was managing herself was impressive and comfortable to everyone but her.

Because even looking around at it all she still had nightmares in which she was happily married and could depend on sleeping with John every night and could watch a movie on a Friday night at home and and it was an event because he was there. And it was only a nightmare because she woke up and looked around at her nicer, more comfortable space alone. She couldn't get it out of her head that she had slipped backward. That she had a ghost in per past, a memory of a thing that never happened, must have never happened because all of it was so gone gone gone.

And she knew the restlessness was nothing more complicated than loneliness. Not only for John but for everyone else.

That was one thing she had not allowed herself to predict: the overarching the loneliness. The rejection too her breath away. Not just of John's friends which she had expected, but of her own. Her married settled friends, who initially rose up like a warm wave of support.. Her friends who, at first, came by the bar, and invited her to dinners and went berry picking with her and hiking with her and let her know she was always welcome in their homes began to take on a strange sheen. A discomfort. They began to treat her like a novelty, refer to the quality of being settled foreign concepts. As if she couldn't remember having the same life only months ago.
They wanted to hear her exploits, wanted her to bring and bear excitement, but began to forget where their commonalities lay. They would not look at the elephant in the room which did a long and passionate interpretive dance with only one message "this too could be you: all you have could change in the blink of an eye".

So there was that. And there was the not getting invited to "couple" events, and the reality of being a single attractive women (thankfully, still) in a room full of slightly insecure aging people and the distrust that entailed and the way her taken male friends had a hard time breaking away to hang out with her now, for obvious and understandable reasons, and the way her single male friends suddenly had other more loaded connotations.

Yes. definitely a downgrade.

And sometimes she had massive bouts of magical thinking trying to pin down the moment when she could have changed this destiny and found herself picking out the moments she might have forced the hand. Did she make it happen by believing in it?(If you can see it, and you can believe it, you can achieve it!)

In the end these thoughts were about pretending she had ever had any real power in the situation. Ever had a choice. Pretending she could get back something that wasn't really hers to begin with.

But it had been, mostly definitely, hers. And she could feel that and remember that even as history re wrote itself.

This glamorous downgraded life was called the waiting game, and it wasn't a comfortable one that suited her.So she picked up hobbies and studied and exercised and consulted her island of misfit toys, sorting through the tools she used once a year and the souvenirs that didn't look right on the mantle and the other random pieces of crap she was dedicated to one day finding a place for.

And she wondered what milestones ahead would mark the end of the mourning and loneliness because suddenly even she couldn't predict them. What would make the passing of time comforting?

And she was sitting at her window, staring at the busy street, trying to active her powers of precognition, trying to write stories in her head in which all this worked out, when the doorbell rang.

Max was standing at the front door at 11am in the bright sun and holding a bottle of whiskey and he said, with a slight smile and a little annoyance "I am pretty sure you ruined my marriage".


She had shown up on the porch looking a little haggard.
She looked good, ofcourse. She always looked good. To him, anyway...well managed, a specific sense of style that always hit the mark, but generally also a little tired, like in a way to reveal a certain intellect, like she'd been thinking too hard and she needed to rest her eyes and clear the chaotic symbology. Today this affect was exaggerated.

It was his day off and he was a little high already, and he hadn't been planning for visitors and was frankly relieved he had put on real pants. A move he had questioned only moments ago.
He touched his jeans with relief.

Can I come in?

Yes. Ofcourse. He hugged her, let her in. He was sitting out back. Would she join him? Would she like anything?

I'd like a drink.

It was only 12:30 and the quality of the request alerted the appropriate alarm bells but he provided the drink like they were on vacation, as if this were a casual request.

Moments later, pleasantries exchanged, a din of silence passing, she looked directly at him and delivered the payload:

John is leaving me.

There was nothing remotely not disturbing about this statement. It made the visit make perfectly no sense.

Your best friends wife comes to your house, uninvited, downs a whiskey and tells you information you feel you ought to hear from another source. Any other source. And she tells it to you calmly.

So I realized I need you to help me with my taxes.

So I was wondering if you could watch the dog.

John is leaving me.

And it is information that does not, on any level, make sense, if you know John. And he knows John. Knew John. Or so he thought.
What do you do with this information...?
You argue.
And so he argued but it was clear she he had expected that and put up a hand, make it clear she had rehearsed this.

John doesn't know he is leaving me yet.

