© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

Lisa Gruen had been the predominant subject of conversational interest at the office for months until I started dating her…at least for every single guy at Putnam and Associates. I shattered the dreams of the single cubicle dwelling alpha males who pounced gracefully every time she dropped a pen or paperclip, snagging the item deftly, like skilled cornerbacks snatching up a loose fumble, holding it out like a trophy as they waited for their reward, a dazzling smile from the prettiest girl to ever grace the desks of Putnam and Associates. And it didn’t stop there. I singlehandedly destroyed the fantasies of the married executives at Putnam too, who day-dreamed of secret trysts with Lisa at their beach homes on Long Island, their wives placated and bank-rolled for excursions to Saks Fifth avenue as they lied about business trips that they hoped would turn into frolicking sessions in the surf with a woman half their age. I killed all these fantasies, all these dreams, in one fell swoop when I accepted Lisa’s invitation for a drink after work one Friday after she had potentially saved my life the night before. Within days of that drink, she was spending the entire weekend at my place more often than not…panty hose drying on my shower rod, female products slowly accumulating in my medicine cabinet, my closet space getting more and more cramped as she justified leaving her tennis skirt or her overpriced Ed Hardy bathing suit at my apartment in case we decided to do something besides lay around in bed and order Chinese takeout. I was the talk of Putnam back then, the envy of every straight male. Lisa had made no secret that she was in love with me. There was even a framed photograph on her desk of the two of us at Martha’s Vineyard, Lisa smiling with her hair shining luminously in the hot summer sun, myself standing stiffly , a half hearted smile on my face, lost in thought. Lisa looked happy in the photograph. But the face next to her, my face, wasn’t the image of a man in love. For you see, I didn’t love Lisa Gruen at the time. Nothing was wrong with Lisa, mind you. My heart simply belonged to another.

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

Lisa was stunningly beautiful, funny, smart, and unlike so many beautiful women who were vain and self centered, Lisa was totally unselfish, surprisingly sweet and caring to everyone. And most importantly, she adored me. I don’t even know why. I was average in every way, had done absolutely nothing in my life to distinguish myself from anyone else, drove an ordinary car, had a good job, but nothing that would ever bring me real wealth, a decent sense of humor, but I had friends who were much funnier. And to top it off I had skeletons in my closet...well…only one skeleton, but a really big skeleton. The type that any sane young woman would walk away from. They involved an ex-girlfriend. An ex-girlfriend I was still in love with. Shelby. Shelby…just to say her name awakens every sense in my body…I feel a pain so deep, yet so exquisite, that I literally have trouble breathing just thinking about her. Her eyes captivated me like nothing ever before or since, large pale green ovals outlined by delicate feather-like lashes; they gleamed like liquid magic pools under moonlight…mesmerizing, intoxicating. Her hair, a dark silken blanket that tasted of honey, a rose scented heaven that framed a perfect visage, her nose slender and gracefully shaped, her lips full and wide with that mysterious smile that gave away no secrets and drove me insane with lust, infatuation, romance, love… there are no words that do justice to her smile. It beckoned like the most wonderful treasure one could ever imagine. It haunts my every dream…still. She was in my life for just over a year…the best days of my life, but I can also argue that they were also the worst days of my life. Because you could never tell what Shelby was thinking. Sure, she might be smiling, telling you she was having a good time, but that smile…that devastating smile hid so much more. I could always sense it…under the surface, words unspoken, thoughts hidden deep within her like secrets. It made me insane. I never knew where I stood with her. We spent every single day together for over a year, yet she never told me she loved me. She claimed love was the stuff of fiction…that life was for living

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

in the moment, enjoying what you had then and there; no explanations, no labels, because everything can disappear in an instant and then all you’re left with besides memories are empty words that are meaningless. Her cynicism drove me mad. Love was the only thing I ever truly believed in. Happiness was too unstable, too fleeting. Wealth was overrated because it consumed too much of your life to obtain it. But love, sweet glorious love. There was nothing that could compare…it endured…death did nothing to diminish it…distance only magnified it. It was eternal… the one constant in the universe, the one thing that touched the voids of every single emotion so strongly that every book ever written, every movie, had to include it in some way. I professed my undying love to her constantly. I couldn’t hide it. It would have been like trying to hide the sun or the moon on a clear night. My love radiated off me like bright neon. People commented on it. Strangers, even waitresses would come to our table, take one look at my face as I gazed at Shelby, and say “Someone is in love.” I would have given my life to hear Shelby utter those three words. She never did. That combination of words didn’t exist in her vocabulary except in references to my occasional discussions on the subject which I learned to refrain from when I begin to realize that conversations on the subject only made her more distant. If I could manage a week without mentioning the forbidden word, our relationship flourished. She was happy, carefree, attentive, horny. My happiness knew no bounds when she was like that. But deep inside I was also miserable because I wanted some confirmation, just a gleam of hope, a morsel, a tidbit, anything from her to let me know that I was the one, that she felt even one tiny bit of the same glorious feeling that invaded every pore of my body when she was near me. Inevitably, I would start a discussion on the subject. “What are we exactly?” I would ask. “Lovers? Boyfriend/girlfriend? Soul mates? Friends?”

