“I failed you both, I’m sorry.” My soul feels so heavy, as if it’s sunk to the very back of my body and gathered there like drying cement, taking my heart and even my eyelids with it. I pull at the tight tethers of the thin lids of skin, trying hard to pull them open. There are small, blurry glimpses of mutated objects as I try so hard to find her. She needs to know how sorry I am. She needs to know that I didn’t mean to fail her or our daughter. She needs to know that I love her and I see her…I understand her.
I force my brain to send the message to the place my hand should be, hoping that the message reaches the phantom extremity, and that she can feel me. I know she’s still here, that her hand is still in mine. I don’t have to be able to feel it to know it. She is my rock, my cornerstone, even now when I have failed her. But I know she is there… she always is, no matter what. I finally see the murky, dark mass of wild hair that outlines her face, and try to focus where I know her soulful eyes will be as I fight to keep my own eyes open. “You didn’t fail anybody.”
Even now she is strong, and reassuring, and here for me, for us. I want to crawl into her comforting arms and never leave, but I’m having such a hard time meeting her strength. She needs to know…there is so much she needs to know. I see her now, of all times, when sight is a conscientious struggle, I see her more clearly than I have ever seen anything before. She needs to know before I go…
“You’re amazing… you’re amazing.” Through the dense fog I feel a warm and gentle, but firm hand stroke my face and give me strength. God Bette, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. You need to know, “I’m sorry…”
“Tina, I need you to push for me. One good push should do it.” Push? I close my eyes and focus my thoughts on where I believe the needed muscles to be. Pain shoots like fire through my invisible stomach and I struggle against the weight pushing me down into darkness. “She’s almost here. It’s okay. Push T…Come on baby, push…” A wracking sob and a painful wail tear through the room from somewhere far, far away, as I feel the last of what I have to offer snap away from my body. Not yet, she needs to know. “I’m sorry…”
A gentle echo from the depths of that same far-away place is barely audible. “Shh, you have nothing to be sorry for. She’s almost here. She’s almost here…” A high keening sound follows the gentle voice and my heavy soul lightens just enough for me to open my eyes and respond to the frantic call of my daughter. Angelica… my Angelica… no, no, our Angelica, is that really her? She’s beautiful, just like her mama. Where is her mama? I try to find her again and I can finally make out her face, that strong and gorgeous face, the face of my wife, as she turns away. Bette… wait… you need to know…
“Wait… I want to cut the cord.” Her voice washes through my heavy soul and I feel her there, truly feel her there. I cling to her with the last of the strength she just gave me.
“Because of sterilization, with a preemie, the cord has to be cut by a member of the surgical team. It’s not allowed, even though she’s only a few weeks early…”
“I want to cut the cord…”
“Go ahead. Let her cut the cord.”
She turns back to me and I try to speak, but words are not possible. If they were, I’d tell her everything. “I’m going to cut the cord now…” I feel my body shudder with heavy heat and she smiles at me. At least I have that to take with me… that incredible, confident smile. I try to match it but have no way of knowing if it works.
She turns away from me again and my waning strength falters. “Oh my God, T…”
She turns back to me. “What, baby?”
Her face goes blurry again and I will the last of it out of me. “That’s what I want to name her, Angelica…” The room morphs into nothing remotely objective and I can’t remember where I am or why, but oddly enough it doesn’t matter anymore.
“Losing blood pressure!”
“Tina?” Bette? Is that you? “Tina?!”
“Mother’s temp is 105.”
“Get the baby to an incubator in the NICU. Her lungs are wheezing so start oxygen and an IV. And get her cultured. She might have an infection. Let’s get her mother to the OR! She’s hemorrhaging!”
Bette… where are you? Bette? I get my eyes to open into small slits and see the black mass of her outline again. Bette? My soul starts to lift away from my body, and I hear a calm voice as if it’s in my own mind. “Abraxas,” he says. “I’m Abraxas, the demon of lies and deceit.” My soul is pinned to my lifeless body and writhing in agony. A demon, a minor demon, is pinning me here and fucking with my head. “So, what do you want to know about lies, my dear?” I’m not a liar. I try to get up, but I’m flayed, splayed. I feel myself screaming but none of it reaches the physical world.
