The first time we met he told me he got some girl pregnant in New Jersey. They weren’t together anymore, but he visited her once a month to see how the baby was doing. She was due in August. It was April. I paid for my own coffee that day and kept singing, “April showers bring May flowers” in my head for some reason. I was wearing my black and white Pumas, “Puma jumps” he called them, and we fell in love for a second.
I saw Danny every day after my job at the art school. We met for coffee, lunch, went to meetings together at night, but I had to be gone by 11:00pm, curfew. He wasn’t even my type with his buzzed head and brown eyes, but the way he looked at me during the Wednesday 7:00pm Al-Anon family group meeting made me feel something. I felt like he wanted to know me. I felt like we could have a nice time together.
I didn't make a move though; I had just been broken up with, about three months prior, and was in a stage where I still wanted my ex-boyfriend back, badly. I was still calling my seventy-year-old, therapist, Betty, at all hours of the night, crying to her, telling her bad dreams I had where he moved on, got married and had a baby, moved to some foreign country and had a better life without me. She told me to keep taking my medication, which made me have bad dreams. My psychiatrist was monitoring my progress from afar. We had our weekly meetings at his office in Coral Springs, which was like an entire day-trip for me to get out there, but I didn't mind. I didn't have anything else to do.
The art school wanted to cut me to three days a week instead of five, which later became two, sometimes one. I showed up with coffee and a hard-boiled egg that I peeled before first period and ate at one of the kids’ desks before they arrived. I dropped the eggshells into the garbage can by the door and prayed the room wouldn’t smell like eggs. My ex-boyfriend got me the job at the school. He worked there a year ago and when he got another job, the creative director at a rehab facility in Fort Lauderdale, he suggested I try to make my way into the Palm Beach Performing Arts School. I had just quit my job at the high school teaching AP English and Composition, and they needed someone for spring, so I got the job. The kids always asked about him, and I just said we were good friends, that he was a good guy, but I never told them we had been lovers. One time they showed me a video they made for him when he left, just a few weeks before he broke up with me. In the video, they interviewed him and asked him questions about his time there at the art school. He looked into the camera and told the kids he loved them all very much, but it was time for him to move on, to move forward, to follow the charge. I told the students my stomach hurt and went into the bathroom and cried.
Danny made the move. After three consecutive weeks of meetings, us staring at each other during the opening readings, me using the bathroom afterward and lingering in the parking lot, smoking a cigarette, eventually driving off because it was useless, he messaged me on Facebook. He found me somehow and asked if we could hangout soon. I wrote him back immediately asking if he was free that night. It was 9:30pm and he said he was getting up early for work. But he was available the next afternoon for coffee. That’s when we met, and that’s when he told me about the baby.
At least I had stopped sleeping with my ex at that point. At least there was that. Before I tried to forget about him, I would call, sometimes after 10:00pm, ask to come over, he’d say it was a bad idea, but it would happen anyway. I never slept over, mostly because I didn't want my mom to know what I was doing. I had to move back in with her after the break-up. Nights that I didn't see my ex involved getting high and eating an entire loaf of challah bread. But those days were gone now. I was finally ready to “move-on.” What really made me stop was when I found an email in his inbox from a girl on Tinder. They had “matched” and were planning to meet up at her apartment in Coconut Creek one night. In his reply, he asked if she was into gagging.
It also didn't help that I read his journal one night after we had non-relationship sex. The whole thing was primarily about how he lost interest in me sexually, and how he was ready to get back on the prowl. He compared his body to a machine, saying he needed to feel the “pulleys of love” with another woman, but that he wouldn’t say no to me as long as I kept coming around, begging. I threw the book at him when he got out of the shower. He apologized and we went to get Italian food. I barely ate and when dinner was over I drove home and decided I was done.
Danny said that he had four months sober. I remembered that you weren’t supposed to date until you had a year clean, but Danny said he wanted to make up his own mind about his personal life. His sponsor wasn’t too keen on the relationship he was keeping with his baby’s mother, but Danny’s argument was that he was trying to keep it civil, for the kid’s sake.
“So, you’re going to like, be a dad?” I asked, drinking my mocha latte with coconut milk.
“That’s the way it goes,” he said, sucking down his second coffee.
“Do you, like, talk to her?”
“I mean, yeah. I have to see how she’s doing. I'm going to visit next month for her doctor’s appointment.”
