He wasn't the type to talk about his home life, from what I knew
— in this particular office party, he just drank a little
more than usual and shared his confessions in the back of a Houston's
booth, with many half-drunk glasses of Bud Light and giant bowls of
goopy nachos and cold chicken wings splayed out on the table in front
It was a little moment — strangely romantic at the time
— for two people who barely knew each other to talk very
honestly about their disappointments. I told him about Raj —
just desperate to tell it to someone, I guess — and he told
me about his wife. They still slept in the same bed, but there had been
no intimacy (his word) since August of 2004, and that was only because
they had split a bottle of champagne at dinner — normally,
she didn't drink. He wasn't sure who started it, originally. The
subject never came up between them.
"Wow," I said, stupidly, when he was finished. "How do you live like
Tim looked at me, balding, goateed, like a tweedy Physics professor
trying to impart a particularly obvious theorem to a wide-eyed
freshman: "Listen, do you still smoke?" he asked.
At work, he sat on the opposite side of our row of pods, closer to the
break room, but also close to our boss, a man we referred to only as
'Eddie Bumpy.' Tim's pod was decked out to the usual standard: a bumper
sticker that said "Make Do, Not War"; a cartoon of Milk and Cheese
characters lunging forward with their eyes shut in fury; an orange
Gumby, bent at the waist, presiding over his monitor; a few photos of
Tim and his family, and then, the one photo of his wife. In it, she was
standing straight up, long brown hair in a braid, with a sweater vest kind
of a thing, but also a nose ring, which surprised me. Tim shrugged, as
if that was the kind of thing his nameless wife was always doing to
shake up false perceptions of her.
This was a few months after the party, when Tim and I had gotten past
the awkwardness of having shared our secrets. We had spoken here and
there, though always with a slight ruefulness, our cover having been
blown like two outlaws who had gotten the drop on each other at exactly
the same time. Sometimes I would be in a group, laughing about
something, and I would see Tim out of the corner of my eye, laughing
too, and I would try to gauge how much was real, what was a front. His
eyes never lost their sadness to me, once I began to recognize it.
Some months later, sitting up in bed at a nearby Residence Inn suite, I
watched him sprawled out next to me, his head turned away as if he
could no longer bear to look at what he'd just done. With his back to
me, I imagined that he was crying, his tears rolling across his face
and staining the edge of the bed, even though he was more than likely
asleep. In general, I saw the situation as being more dramatic than he
"She doesn't love you," I said into the darkness of the room. It was
still early, but the days had gone cold and short. Outside, our cars
blended in with all the other rented sedans in the darkened parking
He didn't move.
"If she did, she would do something about it, rather than losing you
I listened to his breathing for a minute. I had the strange sensation
suddenly of being caught in a time-shift — physically in that
moment with him in this king-size bed, but psychically somewhere in the
future. I had already checked out and driven back to my apartment. I
was lying on my own bed, my cat padding around next to me, already
"How do you think I feel?" I said, after my eyes quit burning. "You
think I don't feel shitty about it?"
He finally sat up, wiping his nose absently. When he took his glasses
off, he resembled a young Paul McCrane.
"She's not losing me," he said. "She and I are in exactly the same
"Well, it doesn't sound like a marriage to me," I said. "Sounds like
you guys are roommates, splitting the rent and sharing groceries."
"I know what it sounds like."
"Do you? Or is it just that you're both too codependent to move on?"
"We end up with exactly whom we deserve," he said.
"Great bumper sticker," I said. "Maybe you can hang that up in your
After a short while, we actively avoided each other. I finally got a
shot in Entertainment, which was a hell of a lot more viable than
Health, where I'd been stuck since I was first hired. This meant that I
moved into an entirely different building on campus, though we still
shared the same cafeteria. I would see him from time to time, sitting
with members of my former team, contemplating his food as they gabbled
idiotically all around him.
I had more than moved on, made new, better friends, had begun dating a
friend of a co-worker and things had gone well enough that we were
talking about looking for a place together in Arlington. Seeing Tim
like that, sitting there in the same job, the same miserable life,
completely unchanged, gave me a weird pang of guilt, but also a feeling
of having narrowly avoided a much-worse fate, like having been on a
mountain with someone but moving behind a rock just in time to avoid an
I'd turn away from watching him, listen to whatever it was my new
co-workers were talking about, and feel eternally grateful to the gods
above that I had been spared.
Piers Marchant lives in Philadelphia. He edits Two
One Five Magazine.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200901deserve.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Brennan Mercado.
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