Song: “You Were Good” by Jimmy Eat World from Damage
Gail flopped on the couch, in the midst of heavy exhale, the adrenaline and exertion of the day finally slipping away from her. Achy in generally unused muscles and chilled by the cooling sweat spawned by the move, she half curled into herself and hoped one of the nearby boxes might contain a sweatshirt or blanket.
Naomi pressed a wine glass into her hand and, shoving a box marked “Rags n’ such,” sat in the old leather chair that had followed her through every move since senior year. It encompassed her in a way that was both reassuring and damning. It said, “hey, you’re safe here,” and “wow, how about that lack of progress” all at once.
“I can’t believe that thing has survived…6? moves,” Gail marveled as she noticed it. Her mind fleetingly went to the last night of fall semester and making out with Clark in the old brown chair. The way it groaned underneath their combined weight. The awkward maneuvering of a six foot six man and a 5 foot 3 woman to try to fit and fool around comfortably simultaneously. The combined smell of cracked leather stored three years in an attic, some kind of vanilla vodka, and whatever cologne Clark had convinced himself had a pleasant odor that month.
Gail blushed a bit then, remembering the promises she made to herself about how far she’d go that night and how she blew each one off as the chair gave way to the floor and then, much later, a trip to the shower, the one upstairs that no one ever used for some reason. Well, never used except for sex. And there, she suddenly realized, was the reason.
“Do you have to get back quickly?” Naomi asked, interrupting Gail’s nostalgia trip.
“Nah. I told Clark I’d be late, might even stay over depending on when we finished up.”
“And he can handle that?” Naomi teased.
“He’ll be fine. At this point, he and I are equally awful at getting Hal to bed at a reasonable time so it’ll be practically the same as if I was doing it.”
“Sure. You want to go out?”
“No, I do not. I just moved my whole life into a fifth floor walk-up. I have no desire to introduce myself to the neighborhood with stringy hair and smelling like I ran a marathon.”
“There’s Thai delivery near here?”
“Should be. We used to order from it all the time when we still lived in the neighborhood.”
Naomi inwardly cringed a bit. Since her friend had gotten married seven years earlier, the use of “we,” with the implied understanding that it meant “Clark and I” had been increasingly more common. Naomi did not know why exactly it bothered her; she suspected it was something about the assumptiveness of it. As though “we” could only refer to the couple. As though Gail was not a “we” with anyone else these days.
If Gail noticed her friend’s consternation, she did not make mention of it. Instead she triumphantly trilled and announced that the number to the Thai place had made the transition to her current phone. As she called, she paced the room, an old habit made all the easier by the triumph of the cell phone over the home phone, especially the corded varieties of it. Naomi let herself zone out, gently rubbing her fingers over the pendant laying against her skin, just below the hollow of her neck.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Gail almost shouted, bringing her friend back to the here and now. Naomi knew right away the source of the almost accusatory outburst and instinctively covered the old necklace with her hand.
“Still?!” Gail continued.
“Oh come on,” Naomi half-moaned, “Can we not—”
“Please, please, please don’t tell me that this is not what happened. Again.”
“It’s not!” Naomi spat, springing out of the chair and trying to get space from Gail, “Not…not really.”
“You didn’t…you didn’t sleep with him again, did you?”
“So why the necklace then?”
“Well…we were talking and he was going to be out here on business and—”
“And Jim found out?”
Naomi sighed, visibly shrinking, “I forgot to take it off after work one day and he started asking questions and I couldn’t lie and then he asked if I still loved Derek and…”
“What could you say?”
“Right. What else could I say?”
“And that’s really why I had to move you in here?”
“…yeah. I…Jim said if I couldn’t love him, if the past couldn’t be the past, then…life moved too fast for him to risk anymore of it on me.”
Gail returned to her seat on the couch with a boneless flop, muttering, “Shit…”
“So, like, what do you—”
“Please. Just…please. I don’t need to rake over the bones of my latest break-up. I don’t need a lecture about how Derek is never going to marry me or move in with me or commit to me in any way. I’m aware. I’m very aware. So can you just be…just be my best friend and leave this alone.”
“Yes. Of course, yes,” Gail replied, moving a pile of bushel of paper towel rolls on the floor and offering Naomi the newly vacated space next to her on the couch, “Can I just ask if you’re ok?”
“No. I mean, yes, you can ask, but no, I’m not. I’m not, you know, terrible or anything. I don’t stare at the subway tracks and think about jumping in front of a train or anything. But I don’t think I’m ok either.”
“Is it…is is just Jim?”
Naomi said nothing for a moment, just leaned into her friend and sat, silent. Then, she finally answered, “No. It’s not him at all. He was right. I didn’t love him. I liked him. He’s smart, he’s funny, he cooks sometimes, does his share around the apartment, fun in bed, usually, no weird hang-ups or fetishes. I liked him a lot. But I didn’t love him. He was a stopgap. And life’s better with a stopgap than without but…it’s not really him at all.”
“I have a job that’s fine,” she continued, “I don’t love it, I don’t hate it. The pay is fine. I’m not getting rich but I can pay rent, eat out a few times a month, go shopping without fear of bankruptcy. I have good friends I wish I saw more of. I have family in good healthy I should see more of. I have a nice new apartment in a neighborhood I like, but only mostly because it’s the last place my best friend lived before she ran away to the suburbs to start a family.”
“Hey!” Gail quickly objected.
“It’s…it’s not bad you did it. Honest. But you did. You’ve got a marriage, a family, a home, a career. I didn’t necessarily think Id have all that, or even want it, by now, but…some of it would be nice. My job could be a career, I guess, but…I don’t know that I can do it for the next 30 or so years. I mean, I can, but be happy doing it? I’m barely happy with it now.”
“You get that I’m not happy all the time, right?” Gail pointed out, “Some days I don’t want anything to do with the domesticity. Some days I hate myself for not being, like, supermom of the year-y enough. The career is still a job. The house always needs to be cleaned or painted or fixed because these people are visiting or this God-knows-what thing is broken.”
“I know, I know. Grass is greener and all that. But you’re invested. You’re doing what you’re doing because, downsides or not, you’re committed. To the work. To the kid. To the house. To the husband. I’m sticking with most of this stuff and…I don’t have any buy-in at all.”
Naomi stared down at her hands, trying to crush down what she was about to say. She’d been thinking it for weeks, but to articulate it, to make it real…that felt like too much. But she was far too gone to not say it. She just couldn’t stop her mouth from opening.
“That’s what’s scary about Jim breaking up with me and telling me to move out. It didn’t upset me, not really. I would’ve stayed with him, forever maybe even, but it’s….inertia. It’s not investment. You are sticking with your choices because bad days, bad moments aside, you believe that, overall, it’s all worth it. The good far outweighs the bad. I stick with it because…what else am I going to do? I could change, but…to what? For what?”
Naomi sobbed low, once, and bit her lip to restrain anything further. Gail slid closer, leaning into her friend, bolstering her physically.
“Because,” Gail whispered quietly, “Because why not? Why not change? It’s going to happen either way, might as well be because you decided to, right? Better you than some dude or gravity or the military industrial complex, right?”
“And if doesn’t work out?” Naomi replied, voice just noticeably strangled.
Gail shrugged apologetically in response because there was nothing to say. Nothing pleasant anyway.