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Authors: M. Elizabeth Lee

Love Her Madly (21 page)

BOOK: Love Her Madly
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Yet at the same time, my devotion to the Owl was making me a shitty husband. I was so busy trying to hold my dream together that I could hardly spend any time with Glo, and when I did, I was so stressed out that I was only partially present. Of course it put a strain on our relationship. She was suffering patiently, delaying her own dreams of starting a family so that I could get my company started. I was so grateful to her for trusting me to get it right, and the prospect of falling short was looming so large that the only thing I could think to do to solve it was work harder. We were treading water side by side, neither one of us able to push the other toward the shallows.

And then, this apparition. Cyn.

I sipped the Scotch, though I'd already had too much. I shouldn't have poured it, but the next day was my only day off, and the booze was far too good for the sink.

Now that I was alone, I could acknowledge what I hadn't been able to earlier in front of Glo. The run-in with Cyn's doppelgänger had left me shaken.

We had mourned Cyn. Mourned her profoundly. I remember watching the news, Max at my side, when the Costa Rican director of Judicial Investigations appeared to make his report on live television. Even before he said a word, I remember my heart sinking. The man had an honest face,
a fatherly face
, and he looked incredibly sad. When he finally did speak, his words wove together to form a damp, heavy shroud that suffocated the last embers of my hope.
We do not have any confidence in recovering the bodies of Hector or Marco Zamora. Unfortunately, the same is true for Ms. Cynthia Williams

“We'll never know,” Glo had informed me, curled into the hollow of her parents' rec-room sofa. Her hands and feet were still wrapped in bandages, and there was a large bruise yellowing around her eye socket. “We'll never know who or why or how.” Her wounded eyes made a chancy visit to my face. “Maybe it's better we don't know the how.”

I didn't know what to say. That whole day, and in the weeks that followed, I didn't have a clue what to say. I just listened during the rare moments when she would break her silence, and held her as carefully as I could. She was hurt in so many places.

She rubbed her temple with a gauzy finger. “The detectives said to me, ‘In cases like these, we usually tell the family to bury a portrait. It helps to make it real.' ” She sighed, and shrugged. Then an instant later, began to shake with sobs.

It was the saddest fucking thing, but what could we do? We didn't bury a picture of Cyn, but we did our best to leave her in the past. After seven years, it finally felt like her ghost, the one that harbored so much pain and doubt for Glo, and guilt for me, had finally left us. That she was now manifesting on the streets in our imaginations seemed to me an ominous sign. If our lives were out of balance, she was the perfect totem for our unease. Looking out the window onto the dark, still street,
I sensed that Glo and I were suspended in a low-pressure zone, the deceptive calm before the storm.

I stumbled to bed, seeking safe harbor. I wrapped my wife in my arms, but even in sleep, her body remained tense. As I drifted toward oblivion, I wondered if she felt it, too.



My sister-in-law Suneeta is the only woman on the planet who knows everything about my romantic life. I truly hadn't expected to love her like the sister I never had, but perhaps I was due some good luck in the girlfriend department. We bonded immediately. The stiffness of our mother- and father-in-law did much to unite us, but she also came at me like a hurricane of warmth at a time that I desperately needed to be loved. She had always wanted a little sister, and there I was, my heart busted up, hoping for some kind presence to help fill the huge emotional chasm that Cyn had left behind.

We met not long after everything happened in Costa Rica. Phil and Suneeta drove up to visit us in Brooklyn, their baby daughter, Rosie, in tow. They politely masked their horror at the condition of our studio and by the end of a laughter-filled weekend, a rarity for us at the time, were insistent that we come down to North Carolina to spend the holidays in their bright, comfortable house on the lake.

Like everyone else in the United States, Suneeta wanted to hear about what had happened with Cyn. Camped out on her couch with a mug of rich chai tea and a view of the lake, I gave her the exclusive. I told her everything, all the way back to Coach Mike, feeling soothed by the compassion in her brown
eyes and encouraged by the mischievous twinkle that would rise up in commiseration. She had been a bit of a wild child herself in college, though you would never know it to look at her.

“You know, Glo, you have never had a man that was your very own. Does that ever bother you? Mike was married, and Raj, you shared with Cyn.”

“Do you think that's bad?” I'd asked. She was a trained family therapist, but really, I was asking her as a friend. I trusted her, implicitly.

“I just think you should think about what it means for you.” She looked out into the yard where the guys were kicking a ball with Rosie, beers in hand. “It's obvious that Raj loves you. He's yours now, and probably would have been yours alone under different circumstances. But as a woman . . .” She trailed off. “I just hope you know your own power. That's what I mean to say.”

