The sight of him next to me in the bed in the mornings would make me wince. His hair matted down with nighttime sweat, his nostrils moving with each breath he pulled in. Sometimes I'd peak underneath the blanket at his body that had been thinned by the cancer and I could just barely remember a time when that same body had made me hot all over, ready. My body had done the same for him for a time, but then there was apathy and then there was her and then there was his illness.
When we first met, he had the bad-boy allure that women so often respond to (and I was not different). He was just a little dangerous, but charming enough to make that danger a risk worth taking. I wanted him, because it seemed that to have him and keep him would be a mark of honor. Look what I did, I'd say, I tamed this man. I did, too, for a while. He, who was so often categorized only as "arrogant asshole", was sweet and romantic and practically boyish in his affections. "I wuv you," he might whisper in my ear before kissing down my neck, giving me the shivers.
Then the lovemaking became routine, outside of those times when sex became a weapon and we fought each other for dominance until we were both satisfied. We'd lay panting on the sheets, acres of silence between us. My thoughts were my only companion, then, when it felt more like masturbation with another person conveniently nearby. Sometimes he'd want to try things. Golden showers. Anal. His renewed interest in love often helped me overcome my disgust. Eventually we'd sit silent until falling asleep most nights, bored with each other. Sex was something to do when there was nothing on television.
When she came into the picture, I wasn’t overly worried, because I wasn't paying attention. She integrated herself into every portion of his life and she did it slowly, so that I didn’t notice until a friend pointed out that he was spending more time with her than with me. I brought it up with him, only to be accused of trying to smother him. I thought that was a funny idea. How could I smother him when I only saw him twice a week? Maybe he was trying to smother her. Still, all I did was sit back and watch, waiting. I was morbidly curious as to whether they were fucking, because he and I weren’t. I had the vague idea that he couldn't be physical with both of us without feeling guilt.
His body wilted. He was tired, and so he was with me again, because I can be comforting when given the chance. The tests were done and it was cancer and he didn't see so much of her anymore. When he told her he’d been diagnosed, she laughed. She laughed at my baby, my lover, and still he loved her more than me, even when I sat with him while he threw up from the chemotherapy, and all she’d done was laugh. She monopolized his "good" days, when he had the strength to go outside, and I held tightly onto his "bad" days when he was irritable and weak.
Unfortunately, a relationship can only be based on sickness and loneliness for so long before its foundations crumble. I suppose if he had stayed sick, I would have sat by his side forever, giving him my love for free because how can you hate a sick man who was once your world? But he did get well and when he was strong enough, he ran to her, leaving me to wonder how I could make myself hate him.
I stared at him, and he was no longer beautiful to me, and the momentary thoughts of our former lovemaking would make me grimace. The feel of his breath, warm on the back of my neck, was no longer pleasurable. It was the only way not to want him. He could still be charming when he wanted to be, and hypnotic, too. But when he slept, he was who he was, he couldn't lie. It struck me one morning, as I lay in my own bed on a Sunday, that it was time, finally, to let him go. I was happy to be sleeping alone. Too happy to spend one more night sleeping with him.