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

She would grow quiet, her ever present smile fading like a wilting flower, her eyes softening, yet firm, piercing me to the soul. “Why do you insist on labeling everything?” she would ask quietly. “Do I not make you happy? Do we not see each other every day? Aren’t you having as much fun as I am when we’re together? Hellooo? William, are you there? Do you even listen to what I tell you? Love is just a word. It’s meaningless. People say I love you like they’re ordering a sandwich. Jesus! Do people really have to say I love you after every single phone call? Are we that insecure as humans that that we need to repeat it over and over one thousand times a year?” What the fuck is so special about those three words if we constantly overuse them like Post-it notes in the Goddamned office. It’s ridiculous. Half the time people don’t even mean it or they’re just echoing it because the other person said it to them first. They’re like freaking parrots for God’s sake! And you know what really makes me sick, Will? The ones who say “I love you” to their partners as they’re going out the door to meet someone for an affair. I won’t be part of something that common Will. It’s means nothing. It’s a word…nothing else. You and me together, enjoying our lives and each other Will…that’s all that matters, enjoying the moment. If you label it, we lose the magic… at least I do. If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand who I am, Will. Do you even know who I am? Sometimes I wonder. I’m not something you can mold around your own insecurities. I want to be with you… but I can’t change something I feel so strongly about just to make you feel safer in this relationship. If you need those words to make you happy, I’m not that girl, Will. As dear as you are to me, I can never be that girl for you.” The conversations would always end the same…me apologizing, unhappy, yet ever so grateful when Shelby would calm down, look at my sad face, and lead me to the bedroom where I would lose myself in the symphony of her body. And everything would be tolerable for awhile…my happiness and

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

misery mingling like rival political parties, always at odds, but a fact of life. Invariably, time would pass and we would go back to square one. I would question her love for me. Another discourse on the meaning of love would ensue in which the only thing we could agree on was that we completely disagreed on the subject. And then the day came when it all changed. I think back to it constantly and ask myself, could I have avoided the break-up somehow? Could I have gone on living that way without going insane…surveying her smile for some small hint at whether I meant as much to her as she did to me, perusing her eyes for any small clue as to what she was thinking as she stared at me after we made love. It was impossible. I was as doomed as a man under the guillotine. I could not accept her for what she brought into my life. I loved her too much. I needed more. I was driving myself mad because my biggest fear was that she would never feel what I felt inside, that she would never realize the depths of my feelings because she didn’t know how. Love wasn’t just a word to me. But it was the only way I could vocally express or explain the magical realm that Shelby infused into every moment I spent with her…and it had to be voiced to break out of that void into the real world or else it might remain an illusion, silenced, tragic, like an unpublished masterpiece locked away in a safe. I was obsessed not only with the word “Love”, but for everything that it stood for. For Shelby, the word meant nothing. Blah, blah, blah…same effect to her. And so that one fateful day, for the last time in our relationship, I approached the subject of love with Shelby. When I look back at it now it seems so much more simple, so black and white. Maybe she was right all along. In that mysterious place where the word “Love” dwelt unspoken, anything could happen. I could think about love without saying it. We could spend the day at the beach and the warmth of that unspoken love sent heat through my body that made the hot summer sun a shadow by comparison. Leaving the word unsaid, we would splash in the waves, laughing

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

like children, her body sleek and tanned, my happiness knowing no bounds. Afterwards, we would lie on the beach as the sun went down…once again the words unspoken, as I traced her lips softly with my own, touching the fire of her skin as I lost myself in the nirvana of ecstasy. On those days she was happy, her smile lifting my moods to the heavens where I danced on clouds celebrating the beauty of everything that she was and the love I felt for her. When I look back at it now, I can see her point. What words were needed when something so miraculous was taking place. Even mundane chores like grocery shopping became celebrations. She would smear samples of brie or chocolate mousse on my nose and lick it off as we laughed like children. But like an addict who can never satisfy that unbearable quench, I needed more. I needed to hear her voice tell me just one time how she felt…that she loved me. A word. A label. Call it what you will. Anything. She left me on a Wednesday. I had broached the forbidden subject the night before and we had debated what had already become a tired old subject to her, while remaining of absolute importance to me. I saw it in her face as soon as I woke up the next morning to find her lying next to me wiping a tear away from her eye and I knew she was leaving me. I won’t relay the details of our conversation that morning, because to relive it is like dancing with the devil, a tragic waltz with death. I shudder to even think of that dark day. I watched her throw away my dreams of happiness that day, opening the door with all her belongings in one battered suitcase bearing the stickers of memories we had made together, places we had shared, and I felt something break inside me, a sharp deep ache unlike anything else I had ever known. She turned one last time as she stepped into the hall and handed me a note before closing the door, a whiff of her perfume still lingering in the air like the fragrant ghost of a unseen lily, a long strand of her hair clinging to my sweater like a silken thread.

