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This is a
Mark drove me home; I worked a few hours then went to bed. Nightmares plagued my sleep because I knew the following day I'd see The Schmuck. But the hours marched on regardless and soon it was time to meet with my ex.
I felt more terrified than I wanted to admit. I couldn't quite tell what drew me there or why I'd meet with a man who had treated me so poorly. I kept wondering if he would meet me or if it would really be his wife waiting maliciously. My thoughts whirred as I told myself this was solely so he'd leave me alone. But part of me wondered if I just wanted to see him one last time.... Understand why I still thought about him. See what he looked like in person again and if things felt different than they did when I was around Mark.
But as I pulled into the canyon, where we were supposed to meet, I noticed his truck already parked, and him standing next to the driver's side door. So his wife hadn't come, with her beautiful blonde hair and perfect new clothes. It was actually him, eager to see if I had feelings for him and if I didn't, to finally tell him goodbye.
Our eyes met and we said a quick hello, then without missing a beat we walked side-by-side up the canyon like we had so many times before.
It was a warm day and the foliage around us rustled in the wind, absolutely breathtaking. But I couldn't focus much on the scenery because I was in such turmoil.
"How have you been?" he asked.
"Fine," I said but then caught his eyes again and couldn't help but become a mess of tears.
"You're not okay," he said. "Gina, please let me be here for you. I know things are so confusing, but I'm still here for you."
I backed away--sad and confused.
"I really thought that I could do this," I gasped out the words, "but I can't. I can't stand here and pretend that everything's all right. I can't act like what you did didn't hurt me."
He just stared, unblinkingly.
"I'm sorry if I ever failed you in the past. I really felt like I was good for you and I tried to be, but in the end I wasn't good enough, not really. Sometimes I feel like I'm not good enough for anybody."
"But you are. You're different than any girl I've ever known."
I scoffed. Is that why he'd dated me while he was still living with his wife? "I'm hot-n-cold and feisty and full of so much fight. I think underneath I'm 100% piss and vinegar. Which sometimes might be fun, but not mostly... I can be a pain, a nag. Sometimes I might have kept you happy, but that was never truly my responsibility--that was your wife's right. Maybe we were never meant to be together. Maybe it was just one of those times that you look back and remember fondly. I don't know, but seeing you again makes me really sad."
He sat down on a log along the pathway, soaking up my words and slowly popping his knuckles, obviously deep in thought.
"It makes me sad too, Gina." He forehead wrinkled with seriousness, maybe even remorse. "I know I didn't say it right when you found out about my wife, but I'm really sorry for everything. Your faults are more than most men can hope for--I know I didn't say that right, but you of all people understand what that means."
I sat down next to him, side-by-side with a person who'd betrayed me. "I think our relationship was something totally different to me than it ever was to you."
"Maybe it wasn't," he said. "Maybe not as much as you think."
"Doubtful.... I thought we'd end up together, in some little country house that was in the middle of some small town where we could have happiness...and trust... And everything you're supposed to have in a good relationship. Instead I was just a mistress... Second-best. The runner-up in the contest I never meant to enter."
"You were never just a--"
His eyes actually pleaded with me, to no avail. Then I was yelling, taking everything out on this man who had not only betrayed me, but his wife as well. "I really loved you. So much I can't even describe it. I would've gone to the grave for you--and damn you I practically did. Here I am...sadder than a conscious death. Crying because I still think about you every day. Crying...because I can't seem to get over what happened, the things you said, the choices you'd made. Maybe I'm just some stupid girl to you, but I know that I matter to someone...I matter to my kids. And I maybe even matter to a good man who's come into my life." I cried so hard, and pulled my hood over my face so he wouldn't see how weak I could be.
"You've got me all wrong, making me out to be somebody I'm not. And you matter to a lot of people. You'll always be the love of my life. You'll always matter to me."
I stood and started walking back in the direction we'd come from, wanting to get the hell out of there.
"You're leaving, just like that. Gina, I feel terrible. You've got to understand, I loved you. I still love you."
"You are married." I stomped along, unable to calm my nerves. "I've just got to figure my shit out. The guy I've been dating--Mark--he is such a good guy. I don't know where that relationship is going, but he's kind and honest. And he loves me and my kids so much. And I'm falling for him." I slowed, thinking so hard.
"He's honestly good for you, isn't he?"
My feet rooted to the ground and I really looked at The Schmuck. "I think so," I said. "I know I'm not good enough for him and I keep telling him, but he doesn't understand."
He nodded in understanding. "I've told my wife the same thing."
I pushed the hood off my head, then shoved my hands into my pockets. This was going so differently than I'd expected.
"Can I be honest with you, Gina?"
"Yes! That's all I ever asked for."
"Well..." he sighed, "my wife is actually trying. Do you think if I tried too, we'd have a shot?"
My eyes gazed at the trail ahead of us. "You guys have been through a lot together." I smiled from the irony, since I'd been one of their past problems. "You love her?"
"It might be in a different way than I've loved you, but yes, I'll always love her. But my mom always told me, a woman's love is like a candle, when the wick burns out, there's no going back."
I'd never heard him use a simile, ever--it surprised me. "But her wick hasn't burned up. She still loves you."
We silently walked back to our vehicles, me thinking how strange life can be, how answers can be found in the oddest of places. And instead of just saying goodbye, we shook hands.
The whole thing was so ironic. We had never really been friends when we dated, but finally I felt as if our friendship had begun and then swiftly ended, in the blink of an eye.
"So this is goodbye?" He asked. "Our wicks have burned out?"
"You could say that."
"We can't even check in just to see how the other one's doing?"
"No," I said. "Because some things are worth saving. Like my relationship with Mark. And your relationship with your wife."
"I wish so many things were different," he said.
I drove off, wishing him well, but also wishing I didn't know what it was like to be his girl. My wick burned out, and the closure hurt. Also, maybe he wasn't the monster I'd made him out to be previously; he was just lost, like the rest of us.
I drove toward my home in the city. The farther I sped from that canyon, colors looked brighter, the song on the radio rang clearer, and my thoughts became concise--for once. I didn't know what the future would hold, but at least now I had a better idea of what I wanted.