“I’ll tell you about lies. There are white lies, and black lies, and many shades of grey lies. Some lies are justified: lies told out of kindness, lies that preserve dignity, lies that spare pain.” The void between life and death that I’m pinned in melts away, and I’m standing on the back patio before Bette. She’s so angry that I feel my heart constrict as she says, “T, we’re talking in circles and it’s getting us nowhere but angry. I need… look, it doesn’t matter. I’m sorry for what happened with Kelly and for not being honest about Shane.”
How can she think for even a moment that what she needs doesn’t matter? That’s what all this is about, what she needs. Can’t she see that I need for her to have what she needs? Can’t she see that hurting her hurts me? What is it about this new Bette… new Bette. She’s new, and I have no idea who she is now. She’s all heart and armor. Where is the weakness? How am I hitting her just right? How do I treat her? Is that it? Is it how I treat her? Is it because I expect her to still be entirely armor?
“No, what do you need Bette? What do you need to fix all of this? I know I’m not giving you something! I know that I’m failing you somehow, and that’s why I’m so fucking scared that I’m not enough for you! I know I hurt you that day that we had to bring Sam back for Lez Girls, and I can tell there’s something else, something big; I don’t know what it is but I don’t want to hurt you, and I can’t fix it if you don’t tell me!”
She shuts down right before my eyes and all I hear is detached diplomacy. “Look, we need to talk about this when we’ve calmed down. I’m getting angry, I can tell you’re getting angry, and I don’t want to us to start yelling at each other. You’re not failing me and you are enough for me. Can you please just believe that, and can we please just…move past this?” Our marriage isn’t a negotiation for a peace treaty! Why can’t she just talk to me…because I hurt her when she does? I don’t want to hurt her…
I shake my head, overcome with sadness and turn to stride back into the house defeated. How do I reach her without hurting her? I stop. “I love you Bette, but you keep so much from me. I wish you’d just let me in.”
“Everybody’s a liar, dear. Look at that one. She’s about to tell her lover something patently untrue.” I turn to look at the shrouded figure who is my guide through this waking nightmare, as the tableau morphs into a vivid depiction of the Piazza Bra. I feel the rumble in my chest as I say, “I don’t want to wait babe. I want to find a donor and start the minute we get home.” I feel a warm and gentle kiss to the crown of my head as the arms holding me tightly squeeze me with intent full of promise, security, and comfort. It’s so reassuring that I feel her voice as if it’s coming from me as well. “Then we won’t. We’ll find someone suitable. There’s always what’s left of Marcus’s…”
No, Bette, you don’t understand. How can I possibly explain to you how terrified I am, how unsure I am that you’ll change your mind? How there’s no sperm left because I was trying to give you what you said you wanted, and then you decided that you wanted something else, someone else? How long do I have before you change your mind again? How long do I have in this fantasy that swings from euphoria to nightmarish fear of loss? “No, everything so far has been a fresh start. I think this should be one of those things.”
The world bleeds and swirls again, and I feel the suck of the transition in the ribs that I’m not sure I actually have, as the swirling world becomes our kitchen. I see my hands turn off the gas burner as I give the stir fry in the wok one final toss, and turn to dish it up onto the waiting plates on the bar.
I turn to look at the time on the oven; it’s just a little after six. She’ll be home. She promised. She knows how important this is to me. I sigh as I pour two glasses of wine, keeping one and frowning slightly as I take a sip. Does she know? I just don’t know how to tell her. “Waiting for someone?”
I jump startled with a heart-jolting jerk as I turn to see the radiant face of a woman that wears her intense power so lightly, that I’m not sure if she’s even fully aware of it. And I realize what Jennifer Grey must have meant when she said, ‘I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.’ The unintentional splash of wine dribbles down my chin and throat as I clutch at my pounding breast, whether from the scare or just the sheer desire I feel for her, I don’t know. “Bette… fuck… you scared me.”
Her smile isn’t the least bit apologetic as she pulls up from her leaning pose against the wall with fluid grace, and stalks up to me. The warmth of her aura wraps around me, embracing me in security as she says, “I wasn’t trying to scare you, but I was enthralled by your impromptu performance.” I’m entranced as she reaches her finger up to my chin and runs a scalding line down my neck, stopping just above my breast, only to pull it back and clean the moisture from it in one fluidly seductive swipe of her velvet tongue.
