The rest is history. So, how the fuck did I get here? You learn a lot about a person in seven years, and you learn a lot about yourself, like all things, some good and some bad. But when you’re as committed to each other as Tina and I, you’re truly invincible; no matter what bad may come, you aren’t alone. We did it, for seven years of ups and downs, we got through it all. Maybe that’s why things started to go so terribly wrong in the last year. We got so complacent in our commitment that we didn’t feel the need to tend to it. What a stupid fucking huge mistake. Even when it works, you should always look to keep that strength of love and resolve alive. I learned this the hard way.
I became completely absorbed in myself and my new job as director of the California Arts Center. It got to the point where she had to schedule time with me. We had decided to start a family and she had quit her job to prepare her body for pregnancy. We were having a hard time picking a donor because of the incredible expectations that come with not just having a family, but making a child. She made so many sacrifices for me, for us, and I couldn’t muster the motivation to just be there for her, just be interested. But she’s Tina; she’s the ever patient caretaker to those she loves. She was so much more than that, but that is what I reduced her to: I would completely unload my shitty work day on her and not even ask how her day was; she spent her nights eating and going to bed alone because I couldn’t balance my home and work lives; we rarely made love, and when we did, it was more robotic than passionate. This is what I became, an empty husk of a woman who had the world in the palm of her hand and was so ungrateful she crumpled it and threw it away without thought or regard to anyone but herself. What’s ironic though, is that if I had really cared about myself, I’d have put Tina first. Now, I don’t have to put her first and that’s why I’m so empty. My own self-preservation was entirely dependent upon making her happy. What a mind fuck…
I spent weeks securing a popular art show called Provocations. This show was beyond brilliant. These artists were forcing the public to re-evaluate all of the politically correct misconceptions and preconceived notions that detain our society in a cruel and changeless state. It challenged the concept of right and wrong, morality, and the very definition of art itself. Of course, conservative extremists grabbed onto the show and tried to sink everything surrounding it, including Tina and me. One in particular, Faye Buckley, personally attacked me on national television. Her tenacity and ruthlessness almost secured her victory; depending on how you look at it, it did. She had her mindless minions picketing the gallery and our home. Yes, my work was killing us, but death is a part of life. We learned this the hard way.
I walked into the house both frustrated with the pressures of the Provocations show and the fact that Tina had harassed me into coming home early. Couldn’t she understand that I was trying to make a living, to provide for us and for the family we were trying to start? Apparently not. Oh well. I was starving and needed to relax a bit anyway, however unlikely the concept may have been. There was still just so much to do…
Shutting the door behind me, I took a deep breath, trying to let go of the work day that seemed to follow me everywhere. Turning to find Tina standing in the kitchen chopping vegetables, I opened my mouth, ”I am fucking dying out there!”
Tina just looked up at me, as if she expected no less and was prepared to just let me rant as usual. She kept chopping while listening, always the good partner. Throwing my briefcase onto one of the chairs nearest the dining room table, ”the Philistines are just breaking my f…no, Tina, you invited someone to dinner?
Three fucking table settings; was she kidding? After the day I just had…I irritably removed my blazer and stepped closer to the table.
”I’ve had the worst fucking day and the last thing I want to do is to have to make com….” Throwing my blazer down in anger, it finally dawned on me that there was something in the third place setting. Walking a bit closer, I set my keys down and picked up the pregnancy test from the plate. Staring in disbelief, it finally became clear that it was positive. Tina was pregnant.
Instantly, nothing else mattered, not the shitty day or extremist assholes or my endless tirade of frustrated anger. Tina was pregnant and a jolt of happiness ran through me, melting away all of the bullshit the day had wrought. Setting the stick down, I walked to Tina and took her in my arms. She was so beautiful. How did I not notice that first when I walked in? How did I not see this gorgeous creature carrying our child and push all of the other shit away? Better late than never, from what I’ve heard.
I looked into those wonderful shining eyes and I was overwhelmed with the beauty of this woman; her very presence was a balm for my soul. Kissing her repeatedly, I couldn’t do anything more than repeat, ”I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.” It was my mantra. I love her. I love our child. I said this as much for myself as for her own benefit. Why did I have to keep reminding myself just how much she meant to me? How could I ever forget? Her kisses were as warm and full as my heart.