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

My dearest Will, I never wanted it to be like this. Contrary to what you believe, there are no words to describe the magic we shared together. And if those words do indeed exist, I’m not the woman who would ever have voiced them. Words are overrated. I thought that one day you might grow to understand me, to get past our differences on the subject of…my God…I can hardly bring myself to write the word. Love. The word is a travesty…it’s like empty air, a vacuum, a man made fallacy that doesn’t deserve recognition. The word has nothing to do with what we shared, what we used to be, the good times we shared, the way our bodies became one. I cannot understand why you feel the need to hear these words… these meaningless worthless jumble of letters that mean nothing. You need something that I just don’t have, Will. I was yours in heart, body, and spirit. I gave you everything that I could give you, but it was never enough for you. You needed the one thing I didn’t have to give. The joy we shared will always remain a part of me. I’ll cherish those memories the rest of my life. I hope you find what you’re looking for. You deserve to be happy. More than anything, I wish I could have done that for you. Shelby

I didn’t leave the apartment for weeks except to go to work, my depression alive like a disease. I wasted away, unable to eat, not showering or combing my hair on weekends, calling in sick to the point where my job was jeopardized. I called Shelby several times in the first few days, but the conversations were disastrous with me pleading and sounding pathetic, her voice sounding distant, tired, and final. I knew that hanging around at places she liked to frequent was just too creepy and unhealthy, so I restrained myself from becoming a stalker, and my social life became nonexistent. I became a hermit, drowning myself in books where I

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

would sometimes find myself rereading the same paragraph twenty times over as I thought about Shelby. I grew painfully thin. I would sometimes go so long without eating that I would hallucinate… visions of Shelby in the bathtub, Shelby cooking French toast, Shelby exercising in front of the T.V. I would wake up drenched in sweat, calling her name, weeping, out of my mind, with nothing to do but drive myself crazy with despair. My best friend James was my saving grace. After months of listening to me dwell on every possible analysis of the breakup, on hearing every possible plan I hatched to win Shelby back, his persistence at getting me put of the house and back into the real world finally paid off and I eventually began to go out again with my friends and co-workers, with the clear understanding that I didn’t want to be fixed up with any women for the time being. I was willing to wait for Shelby…forever if I had to. New York is not a small city but my circle of friends had always maintained a pretty substantial list of places that we liked to hang out at, so it was inevitable that I would eventually see Shelby at a restaurant, movie theatre, maybe a bar. The first time I saw her after the breakup was at Luigi’s Restaurant. I was with James and a few co-workers from the office including Lisa Gruen, who had been practically forced to accompany us at the insistence of half a dozen single clerks who were obsessed with her. I saw Shelby standing by the bar alone, holding a laptop, apparently waiting for a table. For just a moment I thought I was having another hallucination as I did when I nearly starved myself, but it was her, as real as life, twenty feet away from me, so tantalizingly close, yet so impossibly far away. Whoever said that time heals everything was a liar. It had been over a year since I had last seen Shelby and I can’t even begin to describe the torment and agony that seeing her did to me that night. It must have been written all over my face from the worried looks of my co-workers. James had glanced around to see why I

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

was white as a ghost. I heard him whisper, “Shit, that’s Shelby… Will’s ex.” The sound of her name was like an electric jolt through my body and I’m certain I visibly winced. Everyone at the office pretty much knew the story of the breakup and my subsequent depression, just not all the details. I’m certain that I was the recipient of many consoling gestures and looks as I sat there transfixed, but I was oblivious to anything else around me by then. Even the noisy clamor of the bar seemed to diminish as if it were echoing down a long hallway in a concert hall. Only Shelby existed in that moment. She was alone, and except for a dress I didn’t recognize, she looked exactly the same. I could feel pin pricks in my cheeks and realized that I had stopped breathing. I forced myself to get a grip and sucked in a breath of fresh air. I could sense everyone looking at me but I didn’t care. I had eyes only for Shelby. I prayed that some man would not suddenly materialize in the crowded restaurant and take her by the arm, guiding her to a table, while I curled into the fetal position and died a slow death of unrequited love. But she was alone, and fate dictated that even though the restaurant was packed, her eyes found me almost immediately. I saw her give a start, then that smile…that glorious smile. I watched her approach our table. She seemed to glide across the floor like a soft spring breeze, the air around her shimmering and translucent. I was mesmerized by a single wayward curl that caressed her forehead. To look her in the eyes was to face a familiarity partnered with the unknown and I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I was terrified as to how I would react to those hypnotic green orbs that could burst through every defense I possessed like a hot sword through butter. I felt as if I were in a dream, the voices around me echoing strangely, my peripheral vision a blur. The power of my emotions beyond words. “Will,” she said softly, “How are you?” I stood up awkwardly, nearly knocking my chair over. “Hello Shelby,” I croaked, my voice betraying me. I was at a complete loss for words, yet I had so much I wanted to say. Before