“Yeah, but it’s like, politics. Not because you care, right?”
“I care. It’s my baby too.”
I was still seeing Betty, my therapist, once a week. I also saw my psychiatrist, Dr. Hughes, once a week as well. He couldn’t seem to get my medication right. Each one he prescribed had some adverse affect that was unbearable; insomnia, suicidal thoughts, dry mouth (like, really dry mouth), loss of purpose, imposter syndrome etc. Wellbutrin was okay. It gave me a lot of energy and caused me to lose weight. Only problem was it made my ears ring, but I could get past that.
I usually felt worse after seeing Dr. Hughes. He once asked me to list all my hobbies and I said I didn't have any.
“Don’t you know what you like to do?” He asked. He was a tall black man with a beard. He could have turned out to be God and I wouldn’t have been surprised.
“No,” I answered and immediately started crying. He handed me a box of Kleenex and left the room for six minutes. When he came back, he had another prescription of anti-depressants for me to try.
Betty, on the other hand, made me feel better. She instilled a hope in me I never had before, even prior to my failed relationship with my ex, a hope, a notion rather, that I had a purpose greater than myself to contribute to this world. In our sessions, we tried to come up with what that purpose could possibly be, along with strategies to forget my ex, like stop checking his emails and driving by his apartment on the way to the gym.
“Find a new route,” she’d say.
“To the gym, or like, in my life?” I’d ask.
Danny was very supportive of my therapy. All of it. He was in his own state of crisis, and we connected because we needed each other. I saw him after my therapy session with Betty one day. I was feeling pretty good so I went to his halfway house to fuck him and after we had sex he asked if I could take him to Chipotle and even though I wasn’t hungry I drove us there and bought us lunch, late lunch. His bathroom didn't have any toilet paper, so I waited until we got to Chipotle to wipe up the inside of my underwear.
We sat outside. He had a burrito bowl with double meat and I had tacos, something different than I usually order. The second I sat down I regretted not getting a burrito, as per usual.
“You know,” Danny said with his mouth full. “My house manager calls you Giggles.”
“Ha! Why?” I asked, picking apart my tacos to make it look like I was eating.
“Because he hears you laughing from my room.”
“Are you in trouble?”
“No, but you’re going to have to start coming through the window when you’re over late at night. I really can’t have you there past 11:00pm.”
“You want me to climb through the window to fuck you?”
“Oh my God. I’m on the ground floor. It’s not even that high up.”
After a few weeks, as these things usually go, Danny and I started seeing each other less. We saw each other a lot at first, but then it certainly became less. He picked up another job, and I started to entertain the idea that maybe my ex would get bored of Tinder girls and find his way back to me. I could move back in and we’d be better than ever, stronger than before because we’d have been through a hardship. And what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. None of these were Betty’s ideas. I hadn’t exactly told her about these thoughts, really. We mainly focused on the possibility of me leaving Florida and moving to California. I had been back in Delray Beach for five years, and it felt like it was time for me to pursue my dreams of writing. But if my ex wanted me back, I’d have to see what he wanted to do first before I could focus on my own life.
It had been a solid three months without speaking, a good six since the break-up, so I gave him a call one night after a comedy show I saw in West Palm Beach. He answered right away and I asked if I could come over to talk and he said, “Yes, to talk.”
When I pulled up to his apartment complex, I saw that his car wasn’t there. I parked in a guest spot, which was weird after having my own numbered space for two years, but I parked and waited in a foldout chair outside of his door. There was no ashtray full of cigarettes, no dirty sandals outside the door like usual. He pulled up a few minutes later and motioned for me to come to his car.
“You want to fuck in the car?” I laughed, as I sat down and put my purse on the floor of the passenger side.
“I don’t live here anymore,” He said. It was then that I noticed he looked different. He was clean-shaven and his hair was cut. He was wearing a baby blue polo shirt and Dockers. He smelled like cinnamon.
“I didn't want you to be confused, so I just assumed we could meet here, and I could explain.”
“I'm getting married,” he said. “Well, I am married. It’s already happened.”
“When?” I asked, dumbfounded, staring at the silver ring he was showing me.
“So now it’s like, illegal to sleep with you, for my religion.”
“I'm a Christian now.”
“I think I always was Christian, but I just didn't know it.”
“Well, your dad is really into that stuff. It makes sense.”