”I called Dr. Wilson and she said we should come in tomorrow for an ultrasound…just to confirm the results.” This last part was said with so much joy lighting her precious face that I was nearly undone. God, from the moment I crossed the threshold, I did nothing but prove myself unworthy of her. The guilt was unbearable.
”I’m sorry I was such an asshole.” That just wasn’t enough was it? But of course, she was as gracious and loving as ever.
”I’m sorry you had such a bad day.” How did she put up with me? Why did she put up with me? How did I ever get so lucky? ”I’m sure everything is going to be okay.” Wonders never ceased.
”I’m sure it will.” Such a lame response, but that’s the best I could do at the moment. I tightened my hold on her hips and gazed into her face, realizing that I’m home, truly home. She ran her hands through my hair and again, with all the warmth and brightness of a newly born star, she smiled radiantly, saying, ”Yeah, we’re going to have a baby!”
I hadn’t been entirely myself for a long time, but in the face of something so beautiful, it was entirely infectious. I couldn’t help the tears that welled up in my eyes. ”We are…we are.” It was so hard just to speak but I had to make her understand just how full I was with love for her. ”I love you, I love you.”
What a fucking unbelievable night. That night is one of the best and worst in my recollection. Best, well the reasons are obvious. Worst, because now that I can look back on it, I can’t help but feel a tremendous amount of self-loathing. Hell, all I do anymore is wallow in it. I’d give anything to have treated her with the love, kindness, and respect that she truly deserved. I have so many regrets, and for someone who is unaccustomed to being helpless, there’s not a fucking thing I can do to fix them. Not only did I treat her that way consistently and leave her alone all the time, the one time that I needed to be there, and on time, I managed to fail her again…
”Hello, I’m sorry I’m so late. You would not believe what happened to me if I told you.” Now that I was fully in the room, I took a look around and realized that Tina was not there. The doctor looked at me a bit surprised by my appearance. Today was the appointment, James, my assistant, confirmed it?
”Is Tina not here yet, or am I later than I thought?”
Awkwardly, Dr. Wilson walked to the other side of the room, grabbed the rolling chair, and nudged it toward me saying, ”Bette, um, please, have a seat.” The look on her face said it all but I was still so very confused.
”Where’s Tina?” Taking a few steps and gathering her thoughts, the doctor shook her head and started relating the most unwelcome, life shattering news in the most calm, detached, and professional manner, just like I would have.
”Bette, I’m…I’m afraid, I have some bad news. During our examination, I was unable to locate a heartbeat.” Staring me straight in the eyes, she paused to allow me to absorb this information before continuing. ”The fetus has stopped thriving. This is usually due to some congenital problem. It’s kind of the body’s own way of ending a pregnancy. It’s really very common for first time pregnancies….”
Very little of what she was saying was actually reaching my conscious mind. My whole world stopped at ’the fetus has stopped thriving.’ Both lives ending together, only I was left here to deal with it. It was too much. The world swirled for a moment before I grabbed a hold of reality and pushed all of it aside realizing that feelings are inconsequential. They come and go. I didn’t need to be upset. Tina would be…Tina…Tina!
I stopped the doctor mid-sentence. ”Thank you for your help. I really should get home now.”
”Bette, are you alright? I can give you a list of professionals you can speak to about what you’re feeling.”
”No, no, I’m fine, truly. I just need to get home to Tina. Thank you again for your help Dr. Wilson.” Before she could say any more, I left the room. Grabbing a hold of any way to numb myself, I successfully made my way back to the car. I didn’t need to cry. I needed to step up and be there for Tina. She’s was more important. I’ll be fine, I always was.
Starting the ignition, I methodically made my way home. Walking into the front door, I found the house very dark and immediately went to the bedroom. Once inside, I found Tina on the loveseat in the corner. She was completely distraught and that’s all I needed to realize that I couldn’t fall apart, or more importantly, that I refused to. She needed me and I had to be there for her. How much had she been there for me? How much had she sacrificed to make my life better? If there was anything that I owed her, that she deserved, it was to be taken care of.