Her smile is knowing as she takes the glass from my hand and sets it on the counter. She puts her strong arms around my waist and I reach up to wrap my arms around her neck, locking us together like magnets. Her kiss is as sweet as it is adoring, and I marvel at it as I thank whatever power listening for giving me the miracle of her love, for however long it lasts. She leans back and her warm eyes are deep with soulful fire as she genuinely asks, “How was your day?”
“Look at their gestures. See how they touch each other too intimately? How they avert their eyes and cover their mouths, and lick their teeth and hold their chins. They embellish their stories with far too much detail.”
The world swirls again and I’m standing in our bedroom looking at Bette as she approaches me cautiously, her face an unreadable mask of contradiction. I can feel the raw pain and defeat wash through me like an intravenous drug, quick and mind altering, as she tries to take me in her arms. I push her away with the intent of hurting her. How dare she touch me after she’s been fucking someone else? “I’m sorry…” I’m sorry? Seriously, she’s sorry? That’s all she can think to say after what she’s done. Seven years of my life wasn’t good enough for her. No matter what I did or how hard I tried, I wasn’t good enough for her. I knew it, always, somewhere in the recesses of my mind. I just didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t, even when things got bad, I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. But she is truly lost to me now…
I feel all of this anger and pain and betrayal wash over my face, and it makes me dizzy with its intensity. I can feel my very soul reach into my chest and tear my heart from its strings, stealing it away to retreat somewhere far removed from this ruined shell. Once it’s fled, I feel the hatred radiate off of me in waves. I feel my arm reach back as if it’s being tugged by a string only to snap forward violently, hitting her openly in the face. My soul cries out from somewhere and, for a moment, I feel the shame of what I’ve just done. Even after everything, I still love her. The anger and hatred still rolling through me at her words, wars with that part of me, snuffing the cry in my heart as if holding a pillow over its face until the gurgling, choking sounds of it die away, completely die…
“I love you.” She loves me? If I had it within myself to feel any joy, I would have laughed in her face. That’s the biggest joke here, even bigger than the joke she’s made of me, of us, of the seven years of sacrifice, of our bed. No, there is no love left here, not anymore, and the river of pumping, rushing blood in my limbs breaks and spills over.
I have no idea what I’m doing. I know I’m moving frantically. I know my voice is harsh with shouting, and the violent heaving words and breaths are carrying me into a black void, taking her with me. I hear it, the harsh sound of flesh hitting flesh, the shrill, throaty utterances of, ‘Fuck you,’ but I can’t find my place among them, or even hers. The connection that held us together was a thread at best, and she has severed it with a barely audible whisper.
The world spins sickly before all motion stops, and I feel like the very breath is being crushed out of my lungs as I’m pinned, trapped like an animal. Is that what I am to her, an animal to be stroked when she feels so inclined and then ignored for days on end when she doesn’t? The world swirls again and I have to turn my face so I can breathe aside from the thick bed covers that are trying to smother me. Is she trying to kill me? Should I just let her?
There’s a heavy weight on my hips and I try to call out but my strength and determination is waning, and there isn’t enough breath to push the disparity forward. But mostly, a bigger part of me just doesn’t care anymore. I feel the rough scrape of her nails as they bite into my wrists and pin them above my head. It’s so hard to breathe, to struggle, to care. There’s a tickle of hot breath on my shoulder and a frantic, “I love you.” I cry in anger and frustration. I wish that were true. Can’t she see that there is no such thing? It doesn’t exist. She has proven that to me, shown me.
She starts to kiss my cheeks, and shoulders, and neck. They burn my skin with their dishonest venom, and I lose any sense of what is right or wrong or acceptable. I have no idea what’s happening or why. I loved her, I still do, but this… what is this? Her false words and touches hurt more than the heavily muscled weight of her, or how she’s trapped me here like a rabbit caught in a bear trap.
I try to cry out again but I can’t get enough breath in my lungs and it comes out as only a whimper. I hear the tearing of my heart as it’s ripped in half inside of me, exposed and defenseless against the cruelty of this moment as my soul lies dead at its side, lifeless in its heroic pursuit to protect it. There is a choking sensation as something pulls hard against my throat before giving way, just like my life, our life, love, everything that ever mattered.
I feel her hand bite against my skin as it scrapes across my breast and heaving chest, reaching down to touch me, to take me, and for a moment I consider letting her. I hate her, but I love her, and I hate myself for it. “I love you! You have to believe me! I love you!” They are only words…only words…and they may as well be sand through my fingers, wax from a candle burning at both ends.
