Read The Layover (Part 1) here.
“Fuck off,” I blurted. It wasn’t what I wanted to say, it just came out.
“Seriously, you expect me to believe that?”
“Why would I make it up?”
“Beats the hell out of me. I don’t know who else you were with or what else you lied about before it was over.” The anxiety I had swallowed a few minutes before had apparently not gone away. Instead it had settled in my stomach, festering like a flu virus. I felt ill. My hand fell to my pocket, searching for the tin in which I always carried a few Xanax pills.
She chuckled, then said, “God, you still can’t manage without meds.”
Fire streamed into my face and I quickly realized it was a rush of tears covering my dried out, tired eyes. Nothing had changed. She was just as cruel, as cunning with words as she ever was. She knew exactly where to stick the knife and how to twist it. I watched her do it through law school to other people. By the time she’d turned the tactic on me it was too late.
Quietly I asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Look,” she said, now in full lawyer mode, “I wasn’t going to tell you, ever. I just saw you in the terminal and figured it was fate. Riley just turned eight. He’s a very smart little boy who doesn’t even know you exist. I don’t want anything from you, I don’t need anything from you. Don’t be such an infant. There’s no need for a temper tantrum. I simply thought you would appreciate knowing that despite everything, we managed to make a beautiful child.”
If I could have formed words they would have had to traverse the landscape of a dried out, raspy voice too choked on disbelief to make any sense. All this time I’d put between us. The crushing heartache I felt for years after we parted. My struggle to forgive myself, and her, for all our transgressions and missteps. I’d worked so hard to get over it. And now…now I was drowning in a thunderstorm of overwhelming uncertainty. I had a child. With her. Lightning flashed close, snapping me back from my sea of panic to our table in the airport.
“No,” I whispered.
“No, I don’t believe you. You were with Eric, not me. The boy isn’t mine.”
“Well, you don’t have to believe me. I know he’s yours-”
“How?” I intruded.
Her lips pursed, impatient with my rejection. “Okay, let’s take a pause.” Her mediator training was now dominating the conversation. “Let me be clear, I’m not telling you because I want something from you. It just felt like-”
“Like what? Like the right thing to do?” I wasn’t going to let her take it over. The table scooted away from me as my torso leaned into it. “Has it ever once occurred to you that the right thing to do would have been to not cheat on me in the first place? To not put yourself first all the time? To think about the weight I was carrying, for both of us? And because you got bored and needed a new dick to sit on that you left me in complete ruin? Has it ever, once, in the last eight years occurred to you that a simple apology would be a good place to start?”
Now I was aware of my rising voice and heads turning slightly to take note of the conversation happening between the girl I’d once loved so endlessly and myself, the ever constant fool for believing in real, blissful happiness. I relaxed and leaned back off the table, but kept my hands out in front of me, marking the trench I’d dug in the argument. I refused to relent to the twisted notion that this was somehow my fault.
The waiter walked back over to ask, “How is everything tasting?” I looked up at him over the top rim of my glasses so that my head stayed locked in her gaze. He didn’t say anything, just raised his eyebrows and backed away.
There’s a funny thing that happens when people become completely overwhelmed. Usually it results in some sort of outburst, a “freak out”, if you will. Adrenaline spills out across multiple bodily functions creating a buzz of energy that, if contained, explodes shortly thereafter. If it is expressed, it creates unpredictable results strewn about in multiple directions. But for a fraction of a second, between the realization of this sudden existence of unstoppable vitality and the decision of what to do with it, there is a moment that offers a third option. That is to harness this welling up of puissance and focus it, like light through a crystal lense, to illuminate something even more powerful.
My voice, calm and measured, I laid it out for her. “For eight years I’ve been imagining what I would say to you if I saw you. I’ve been considering every word, carefully, because I wanted what I had to tell you to mean something. I wanted it to resonate with you, so you could understand just how pivotal our time together was for me. I credit you, almost completely, for pushing me over a cliff I had been standing at the edge of for half my life. What I’ve learned from our experience was transformational. In some sick way I should tell you, thank you. I’m willing to admit that in the beginning I knew it wouldn’t last and so did you. If not for you I never would have met my wife. I wouldn’t have the family I cherish so much. I am happy, now, maybe because of you, but without you. I’m content to remember the good things and forgive the bad. On both our parts. But this,” I pointed my index finger into the table, “is not forgivable.”