I laid my briefcase on the bed and quickly made my way to her side, immediately taking her in my arms. I held her while she wept. Her sobs were so desperate that I emotionally removed myself from the situation and just allowed my physical presence to hopefully amount for something. It could have been seconds, minutes, or hours, but eventually a banging sound in the front yard seeped into my nearly catatonic state. Gently removing her vice like hold around my neck, I tried to stand. I was almost happy for a moment of respite. Her grief was overwhelming, and I just couldn’t muster the courage to join her in it.
”Stay here okay? Stay right here and I’ll be right back.” I walked to the front of the house and looked out the front window. Of all the fucking nights, the extremists were in my front yard staking down a sign. Well, they had chosen the very best time to attack. It almost seemed a little too good. I refused to stand for this bullshit. Walking out the door I quickly made my way down the steps, ”Excuse me. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
One of the extremists shined a bright video camera light in my face while her cohort with the hammer said, ”Telling people the truth.”
That was it. I decided then and there that this was the very worst night for them to test my patience. How fucking dare they show up at my doorstep and terrorize my family! The anger coursing through me was all consuming. Maybe I couldn’t grieve, but I could be angry and I could use that anger to disembowel these prepubescent shits. Looking into the camera, I started a quick steady stride right up to the operator. ”You shut that off! You have no right to…Shut it off!” Swiping at the camera caused the girl to nearly drop it, and from the brief look of terror and sheer hatred that flashed across her face, I got a tiny jolt of petulant joy. Looking at the sign, it read, ’Bette Porter, director of the California Arts Center wants you to support godless filth in the name of art.’ I was pissed. No, no, that’s not a harsh enough word. I was livid.
”That stuff you’re showing in your museum: it’s pornography, it’s filth, it’s disgusting…”
I couldn’t hear anymore, I just saw red. Tearing the sign out of the ground and holding it up to him, I pointed towards the house and started screaming in his face. ”This is my home! This is my family! You have no right to come here, do you hear me?!”
Then, he went and said the one thing he truly shouldn’t, ”You have no right to corrupt children!”
Corrupt children? Corrupt…children? I just lost my child and it hurt so deeply I couldn’t even fully face it and you think I’d corrupt a child? I loved my son! Who was this insignificant, small, bottom feeding fuck, to think he knew the first fucking thing about me, my desires, or my heart?
Shoving the sign into him, he grabbed it by reflex. Pushing and pulling him with the sign, the words that came next were more of a mournful wail than a shrill scream, though I think outside opinion would differ. ”You take this back to Faye Buckley and you tell her if she ever, EVER, tries something like this again she will regret it!”
With one final shove and a swipe at the camera, again I said, ”Shut that off!” Stumbling backward and looking quickly to one another, they started to walk to their vehicle. Camera still rolling, the girl turned and walked backwards long enough to say, ”You’re going to hell!”
What a fucking failure, a huge failure. She needed me and I was busy. More fodder for my self-recriminating cycle. And so, for the last year I’ve done nothing but drown myself in work, alcohol, and meaningless sex. I have still never grieved the loss of my son. I haven’t even grieved the loss of Tina. No, I’ve just sunk further and further into becoming the person that started the downward spiral in the first place. People openly hate and avoid me. My entitled elitist attitude precedes me wherever I go. Maybe, even if I hadn’t done what I did next, I would have lost Tina anyway. Either way, she is done with me. Why shouldn’t she be? After what I did, she is fully justified.
Where did everything go wrong? My life at this point should have been easy; my career should have been solid, my wife should have been expecting. What the fuck happened to the plan? Oh right. People don’t understand art or the expression of conflicting ideas or the right to freewill. They think they have the right to tell you how to be, who to be, how to act, how to feel…how to love. Different equals pervert. So there went the steady career plan.
My wife, my beautiful, expecting wife, what happened? Well, she was beautiful; always had been, always would be, through and through. But expecting, the expectation died right along with our son. But that’s not all. Something else died. Tina and I both died right along with him. Tina turned to our friends, our family. What did I do? I completely shut down and turned to a woman named Candace, a carpenter working on the Provocations display. I didn’t mean to, but I still found myself pulling into the parking garage at work, nowhere near ready to face another day of drama and discord, only to have my heart skip a beat when I saw her baby blue El Camino pull into the space up ahead. Stepping out of my car, I approached her passenger door and got in without invitation. After a pregnant pause, I finally resolved to just let go. ”Take me somewhere.”