I feel her reach my center and push past my lingerie. The touch arouses my sense of primal desire as well as my need to flee. My body takes control of me and I feel the wild rocking as a shout echoes through the room. “STOP IT!” There’s a tiny moment of release and I take an anxious life giving breath, though it’s just breathing, existing, willing to live, even when there’s really no reason to anymore. The world swirls again and my chest heaves with the air filling it.
Her muscles are standing in stark relief as she works them to pound my arms further into the mattress, and to my everlasting shame, they arouse a lust so deep in me I didn’t know such a place existed. I’m not sure I want it to. “Stop it! Stop it!”
She wants me to stop. It’s always what she wants, what she needs. It’s always about her, and I loved her so I let it happen. The angry tears leak from the sides of my eyes and roll into my ears and hair as I lean my head back and weakly breathe out, “Fuck you…” My breath is cut off completely as she presses her mouth hard to mine, her teeth biting into me with the intense pressure. The kiss sends a jolt of erotic pleasure through my empty chest, down my spine, to settle low in my pelvis, releasing a well of pain and pleasure, neither of which owning any territory in this battle.
I’m tired, I’m weak, both in body and spirit, but her powerful hold lessens and I flip us over, straddling her waist and pounding her hands into the bed screaming, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…”
I gaze at her, this creature that used to be my wife, and I consider that this may be my last moment as a functioning person. Well, if this is my last, our last, I want it to be a moment of pleasure, of enjoyment, even if it is empty and sick and diseased and rotting. I despise what she’s become, and I’m repulsed by the preternatural need and hunger I still feel for her. But I see it on her face, she still wants me, as a plaything or just because it’s familiar, I don’t know, and I don’t even care. I lean down and bite her on her cheek, then her breast, then her abdomen. If I’m an animal to her, then I’ll act like one. “GOD… please,” she cries.
There is no mercy here. Mercy is an act of love, and she devoured what was left of it when she devoured the carpenter. I lean back up and crush my lips to hers. I will devour her as well, the cycle of kill or be killed complete. This is my goodbye, my witness to the harsh reality of being consumed body and soul. The lust burns hotter in my center and leaks out, taking anything human left in me with it. It burns through me into her as I pull her tongue roughly into my mouth. She even tastes of someone else, the fundamental chemistry and substance of her forever altered by betrayal.
The primal side of me takes what it wants, taking her long slender fingers and frantically reaching them down to shove them into me. I lean back and fully impale myself on her, the intensity of it staking me through my ribs as the too-ready convulsions of an empty release shudder through me. There is now nothing left of me, no semblance of self that is reachable. Like her, I am a new creature as I fall forward onto her, and feel her hands tangle in my disheveled hair. I calm into a paralyzed state, and I realize that I’m out now, and there’s no way back in.
A deep, eerie laugh echoes off the walls of my displaced skull as one nightmarish tableau bleeds into another. I’m sitting on the edge of our bed, our grave, swirling the ring that used to mean everything around the finger of my left hand. It’s dark, nothing but the eerie glow of the pool lights from the patio doors of our room, our tomb. I can’t even turn to look at her as she sleeps behind me, like a jungle cat content with a full stomach of raw prey.
I feel the anger of this moment sweep through me as I frantically try to pull the ring from its place of several years, nearly taking my flesh from my bone with it. I hold it in my trembling hand and stand. I look to the nightstand and consider placing it there for her. It’s hers, and I want nothing to do with it anymore. She broke everything that meant anything to me. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I close my hand tightly around the meaningless object, feeling it bite deeply into my palm, and leave quietly without a word, looking back from the open door once more before shutting it firmly behind me.
I feel limp and gasp for air to fill lungs that don’t exist. “Love is a lie, dear one. Just like apologies and well-meaning platitudes that inspire false hope and courage. Love only leads the foolish to a senseless death, or worse. You humans have such short memories. See how this one foolishly believes, hopes?” The world swirls again and I’m standing in the door to my old apartment, gripping the doorknob in a white knuckled grasp. Bette walks past me dejectedly, and I clench my jaw so tightly at the sight of her that I worry I might break it. I can’t even look at her because she’ll see it, she’ll see all the pain I’ve held back with an intricate series of carefully placed thin threads that took me a year to weave only to be so frail in her mere presence.
