Even the man with tidy chains of his mother’s red DNA embedded under his fingernails and cuffs chafing his wrists will squint into the buzz and hum of harsh light that hides the glowering stare of the accuser and say, “Sunday? Sunday? Who can think all the way back to Sunday?” Perhaps this is all to say that, if adultery were a crime, which it still is in twenty-one states, then I wouldn’t be very good at recounting the events that led up to such a thing. I liked Tim and then I didn’t. Or rather, I liked Tim but I liked Jess more. Motive can be a tricky thing. Like I said, I met Tim before I met Jess and we got along just fine. We got together for beers and discussed opening a mobile dog grooming business. One time, we traded shirts in his upstairs office and one time we smooched through the iron gate of a fence that ringed around his apartment pool in the way Zeus and Mnemosyne might once have. Like a shared banana, his lips were a medium for calling up the spirits. When you are drunk, there is no need for subtlety, only good spirits that provoke you to shouting, “We should all kiss!” and then the sharing of bodies.
Jess lived north of the river and I lived south. After we were together for a year, I remember jumping into bed one night without a great awareness of the border where the drywall met the pillows. I cracked the back of my head past midnight and called Jess up to ask whether or not she thought I had a concussion. Head injury can be restorative to memory if you let it. In the beginning of our little secret, we kissed in the library stairwell, the administrative building stairwell, the house-on-campus-where-fancy-soirees-are-thrown stairwell. Affairs will make you strong. Don’t let anyone tell you different. We were always climbing up and up to the stacks that contained mirages of books with the pages turned to dust or the empty third floor classrooms where birds tried to make away with dry erase markers through the open windows. When we were in a hurry, and we always were, Jess pushed me against the wall and my head clapped on the painted concrete. Now I’ve got this portal like an underground tunnel that starts somewhere beneath the solitary cell of Qincheng Prison and ends in an overgrown apple orchard in Warwick, New York, where I can strip free from my criminal attire and remark at how sweet it is to be out until ripe fruit falls from the branches and bops me on the head and back behind the bars again where the guard and I can smooch if we tilt our heads sideways and close our eyes.
Hymning at the Altar of If/Then
Jess drove me to the airport once while Tim was upstairs with his head lurching dreamily between the toilet bowl and his pillowcase. I was doing a Half Ironman in Texas and we stayed up all night until I flew out at 5:30 in the morning. When she dropped me off, we hugged awkwardly and I couldn’t sleep on the plane or the next day so I started that race by slithering first into my wetsuit and then into Decker Lake with nothing on my brain but the needled throbbing of sunlight pushing its way behind my eyes. At the end of that swim, there were volunteers who forced me on to the ground and peeled my wetsuit off with the expert swiftness of a Band-Aid from a wound. There are a lot of things in life that make us say if I could do it all again, then I would do x, y, or z differently. Not many of us get to do those things again, but a few weeks later, I’d find myself with Jess en route to the airport again. And upon arriving, I wouldn’t board a plane.
Instead, I would go along for the hour-long, pre-sunrise ride, twiddling my thumbs in the backseat as we drove a friend to her departure gate. On the drive back, we would stop at my place. It would only be 7 in the morning and Tim would still be asleep across town. I would undress because Jess asked me to and then we would lie together in my bed, not until the sun came up, because the sun already was up. I wouldn’t have volunteers to peel me free from my clothes. There wouldn’t be an emergency Mylar thermal blanket to wrap around my shoulders. And my mom surely wouldn’t be awaiting me at the end of it all to snap a photo of my finishing face. But we would manage all the same.