I don't know how it happened. But Monika has become my best friend.
At least once a week we meet for lunch and tell each other everything. And if one of us can't make it, then we're depressed.
Today when she shows up, I can see right away she's not together. Her hair's flying all over the place, she drops a mirror out of her purse. Finally sitting down at the table I've grabbed for us, she puts on an Hello-I'm-fine smile. Then she straightens up in her chair, the way I imagine she used to when she was in third grade.
We know each other pretty well after a year.
I met her in the library of our department at the University. She's doing work study; I'm back in college trying to finish. We're both older than the other students, so I guess we fell in together.
The waiter comes, and she orders a salad, I get a burger. We're quiet after that, but I know something's up, because she's thinking really hard, wondering if she can trust me. She has this problem with trust.
When she spills her glass of water, I put out my hand so I barely touch hers, and say "Why don't you tell me." And then she almost breaks out in tears. Except that we're in this public place.
"It's my husband," she gulps and takes a swallow of water from my glass. "He still comes on to me." She wants to cry or scream. "But he was the one who insisted on the divorce. Pushed it through a couple of months ago."
I don't say anything. She needs to get it all out. No interruptions, except maybe a little encouragement here and there.
"Yesterday I met him to settle some small thing left over from our break up. And I guess I was glad to see him."
I nod and look at her, letting her know I'm listening.
"He took me out to eat and brought me back, just like a date. Then we sat on the couch we'd had in our home, with all the pictures that used hang on our walls, and .."
She looks away just as the waiter brings our food. I'm waiting for the grand finale.
"And after a glass of wine, he sits close to me. And I didn't really think anything about it, but then he starts to undress me like it's nothing in the world."
I eat my burger. She doesn't touch her food. She plays with it a little, while she's picturing what happened, trying to decide whether she can tell me, tell anyone.
"And I started crying, and he called me a prick tease. So I gave into to him, because I didn't want him to think of me like that. But this morning I feel horrible, like I was raped. Only its more like he raped my mind."
Now I can see she's gotten it all out. Her arms are limp, and she's eating a bit. And she's waiting, wanting to hear what I think.
"You told me you have this problem with limits," I say. She nods as she crunches the celery and carrots.
"That's what was wrong with our marriage." She comes up for air. "And now it's still happening, after we're divorced." Her face is pale, drained, but she's already starting to accept it and think about what to do next.
We get some coffee and desert, and normally I'd tell her what's going on with me: that no matter what anyone says an open marriage can't work because jealousy is at least, maybe more, powerful than love. And that you can't have all these forces pulling on you in different directions, and I heard through the grape vine that my wife's lover has told people he plans to marry her, and I'm starting to wake up early in the morning and not be able to get back to sleep.
But I don't. I know today she can't hear me. And then I feel really good because this is what we've been doing for a long time. One of us has a crisis, and the other listens. We take turns.
And now she's starting to look like herself again, pretty in an ordinary way. But she's well dressed, and she's got poise.
She gets up and says,"I've got to go. I know you had a bunch to tell me. Next time," and then she gives me this peck on the cheek and leaves. And I sit down still feeling her lips on my skin, the little touch that I've gotten so I live for, that I miss all week long if I don't get it, because it says something about our friendship, and how much we trust each other.
I dream off into the mirror behind the table and notice the guy whose been sitting next to us, looking at me kind of weird with a puzzled, maybe disproving expression. I realize he must have gotten an earful.
But we don't give a damn, this is our time together. If people overhear, so what. We decided that months ago.
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