I am seeing a disturbing pattern. Former lovers, one after the other in succession, reappearing in my life. Friends and lovers come and go, some come again. Usually this flow is not quite so chronological. Everyone has circles with people who float in and out, and like spinning Venn diagrams, people move from one edge, outside your sphere, back to the intersection. But people are rarely static, falling into predicable patterns of where and when, even if their lives seem mundane, routine and very predictable to themselves.
I thought nothing of Marsha returning. We had dated for several years, most of which were wonderful. Even after an angry break-up where she promised never to think my name or face ever again, we calmed down, communicated through email and Christmas cards. That sort of thing never lingers for very long as life throws situations and people at us that constantly fill empty places. Marsha found my replacement before I found hers. After the third ignored email, I got the message.
Erica was different. Everything about our relationship was volatile, down to the permanent scratch marks on my shoulders. She left me because she was bored, which was her theme. Though I like to pretend her boredom was actually fear (the long line of exes seemed to confirm my suspicion), she proved me wrong by marrying the next in line.
I left Tricia (always ending in a), Rebecca and Hannah because I decided I wanted the next A more. Everyone is ashamed of some portion of their lives and the period after Erica was mine. Tricia wanted exclusivity (oh no) which is why I chose Rebecca, who was roommates with Hannah, who had an Eastern European accent and I couldn’t say no when she expertly used so many harsh consonants.
Not hard to comprehend, but after Hannah, I took some time to regroup, think, evaluate my life and the obviously horrendous choices I continued to make. I hung around near a place called depression, imagining all these bad relationships were the result of my obvious character flaws. I spent weeks doing little but going to work then coming home. I ate bad food, drank too much and found I had a taste for sleeping pills.
Marsha floated back first. I found her on Facebook one night during a guilt filled moment, wanting to make amends. She was married, two kids, seemed happy, lived within 20 miles of me. We met for coffee on a thirsty Thursday. The second sentence out of her mouth was “I’m so sorry I left you like that.” The first was either, ‘You look good’, or ‘I take the coffee black.’ It all muddies.
Within a week, Erica called me. “I have a two hour lay over. Wanna meet for lunch or something..” Which I did. “We all love airport food.” She looked the same. Short blonde hair, too much eye make up (I always loved that about her) and a skirt so short that it should have to go by another name. She put her hand on my knee several times. Fell into my shoulder laughing at least three times, and kept licking her upper lip in an uncomfortable way. When it was time for her to leave, we embraced and she traced circles on my neck, then left a too long kiss on my lips along with the revelation that she just left her husband. “He hated me as much as I hate okra.”
When I arrived home, I had a Facebook message from Marsha. Her husband had left her. Taken the kids and bolted back to Maine. She was devastated and could I call when I had the chance. I waited three days.
While I swam in this avalanche of devastated relationships, I discovered that Rebecca had been killed in a hiking accident in Spain. I felt the circles spinning with me swimming helplessly inside them. Marsha moved in (the second bedroom as she had ‘no time for relationships’ but needed some comfort), and Erica texted me photos of herself in various states of undress. My house was filled with smells from the past-lotions, body washes, and a smell like tangerine candy which I had forgotten followed Marsha everywhere, while my head was a jumble of mixed images of old and new Erica. There were never any words with her photos, just overdone emoticons or some xx and oo’s. I couldn’t sleep. I would lie in bed, certain I could hear Marsha moving breathing, and feeling like the cheating husband with nothing but Erica half nude in my head.
Making out with an all drunk Marsha the following Monday night did nothing to make things any easier.
I saw Tricia Tuesday morning, walking from the doughnut shop towards the park. At this point I was ready to acknowledge a devious, malicious, other-worldly being pulling strings. It took all my determination to let her walk away, though I could imagine her story. After me, she found the love of her life who had recently decided she wasn’t the love of his. Even I can’t ignore the patterns. Her blue dress, striped shirt, turned the corner and I let out the breath I had been holding. I was dizzy, deflated. I could feel the sweat running down my back and I completely forgot what had brought me out in the first place.
I stumbled home to find Marsha packing. “Thanks, really.” Tangerine everywhere, like I was trapped in an orchard of them. “I don’t think either of us really wants or needs this (pause), complication. We had our time. This isn’t it.” I said nothing, just did a great deal of nodding. She gave me an emotionless hug and a tiny kiss on the cheek. I wished her luck.
After she left, I sat on the sofa, flipping through Erica and shaking my head. Cycling had done wonders for her. Then the text came through. Yep, her husband had changed his mind. Apparently the taste of okra was hard to let go. “Delete the photos, love. It’s for the best.” I laughed a little, amazed at how much I wished I had followed Tricia into the park, when the phone rang in my hand.
“Richard?” Said a voice, heavy with Slovakian tones. My heart suddenly too loud in my ear.