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

I could even begin to recover my composure she hugged me and the scent of roses in her hair awoke in me something I had thought long dead. I forced myself to let her go as I sensed the hug becoming awkward…at least for her. I wish I could relay the inane conversation that followed as I introduced her to my co-workers, but the whole event was like one of those strange dreams you have where you wake up and you know that you dreamt about someone, but you only recall bits and pieces. I remember barely anything of what was said. The only thing I do remember is that she turned down our offer to join us, stating that she had come to finish an assignment for work on her laptop and eat dinner. Multi-tasking was costing me a shot at happiness. She seemed to be gone almost as quickly as she appeared and despite my constant furtive glances around the restaurant for another glimpse of her, she seemed to have vanished. I’m not certain why, but the shock of seeing her again and the magnitude of the feelings it awoke in me made me want to talk about it. I absolutely did not want to go home. To tell the truth, I was almost frightened to go home alone. I ended up drinking too much wine. Most of my co-workers had already left, the men having given up on the elusive Lisa Gruen, who apparently had no interest in office romance and the women excusing themselves to go feed cats or wash stockings for the next day. James had sidled up to an attractive brunette at the bar. I was left at the table with Lisa and two determined clerks from the office, who weren’t giving up yet, doing their best to make Lisa laugh, and hopefully get a phone number at the very least. When Lisa excused herself to go to the ladies room, Tom and Eddie, the clerks, immediately began arguing with each other claiming that the other one was horning in on Lisa when she was clearly not interested in one or the other. I sat there silently, wishing Shelby was still in the now nearly empty restaurant. I found myself yearning for someone to talk to about Shelby besides the obsessed clerks who I had nothing in common with besides the office.

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

Lisa came back from the ladies room and to my surprise and the clerk’s dismay, she sat down next to me. “Sooo, she said softly, her expression inquisitive, yet friendly, “Tell me about this ex-girlfriend.” I left the restaurant with Lisa Gruen that night. We talked non-stop until morning. I sometimes wonder if she somehow sensed my dire need to talk to someone that night and rescued me from potential insanity had I returned to my depressing apartment alone. Whatever the reason, her compassion and patience listening to the tale of my doomed love affair, somehow not only got me through the night, but actually lifted my spirit’s a bit. I had kept my depression locked away like a secret disease for so long that exposing it was like releasing a dam on a swollen river. I couldn’t stop talking and I sensed that Lisa was sincerely interested, not just feeling sorry for me. I woke up the next morning on her living room sofa with a terrible hangover. I could smell coffee and I was ravenous. I was still fully clothed except for my shoes which were lying at the foot of the sofa. Lisa came out wearing a bath robe and brushing her wet hair. “Feeling okay?” she asked. I nodded. “A little hung over.” “I made some coffee and there’s a baguette with butter and jelly in the kitchen if you’re hungry. Make yourself at home while I finish getting ready for work.” “What time is it?” “Almost seven. I don’t think you can make it to work on time even if you take a cab back to your place to get ready. If you like, you can shower here. My brother stays here sometimes…he loves New York. He keeps a couple of suits in the closet. I think you’re the same size. You’re welcome to borrow one if you like. We can ride in together and you won’t be late for work. I‘ll be done in the bathroom in a few minutes.”

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

I showered and borrowed the suit and we shared a cab to work, limiting our conversation to small talk. Work was uneventful until the end of the day when Lisa asked me to go out for a drink. I accepted and a new chapter began in my life. Within weeks, we were for lack of a better term, “together”. I’m not sure what she saw in me because I had left no doubt that I was still in love with Shelby, but what started as a friendly shoulder with a patient ear, turned into a deep friendship, which in turn eventually led to an awkward night of sex after too many drinks one New Years Eve. Our constrained initial foray into sex eventually led to us sharing weekends, trips out of town, more sex which got better as time went on, and it gradually blossomed into some semblance of a normal life despite the fact that my past with Shelby was a constant part of our lives, even if we weren’t talking about her, which we did less and less only because I felt guilty and uncomfortable about it since we were now in some semblance of a relationship. Occasionally, I would see Shelby somewhere. Usually a restaurant. Sometimes I was with Lisa and sometimes I was alone. Shelby was always alone and somehow, even though I was incredibly relieved not to have to see her with another man, it still bothered me to no end. If she didn’t have a man in her life she might still have been with me. If I hadn’t been so damned obsessive, We might have been sharing that booth at Chez Georges. I never went up to her in restaurants or bars, even when Lisa wasn’t with me. I could see in her face that I wasn’t welcome to go there anymore. My face, my demeanor during that first time I saw her after the break-up had said everything. I hadn’t moved on. I wore my heart on my sleeve when it came to Shelby. She knew it. Hell, a blind man could have sensed it if she was in the same room as myself. And think what you will about Shelby…call her a cold hearted bitch if you think that fits, but I knew better. Shelby had a heart of gold. She would never do anything to deliberately hurt me and being near her, talking to her without being able to have her in my life again, would devastate me. Shelby knew this. I could see it

