Shana Silver: YA writer

Originally published in the now defunct HISS QUARTERLY.

James

People always say love is blind. Why limit love to only one handicap? To me, love impairs more than just eyesight. Love impairs freedom, it impairs happiness, and it impairs the element of surprise. There is stability in love and I think that is its greatest weakness.

I love Susan. I do. I’ve always loved her. From the moment I met her, through all the ups and downs, my love has never faltered. There have been other girls, other infatuations. I admit I’m ashamed of my meanderings. Susan doesn’t deserve this. She’s given me nothing but love. I’ve given her love back, just not in equal proportion. I’ve split my devotion between Susan and my secret lovers. I never gave her my all, myself.

I know this is wrong. No one has to lecture me or clue me in. A secret is so invigorating. It’s the element of surprise. I can be caught at any time. I love that. I love the danger in living my life this way.

I think that’s what’s wrong with love. There are no surprises, only routine. There is a list of responsibilities of a husband that I must follow. Everyday. These things become chores. They irritate me. Too much of one thing sours.

I need surprise and spontaneity. I need to come home from work and know that everything has changed. But Susan is always there. When I come home from work, promptly at 7pm, she is always sitting on the couch watching television reruns. She’s seen these episodes a thousand times but she doesn’t care. I bet she doesn’t even notice they aren’t brand new.

Her hair is always pulled back in a messy bun or ponytail. She used to style it when we first met and all I could think about was running my fingers through it. She had the most beautiful hair once. It still could be beautiful, but she doesn’t try. She says she doesn’t have time, that the baby consumes her every waking or sleeping moments.

She wears pajamas while she watches TV. Not the sexy kind. No lingerie or silky, satiny nightgowns, the kind that once made me want her the instant I saw her. Now she wears flannel pants, plaid. She wears old t-shirts, my old t-shirts. She doesn’t wear make-up. She has a beautiful face, but sometimes I like her features to be enhanced. I know she’s tired, but she is home all day and I don’t think the effort would be too hard. Her excuse is that no one sees her on days like this, or this late at night. No one except me. She thinks she doesn’t have to impress me, but that’s the problem. We’ve fallen into a rut.

When I come home from work, the table is always set exactly the same way. She takes pride in this, I know. She takes pride in her cooking, in her meals. They are her accomplishments. They are proof that she lives each day, that she has goals and she completes them. Her meals are not gourmet. Now, I’m not saying that I expect a gourmet meal. All I’m saying is that once in a while, I would like a change from the normal course of meals. Susan believes this change is reached when we go out to dinner once a week, on Saturday nights. I would just like for her to once use a new spice, or a new sauce, or try out a new recipe. I’m sick of the same damn bland chicken and steamed veggies. I’m sick of everything.

Susan and I were married five years ago. The love is still there, but the wick is slowly burning down to the end. I want to light a new candle for her. For us. But I can’t seem to find another match, another spark.

This is why I need to constantly replenish the fire in my dim candle. This is why some nights, after dinner, I go out with the guys. Susan doesn’t drink. She stopped drinking when she became pregnant with our daughter, Jasmine. This was three years ago. She still hasn’t had a glass. The guys and I go to bars or strip clubs and we drink. We drink to escape, to forget the routine of our lives, or to get up the courage to cheat on our wives. It’s wrong. You don’t have to tell me that. I know that. But I can’t help it. I need it.

We meet girls at the bars. Young girls, twenty-somethings. I refrain from using the word women. These girls are not women. And we are not men. We’re animals. We’re bastards. We go to the bars, our wedding rings in our pockets, and we cheat. But it’s the thrill of the attack, the hunt, and the conquest that forces me into it.

Susan

I know he cheats. James goes out almost every night and drinks with the boys. I know the other wives suspect it too. I’m not the only one who worries. But I worry because I love him. I wish I didn’t know that he cheats on me. It just makes everything so much harder. It adds such bitterness to my life. A dark cloud of fog overhead.

I know he cheats because of the way he tries to hide it. After an unsuccessful night, he will come home around midnight. Other times, he will stagger in around two, three, four am. If he comes home at midnight, he isn’t quiet. He’s upset. He stomps into the room, slams doors instead of gently closing them, smashes his watch hard against the dresser, and emphasizes the pressure in his movements. He rips off his clothes and leaves them in a pile on the floor, which is meant for me to pick up the next morning. He gets in bed and wraps himself in the covers with his back to me.

The nights that he cheats, he is considerate. He comes home and I barely hear him. He tries hard not to wake me. He gently closes doors. He puts his clothes away without slamming the drawers shut. He climbs into bed and wraps his arms around me, cradling me through the night. In the morning, he almost always wants to have sex. He feels guilty. The sex is therapeutic. It helps him erase the mistakes he made the previous night.