And then a story: a story of how she ran John and this girl the other day. They were just hanging out together, innocently, doing something or another she could not to find fault with. And he was with her and they were talking and suddenly she was very clear: John was in love with this girl. Or will be mostly definitely in love with this girl. And there is nothing to be done to stop it. And there is probably no good reason to stop it. Because he belongs with this girl, and seeing him with this girl abolishes all thoughts of her and John, all meant to be together and all he is mine, almost quashes the jealous rage with its rightness, with its clear purity. And so she understood that it will happen, and she will wait for it to happen, and she will fight it just enough to make it clear she wants him, to make clear the value of what they have had, but not so hard that it hurts more than it should, not so hard that he can't move forward, and be happy.

She loves John, she explains, but that this what something more important looks like, and this is what you want for the person you love.

And there is no comfortable way to ask the question you can't look away from: When did you lose your mind?

So instead he just asked why she had come to him.


There are two reasons, really…

Well, the first is that you are his friend. And I want you to help him, I’m hoping this talk will stop you from fighting him. Or something. You can tell him whatever you like…you probably think I am crazy, anyway

I don’t think you are crazy?

She shook her head…how is that even possible?

He asked the other reason

She wanted a portrait done. I want a portrait, today…when I am in this state. I know things are going to get bad and I am going to get crazy and selfish and forget this moment in which a greater universal plan made sense to me. I know when I feel it slipping away I’ll grip tightly. I know I’ll embarrass myself. I want a picture of this kind of dignity. And happiness. I know it sounds crazy, but I am not sad right now. I suspect this might be one of the last times I can say that, honestly, in a while.

And so he got out his camera. And he shot. And shot and shot. Horrible direct pictures of him he knew were good. All of them. And wondered what he would do with them. Any of them. Hey John, this is a photo essay of your ex wife. Yeah, I shot that the day she told me you were over. Want one?

He was in the process of putting his equipment away, refilling her whiskey glass for the nth time, vaguely wondering if she would be driving home, if she should, if the desire to do so was the beginning of the end, the start of her predicted downturn when he found himself asking the question before he knew it would come out of his mouth “why are you really here?”

I guess I am just here because I like you.


He was suddenly uncomfortable.

I didn’t want to say that because I didn’t want you to think I was coming on to you or doing something creepy. I just I know I probably won’t get to know you when this all is through. Not really. I guess I barely know you, now. I just realized, when I was processing all this, that we didn’t talk enough and that I would regret that and that I would miss you. I didn’t know if you’d miss me, but I wanted to give you something to stick in your memory. I wanted to make sure you’d miss me. I didn’t want to disappear completely . Or maybe I just wanted this…intimacy, for a moment.

Like a bookmark.

Yes, like a bookmark.

It all made perfect sense, strangely.

When she left he couldn’t relax. Why did moments like that ruin everything and yet seem so exciting, like the storm on TV, like a change in the weather. Why didn’t he tell her he liked her back? Why was everything suddenly so sensual for him when it had nothing to do with him. Why did it suddenly have to do with him at all?

Because she had chosen to make it meaningful for him. And that was something he somehow couldn't escape. Now he was in a breakup that had nothing to do with him and he was going through all his other break ups in his head and trying not to get too wound up before his wife came home and noticed something was awry.


It didn’t take too long after that really. She was strangely accurate about it all except the part where she humiliated herself. Or, at least, publicly humiliated herself. Any tantrums, any clinging might have happened behind closed doors, but he only saw a quieter kind of dissolution.

He watched her wash away. Or rather didn't watch her as she stopped showing up at events, stopped showing up in John's arms, returned less and less calls of other wives, discreetly slipped out the back door.

And it even went down exactly as she had predicted.

John is a nice guy, she explained, and first he’ll be happy because he is in love, but the weight of what that means, the acknowledgement of that inconvenient reality hasn’t hit him yet.

Then he’ll be on edge, when he begins to acknowledge these feelings and come to you (and he did)

And then he’ll be distraught, and he’ll come to his suddenly heroic and loyal wife and admit everything (insert nights on his couch, insert guilt and confusion here)

And then it would be over.

He wondered if she received any pleasure from that kind of clarity.

But here was a thing: by the time it was over she would have come over at least 5 times, drank at least as many bottles of whiskey and would have posed for half a dozen photos he would probably do nothing with. The time was really all they made. They would have talked about everything except the oddity of their new found friendship, and he would have told her everything that John told him, and told John little of what she had said. Loyalties strangely re-aligned, and yet his friendship with his best friend, still, stronger than ever.

By the time it was over he would have had at least 20 fights about this, with himself, with others, with his wife and John, himself. And he would have mourned the end of that relationship perhaps more than the couple divorcing.

It all made perfectly no sense