She had to die before I could love her. Eleven years ago, I’d thought of us a little more than — what’s that horrible and oh-so-modern phrase — “friends with benefits”. Or the even-more-modern phrase, “fuck buddies”. She’d been easy to seduce because she was broken inside, although I chose not to see it. I liked her. She was perky and she was quick-witted and most importantly she was twenty-nine years old at a time when I was starting down the barrel of my fortieth birthday. We met where and when we could, from my guest bedroom to the model unit of the rental apartments she managed. On a risky whim, we went to see Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour in 2010, standing near the back and listening to the old man warble his incomprehensibilities, both of us suffering from aching knees and light headaches from the vodka. Her hand sought mine in the unlit crowd and while I did not resist, neither did I squeeze back.
In 2012 her husband found out. They always do, you know, the husbands. He called me. Asked me to lay off. Told me that I was standing between them and happiness. I suggested that his OxyContin addiction was probably also an issue. He said he could get help, and that he would sober up. He said he could, and would, look after her. I knew he was a born loser but I also, in my own way, respected the institution of marriage, so I did, in fact, lay off. She and I would occasionally meet for lunch, at the Pizza Hut down the street from the Honda plant in Marysville, Ohio, but we did not touch. “Did you ever love me?” she asked.
“Of course,” I lied.
Five years later, in May of 2017, she and her husband had a big fight. She threatened to kill herself. He’d been sober for a while, and he was filled with the self-righteousness that comes so easily to people who have beaten a percentage, however minor, of their own addictions. “Go ahead and do it, you won’t be missed,” he yelled, and he let the door slam on his way out. She cried for a while — I don’t know how long. Then she took their trio of children across the street to her neighbor’s house. “I need you to look after them until my husband comes home,” she said, and smiled.
Then she opened the faucets on the old plastic tub in the back bathroom of their tired old duplex, and she stripped down just to her underwear, for the sake of decency, and she stepped in. When the water was warm enough, she opened both her wrists, and she died. Shortly afterwards, the neighbor ran into the house, her subconscious having assembled the clues in front of her into their only logical conclusion. The water was still warm, stained with paisley swirls and ethereal tendrils of slowly clotting blood.