(If you haven’t already, read Trading Blows: Round 1 and 2 if you want to understand what the hell is going on. Oh and thanks for reading.)
I manage to drag myself to the living room couch, wrap myself in our rainbow throw blanket Michelle crocheted a while back, and sleep falls on me like a damp towel; uncomfortable, but there is no alternative. It’s funny, because Michelle for the most part is the badass of our relationship. She loves to slam idiots with her lawyer knowledge, isn’t afraid to ask for stuff off the menu at restaurants, and loves being on top. Control is kind of her thing. But she has a weakness, a chink in the suit of badassery that simultaneously scares and thrills me; she loves to crochet. Not likes, loves. This rainbow blanket, plus the majority of the others in our apartment. Uncomfortably warm socks. Sweaters that actually fit quite well. She even knit herself a thong and boxers for me (we tried them out, then threw them out – it just felt weird). She can show off and lawyer all she wants, but even when she’s crocheting in her pants suit I can’t help but see her as the young, adorable girl she must have been (not sexual, people).
Well, there are no other blankets within reach, so I settle for rainbow cuddling, Michelle-made or not and pass out.
The soulful summons of Sinatra pulls me from my sleep. “For when your lonely heart has learned its lesson, you’d be hers if only she would call…” I poke my head out from the crochet-cave and check my phone. It’s Tom, my brother, and its 10:15.
“Fuck” is all I can manage to say, over and over, while I silence Tom’s call and streak around the apartment grabbing the stuff that I need for class. The class that I’m teaching, at 10:30, that I should already be at, setting up everyone’s stations. Again, fuck. I throw on some jeans, a wrinkled t-shirt from the floor that says Prostitutes Blow on it, and my black fedora to hide my bed-head. Forgoing the toothbrush route I steal some gum from Michelle’s drawer, chew the shit out of it, snag my paint bag and the canvas from my studio, and bolt out the door.
Luckily the studio is just a couple blocks north, so I sprint to it, or at least I do my version of sprinting which consists of running a couple steps, breathing heavily, walking quickly, and repeat. Stumbling past the main desk to my classroom at 10:28, I feel like I’m back in college again, though the class attendees are all old enough to be my teachers and they are paying my lazy ass. Bumping through the door I glance around and see that I have a smaller group today; about ten moms have made it to splash paint with their hands. I wheeze out a breathless hello and toss everything onto my desk, trying to play it cool, like I was in the nonexistent teacher’s lounge doing push ups. Or something.
“Alright. Today,” big breath, “we are going to,” big breath, “be working on a new project.” One sentence down. I can do this. Though this is the precise moment I remember that instead of making a game plan for class, I was fighting to keep myself from falling apart last night. Big breath.
“We’re, uh, we’re going to do something a little different. I want you all to take out a fresh canvas, and, um, close your eyes.”
The ladies look at me and each other with open skepticism, but I frantically wave my hands at them and they acquiesce. Thank God they’re listening, now this buys me a little time to improvise. I look around the room, the recent ‘accomplishments’ by my students plastering the concrete walls, and mentally register for the first time who is in class. There is Matilda, a 50ish mother of two, sitting in the front. Her kids are at college; she does this to keep herself from joining her useless husband in depression. Natalie, a mid-40s, overweight brunette that fancies herself a hippie though her husband is a manager of an Applebee’s, in the front. Kate and Maggie, late 30-somethings, roommates if I remember correctly and also lesbians, sitting in the second row to my left. Then there are the three Ann’s, who all kind of look the same, manage to always sit together in the back, and in my brain are one big entity. Just to my right is Julie, or Jules, who is more a friend than a student, and who I managed to accidentally go out on a date with once. More on that later. The last is Allison, a semi-recent widow whose shock of curly red hair manages to semi-mitigate the pain in her stunning baby blues. Overall, a pretty engaging class roster.
“I want you to imagine something.” Smooth, I’m doing great. “I want you to pull from your past a time when you felt…uh, wronged.” Sudden intake of breath; I didn’t know where I was going with this, but I did not expect ‘wronged’. Oh well, lets keep going. “Think back to when something went haywire in your life.”
“This has to have happened to us?” One of the Anns, lets label her Ann-1, calls out with her eyes still closed.
“Uh, yes.” I didn’t know that there would be any questions, the instructions seemed simple. “It has to be something close to you, something personal.”
“My parrot flew away a couple days ago. Does that count?” Ann-2 says, raising her hand after she’s spoken. What is she, high? Whatever.
“As long as you cared about your parrot, sure it works,” I say.
“Does it have to be a loss?” asks Kate the lesbian.
“Yes sure, whatever, it just has to hurt,” I chew out. They’re getting on my nerves. The room is filling with tension, and they start to quiet down, until…
“How are you and Michelle?” That bullet is fired by Matilda, my pseudo-mom, and I look up to find Matilda, Jules, and Allison staring at me.
