"This is 2003, for god’s sake. It’s not only the man’s responsibility to bring the protection,” was my retort.
Anna had said to me that he couldn’t carry any condoms because his wife searches his bag when he comes home. She left me a note one morning asking to bum the prescription slip for Plan B that my gynecologist gives to all her patients. I told her that I couldn’t find it, which was the closest I could get to saying no without feeling like a real shithead.
I felt like one anyway, considering that I always know where the slip is. She was just going to have to go to Planned Parenthood where they would make her wait for an appointment and she would miss work and have to spend a lot of money. I suppose that is one of the dangers and risks inherent in being the other woman that can make it truly exciting.
It was when Anna had already been gone for three days when I realized that she wasn’t coming home nights. I go to bed early, I don’t expect to hear her come in, but when dishes don’t pile up and the toilet paper isn’t on the floor, I know something is off. They were shacking up in a hotel in Queens, sleeping together. Just to hold each other, nothing else. Same old story.
“And then he didn’t have anything with him,” she told me.
Standing in the doorway of our apartment, late for work and about to rush out, I mulled that over. Somehow, she and I had ended up spending a few hours one night looking up JPEGs of vaginas and assholes peppered with crusty red rashes. Anna had found something “down there” and she wasn’t used to looking at herself in her area.
“How about this one?” I pointed.
“It doesn’t look like either.”
“Does it itch, burn, tingle, is it red, swollen, do you have blisters, oozing? What exactly makes you think you have herpes?”
“It itches a little and it’s red, like a welt.”
I hadn’t been aware of the wondrous variety of symptomatic expressions that the virus could impart and so found the visuals interesting. She was not enthralled; she was about to cry.
“You probably don’t have herpes. Just wait a couple of days and if it’s still there, go to the doctor.”
“Can we look at a few more?”
She sounded desperate, but she wasn’t letting herself be convinced. So, to get her out, I lied and told her that we weren’t going to find any photos that weren’t just like the ones we’d already looked at. She left but came back a few minutes later and knocked on my closed door with a second set of questions. Through the door, I explained that herpes is forever and why, but it turned out to be a yeast infection.
“If I love him, and he loves me, I don’t think it should make a difference who he sleeps with. If it wasn’t for STDs, I wouldn’t care,” Anna said, scooping up the last of the ice cream that my boyfriend had bought. For me.
Stipulations are the first sign of a doomed relationship. I told her to stop fucking him.
“This is the beginning of your relationship. Let’s say you marry this guy, and people ask how you two kids got together. You get to say that you and he were screwing around behind his pregnant wife’s back.”
She thought it over, but I could see how changing her moral code was making it so much easier. She'd never been into free love before.
“This is the beginning of your relationship. You’re supposed to be retarded with happiness. If you wait, this doesn’t have to be the beginning of that life.”
That held more appeal for her. Anna told me not to worry (as if I was), that she wouldn’t have sex with him again until he moved out of his wife’s apartment. After she had the baby, of course, because upsetting her could harm the fetus. And then how did I know I was in love? She was anxious to know.
“That’s so old fashioned,” she said after my explanation. Maybe doing things for each other is old fashioned.
Another morning, an earlier job, and I’m late on this one, too, she creeps up to me while I’m drying my hair. When she says my name I turn off the blow dryer, but not before.
“How do you know if you’re pregnant?” she asks.
“Buy an E.P.T. kit and use it,” I answer, and turn the dryer back on.
She told me the story of their first night together. She was drunk on mojitos, he kissed her and they ended up on the couch of the design shop they both work in. Naked on the same upholstery they sell to their clients, though she didn’t have an orgasm or even come close. It didn’t matter that he was married, or soon to be a dad. It was an electric kiss, doomed to follow her until she wasted away or could get satisfaction.
Anna also didn’t care that he was an alcoholic. He’s changed, she still likes to say, forgetting the night that I found her cowering in the living room with the lights off begging me in a whisper not to open the door because he had followed her home. In those days, he’d leave her drunken telephone messages all in a row asking her to pick up the phone, where was she, was she leaving him. He doesn’t call so much anymore.
“You don’t understand how hard it is to be around him all day and not be able to touch him.”
But I understood it and I believed it, so nothing came as a surprise.
A long time ago, Anna brought me a mug of peppermint tea, a bribe so she could come and sit on my bed while I waited up for my man. You’re so lucky to have the boyfriend you do, she liked to say, and I thought ‘Yeah, I am.’
“He told me guys will cheat with anything that moves. Do you think that’s true?” she said of her coworker whose wife would be giving birth soon.
“I don’t want to believe it,” I said.