This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. When you loved someone they were supposed to love you back. Completely. In the same way. The way you loved them. But that wasn’t how this was going. Instead it was one-sided. Selfish.
It was 2:30 a.m. He’d finished his work for the day at 9 p.m. Then he’d finished his work for grad school at 11:30 p.m. She should have been home by then. Or at least sent a text to let him know when she’d be home. But there was nothing. Now it was 2:30 and the bar she worked at was already closed. He knew it was closed because he’d walked the five blocks to look in the window and see the inside was dark.
New love wasn’t supposed to be like this. You were supposed to want to spend all of your time with your newfound partner. He felt stupid. He felt needy. Whispers from ghosts that followed him told him she was out with him. That other guy she’d been fucking before they met. The one she worked with. The one that was still her “best friend”.
How could he be so dumb to get involved with something that he knew would drive him insane? He looked up and down the darkened streets and his heart pounded. This was bullshit. He’d worked a fourteen hour day, busted his ass finishing schoolwork and now he was standing in the middle of the street in the middle of the night wondering where the hell his girlfriend was.
Before he knew it he was calling her sister who was at a frat party at a school over two hundred miles away. Y’know, just in case she’d seen her. She’s probably out with him, came the answer over the phone. You should’ve known what you were getting into. Frustrated with the useless information and then frustrated because he was stupid enough to call in the first place he clenched his cell phone in his hand.
Images raced through his mind of her hugging him after he drove her home the other night because she was too drunk to drive herself. Clutching the flowers he’d given to her at work after driving for three hours to get home, she was hugging him and thanking him for being so thoughtful and kind. But they were just friends. They never had a relationship. They just used to fuck but they don’t do that any more. Don’t be so insecure.
It’s unattractive, she’d told him. You’re so needy, you need to lighten up. I just want to hang out with my best friend. She’d left and gone out even when she promised that she wouldn’t. After texting him and telling him how she couldn’t wait to see him when he got home from his trip only to leave him to an empty house and an empty bed.
It was his fault. It had to be. Everyone thought he was being ridiculous. It was just fucking. Adults fuck. Her father lectured him about how insecure he was. Told him he’d only proposed to her because he was insecure. Her mother lectured him about how controlling he was. That her daughter was perfectly fine until he came along. They condoned it. Encouraged it and supported it. They defended it. They argued in favor of the abusive texts from her fuck buddy and death threats because He had a hard life and He didn’t really mean it. Like the whole goddamn family had fallen for the same shitty excuses any other abused lover would fall for. But he knew this wasn’t normal. This wasn’t how relationships worked.
At one point he’d tried to leave her but she’d convinced him things would be different. That she’d listen and be respectful and it would be different. The next night she didn’t come home until 4 a.m., drunk and smelling of Wild Turkey and his sweat. He got up and went outside after she passed out to smoke a cigarette. Stupid. He was so stupid. He had to leave but he loved her and if that was the case there must be something wrong with him because this wasn’t what love was supposed to be like.
He’s got her bent over on his couch fucking her hard from behind, the ghost whispered. She’s on her knees with his cock in her mouth and she’s loving it! said another. She loves him more than you and you know it! You’re nothing! they kept shouting. His hands cupped his ears to keep the voices away but that only made them louder because the voices were everywhere. They flooded his head, behind his eyeballs and choked his throat. She was a liar. He was a liar. They were both liars and jokers and the joke was on him. He was the laughing stock of a whole community. Him versus the family. Him versus her friends. Him versus his anxiety and it wasn’t dying down.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Love wasn’t supposed to be a battlefield. He was breathing hard when he walked down the steps to enter the basement bar a block away and stopped at the threshold. There she was at 3 a.m. One, two, three, four, five. Five guys he knew for a fact she’d fucked were among the crowd. They were everywhere, all the time. One facing her and her facing him in their bar stools with his hand on her knee. She was smiling ear to ear while she held up her left hand to show off her new engagement ring. The smile on the face across from her was the smile of a wolf. He knew what that smile meant because he was a man and he knew the thoughts turning in the brain behind that smile.
He felt his face contort and twitch with adrenaline and blood. He walked over to them and the other guy instantly got up and left without hesitating. He knew he’d been caught in the act and slinked away like the slimy pile of dog shit that he was. Do you want a drink? she asked. But the question was just for posterity, to keep up appearances. In her eyes were nuclear missiles currently aimed directly at his forehead and while her voice was calm the undertone screamed GET THE FUCK OUT WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!
It was stupid. The whole thing was stupid. He wasn’t a dog. He wouldn’t be told when he could and couldn’t be around and while he was a man, confident and knowledgeable and understanding, that didn’t make him a dog to be left collared to a house at home. But it wasn’t a home it was a shared space and reluctantly shared at that. A house of trophies of old relationships and excess energy smeared on the walls like a mental patient smears their spend on the paint in their rooms. And among the memories were notes she’d left him about how he was special and she wanted him and needed him. But the notes were in the same handwriting as the other notes to other lovers stored in a box left on display in the living room.
Can I talk to you outside? he asked. And they walked outside and as soon as the doors were shut she started yelling at him that he was embarrassing her. He was insecure and lame and he needed to go home because she wasn’t doing anything wrong. But if she wasn’t doing anything wrong why did he need to go home? Why didn’t she want to share her life with him the same way he shared his? But she didn’t want to and there was no explanation and she didn’t care to offer one. So he said I want that ring back. But he didn’t say it out loud he only thought it. He wanted to shout at her that she was being ridiculous but knew how that would look and then suddenly realized he’d been set up.
The whole thing was a set up. It was designed to fail. It was made to be a war because she didn’t know anything else and she had to keep fucking him because he would die if she didn’t. She was tied to him and he to her and that was the way it was going to stay and so out loud he said Give me the ring back. Then she yelled at him again because she said he was being stupid and insecure and he needed to go home.
A set up. She wanted him to be angry and yell and scream and slap her because she knew that she was wrong but didn’t know what else to do. So he walked back into the bar and she followed close behind and he turned to say goodbye only to catch her gaze as it met his in a reassuring You don’t have to protect me I’m going to stay and he’s going to leave and it will all be fine so we can keep drinking and probably fuck tonight sort of way.
So he scoffed and flipped off the fat man at the end of the bar that wreaked of stale beer and Wild Turkey. Then he turned back to her and told her to fuck off and have a nice life. His heart pounded so hard he was sure his chest would burst open and he practically race-walked back to the house. A trail of smoke followed behind him like he was a locomotive and he realized he’d smoked four cigarettes in four blocks and his lungs ached from the abuse.
The next morning when he woke up on his parents’ couch he found messages on his phone that apologized and promised new beginnings and that things would be better. He reached for the half empty beer bottle and drank the warm, now sour, alcohol which produced the same reaction as a bucket of cold water to the face. He didn’t even bother to respond and instead began to search for a new job in a new city because he was tired of the short-fought war and running into everyone she’d fucked and being told to be okay with it. Because he didn’t have to settle for less-than and he didn’t have to settle for being treated like a dog because love wasn’t supposed to be this way.