He doesn’t cheat often, don’t get me wrong. More often than not, he comes in at midnight, drunk and pissed off. After he does cheat, he won’t go out for weeks, sometimes even months. He feels too guilty. He holds me every night and makes love. After he cheats, during the weeks following his infidelity, he spends all his free time with me. He loves me.

This is why I accept it – because of the weeks and months that follow his sexual misconducts. I yearn for those nights that he holds me tightly. I love all the time I spend with him. And until it gets too much for him again, until he needs that extra reassurance of the chase, the catch, I will savor all the moments in between.

I know that I shouldn’t accept this. I can’t even tell you how many people have told me I should divorce him, or at least confront him. I’ve read statistics of wives who stay with cheating men. But I haven’t exactly been completely faithful either. This isn’t an excuse. I know it. That’s why James and I need each other. We are each other’s sanity. We are each other’s control, each other’s reality.

I don’t think James has any idea of my infidelity. Most people don’t. I don’t talk about it. If it’s kept a secret, then it has a better chance of staying that way. It’s just between Derek and me. Just us. I like that. I like the intimacy of it.

I know how James’ mind works, how to manipulate him. He hates when I don’t put effort into my appearance. I have him on a line; I can reel him in and bait him anytime I want. The truth is, I like when he goes out with the boys. When he goes out is when I can see Derek. So when I am in need of a deviation from James, I stop trying to keep him happy. And it works almost immediately. Within a few days he’s back at the bars, forgetting the way he loved spending every minute with me only weeks before.

James

I’m 32 years old and I feel like my life is over. I feel like it’s going nowhere. I had the whole world in front of me back when I was 25, when I met Susan. I thought it was the perfect situation and I would never get bored. But now, merely seven years later, I am tired and confused.

I work here, in the capital of everything, in New York City, and yet I feel so alone. The streets are always busy, packed with people, but they are empty faces. Every day I go to work, take the train in, then the subway and I see the same faces. They see me as well. We rarely smile. We rarely exchange glances or greetings. I just want one of those faces to matter, once. I want one of them to make my daily commute worthwhile.

I want to see the world and all it has to offer me. A fresh start. I don’t need guidelines to follow or boundaries to enclose me in. I want to take risks. I want to look back one day and know that my life had meaning. I think I got married too young.

When I met Susan, back when I was still naïve, I had so much ahead of me. Now I look to the future and all I see is this path, the one that I am on. I want to see twists and turns, and forks and obstacles. I’m not so egotistical that I want to be the driver on the road of life. Then again, I don’t want to be the passenger either.

Susan

It’s hard being in love with two people. I never thought it was possible. But it is. I love them both so much that I can’t stay away from either of them. It’s not fair, I know. Obviously Derek knows I’m married, he was James’ best man in our wedding. I feel bad about that. Derek was the one who introduced us. He was my best friend through four years of college. I had never suspected that he had a crush on me. Maybe he didn’t, maybe then he thought of me as just a friend. After all, it wasn’t until James and I got married that he first kissed me.

I had come to him, crying and upset. I didn’t know what to do about James. He had been out almost every night until around midnight. This was the first time that he started going out. I didn’t like the fact that he was drinking. I gave that up after I became pregnant with Jasmine. It wasn’t something I enjoyed much anyway. I drank in college because it was the trend. I drank at parties after college because it was socially acceptable.

I stalked back and forth through Derek’s living room. “He’s cheating. I know he is.”

“No, he’s probably just stressed from work.”

I looked at Derek with swollen eyes. “Don’t try and sugar coat this. You know him. You’ve been out with him before. He’s cheating on me, isn’t he? Just say it.”

Derek looked down at the floor.

“So why aren’t you out with him tonight then, scamming on girls?” The tears streamed down my face like a raging hurricane.

Derek stopped me in mid-stride, lifted his thumbs to my cheeks, and wiped my tears away. “Because I’m here with you.” He looked deep into my eyes and then pressed his lips hard against mine. I hadn’t seen clearly until that kiss. James had never kissed me like that. Ever. No kiss ever had as many sparks, produced as many butterflies in my stomach.

I think part of the excitement was the feeling that it was wrong. I knew I could get caught. I knew that Derek was James’ best friend as well as mine. I knew that nothing could ever be the same again. I had changed the future with one simple kiss. I held the future in my hands. I loved this fact. It’s my fuel, my energy.

