It was warmer than it should’ve been. That day, towards the end of January when my world stopped.
The winter always steals something from me, something biological and necessary. The sun and sky feed me and keep me tolerable. And that day was so warm. You could even hear the birds singing.
They called it false spring. You were determined to eek every ounce of pleasure one day could muster. Who ever heard of a picnic in January in Ohio? But we weren’t alone. The park wasn’t crowded, but there were enough people to disrupt your plans, if you had cared about privacy. The meadow was soggy with melting winter and the woods were dripping. But you took me there, deep in the trees. You always took me, wherever and whenever you wanted me.
I have so many scars from us, but only those are visible still. You were fierce, coaxing me with your fingers and tongue as the bark scraped my skin. You forced sounds from me that I’d never heard myself make. We were a tribute to sex. A human sacrifice to the gods of pleasure. And when you were finally done with me, as the sun was setting, I was certain I had fallen for you.
I couldn’t have known just how much further I had to fall.
We slipped into the seats of my Mercury, soaked through but sparkling. “Turn the heat up,” you growled through clenched teeth. “My Goosebumps have Goosebumps.” My own teeth chattered as I leaned forward cranking up the dial, fat raindrops splattering on the windshield. Do you remember what you said?
My mind replayed that seen over and over for months after. If I just could’ve had that day back, everything would’ve been different. You leaned over, holding my hands between yours and blowing into them. If only I’d played it cool. But you said the thing that blew up any rational thought in my mind. “I wish I could do that to you forever.”
I get it today, looking back. You meant it differently than I took it. My brain was soup, melted like the snow by dopamine and oxytocin. Your lips kissing my knuckles only set the misinterpretation in stone.
Guys think girls are crazy. Girls think guys are cold and calculating. It just all comes down to the simple fact that we don’t understand each other. You think we are too sensitive, too love hungry, too clingy, too emotional… Too much. You are too unfeeling, too stubborn, too self-absorbed, too physical. I wonder if one just brings about the other. But it’s the chicken and the egg, isn’t it?
That afternoon was like a brick in the foundation of my future. You watched me spiraling and tried so hard to pull back on the reigns. On some level, I think I knew it. That I was pushing you and manipulating you. Sex is the best weapon, sometimes on both sides. I negotiated with myself that it was normal, that this is how women keep men interested. But it was more than that, wasn’t it. You were addicted and I was your dealer. I let you do anything to me. Just promise to come back tomorrow.
I threw the four letter word around for both of us, deluding myself into a psychotic certainty that you just couldn’t say it. That your childhood had created a block against it, and I simply needed to keep pushing. I learned to cook everything you liked, cleaned your apartment for you every weekend, washed your clothes in my washing machine so you didn’t have to waste time going to a laundromat.
It was the hours together on the weekend that fooled me. You were so appreciative. I can’t even blame you for using me. Who wouldn’t? I was giving you everything any man could possibly want. I was the housewife without the house and marriage. I hung out with your friends and did stuff for them too. They all loved me.
Did you know it was Billy who told me? It was almost summer and I’d packed a beautiful picnic, determined to recreate that afternoon in January, except better. I came to pick you up and he was there, sitting on your stoop. His dark eyes were wide as he looked up at me, his jaw was set beneath his beard.
“He’s not here,” his voice was gruff and low. “But sit with me for a minute, ok?” I set the basket down but remained standing until he looked at me again, his brows knitted tightly together. “Please, Case. Sit.”
When I did, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. “Where is he?” I asked, my voice a bit too high. My stomach felt like it was filled with bees. “We were-“
“Do you ever actually spend the night with Calvin?” He interrupted, turning his face to look at me. “You’re normally at your place in the evening, right? And he tells you he needs to sleep in his own bed?”
His head was cocked slightly and his eyes bore into me. I’d always felt like he could see right through me. My throat felt tight as I tried to say I didn’t know. He shifted to square his shoulders to me and his eyes blazed.
I didn’t want to hear any of it. But once he started, I didn’t want him to stop. He told me about the woman from your office back in January, several more you’d met at bars. “Didn’t you ever wonder why he left so early?”
Of course I did. But being faced with testimony only made me numb. I told him I loved you and that I didn’t care. I already suspected that you were a sex addict. I was ready to excuse it all.
But it wasn’t just random women, anymore. “Her name is Jenna. His lease is up next month, and he’s going to move in with her.”
Everything suddenly clicked.
You’d talked about her a lot when we first started dating. But you never actually said you’d broke up. Billy said that you never had. He told me everything. Heading home just before she got off work or sending me home when I was at your place. You told her that you’d hired someone to do your cleaning and laundry. You told her that your mom left her earrings in your living room. You stayed at her place, all the time.
“You don’t deserve this, Casey. And I just can’t stand by and let him ghost you.” His voice was soft and his hand was firm on my shoulder. Maybe he thought I’d run away. “He isn’t worthy of you.”
Some sick, broken part of my brain locked onto that phrase. I called him a liar. I may have even slapped him across the face for being such a horrible friend. I tried to storm away and I might have tricked myself into believing that he made it all up just so he could try to get me for himself. But then he said the one thing I couldn’t ignore.
