By every metric imaginable—job, family, education, income, health—I was on top, a winner. But it felt as much like winning as choking on an overlarge piece of gristle feels like a steak dinner.
Eliza presented herself to me at the bank one late morning. She wanted to open a new checking account in her own name only, and she seeded the account with a check written from a different bank, joint checking with her husband. This was a man who appeared diligently at her side each Saturday morning girls’ soccer game I coached. He was a poker buddy, our daughters were in first grade together: the curse of a small town.
The first quick fuck we had in her living room during my lunch hour was surprisingly vigorous: couch, floor, credenza. We repeated ourselves the next day, and it soon became a weekly habit. We’d fill a lunch hour or we’d meet in a wooded area of a place where I like to run. Children, spouses, errands, work—time was always tight. That quick, wet spark filled the crack where boredom seeped in.
Once I showed up at her place in the middle of the day as planned, and her daughter answered the door, sick in her pajamas. That gave me pause, but it was all too distracting and interesting to give it up.
I had no idea what Eliza needed, and I didn’t ask. The sex was good, unemotional, satisfying, unimportant. The planning was better—looking forward to it, forcing myself not to jerk off the day before, deleting texts, spotting open spaces on my calendar. I checked on Eliza’s solo checking account, watching the balance grow.
I was driving her back to her car after a fuck at the park when we were broadsided. A car I didn’t see slammed into the driver’s side rear seat, and both cars spun together, across the road. I was thrown across the seat on top of Eliza, both of us showered in an ice-storm of safety glass and business cards that fluttered from the sun visor. We crunched into a no-parking sign head first and the airbags deployed, filling the car with chemical powder.
I held my breath, pretty sure I was alive but not so sure about Eliza. She was under me, both of us pinned by my upturned seat. The steering wheel was against my ribs, and the engine still thrummed. I couldn’t hear anything other than twisted engine metal complaining loudly and the sound of my own heart. Beneath my cheek, Eliza’s knees still had wood chips on them from our sweaty fuck.
“Are you okay?” she whispered from under me.
“I think so,” I said. “Are you?”
“Yes,” she squealed, and then she began sobbing.
A vision of scandal descended upon me: shockwaves of shame reverberating outwards like a tsunami from the scene of the accident, destroying everything in its path. Everyone would know.
Then there was a kid at the window, screaming and carrying on, a teenage girl; she was the driver and her screams were wails of apology and sorrow as she tried to open crushed doors thatwouldn’t budge. By the time the jaws of life sawed us out of my destroyed car, three police cars, a fire engine, and an ambulance had arrived to greet us. More small-town curse.
Eliza loudly explained to the ambulance that she was fine, except for the sprained ankle she’d gotten while jogging. I’d been kind enough to pick her up off the side of the road and was taking her back to her car when we’d been in the accident.
The cops bought it. The ER staff bought it. Her husband bought it. My wife bought it.
I was at a crossroads: nearly caught but safe. We escaped entirely unscathed.
Somehow I got stuck in this town, this life. I wasn’t going anywhere, married with two children and another on the way, hopelessly out of love and entrenched in a comfortable bank manager job. When I went running, I imagined what it would be like, rather than taking that final right and closing the loop, to take a left at the end of the loop and head away. But I always turned right.
There was no small town in my rearview mirror as I headed off to make my mark on the world. I was already in this town, and I was here for good. I suggested we raise the stakes on our bimonthly poker nights and not tell our wives. I aimed to better my coaching record next fall. I texted Eliza, and I kept my eyes on the balance of her checking account.
published 28 December 2012
If it hadn’t been for the accident, I might have left this town.
Now, I’m stuck. It’s not a bad place – neighbors smile while they mow their lawns, parents trade off coaching jobs for the kids’ sports teams. And me: trim figure at forty, the best gingerbread in town (it’s won county awards – no shit!) – all that, plus a healthy zest for porn and dirty talk behind closed doors. Meanwhile, Rick’s a star in all ways: banker, breadwinner, ballplayer – one of those guys you can’t help but like, competitive and fun-loving, with a stride that screams confidence. I fell for him hard, and much too soon. Kids and spaniels and golf clubs cluttering the foyer all came easily.
But I wanted out. It’s typical, really – nothing unusual about our marriage or our split-level storyboard. You can predict the parts I love: our children who look a little too much like their father, especially Benjamin who has the same cowlick on the back of his head and who strides with the same confident gait; weekend house at the shore; matching Lexuses (except I let the kids eat Dunkin’ Donuts in mine – no one eats in Rick’s), our daughter a star scorer in soccer and our boy head of his junior debate team. We are proud parents. So damn proud.
The snag came when I opened my new account and soon found myself fucking George the manager. Not part of the plan. We first did it in my living room and he was surprising in all ways – a little rougher and a little more limber than I’d pictured him. I found myself imagining him a lot more after that and our meetings quickly became regular occurrences – in the garage, in the woods adjacent to the golf course. In my Lexus. Then in Rick’s. With Dunkin’ Donuts.
The thing about George is…
Well the thing is that there is no thing. He’s not a closet drinker. He’s not a wanna-be pro golfer. He does not have matching cars with his wife. He’s a mediocre soccer coach who sometimes misses the plays and makes bad calls. He’s neatly dressed but sometimes there’s a button undone. His hair’s combed with a curl above his right ear that is always out of whack. He talks softly but says things like “no shit, Sherlock”. He does not quite fit in this town but he hasn’t figured that out yet. And so when George and I rolled around on my living room floor that first time, it was surreal and all so oddly out of place – like for the first time I was doing something with someone who didn’t belong there, like we didn’t belong in this town. Like we didn’t belong, together. And somehow that thought kept me coming, and coming.
I thought about breaking it off the day he showed up when Melinda was home sick. Instead, I went upstairs and masturbated while my daughter slurped chicken-noodle soup. Then I picked up the phone to call George to tell him to meet me at the park. The thing about George is, he’d gotten under my skin.
And all the while I was saving my money, thinking that at least I’d get to Europe with the kids one summer. But the thing about George is, he changed me wanting to leave.
Then the accident happened. When the car broadsided us, I was about to tell George I loved him. I was sure it was a mistake, saying this, but the thing about George is, he made me want to say things like that.
But I never said it. Now George walks around insisting he’s fine even though everyone knows he’s not. He’s in and out of clinics and no one knows whether he’ll recover fully or not. He still thinks he’s going to coach the girls’ soccer games in the fall. No one has the heart to tell him otherwise. No one tells him that everything’s different – that for three months his job has been held by the junior manager Matt (the one he said would look good in fast food polyester), that for three months his children have been praying to a God they never believed in to make Daddy better, and that for three months he’s been muttering about tsunamis while his wife has been visiting my grave.
published 28 December 2012