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

in the way she looked at me when we would wave at each other the few times we saw one another in some restaurant or club. Our relationship had evolved to a heart-sickened wave if we both happened to crave Hunan Lo Mein on the same night. My relationship with Lisa began to falter. We would sometimes eat dinner without me saying a word as she struggled to hold us together, chatting about her day at the firm, joking, flirting, trying anything to pull me away me from the edge of a precipice that held no bottom. I suffered from insomnia. If Lisa was spending the night at my place, I would sometimes get up and tiptoe out to my den so as not to wake her up. She would wake up in the morning and find me there sitting in my overstuffed chair staring out the window, a forgotten book in my hand, so lost in thought that she would have to say my name several times before I even realized she was speaking to me. Shelby was always on my mind. The nights were the worst. Soon Lisa was only staying over one or two nights a week. I didn’t mind. We never talked about Shelby anymore. We never talked about anything really…at least I didn’t. I rarely ate at home. I ate at restaurants. New ones popped up every day it seemed in New York. I picked ones I knew Shelby would like. I know it sounds creepy…maybe it was. I didn’t care. I wasn’t a stalker. I posed no threat. I was too terrified to confront her because as long as she never actually spoke the words that she never wanted to see me again, then I had hope. I knew where Shelby lived…she still had the same flat. I never went near her apartment…I couldn’t get that close. It would have been like staring at the sun. I would deliberately bypass the street she worked on if I needed to be in that area for a work assignment. As much as I wanted to see her, I knew that doing so would only lead me further into the abyss. But picking a new restaurant because Shelby might like it was different somehow. It was a way for me to connect to her, and on the few occasions that I actually saw her in one of the restaurants I carefully chose, it thrilled me, even though I gave no outward sign. I knew the rules and respected them. We could greet each other from a distance, a wave, a nod, a smile, and

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

that was all that was allowed. It was our unspoken rule, a pact never spoken but there nonetheless, a safety net for me because seeing her in those brief moments, especially in a restaurant that I had never dined in before, somehow gave me peace from the demons that raged in my soul at the injustice of my life. I would find myself thinking that perhaps Shelby and I had made some kind of cosmic connection, that she had felt my longing, that she sensed the thought and energy I had put into choosing this one restaurant out of the thousands of restaurants in New York City just on the chance that she might go there, that maybe just maybe she needed to see me for those brief seconds once in a while. And even if she gave no sign that she felt that way, I could still be the recipient of a pathetic sad wave of her hand that would mean so much to me, and cost her nothing, keeping my false hopes alive for another day. I chose each restaurant as meticulously as a death row inmate chooses his last meal. I would linger for hours, exasperating the owners, getting kicked out occasionally because I would simply sit there after my meal sipping cappuccinos for hours, lost in thought, hoping that Shelby was hungry, scanning the crowds for a flash of her smile, a wisp of her hair, wishing I could see her for only a moment, see her hand raise to acknowledge me in some small way, a smile, a startled look, anything… I would take anything. I knew no shame. I would not follow her but I would use every ounce of my will in hopes that my energy would somehow reach out to her in the empty voids of time and air, beckoning, leading her to the restaurant I had chosen that evening. It was my balm, my medicine, my way to deal with the disaster I had created in my life. It reaffirmed what I had lost and it let me know that I was still alive. A wave from her and a glimpse of a sad smile the few times I ever actually saw her in a restaurant was enough for me…it had to be… it was all I had left. Eventually I heard through some mutual friends that Shelby had moved away to the west coast. Lisa had finally given up on us ever having a normal relationship and she had left me. She told me

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Reality

that she would always be just a phone call away if I needed to talk, even if it was about Shelby. I threw myself into my work and got promoted. The pain of losing Shelby never went away, but I learned to endure it with hard work and my few close friends like James. I suffered through a few brief affairs or should I say caused suffering in a few brief affairs. None of them lasted more than a few weeks even though I never mentioned Shelby to any of confused women who tried to understand a man who rarely laughed and preferred the company of sad romantic novels to a night in the sack. I remember one of the women, a striking brunette named Julie, breaking up with me, and right before she walked out the door, turning to me and exclaiming, “You have the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen.” Time passed. My life continued without purpose. Work had become my existence. There was nothing else. Seven years after Shelby and I broke up, I saw Lisa in a bistro in Manhattan. I hadn’t seen her in years. She had left the office and started her own firm. She looked fantastic. Our phone calls had grown sporadic. We rarely talked anymore beyond polite inquiries about work or dating. The last time we had made contact, she had been in a serious relationship…there had been talk of marriage. On this day, she was dining alone. I walked up to her. She wasn’t wearing a ring. “Oh my God…Will!” she screamed, and threw her arms around me. Inexplicably, I felt like crying, and I sheepishly wiped my eyes, laughing self-consciously, stating, “Wow! I don’t even know where this is coming from!” We both laughed and then we were both crying. She was beautiful, a breath of fresh air in my dreary life. I hadn’t even realized that I missed her until then. She was single. She had called off the marriage when her boyfriend kept pushing the date back. Six weeks later, she dumped him and realized she had never even loved him at all. I ended up going home with her. We made love. It was the first time since Shelby that I enjoyed sex. Within six weeks, I gave up my lease and moved in with her. I