“I'm not doing it because of him!” He raised his voice a bit. “Sorry. I'm doing it for me, and my kid. We have a baby on the way. He’s due on my birthday. Isn’t that neat?”
“Yeah. Neat. I think I should go.”
“This is probably it, you know.”
I got out of the car and slammed the door. I didn't look behind as I walked back to my own vehicle. I heard my ex drive away and I immediately called Danny. I figured maybe we still had a chance. Even though he was having a kid, maybe I could help raise it since he wasn't going to be with the girl anyway, the mother. I mean, what else was I doing with my life? I wasn’t too busy to be a substitute mother. At least doing that would mean something. It would be important. I dialed his number four times in a row with no answer. He finally texted me back, “What’s up?”
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Delray Sports Bar with the boys. Sorry I can’t answer right now.”
“Do you want to meet up after?”
“I need time to think about stuff.”
I called him again. No answer.
“Please give me some space,” he texted.
I sat in my car, still parked in my ex’s old lot, and decided I needed to take action. I needed to fix this. I drove to the sports bar and stood outside. A high-school aged hostess with a blonde ponytail and a green visor kept asking me if I was okay. Her shirt was supposed to resemble a baseball uniform and she wore sneakers with high socks.
“Are you waiting for someone?” She asked, annoyed at my presence.
“Yes, my family,” I said, and stood with my arms crossed right in front of the entrance. I remembered coming to this sports bar with my family when I was in High School. There was one on A1A and it took twenty-five minutes to get there. I always ordered a chicken Caesar salad with a side of French fries and shared ten wings with my dad as an appetizer. I always got dressed up to go there in hopes of meeting a hot guy who went to another school that I could fall in love with. I thought, if only someone would find me, make everything better, take all the pain and make it worth something because I had love and was loved, it would all be okay, it would all make sense. But I never met anyone. I wore all that makeup and all those headbands for nothing. In the car ride home, I would fall asleep and forget about it all, and wake up back at the house, still alone, but hopeful it might happen next time. I didn't understand how to make someone fall for me. It really seemed like the most difficult thing to do.
Finally, Danny and his boys came out of the restaurant. Danny’s house manager saw me first, then tapped Danny on the shoulder and pointed in my direction. It took me a moment to realize I was the one causing this scene, that I had created this. I wasn’t just a part of it; I was the whole central focus of the situation. For a while it seemed I was secondary, periphery rather, but in this moment I was sure that I alone had made this experience possible.
“What are you doing?” Danny asked, walking up to me and stepping away from his group.
“Why won’t you talk to me all of a sudden?” I asked, keeping my arms crossed.
“The baby died.”
“I'm sorry,” I said, uncrossing my arms and trying to hug Danny.
“Don't. I just needed some time to get over it. But you couldn’t give me that. Man, you really are sick. You need to think about stuff too, you know. Like if this is something you even want, to be with a kid living in a halfway house. What are you even doing?”
“I like you.”
“So like, go have a glass of wine. Go chill. Just give me space. Don’t show up somewhere and wait for me. I gotta go. Please, don't call. Just, give me some time.”
“If you walk away, that’ll be it.”
“Then I guess that’s the way it goes. But that’s on you. That’s your choice.”
Danny walked away and I started bawling. The rest of the boys walked toward their van with Danny, except for his house manager who came over to where I was.
“Come on, Giggles, you’re better than this,” He put his arms around me and hugged me in front of the Delray Sports Bar. After a few minutes he walked away, and a little while after that I left too.
That night, I sat in the parking garage of my mom’s apartment for a long time, two hours. It wasn’t until three in the morning that I finally came upstairs and got ready for bed. I took off my dripping makeup and changed into a sweatshirt and underwear.
I thought about calling Betty so she could tell me some deep-breathing exercises and say something positive, something that would make me feel better and not want to die. I thought about calling my ex and asking him if he was sure this was what he wanted. I thought about walking into the ocean, letting the water wrap itself around me like an envelope, sealing shut and washing me away.
I went to the kitchen and looked for a snack. There were only some saltine crackers and grape jelly that I spread on top of each one and ate on a paper plate so I wouldn’t have to clean anything when I was done. From my mom’s apartment, I could see the whole city; all the shitty sports bars, the graduate school where I got my degree that now sat in my drawer, the Walgreens where my brother got jumped, the apartment complex where my ex and I lived together for two years. I wondered who lived there now. I wondered if they were nice, good people who knew how to be happy.