She turns to me, her aura radiating determined honesty and I further divert my eyes. ”Tina, I wasn’t trying to control what you heard or even censor it, but I understand why you would assume that was my intention. It’s honestly not a stretch of the imagination. The real answer to your question is very simple: how is it possible to be in my right mind with the guilt I carry? Not to mention that the loss of you and our son is everywhere I turn, in everything I see. I’m not over you, T. I’ll never be over you. And what’s worse is that I have to live with the knowledge that I lost you because I threw you away for no good fucking reason.
”I took everything for granted, your love, your support, your faithfulness, your warmth…you, just you. There are not words for how much I hate what I did to us. I was wrong, T. Everything I did was wrong, to the very core, and there is nothing I can do or say to fix it, though I swear to you that if I could, I’d risk everything, including my very life, to make that possible.
”I didn’t always fully understand the words when I used to say them, but I do now. Love is about sacrifice. I can say with all the conviction of a saint that I love you, I will always love you, and my only true hope in this world is that the joy I once promised you will be yours again, with or without my help.
”I’m sorry for showing up here like that last night. Fuck, I’m sorry for everything and so much more, but sorry doesn’t cut it. I understand that better than you could ever know. Thank you for helping me when you had every reason to turn me away. Thank you for being my spouse for seven years, even… no, especially when I didn’t nearly deserve you. Thank you for the very best years of my life. They, you, are indescribably precious to me.”
I clamp down hard on my heart, holding it in a vice like grip as I force the tears that sting my eyes to bleed out into my guts, anything but fall in front of her. She reaches up to me hesitantly and I feel the tenderness of the whisper soft caress tear a hole through my weak barriers. I pull my head away and hide my eyes as the tears start to leak forward. Please just leave Bette. Leave me be. Please… With a heavy sigh she does, and I slam the door hard behind her, turning the bolt and leaning on it as the shuddering sobs rack my body. I slide down the hard surface, landing in a boneless heap on the tile, letting the gushing pain rush out before spending infinite hours trying to repair the tenuous dam in my soul. At least the pressure is somewhat relieved.
“And yet you still did not learn to the truth from a lie?” He titters at me as he skulks around my writhing form in triumph. “How utterly fascinating. Shall we try again?”
The void melts away and I look up into Bette’s hardened gaze as she puts her finger to my mouth to hinder my speech. ”You most certainly did not!” I shut my mouth and pull her hand away in frustration. Ever since she’s immersed herself in my life, I can’t tell the real from the surreal. After seven years together, I still have no clue who she is, apparently. ”They helped me to understand that we both messed up that night and that we’re both to blame for what we did… together. We were confused and hurting, and we lost it, truly lost it on each other. It was fucked up, completely fucked up, but we share the blame for that night, T. We both have to own it. That’s the only way we can forgive ourselves and move on. I don’t blame you, T, not at all. You shouldn’t either.”
I can’t help but feel that she’s just jerking me around. She’s just utterly fucking exasperating! I can’t tell up from down with her! Why is she here? Why does she care… or pretend to care? Why do I have to be pulled in by her? It’s not right. I’ve learned to live with being alone. I’ve learned that love is a myth. I loved her but it was a joke and every time she said it, it was a lie. Is that not enough for her? Was seven years not enough for her? Was a lost child not enough…?
The thin threads that have been holding me together start fraying and snapping apart and I barely have time to grab ahold of both ends to hold them together while I shut it off, push it away, aside, convince myself it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to matter. The first dregs of blissful numbness sweep over me and I feel my body jar violently. ”NO! Fight it, T! Don’t stop yourself from hurting!”
I look up into Bette’s frightened and anxious face and she starts pleading with me. What more could she possibly want from me? I’ve given her all I have to give. Can’t she just leave me with what little peace and sanity I have left, or does she need my future as well? ”No, please, T, come on, you can do this. Fight it!” She shakes me again and I calmly deny her request as I start to mend the fraying bits of string in my mind. I won’t let her take this from me. It’s all I have…
”FIGHT IT DAMNIT! I mean, aren’t you pissed?!” Her fingers dig into my arms as her grip turns painful, shaking me violently this time while she laughs at me cruelly. My grip on the threads loosens, and I have to quickly clamp down on them to start over. ”I mean, look at what I did to you! I used you up, CHEATED on you!” She shakes me again and I clamp down on my hold on the threads out of barely contained anger, not fear of losing them. ”Don’t you care at all?! Or are you really this pathetic! We were together for SEVEN YEARS, and I fucked another woman…” Her laugh is cold as she mocks me, and I feel myself pull tight on the threads in anger. ”A FUCKING CARPENTER NO LESS! Are you so weak that you have nothing to say to me after what I did?!”