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can’t say that I was truly happy, but I was content. I could live with content. Content was a good thing. We never talked about Shelby. If the aura of Shelby still lingered in our relationship, Lisa didn’t show it, and I did my best to keep it that way. Time passed quickly now, life moved forward and once again I let my work consume me. Things with Lisa were good. We had settled into a routine. I had something besides work and sleep waiting for me at the end of the day. There were days when I barely thought of Shelby… almost. I had been living with Lisa for almost two years when I got a call from my old friend James. He was throwing a party and had invited Lisa and I. Lisa was in the middle of a groundbreaking case and had been putting in ridiculous hours. She begged off, but insisted that I go. I arrived at the party very late…I had decided to go at the last minute, Most of the people were strangers except for a few mutual acquaintances. James had a new girlfriend who he introduced to me, an attractive redhead named Sophia. She seemed sweet, a good match for him. We talked about our lives. Sophia excused herself after a while to mingle with the other guests. James made no mention of Shelby and I felt no need to talk about her. We drank until we were feeling good, not drunk, just relaxed, a little high. It was nice to be around my best friend again without the drama. We sat there in silence for awhile, sipping our drinks Maybe it was the wine or maybe that moment of silence that James incorrectly interpreted…whatever the reason… James brought up Shelby. “I guess I should tell you this before you hear it from someone else. I didn’t want to bring her name up, but damn it Will, you look happy for the first time in ages, so I’m guessing you’re okay now. Anyways…Shelby moved back …she’s living in the Village. She was asking about you.” Years of subduing my feelings, stifling my emotions, convincing myself that I was finally okay, went out the window in an instant. James took one look at my face and exclaimed, “Aww

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

shit Will! I thought you were over it! Christ…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have opened my mouth!” “What did she say?”, I croaked, unable to speak above a whisper. “She just wanted to know how you were…if you were still in town, if you had gotten married…just normal stuff.” I closed my eyes and struggled to harness my emotions. “That’s not all, Will.” “She’s married?” “No…nothing like that. It’s nothing really, but I guess I should tell you. I invited Amanda Palmer to the party tonight and she brought Shelby with her. She was here tonight. I had no fucking idea she was bringing Shelby or I would never have asked you to come over, believe me.” I could feel my palms growing clammy. I was starting to sweat. I glanced around, half expecting to see Shelby watching me from across the room. “She left about an hour before you got here Will. I was going to call you but it started getting so late I didn’t think you were showing up.” I had managed to calm myself down and I poured myself a stiff drink from the bottle of Patron we had been sharing. “Jesus, Will. You’re scaring the shit out of me. I thought you were over her…Christ…it’s been what…like eight or nine years? You haven‘t even mentioned her name in like two years.” “It’s been ten years since she left,” I said quietly, correcting him as if it mattered, before gulping down my drink. I suddenly felt a closeness with James that I hadn’t felt in years. He knew my history…he had been there through my meltdown. I could get through this. I had a woman who loved me despite my faults. I had survived and grown stronger. I just neede a minute to regroup. “Fuck,” I said, trying to smile, but failing because my bottom lip refused to stop quivering. “I thought I was okay, but damn…

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

just hearing her name brings it all back like it was yesterday. You probably think I’m nuts.” “Nah man…I was there. You had it bad. I never saw anyone that crazy about a girl.” I nodded. “What the hell am I going to do now? Lisa’s going to know as soon as I get home that something happened.” “Just tell her. That’s all you can do.” “It’s not that easy. Things have changed since me and Lisa got back together. We never talk about Shelby. My life is actually pretty good right now. I don’t want it to change, James. I can’t go back there again. I think it would fuck me up for good.” “Let it go Will. You’ve got to let it go. Lisa’s awesome. C’mon man, do you know how many guys would kill to have Lisa for their girlfriend. And she freaking loves you. Look at all the shit you put her through with Shelby with the depression and everything, and she came back to you! You don’t find many women like that…trust me on this Will…let it go…put it wherever you’ve been hiding it for the last few years and keep it there. Be happy for once in your life like you used to be before Shelby!” I nodded and tried to fake a smile as Sophia, came back over and sat on James’ lap. She was holding a cell phone. “One of your friends called, James. She left her phone here. She’s coming back to pick it up. I’ll just leave it here since you guys are closest to the front door.” “Which friend?” I knew the answer before she even said it. “Shelly…I think…no…Shelby…that’s it Shelby.” I sat there unable to speak, as Sophia walked back to the other guests. “Christ…Will…I’m so sorry. Maybe if you leave right now, it might be for the best” I shook my head no. This was happening for a reason. It wasn’t coincidence. It wasn’t bad timing. It was fate. “I can’t leave, James. I need to deal with this. I need to talk to Shelby. If I don’t do it, I’m never going to get past this. I just need