“He bought her a ring.” The words were gritty and dull, but his eyes continued to blaze. “I can show you. He’s doing it now.”
I wonder sometimes what would have happened if he’d let me walk away that afternoon. I may have kept cleaning your place and washing your clothes for another couple of weeks, sucking you off on Sunday morning and letting you continue to experiment on my body and mind until you just disappeared.
Would you have ever told me? Did I mean anything to you at all?
The sun was warm on our backs as we walked the length of the park I’d planned to take you to that afternoon. When I first saw you, in the woods, I thought you were alone. But Billy turned me around just as I noticed your fingers combing through her dark, red hair, your jeans hanging a little too low on your hips.
I fought him to let me turn back around and watched you finish, that groan from deep in your chest audible even from 200 yards away. She stood up, and you kissed her like you never kissed me. You wrapped her arms around her and said something I couldn’t understand, but her laughter rang like a disharmonic chord through the trees. And as her hands came up to link around your neck, a gem glinted in the sun on her left ring finger.
Billy asked if I wanted to confront you as I watched you kissing her neck. All I could do was shake my head. How stupid I was, how crazy I had been. I turned and stared up at him, my hands and face numb. And I walked back to the car without saying anything.
I thought he must’ve known I was crazy, because he didn’t leave me alone all weekend. He took me to my car and followed me back to my place, watched me pack your half-finished laundry into trash bags and carried them for me to the dumpster. The tears started around 6pm and didn’t stop for days.
I’d loved you with everything I had in me, and it hadn’t been enough. How does a person get over that?
Billy spent the next night on my sofa too and bought coffee and croissants Monday morning. As the tears burned inside my swollen eyes, he asked if I was going to be ok. If I could pretend that you loved me, I could surely pretend I was ok. And so I did.
But he was right to not trust me because after he left, I drove to your apartment. I called into work and sat outside, waiting for you to come home all day. I stared at my phone willing you to call or text, to find out when I was bringing over your laundry, but there was nothing. I tried to figure out who she was, too. But your social media was perfectly crafted to appear public, but be as private as humanly possible. I couldn’t even find her last name.
Billy found me there again Thursday at 8pm. I’d gone there each day after work, waiting to see you, to confront you. I’d fallen asleep in my car every night.
He tapped on my window softly, “This isn’t ok, Case.” He pulled me from my car and wrapped me in a hug. “You need to call someone, there must be a friend or sister-“
“Stop,” I spat, pushing hard against his chest. “As if this isn’t humiliating enough, I now have to tell everyone I know that-” I finally freed myself from his arms and gritted my teeth against a sob. “That I made up an entire relationship in my mind.” I balled my fists and squeezed my eyes shut. “I must be insane.”
Headlights flared on the corner, making me want to hide. Hadn’t I gone there to confront him? But when Billy stepped in front of me to shield me from the oncoming car, I stared up at him and recalled what he’d said when we first met.
Calvin must be the best con man in the world to win over an angel like you.
My heart hammered against my lungs as the car passed us and continued up the street. Frozen in his gaze, I stopped imagining how I’d looked to everyone else. This man had basically risked all of his friends to help me see the truth. I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t seen all of the ways he tried to warn me before. He’d even called me Jenna, once. Billy had cared more about me than you.
He took me home and we called my sister in Illinois. He left me on the phone with her, but asked me to call him before I went to sleep.
I called you first.
I wonder if you ever got to hear that message. I like to think you did and that you felt some modicum of guilt. I don’t like thinking of you as the womanizing sex-addict who was murdered by one of his victims. For my own sanity, I like to remember how sweet you were after making me come. How you held me that afternoon in the park, kissing each of my fingertips and telling me you wanted to hear me make those noises again and again. How those few nights when you did stay the night with me, you’d hold me all night and make me feel loved, even if you never said it.
We all know now just how much you’d twisted everything and everyone. I still don’t blame you, not like Jenna does. Or like Marcy obviously did. She plead insanity and might’ve only gotten 3 years in a psychiatric hospital. But instead, she bled to death having punctured her jugular with a sharpened toothbrush.
I try not to blame myself either, and my therapist says I should blame you since you were the one who lied. But I always catch myself thinking back and recognizing that you didn’t really lie to me. You never promised me love. You never promised me anything, really. Even that one misunderstood promise on that false spring day was never really a promise at all.
That brittle ‘forever’ flaked away to nothing, by the time I found out everything. Shredded by the thousand paper cuts the truth offered me. It all left so little behind besides the salty sweet aftertaste of indifference.
I suppose I owe that all to Billy. He called every night after after that, until last January when we started spending the nights with each other. He’d asked me at Halloween if I would give him the chance to show me everything I’d been missing with you. It didn’t take long for me to see.
It was a bitter cold day, nothing false or spring about it. But under my covers, late that night, he made me feel like you never did. And when he whispered that he loved me and then shouted it for anyone to hear during the weeks after, I realized that my world had finally started back up again.
And that everything happens for a reason.