She shoves me and my tight grip pulls violently, snapping the threads from opposite directions and sending them whirling through my heart and guts like the tail end of a whip. I feel the fury loosen with the dam as I gaze at her. ”That’s it, isn’t it? You’re just too weak…”
I bellow out some of my anguish in an unintelligible cry and shove her back as my chest heaves with frighteningly vivid agony, dread, and despair. I know what’s about to happen and I can’t stop it, stop her. It’s all her, all that’s been dammed up inside me. Nothing is as soft as water but who can withstand the raging flood?
”What?! Is the weakling pissed?! Come on, you can do better than that!” I bend and rush at her, knocking us both to the sand. We tussle for position and I wind up on top. She pushes me off and I roll up onto my knees, breathing heavily. Again I bellow, ”Fuck you! I’m not weak!” I lunge at her and we roll into the surf where I straddle her and grab her wrists, beating them into the sand above her head. ”YOU FUCKED UP MY LIFE! I LOVED YOU, GAVE UP MY FAMILY FOR YOU; I POURED MY HEART AND SOUL INTO MAKING A LIFE WITH YOU, FOR YOU; I WANTED TO HAVE YOUR FUCKING CHILD, AND YOU TREATED ME LIKE TRASH, WORTHLESS FUCKING TRASH!”
The flood of fire gushes from my mouth, leaving nothing but empty heaves that eventually turn into sobs. She just does nothing but gaze at me head on. She hears me, she understands me, and she’s listening. She’s listening when there’s nothing worth saying. Is there no hope? She doesn’t deserve this, no matter what. And I have no right to give it to her. I scream the last of it in her face and fall forward, crying piteously. She wraps her arms around me and it’s been so long since I’ve felt the proud strength and comfort of her, that I can’t help but revel in it, no matter how fleeting it may be, no matter how destroyed I may become when I lose it. I close my eyes against the tears and the water rushing up around us just like the crashing waves outpouring in my soul. ”Shh… T, it’s okay. Get it out, just get it out.”
I put my arms around her neck, lifting her up into a sitting position, and cling to her tightly as the heaving shudders of years of torment painfully lock my muscles and pull at my bones, my very spirit. She holds me and weeps with me. ”I’m so sorry, T… so very sorry.” I can barely hear the words but they reach in to a long dead part of me, and I feel it gasp like a resuscitated patient in the emergency room, popping its eyes open and gazing upon the world for the first time in what feels like an eternity. We sit like this for probably an hour before I calm, and my shudders are as much from the cold as the heaving cries.
Finally, I lift my face to hers. I’m utterly drained, utterly weary, and my lips feel numb. She gazes into my eyes and smiles before leaning in for a cold clammy kiss placed very gently on my trembling lips. She whispers, ”I’m so proud of you.” My soul laughs and cries and heaves with its tenuous hold on life and reality, but for the first time in what feels like forever, I feel the small seed of hope burrow deep in the shattered remains of my heart, each sliver pumping grotesquely as the newly sprouting roots pull and entwine them together in a hideous facsimile of a working organ. Nothing more is said. I feel the warmth of her strong arm beneath my knees and settle into her chest as the rocking motion of her long, powerful strides lull me into a place of quiet calm, nowhere near rivaled by the learned numbness that once held the same place.
I shudder violently as a hypothermic coldness enters my heart, and hear Abraxas’s laughter as the void sucks into my eyes, exploding back out into our room at the Sogno de Giulietta. Bette is only inches away from me on her side as we lie on the bed, and she kisses my hand sweetly. “I know.” She bends her elbow and props her head on her fist. “Do you want to try again?”
I furrow my brows and consider this for a moment before mirroring her posture. “Well, our only options are for me to try again… or we adopt.” Her eyes widen a little bit in surprise and I gaze at her curiously. Of course we’ll have them one way or another. I smile radiantly at her and hasten to reassure her. “I do know that I can’t imagine my life without children. I want a family with you, Bette.” She smiles a watery smile and her gorgeous eyes close as she takes a deep breath and holds it.