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

closure of some kind on this whole thing. I think she does too. She knows you’re my best friend. Why the hell would she come to a party that she knew I was probably going to be at, especially when you didn’t invite her. She wants to talk…I can feel it. I think we both need to just get it out of our system, get it in the open once and for all. This was meant to happen, James.” We talked for a bit more. I convinced James that there would be no scene at the party and he left me to go talk to the other guests. Oddly enough I felt relatively calm. I had drank quite a few drinks, but felt completely sober. I closed my eyes for a moment, letting my thoughts wander about what I would say to Shelby, when I heard her voice. She was standing beside me. I could smell roses in her hair. “Hello Will.” I opened my eyes and knew that I was a doomed man. She stood before me…the same but different, her hair shorter, a few small spider wrinkles around her eyes that had never been there before, her beauty so pure and true to me that I ached to my very core. I couldn’t speak at first. She sat down in the chair across from me and reached for her phone on the coffee table. “So stupid of me. I’m always forgetting things…keys, my purse…my phone,” she said, holding it up for emphasis and smiling. I was devastated by her smile. A nuclear bomb could not have done as much damage. I knew right then and there that I would never love another woman like I loved Shelby. There was nothing else to say. The world was round, death was inevitable, and I loved Shelby Harrison more than any word or words could convey. She had been right all along and my insecurities and obsession with a conventional relationship had driven her away. It was just a word…love…a stupid word someone had made up to try and describe the dozens of feelings that go through you when you find it, when you find the one, when you know that there is no other woman or man that will ever touch you in that same way again.

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

I knew she was waiting for me to speak. I struggled for the right words knowing that everything in my future might depend on the words I chose at this very moment. “Shelby…you were right,” I whispered, speaking as though we had resumed a conversation from minutes ago, not ten years past. “Love is just a word. It means nothing. What I had with you back then…that was everything…I just couldn’t see it…I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. It was almost too good to be true.” “Will…” “I needed you to know that, Shelby. I need you to know that I understand what you meant now.” “Will…please.” She touched my arm and for the rest of my life I will never forget what that touch felt like, the most exquisite torture, the need, the longing, oozing out of my every pore just to feel that touch again and again. “Will…you were right all along. I was the one that was wrong.” I sat there baffled, confused, my emotions so tied up in a knot by now that I couldn’t think clearly. “I was so damned cynical back then, Will. I saw my parents divorce because of affairs even though they told each other that they loved one another every day of their lives. I saw children that had been abused at my job…horribly abused children who told the same mothers that abused them that they loved them and the mothers would have the audacity to tell these poor kids that they loved them. I couldn’t understand it. It made no sense. All I heard every day was love, love, love…rom my girlfriends, from strangers, even from you, and none of it lasted. I had issues, so many issues… not just about the love thing, Will. We were so damned young. I tortured myself over fate, kharma, lying…God, you name it and I had issues about it. I had questions about everything. Why did things have to be this way and not that way? Who made these stupid rules we were supposed to follow? I had so many questions about life and what I should be doing and you were pressuring me for answers I couldn’t give you because I just

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

didn’t know, Will. You were overwhelming me when I was just trying to find out who I was, why I was here. I wanted to tell you I loved you, but I needed to do it in my own way, Will. I thought if I could be unconventional regarding love…that…that…well that maybe we could have something special, something better than everyone else had, something that wasn’t just a word. It was about life and living it to our fullest, Will, without labels, without judgment. And it was working, Will. I found it with you. But you wouldn’t believe me because I couldn’t say it in words. I couldn’t understand how we could get along so well, have so much fun, be happy without saying a word for hours at a time and that you still had doubts about what I felt for you. I gave you everything that I could, everything that I had…and when you questioned that, it was like a slap in the face. It was like you didn’t believe in me. It hurt me so much, Will. You have no idea. I needed you to accept me as I was, to grow with me, to let me spread my wings and understand who I was becoming.” I struggled to keep the tears back, as I stared into Shelby’s eyes. I was sad beyond belief. I was furious. I had been robbed of the better years of my life because of my own failure to realize that what I had experienced was beyond words, beyond explanations, and that the woman I loved had been as confused as I was at the time. I had experienced something that many people never experienced and I had been too blinded by the standards of what society deemed normal behavior to enjoy it. Like a lemming led to the cliff, I had succumbed to the mainstream behaviors, letting myself be controlled by societies perceptions for what constituted love and relationships, the petty rules, the courtship etiquettes, even the lingo. I had planted the flowers, yet never learned to take the time to enjoy the roses. It wasn’t fair. It was ridiculous. It was tragic. “Did you love me?” I whispered, unable to look her in the eye, my fingers grazing the cuff of my sleeve where she had placed her hand a few moments ago. “Yes, Will. I loved you with all my heart.”