Without hesitation, she started the car and we left. We drove around aimlessly in silence for a while before she took me to an out of the way Hotel, definitely decent enough for our purposes. Walking up to the front counter, I pulled out my credit card. Candace put her hand on mine and said, ”Stop. You don’t want this showing up on your credit card statement.”
Where was the guilt, the shame? It had to be there somewhere right? Or was I so far gone that I was a psychopath and lacked any empathy at all? It was just not there. I had misplaced it, or killed it. I don’t know which, but I was set on my path and I was foolishly determined to see it through. Candace signed the receipt and we started our way up the stairs. Suddenly, I was overcome with passion and I was not even sure why or where it came from, but I couldn’t even wait until we reached the room. I caressed down the side of her arm until I reached her hand. By the time we reached the top landing, I pulled her to me and kissed her. These weren’t the kisses that fill you with love or solidify devotion. They were primal. For a moment we were just two animals reveling in nature. There was no love, no feeling, and while I realized that this was just as empty a feeling as the lack thereof I was trying to escape, it was too late. I was in too deep. I was over my head and drowning in a mediocre fuck from a mediocre woman, and the truth of what I really needed was just too far out of reach to save me. No, she was at home, by herself, struggling not to drown in her own desperation.
We stumbled through the stairwell to our door, where she pushed me against the frame and hastily, clumsily unbuttoned my blouse. Her kisses and hands were hard and calloused against my skin and I felt like, for at least a moment, this was not actually me. I was a third party observer. It was surreal but it felt amazing. It was so freeing to leave my conscience behind and recreate myself a new creature. And that’s exactly what I did. I was taking the last step to killing any sense of myself that was left, and honestly, it wasn’t much.
We finally got the door open and it was my turn to press her into the wood at her back and methodically tear her clothing away. Getting her overalls open and down, I pulled at her underwear, kissing and licking along her pubic bone. She pulled me up and shoved me over on to the bed, straddling me. I pushed up hard against her and ran my hands into the back of her pants, grabbing two handfuls of her ass. She roughly pulled my hands from her body and pinned them above my head. ”You can’t always be in control.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I’m always in control, even while I let her think she is. She continued to hold me down, unbuttoning my pants as she kissed down my chest and stomach. Slipping a hand inside, she began to massage me and I gave myself over to her course touch for the momentary, empty satisfaction it brought.
The sheer betrayal of it, even in remembrance, is devastating. And what did I do, I made it worse. I’m Bette Porter, go big or go home.
Provocations was a big success despite all the extremist bullshit that had been surrounding it. It was awkward seeing Candace while Tina was there, but we handled it well, professionally. After all, the awkwardness didn’t stem from my desire to be with her, it stemmed from my desire to keep her quiet but accessible. It’s what I thought I needed; Tina at home and Candace filling up an empty part of me I didn’t know how to reach, let alone let Tina reach it.
We got home late. Tina had been quiet towards the end of the night and even more exceedingly so during the ride home. She went straight into the house while I locked up the car. I was grateful for her distance. It’s easier to lie and hide when someone isn’t looking very closely. When I got inside, Tina hadn’t turned any lights on in the main house. I switched on a lamp and took off my blazer as I walked to our room. The lamps in here were on, so I went to the closet and put the blazer away. Clad in only a bra and my linen slacks, I went to shut the closet door and caught Tina’s face in the mirror to my left.
That face. That sweet, warm, open, and trusting face was contorted into a mask of pain and shock and…betrayal. Fuck. Panic shot through me like an electric jolt for just an instant. How could she possibly know? She can’t. Keeping my cool, I turned to face her with questioning eyes. I wouldn’t admit it until I was sure I had a reason to. Taking a few steps toward her, she rose to meet me. That devastating look was etched firmly in her eyes and further etched itself on my heart as she said in little more than a crushed whisper, ”I know. I saw it.”
My stomach fell into my toes at the truly defeated visage in front of me. Hesitantly, I made my way towards her and tried to take her in my arms. This gentle, wonderful woman, who’s never had an unkind thing to say about anyone, flung me away violently.