I thought of Suneeta's words now, Tuesday morning, two days after Raj had told me about his Cyn hallucination, and four days since I imagined I saw her myself. The sun was barely up, but sleep was off the table.

I had awoken, breathless and choking, from a nightmare of swimming at night across a wide, dark lake. All was peaceful, until something seized me by the foot and jerked me down so suddenly and powerfully that I didn't even have time to scream before my mouth filled with water. I sat up, gasping.
Alligator attack
. As far as nightmares went, that was pretty standard fare. But as I reflected on the vision, rolling the sensory footage back bit by bit, I recalled the pressure on my ankle had been smooth and painless, not jagged like teeth. I realized I'd dreamt of a human hand, dragging me under with a vengeance.

I pulled on my sweat suit and a Windbreaker, tying my running shoes as the sky gradually began to lighten. My footsteps whispered off the pavement as I jogged down the slumbering streets that led to the park. A fog had descended, thick and
milky. The graceful elbow of the Triborough Bridge extended up into a mysterious cloud mass, its red aviation warning lights blinking like the eyes of a hidden monster. For all I could see from the top of the park, Manhattan might no longer have existed.

I ran past the empty Olympic-size pool in Astoria Park. It would be months before it was filled. There were a few other joggers out, their forms indistinct in the mist. Dog walkers skirted the periphery, wearing thick coats over thin pajamas against the damp, all of us ghosts to one another.

I puffed along through the foggy, tree-lined trail down to the riverfront promenade, feeling as if I had abandoned one dream­scape for another. I paused by the railing and stretched, watching the swirls and eddies of the currents as the river tumbled in a frantic rush through Hell Gate and out to sea. Another jogger passed me, and I heard the click of solid shoes as a tall man in a trench coat emerged from the haze. He paused by the railing, about fifty yards away, and stared at the water, just as I had been doing. I felt him look toward me, and instinctively turned my back. To be out so early in the park dressed like that signaled he was probably a weirdo or an addict, coming down from the previous night's adventure.

I turned uphill toward the track. If I ran a few sprints, I might not have energy left for nervous ruminations about long lost friends. I'd been doing that far too much lately.

The first few years after Costa Rica, Raj and I would only conjure up Cyn when we were drunk. The alcoholic haze gave me the courage to turn to Raj and ask, “Where is she now?” It was our very dark game; the sad, rather childish way we chose to reckon with her absence.

Answers might be: Foreman of a Chinese Coal Mine, Russian Brothel Mistress, Fortune Teller, Fishwife, Pharmaceutical Company Executive. The more absurd the hypothesis, the bet
ter. Our joke scenarios were our attempt to take the sting out of the likely truth: that she was dead. A skeleton, jutting from the sand beneath millions of tons of water.

Raj had asked me maybe thirty times to describe everything that happened that night on the island. The first few times, I thought it was because he was hungry for fresh details that might help him sort it all out. I racked my brain to provide them. Around the tenth time he asked, I began to wonder if maybe some part of him didn't believe me. I worried that he was trying to catch some inconsistency in my story that would blow the whole thing up. It made me paranoid enough that I made a habit of retelling it the same way, using sometimes the exact same words. He told me he knew I'd done everything I could, but I wondered if he doubted.

I had given him reason to. In my most depressed, guiltiest moments, I would confess that I'd killed her. How I should've gone with her to reason with those men, or fight them alongside her. He would listen silently, and then methodically break down my argument against myself.

If I'd gone with her or given myself up, he'd argue, we'd both have vanished. He truly believed this. “By splitting up, you were able to go for help, start a search, and tell her story. It wasn't your responsibility to die with her.”

But would she have done it for me?

I hit the track and pushed into a sprint, trying to outrun the thought. I'd asked and answered it a million times, always coming to the conclusion that no, Cyn probably wouldn't have left me, as I'd left her. She was better than me, braver than me. More selfless. A goddamn holy martyr. But I hadn't asked her for that. If I'd had my way, we would have faced whatever it was together. I'd begged her to come with me, I reminded myself.
Begged her
. And she had turned me down.

I rounded the curve of the track, and another jogger over
took me out of the fog. A gleaming blond ponytail swung past my peripheral vision. My eyes swept up and down the woman's body, my breath catching as I identified a possible match.

Let her go, Glo
, I told myself, but before I knew it, I had sped up, lurching toward the woman on borrowed breath. As I came close enough to see her face, she shot a startled glance in my direction, the alarm in her eyes decreasing but not vanishing, as she assessed my level of threat.

It wasn't Cyn. Of course it wasn't.

The woman sped up, and embarrassed and ashamed of myself for spooking her, I dropped to a dead halt, panting.