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

I buried my head in my hands, unable to stem the tears. The words I had always wanted to hear from the only woman I had ever loved. I knew people were probably staring at me… I didn’t care. This was my life. This was the conversation I had waited ten years to have. I struggled to comprehend what was happening. What did it all mean? I mustered the strength to look up. Shelby’s mascara was a mess, yet she still took my breath away. I had one more thing to ask…the most important thing…the only thing. “What about now Shelby?” I saw that same mysterious smile I had never been able to read, those luminous eyes that called to me every night in my dreams, but each had changed in some small way. A hint of sadness in that smile…a touch of melancholy in those eyes. A fragility that had not been there during our youth. I knew her answer before she spoke. “I’m not that same girl anymore, Will. I still don’t know who I am. It wasn’t the same after you. Sometimes I don’t think anything will be like that time again. That was our time. I can’t go back there again and I don’t think you can either. I need you to accept that, because that’s what I’ve had to do every day since I left. Remember me as the girl you loved. Remember the time we had together, the fun and laughter. Don’t think about the stuff we didn’t understand. It’s gone, Will. It’s our past. All we have left is what we once were and what we will become. There are things I still need to figure out about myself…things that even you don’t know. I need you to let me go, Will, because if you don’t, I don’t think that I can do it…and I need this, Will. I need it more than you‘ll ever know” I will never forget the look in Shelby’s eyes at that moment. If the desperation, pain and longing I had felt for the past ten years could have manifested itself into the way she looked at me right then, it would not have come close to the pain that I saw in her eyes at that moment. I knew what I had to do and I could feel myself dying inside. I rose to my feet, so lightheaded that I felt faint. I placed my hand on a chair to keep myself steady, My eyes

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

were clouded with tears, but she was still beautiful, exquisite beyond belief…she was all that I would ever want…she was all that I could never have. “I can’t even begin to tell you what you mean to me,” I said, my voice so choked up that it didn’t even sound like me. I watched the tears well in her eyes like dew from a flower. “I know, Will…I know…” I walked away and went home. Lisa was in bed sound asleep and for this I was truly grateful. I felt impossibly drained, empty… I felt like a dead man. I went to sleep touching my arm where Shelby’s fingers had lingered. It’s been 3 months since James’ party and the last time I saw Shelby. Lisa knew right away that something had happened and it wasn’t hard to figure out that it had to do with Shelby. I didn’t talk about it and she didn’t ask and we spent several very uncomfortable days in silence. But one day, I asked her to go for a walk in the park. We really hadn’t spoke much since the night of the party and I searched for a way to break the ice as we walked under the spring maples. And Lisa, sweet Lisa, who had tolerated my hopeless attempts to love her when she deserved so much better, knew what to do. She took my hand and leaned her head against my shoulder and for a while on that warm spring day it felt like it had before Shelby came back. It gave me hope. A few weeks later, Lisa got an assignment that would be taking her to Cape Hatteras. It was going to be a busy trip, but she suggested that maybe I come along and we could find a little time to go sailing or hit the beach. I told her I there were things I needed to do at the office, that my own work had lagged in the past few weeks. I hated lying, but I still needed a little more time to get back to normal…to think things out, to get Shelby back to that place deep inside of me where she does the least amount of damage, where I can hide the pain, while I live my life. I needed a few more days alone.

© 2009 Denis Carter

Reality

I spent most of that weekend thinking about Shelby, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about her, wondering what she’s doing, wondering if she still thinks about me. I know Shelby is out there now, sorting out her life like me, trying to make sense of who she really is and what she wants out of life. Knowing that she’s still looking for happiness, maybe even searching for a small piece that reminds her of what we both once shared. It makes me sad, but it also makes me smile. Lisa is coming home from her trip next Monday. I’ve slowly pulled myself back together after the party and seeing Shelby and I’m anxious to see Lisa, to work on this relationship, to give it my best shot. I think I can do it this time. Lisa deserves to be happy. We all do. I’m stronger now. I have something to prove. I’m sure I can make this work and be happy again. Not just content this time…I’m shooting for happiness. The stars are the limit. Anything is possible if you believe…right? There’s a restaurant opening around the corner this weekend. I pass by it on my morning run. I look in the window and glance at the menu. I know I’ll end up there…maybe even tonight. It’s inevitable. It’s the kind of place Shelby would like.

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