I watch her face speculatively and see a wealth of contradicting emotions play out. Does she not want a family anymore? Is this… is this not permanent? I can see the determined calm pulse out from her aura and it terrifies me as she releases the breath. “Hey, are you okay?”
She opens her eyes and gazes at me as if she’s considering something, before again adopting a calm demeanor that deepens the insecurity in my heart to startling depths. She reaches out and caresses my face as if in determined finality and… disappointment? What’s happening? This is our honeymoon. I have more time with her… don’t I? “So which way do you want to go?” I pull all the false comfort I can from the depths of my roiling guts, and smile a radiant smile I don’t feel until I start to speak about a baby. At least I will have that with her, if nothing else.
The expansive darkness shudders through my soul as I hear Abraxas’s voice. “Lies are an act, an intricate spider web of stories meant to trick, to stumble, to present an illusion as truth, just like hope, love, and forgiveness.” A pin dot of light appears in my tear-blurred vision, and grows into my old apartment.
We’re sitting at the table and I feel full and satisfied, though fearful as she kisses my hands and places them in her lap. “I know; I got scared too. You can tell me anything, T. I promise I won’t get angry, no matter what it is.”
What? Bette is scared? Bette is scared? I look at her strong shoulders and neck, her wonderfully sculpted and proud jaw, her deeply-etched almond eyes, and her arms fashioned with fine, sinewy muscle, and raise an incredulous eyebrow at her. She exudes strength and power. She doesn’t fear anything, she tackles it head on. No one can outsmart her or best her, and I would never find someone that holds a candle to her in any way. She’s utterly magnificent, my champion. Whatever doesn’t kill Bette Porter had better start running. I can’t help but giggle at her. Since when is she scared of anything?
She furrows her brows in confusion and I calm down so I can explain. “I’m sorry, but since when are you scared of anything, let alone someone I dated, and I use that term loosely, for six months?” Her face goes crestfallen and her shoulders slump and my eyes widen. What’s going on here? She’s never lacked self-confidence, or had her feelings hurt by something or someone that is so inconsequential that I’ve swatted at gnats that mattered more.
My God, she looks so wounded. I didn’t mean to hurt her but I don’t understand how. I’m as surprised as I am contrite. I lift her chin and ask, “Bette, did I… hurt your feelings,” in a disbelieving voice.
For a moment she appears to shut down so quickly that I can almost see the shutters close out the light in her eyes. I start to get worried, very worried. What is this? I open my mouth to ask her but she puts her finger to my lips to stop me, and now I’m terrified. “Um… I… I’m just very emotional right now. I think I’m getting my period.”
Anguish visibly washes over her face and she wraps her arms around her middle as she doubles over in the chair in pain. I… I think I’ve hurt her but I don’t understand what’s happening. I squat down in front of her and run my hand in soothing circles on her lower back saying, “Hey, I didn’t know you were due. I’ll get you some ibuprofen and we can go to bed early, okay?”
Tears start to leak from her eyes and she nods her head. Oh God, what’s happening? I take her hand and pull her to the kitchen to retrieve the medicine before leading her to the room. She’s crying quietly the whole time it takes us to remove our clothes, and I have no idea how to help her or fix the wound I believe I caused. Something’s not right here, but it just doesn’t make sense. She’s a plethora of contradictions anymore. She curls up in a tight ball under the covers and more tears stream down her face. I pull up behind her and hold her tightly, trying to soothe whatever this is with physical affection. It doesn’t amount for much, but we both eventually fall into a fitful sleep.
Everything returns to blackness, the only light that which surrounds Abraxas’s eerily gaunt face. He smiles at me and I don’t have to ask the question. I know. I saw it. I’m dead, and he’s here to torment me with the very things he knows will hurt me the most. I am a liar, and we both know it, even if it was unintentional. I see it all so clearly now. I know how I hurt her, and I would give anything to take it back and make it right, but I don’t even have a life to give anymore.
His laugh echoes in the dark expanse that is my very consciousness and I take hope in the fact that at least I will spend my eternity reliving my life with her. It wasn’t perfect, but love was there. I love her and I know that she loved me, however undeserving I was. I love her. I love her… I hope she knows it. I hope she tells Angelica, and I hope both their lives are filled to overflowing with it, even if I’m not there to see it.