I think my current situation is perfect. I have two of the most amazing men, in my opinion at least. I can have them both at my leisure, at my discretion. It’s manipulation at it’s finest. It’s absolute power. I don’t think I would want this to change. I wouldn’t want to choose between them. I wouldn’t be able to.

James

This morning was like no other. The time is 1pm and I should be at work. But I can’t be. My office is gone. It collapsed this morning, rather early. I saw the whole thing from a small bakery across the street. I was getting pastries for clients because our Intern called in sick this morning. I worked on the 87th floor. I would have been dead.

I’m stuck in a dilemma. I’ve been given a gift, an opportunity like no other before. Another path has opened for me and I can embark upon it. I can leave this life that I know, this place that I’m in. I can start fresh. I can see the world. I can do all those things I wanted to do, those things I said I would do but never did because I met Susan.

Instead I watched in awe. Then fear overtook me, seized me, and without thinking or feeling, I ran, leaving everything behind. The crowd engulfed me, carrying my legs with theirs. It was the New York Marathon, except we were racing for our lives. Debris covered my eyes, fell into them, blinding me from the reality that I was surrounded in.

My eyes are still burning from the smoke, from the debris. There are cuts and bruises on my arms. I didn’t run far enough before the first building collapsed. I saw first hand the suicide jumps, the dismembered body parts. There was blood everywhere. There was destruction. I wasn’t close enough for the fall of the building to affect me, just the smoke. I am still agile in my thirty-two years. I ran as far as I could, leading the crowds of people down packed streets.

I can’t even recall now my feelings at the time of the crash. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know that it was a plane. It sounded like a bomb. I thought we were under attack. Everyone started panicking.

I’m in a bar on the Upper East Side collecting my thoughts. They have the television turned on to the news. I see the estimated death tolls. I see the damage. I have not yet called Susan. I am still debating whether or not I should.

Susan

I don’t know what to do. I can’t think straight. I can’t eat. I can’t even move. I am just sitting here on the couch in front of the television. My head is pressed into my knees; my arms are wrapped around them. I’m rocking back and forth. James worked in that building. I’m so worried.

Derek is here. He is rubbing my back, supporting me. Part of me hates him because he is here and James isn’t. The other part of me is thankful that he is here and James isn’t. I am worried for James, but moreover, I am worried that I may not want James to be safe. I love James, but it is already 1pm and he hasn’t called yet. I love James, but he cheats on me. I love him, but he is not here with me now and Derek has never given me grief.

I hate myself for the thoughts to even cross my mind. Of course I want James to be safe. Of course I pray for him. But in a way, deep down inside I am hiding a smile. I hate that too. I am a horrible person. I shouldn’t think like this. James is my husband. We have a daughter. If he’s gone, she may never know her father again.

I wonder what Derek thinks. This whole time he has betrayed his best friend. All these years he has looked at James with a straight face, hiding the fact that his thoughts were of me. And Derek is here with me now, comforting me, telling me it will all be okay, that James will be fine. But deep down I know he is smiling too. Because he has hope in James’ mortality.

James

I am a horrible person. I shouldn’t be thinking this way. I shouldn’t do this to Susan. All these families will never see their loved ones again. They will grieve for their loved ones. I am fine; I survived, and still I wish this grief upon my family. I wish them to mourn for me. I am being selfish.

I love Susan, I do. But this could be my ticket out. This could be my way to start fresh, to travel around the world without a care in the world. I’ll go to Canada, or Mexico, hitchhiking until I find a destination. I’ll go where the world takes me, no longer heading down the same tunnel always seeing the same light in my way.

In a way, I am doing Susan a favor. I am no longer hurting her with my infidelity. I am no longer hiding things from her. In this way, I am being faithful, because in death, I cannot stray. If I leave quietly, she will believe I am dead. She will collect the insurance money, my stocks, and the money I have saved in the bank account. She will remarry. She will love again. She is a beautiful girl and now she will be able to show it. I miss seeing her face and now someone else can.

She doesn’t deserve me. I don’t deserve a life with her. I don’t want something stable. I don’t want something that I can come home to everyday and know that it’s always going to be there. Love isn’t everything. Maybe this isn’t even love, maybe its stability confused for love.

Susan

I have no tears. If it’s shock, then it’s understandable. If it’s happiness, then it’s unforgivable. People call and I can’t pick up the phone. My mother, his mother, my sister, my friends, his friends. I cannot speak to any of them. I have nothing to say. There is no grief for me yet and I don’t know if there ever will be.

The conflict lies within myself. I want so badly to be worried, but instead I am calm because either way, I know it will work out.

Jasmine is so young; She’ll never know Derek isn’t her real father.

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