My explosive, illusion-destroying relationship was still convulsing in death throes at my feet.  Pulling myself out of it was like writhing in a bathtub of barbed wire, every movement towards freedom cut and slashed, making the sane and irrational indistinguishable. I was bloody and battered, still reeling from the confusion of lies and mental abuse that made reality wavy and unreliable.  It took Herculean strength to make the break-up stick, I finally resorted to cutting off all contact to toss him from my life like a hobo off a moving train.  A cacophony of messages clogging my answering machine drove me further undercover, and I all but disappeared from the grid of social circles tainted by his poison.  My nightlife became spotty and eerily quiet.

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surprise!

My brain cheered, but my heart and gut were twisted and dazed. I had always maintained  cordial breakups and didn’t understand why I had to sequester myself in an underground bunker to get away from this guy. Even sitting here secretly at a Happy Hour away from the usual haunts I scanned the room nervously, like Inspector Clouseau readying himself for Cato to fall from the ceiling.

Desmond, a co-worker, friend and love life audience member  had witnessed the whole ugly mess beginning to end, an ally in the trenches.  He walked over to where I was hunched on a bar stool and started a casual conversation about the night before, the drinks consumed, hilarity enjoyed. He segued so subtly and without fanfare I didn’t hear the bullet until it hit me in the chest.

“He says they’re totally hot for each other,  when they first met they spent three days in bed” he monotone-d as if he were not speaking about someone with whom I had just finished dancing a dysfunctional tango.  Someone who had spent the last two months stalking my every movement, following me to parties, showing up unexpectedly in restaurants and ambushing me as I walked home from work because he claimed to love me so fiercely he could not live without me.  And now the revelation that he was sleeping with someone else the entire time didn’t light the Bunsen burner of rage in my stomach as much as Desmond’s apparent glee at delivering the news.
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“I was talking to her at Jose’s party a few weeks ago, you weren’t there, were you? She’s really pretty.  They had their hands all over each other the whole time” he colorfully elaborated, munching on a tortilla chip and leaning against the mahogany bar in the carefully studied casual pose of a JC Penny Catalogue model.  I felt my insides tightening and crystallizing like the salt on the edge of my margarita glass, thinking about how crappy growth is and how it always seems to happen when you’re in the middle of something even crappier.

I thought a self-imposed witness protection program under cover of darkness would keep me safe from false faces and malevolent forces,  but maybe it’s less about hiding and more about creating a path they cannot follow because it’s too brightly lit.

I slid off the stool and walked towards the cool air drifting in from the open door.

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