I have made a huge miscalculation. Most of the women in this class have, or are old enough to have had, sons of my age. Most have spent hours with me discussing art, sex, the benefits of Crayola. For me to think that I could interact with them for more than five minutes while my personal life is disintegrating and to be able to hide it from all of them was a big mistake. It’s like having a ten-headed super mom, with nuclear feeling detectors.
“We’re, uh,” cough, big swallow, “that’s not the, uh…nope.” Not exactly an answer. My voice is cracking. I need to get a grip. I see their faces wrinkling with concern. “Just keep your eyes closed, please.”
Jules, Allison, and Matilda all do so, albeit reluctantly, and I move forward, trying not to get bogged down in the reality outside the room.
“Just imagine some kind of loss. Any kind. Once you have it, focus on how it made you feel. Angry, depressed, rejected, betrayed, whatever. Now let your mind translate those feelings into color.”
I’m doing it. This isn’t bad. I look around the room, and the moms are all fidgeting, their faces scrunching and squeezing as they try to physically dig through their own psyches. It’s fascinating, watching their faces as they reminisce on their private pasts. Maybe it’s the onset of my crippling loneliness, but these women look beautiful at this moment, even the unhappy hippie. My gaze has moved to Allison, the slight bags under her eyes marring her dove complexion. We have a new connection, Allison and I; the loss of our significant other. Granted, hers is entombed in wood and sod while mine is alive, just riding another dude, but still. As I start to make a mental Venn-diagram of whose sorrow is worse, Allison’s eyes pop open, and she fixes me with a pointed stare.
“Do all the feelings have to be negative?”
“Isn’t losing someone a bad thing?” I ask. She pauses, and I can see her mind ticking away.
“Yes, but I think there is some joy to be found in what was, right? When you lose someone there’s pain, but it can be calming to know that they’ve moved on.”
“Wha…?” I can’t even finish my question; I’m staring at her like she’s grown a dong on her forehead. “How can you find joy in someone moving on?!” I practically spit out those last words. The anger from last night is starting to boil over.
“They just fucking left you! Up and left you to wallow in the, the, bombed-out remains of what was yours!” By this time everyone in class is staring at me, all of the Anns mouths are agape, and little mutterings of admonishment are being voiced as I barrel forward.
“Everything you loved is gone. Screw memories, memories are nothing but wasted time, wasted space in my life that I cleared out for her until she fucking threw it away!” My breath is pouring out in heaves; I can feel fire racing through my pores, my veins humming with unconfined wrath. For a moment it feels great, like I can control something.
“Fuck those who left. Fuck ‘em.”
Complete silence for a moment.
“Alright, class is over for the day,” announces Matilda, her authority billowing through the room like a sea storm. Slowly my fire dampens as I watch Allison’s eyes well with tears, her mouth forming noiseless phrases that thunder into me nonetheless. She deliberately packs each paint and brush, willing herself not to sob in front of me. The Anns, the hippie, and the two lesbians quickly file out, and Jules does what I’ve come to learn is what she does best. She slaps me.
“What the hell were you thinking,” she hisses over the desk as Matilda helps Allison to the classroom door.
I gear myself to go to war, because that slap really hurt, but one look into Jules’ slitted eyes clams me up. Her fury would totally beat the shit out of my fury. She’s enraged by how I hurt Allison, but she’s also probably still stirred up about how I accidentally dated her. More on that later.
“Wait Julie, wait a second.” Matilda steps in after closing the door behind Allison. “Neil, what happened?” Matilda didn’t miss my slip referencing ‘her’ while screaming earlier. She’s an attentive depressive pseudo-mom.
You know, I want to tell her. It would feel great to spill out everything, to let somebody else take on some responsibility, to help me carry this newfound burden that is sitting on my shoulders like a sack of bricks, but I can’t. The instant Matilda walked over and offered the proverbial bucket to spew my problems into, I was shamed. Or, rather, I became instantaneously aware of the shame lurking around the corner, ready to spring out the moment I publicly acknowledged that I was being cheated on.
I’m a cuckold. Michelle may not be my technical wife, but two years is a long time. I’m the man that cannot hold onto his long-time lover. Who cannot please her enough, who is missing something because she has to go fuck another man to find it. Worse, though this may seem like common sense, there is a dude out there that is making me a cuckold. Some guy I don’t know has turned my existence into a piece of shit. And, it’s still happening. Fuck it, I am not ready to admit to these women, and through them to the world, that I’m a piece of worthless shit. I level my gaze at Matilda, and something deep in me hardens.
“Nothing, Matilda. It’s nothing.” My older, wiser students both look at me, and though they know that I’m lying, they don’t press further. They see something in me that quiets them down, and I can only guess what it is. What I do know is I need to do something. I need to find out why. I need to know where, how many times, is it purely physical, is it emotional, which is worse, does it even matter? I need to find out who he is. Why he is in contact with my life. Does he know about my life? I need proof, I need answers, I need to confront Michelle. There are so many needs, but the one most foreign to me is the one that prevails. Maybe this is what the women saw in me, made them hurry through their hushed goodbyes and abandon me to myself in my barren classroom.
I need to hit something.