I watched until she disappeared into the fog, noting as I did that the resemblance wasn't really that close after all. I stumbled off the track and dropped into the dewy grass, strangely overcome, not with sadness but with an equally bitter feeling of being cheated by myself, and by fate, one too many times. Wet and cold in the empty park, I was ready to admit why I'd chased the bus, and why I'd always keep searching. In my good dreams, the best dreams I had, Cyn was still alive. I would see her, and she would smile, like,
, and we would embrace. I'd
her, wholly real with her knobby elbows and weird, tiny earlobes and all the irregularities that never manifested in my waking-life memories, and her laugh would ring through my ears and I would feel such incredible joy. I'd be flooded with gratitude and relief that the universe had finally called for an end to the very bad joke of having my best friend, my lost sister, be dead forever. My heart would thrill with the thought of all the catching up we had to do, and the good times that would reign again.

And then I'd wake up and ache like Costa Rica happened yesterday.

I glanced down at my hands, the cut on my ring finger stinging from the sweat. It hadn't yet begun to heal. I twisted my ring
so that the diamond faced the sky, struck with a sudden memory of the night that Raj had given it to me.

It was New Year's Eve. We were on our way to a dinner party in Brooklyn, when he asked me to take a quick stroll to the waterfront so we could sneak in one last view of the skyline before the end of the year. It was a warm night for December, and the sidewalks were dotted with couples and groups of friends carrying freshly purchased bottles of champagne, laughing as they made their way to crowded, convivial living rooms.

As I stood gazing at the Empire State Building, watching the sparkle of dozens of camera flashes along the thin rim of the observation deck, Raj had dropped to one knee. I barely remembered what he said, or I said, but of course it was yes, and of course it ended in a rapturous embrace. A couple of people on the street stopped to clap.

Our friends were delighted, and some champagne was popped early. At dinner, the conversation turned to honeymoon spots.

“You should go to Costa Rica,” gushed one of Raj's acting-school friends. “I've heard so many great things!”

Raj's eyes met mine across the table, and we shared a private smile. “I'm afraid that's out of the question,” Raj demurred, spearing a roasted potato. “My lovely fiancée has a terror of monkeys. Isn't that right, Glo?”

“They're appalling,” I agreed, reveling in the way his eyes sparkled at me across the table. My future husband.

That night, after midnight struck, I found myself alone on the balcony. There was a partial view of the skyline, and I was leaning out, marveling at my amazing fortune.

The door slid open, and I was joined by Marcie, the girlfriend of Sarah, the woman who'd suggested Costa Rica. She lit a cigarette and joined me at the railing, smiling at the view.

“I realized something at dinner,” she began. “It was you guys,
wasn't it? You were the girl who got lost in Costa Rica. Raj was your boyfriend way back then.”

She offered me her cigarette, and I accepted a puff, breaking my just-minted resolution to quit in near record time. Considering the moment, I thought I was justified.

“Yeah, it was. No one usually recognizes us.”

“You flinched when Sarah said ‘Costa Rica.' That's when it dawned on me. Sarah didn't mean anything by it.”

“It's cool. She doesn't know. Nobody knows.”

Marcie was studying to be a shrink. I was pretty sure she'd be able to read the subtext of my
Nobody knows
, which was,
And we don'
t want them to.

She leaned back from the railing. “What a tremendous love story you guys have.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“And they never found your friend, Cynty?”


“I'm sorry,” she said.

“It's okay,” I managed, and to my chagrin, burst into tears.

At the thought of Cyn, the tremendous high that I'd been on for hours shattered. Like a kick in the gut, I knew I wouldn't be wearing that diamond on my hand if she'd survived. And just as heart-wrenching was the idea that I'd never get to share my greatest happiness with the girl who understood me best. Far from feeling happy, I suddenly felt uncomfortably fraudulent, and very much alone. I turned my head to look for Raj and saw him inside, helping to set up a karaoke machine that had emerged from a closet.

“Sorry,” I said, wiping my face. Marcie gave me a fresh cigarette, and lit it for me.

“Don't be. It's natural.”

“What is?”

“Survivor guilt.”

“This one's for that gorgeous redhead on the balcony,” Raj's voice boomed from the mini-speaker. “The future Mrs. Raj Roy III.” All our friends whooped in appreciation.

Marcie stubbed out her cigarette and patted my shoulder consolingly. “You got lucky, Glo. You've got a good one in there.”

The familiar opening chords of “My Girl” came thumping out of the speaker like a giant heartbeat.

I've got sunshine
 . . .” Raj belted, reaching his hand out toward me. I felt the eyes of the party turn to the glass, and with a final brush of my cheeks, I slid open the door. Out of the cold, and away from my thoughts, I felt much better. If only that feeling could have lasted forever.

I rose out of the damp grass and immediately began to shiver.

It was my time to let her go. I had to.

BOOK: Love Her Madly
12.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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