Oh God, it hit me then, like a brick to my face. Fuck, what had I done? Tina, I was going to lose Tina, my wife, my soulmate. ”I’m sorry…” What more could I say? What words are there to convey that kind of remorse? All this time I had been so empty and so lost, and this was what it took for me to feel something of real substance? I needed to devastate her to feel something…
The mask that was then my wife’s face morphed again, only this time, there was nothing left of the woman I loved. The utter hatred and loathing in her eyes was too much for even her own body to contain. She reached back and connected her hand into the side of my face with all the force she could muster. It felt good. It felt good to pay for this atrocity, if only in a small way. Then, for a split second, she was Tina again. The sheer and raw hurt was still there, but the love and loss of that love was just as plain.
Just as quickly as she arrived, she was gone again. Fuck, I was losing her and there wasn’t anything I could do about it at that point. ”I love you.” It’s the best I could come up with. Poorer words for a poorer situation have not been found. The English language needs better words for just how fucked up humans are. This was the worst thing I could have said at this time. Those words were as empty as my promise to strive to put only joy and happiness on her face. I had failed her. Not just in my commitment, not just our child, not just our love; I had failed her on the most fundamental level. I had failed to even just give a fuck. How hard is it to mean what you say? How hard is it to acknowledge that ’I love you’ means nothing if you don’t show it? If you don’t mean them, don’t show them, why say them? Words are words but their meaning is something done, not just said. Love is a tangible thing, something you can hold in your hand and crush or nurture. My words failed her because I didn’t really mean them. The actions associated weren’t a choice, they just were, and what they were, was nowhere to be seen.
Those words, those three empty little words, sent her over the edge. She started slapping at me, flailing her arms and shouting, ”Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!” I didn’t know what was worse, my empty mantra of ’I love you’s’ or having the love of my life really mean it when she cursed my very existence. At least she was honest. But, at this point, so was I. I did love her. I was just lost. I forgot how. I forgot what it meant. It slipped right through my fingers and I allowed it.
I didn’t know what to do. I had no control over the situation. I had to get control of it. I had to get her to understand that I did love her, that I was profoundly ashamed of my actions, that I was lost and I understand now what I needed to do to give her what she needed and be there for her. After all this devastation, not all was lost…right?
She was just too volatile. I had to get her to calm down, to hear me, to connect to me in any and all ways possible. So, I tackled her to the bed. She landed face up on the mattress but she was still flailing at me and screaming. I flipped her over and I straddled her, holding her hands above her head. God, Tina, just listen, please. I buried my head between her face and neck, smelling her hair and clean perfume. ”I love you…”
She was still struggling, but her struggles and cries were weaker. She sounded so pitiful and defeated. I thought that maybe I was reaching her. I started to kiss her cheeks, and shoulders, and neck, trying to get her to realize that I loved her and I was not trying to hurt her. I needed to express that in some primal way; I wouldn’t cause her further harm, I couldn’t, could I? Then it went from wrong to worse. As I kissed her, I became increasingly desperate. Some part of me thought that if we could make love, that she would know that I meant it, that I felt it. I needed her so badly to know that. I held her down and pulled at her dress to expose more of her back. I wanted to kiss her, to worship her, to reaffirm my love and desire for her. Her dress tore away like paper, the sound echoing in my heart, in her heart. I had regained control of the situation by losing it completely.
Her upper body was fully exposed now. I ran my hand down the side of her breast and under her hip to touch her, to bring her pleasure, to connect, just connect in some way. Her whimpers were muffled and small so I took advantage of her calm. ”I love you! You have to believe me! I love you!”
Just as my hand reached the most private part of her, her strength was renewed. She kicked wildly, shouting, ”STOP IT!” Her strength surprised me and she rolled over on to her back. I caught her wrists and pinned them above her head again.
”Stop it! Stop it!” Why wouldn’t she just hear me, listen? Why couldn’t she just believe me, just this once?
Her only response was a murmured, ”Fuck you…” as I leaned down and kissed her again. She seemed more malleable, less volatile, and I thought that maybe she was listening, that I was getting through to her. It was a foolish pipe dream and I was tearing apart any and all trust she had in me with my utter desperation, but I had to try to control her the way I did everything. I started kissing down her neck and her face. For a moment, she seemed to enjoy it, to respond. I relaxed my grip hoping she was finally realizing what I wanted, what I needed from her just then.