She drew breath, ready to object, but I continued. “I don’t care if you thought it was a good idea or not to keep this from me. I don’t give a rat’s ass if you think cheating on me was justified. And I certainly could give two shits about whatever con you’re pulling on whoever it is you’re seeing now. I have no clue what could make you think that ambushing me in an airport was your best option. That it was fate. Because that’s bullshit. I fell for that crap once already. So help me God, Stacey, if I find out you’ve made this whole thing up I’ll have you committed. Or worse, if you’re telling the truth, and this poor child has to put up with your neurosis, I’ll take him away from you, even if he isn’t mine, just to save him from whatever you could possibly subject him to.”
I chose to stop talking, feeling my voice rise again. I was hurt, I was furious and I wanted her out of my sight. She cleared her throat and picked up her glass of wine. The empty glass made a light clink sound on the table. I sat, knowing I had not unleashed all my ammunition yet, waiting for the flurry of insults to come. My lungs expanded and contracted in stressful, deliberate pulses. I refused to cede my position. The nostrils of my nose flared in anticipation of the oncoming battle. If the past had taught me anything, this was just a warm-up.
“You’re right,” she sighed. “You’re completely right.”
My shoulders dropped out of battle mode and the tension in my neck melted. “What?”
“You’re right. I’m completely full of shit. The whole thing is a hoax. It turned out Eric was married. The guy after that stole most of my savings. The guy after that slept with my best friend and…” she looked down into her lap. “And breaking up with you was the worst decision I ever made. I’m sorry,” the hair fell down to the side of her face. “I’m so sorry for everything.”
I felt my head involuntarily turn to one side, like a dog listening to a high pitch whistle. The words I heard, I’m sorry, had never come out of her mouth before. Never. I couldn’t remember her even apologizing to the dog for accidentally stepping on its paw. I was dumbfounded. But no, no, this wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. Just another ploy, messing with my emotions. How many times had I been here before? When she would lure me in to letting my guard down and then come at me with a killing strike. No, no, not this time. I would not relent.
“Get away from me.” My teeth remained clenched. “I don’t care if you see me tomorrow, ten days or ten more fucking years. I don’t ever want to see or talk to you again.” For a moment she sat still and quiet. Then without another word, reached down to pick up her purse. Her hand removed a couple of twenty dollar bills and let them fall onto the table. A sniffle made its way through her nose. She rose from her chair and walked out of the wine bar.
Sinking back into reality I remembered the world that surrounded me. Voices making casual conversation slowly streamed in. Sounds of roller bags and muffled flight announcements from loud speakers crept up. It was like someone had walked into the room where I was sitting and flipped on a light. My head swirled, causing me a moment of vertigo. Pears and red wine filled my nostrils like the stench from a busted sewer line. My heart rate slowed, muscles relaxed. The waiter came back to the table.
“Uh,” he hesitated. “Can I get you anything else?”
“The check,” I said without looking up.
Minutes later he returned with the little black plastic tray and a thin piece of paper. I placed the cash she’d left on the ticket and stood up to leave. A couple walked into the bar. Glancing at me leaving I looked down at the uneaten food on the table. “Free pizza and a half bottle of wine,” I muttered.
I nearly stumbled out of the bar, weak from the chemical clusterfuck of emotions in my head. Then over the speakers I heard an announcement the storm had cleared, my flight was now only an hour from departure. After making it to the gate I sent my wife a text to tell her I would be home soon. That I loved her, very much.
You’re probably wondering a lot of things at this point. Did she tell the truth? Did they really have a child? Doesn’t he want to know for sure? Shouldn’t he go looking for him? All valid questions. All things I asked myself years after. At times I questioned whether it all even happened. Maybe I’d just fallen asleep in the terminal, or on the plane and had a nightmare. But you don’t have to worry. I didn’t need to go looking for him.
He found me.