She took advantage of my relaxed state and rolled us over, pinning my hands above my head. Again, she screamed, ”Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,’ as she beat my arms into the mattress to punctuate how true the words coming from her mouth were.
For just a moment all movement stopped and she looked down on me with equal parts lust and disgust in her eyes. She looked like an angel of destruction come to destroy me, and I was all too willing. Just as suddenly, she bent down and bit the side of my neck.
”GOD…please,” I cried. It hurt, but it also felt good to be punished, to pay for my sins against this wonderful woman that I had done nothing but try to destroy, by loving her of all things. Moving down, she bit the side of my left breast and again on my stomach. I didn’t try to fight it. I needed her to help me get this out. If I couldn’t grieve like I should, then something had to release all of this pent up pain, betrayal, and disappointment.
Then, in a violent reach, she crushed her lips against my own and kissed me with the passion of one who knows they’ll never see you again. All of her fury was turned to a bright and burning lust that was so tangible I could do nothing more than be consumed by it. She grabbed my right hand and shoved it under her dress between her legs. Pulling her underwear aside, she pressed my fingers against her wet opening and forced them inside. Sitting up, she took her pleasure in a few very stiff thrusts, her muscles already contracting with the release spilling from her. I sat up and buried my face in her chest, hoping ground myself against her frantic heart. When the spasms ceased, she fell forward onto me and allowed me to hold her one last time, one last goodbye. What a way to go out…
That was a year ago today, and I still haven’t seen her. For the last year I have done nothing but punish myself, as it should be. What can you pay to make amends for those kinds of grievances? There just aren’t enough, ’I’m sorry’s,’ to undo what’s done. I’m a tyrant that owns the art scene from Los Angeles to New York, famous for my controlling perfectionism, inability to accept mistakes, and ability to make or break anyone in collective artist pool. There is nothing good left of me. I wish I could have been the sort of woman Tina deserved. And…I want my soulmate back. However, I fully admit, for once, complete defeat.
Since that night, I have shut myself away from everyone and everything but work, random women, and mind altering liquids. The gang has given me some information since then but ultimately, they all hate me as much as they should. They fought to keep up with me for a while, but after about six months, I only occasionally get a text from Alice that I don’t respond to. And, of course, Kit stops by unannounced sometimes. She sort of forces me to see her, but it’s never for long anymore. Even she is at her limit I think. I sometimes see Shane. She’s my neighbor. But I just can’t face them or be reminded of Tina.
I did have an investigator find out where she was living, 7055 Lanewood Ave. I’ve driven by a few times but never saw her and I didn’t want her to see me. It’s nice, modern but warm, a lot like Tina herself. I still have our house, but it’s not my home. She was, she is, my home.
”Last call!” The shouts of a bartender standing on a stepstool jerk me out of my reverie, interrupting the scenes that have played out in my mind over and over again for the last year. She climbs down and approaches me, leaning on the bar and offering a delightful view of her full and ample cleavage. If only she knew how very not interested I am and how it has nothing to do with her. She’s pretty but disposable, like everyone else. I just don’t have it in me to use anyone anymore.
Sliding a final rye manhattan across the counter, she gives me a flirtatious smile. ”I’m off in about half an hour. You could stick around and we could…talk…if you don’t have any other plans.”
I down the drink and clumsily pull a hundred dollar bill from my clutch, tossing it on the bar. ”Sorry, but I’m not interested.” My tone isn’t angry or condescending, which is the usual, just weary.
She stands up fully and snatches the bill, tucking it into her cleavage, and gives me an indifferent look. Shrugging her shoulders, she murmurs, ”Your loss,” and moves to the line of people forming on the other side.
I stand up on wobbly legs and grab onto the bar to steady myself, resigned to the fact that this will be my life until old age, disease, or an accident take me. Even as old as I feel, it will most likely be a long wait. Part of me truly believes that people who do the most wrong live the longest so that they can fully appreciate the justice of remorse.
I make my way through the throng of equally drunk dykes and fog of stale beer, smoke, and sweat, to stumble into the cool night air. It’s refreshing in that LA sort of way, air you can sink your teeth into. Shakily hailing a cab, I gracelessly climb into the backseat and give the driver the address for home. I’m about to black out so I hold onto consciousness until I feel the car start to move. Leaning my head against the window, I close my eyes and let the blackness take me.