The next day, Jess tried to call me while I was getting dressed. I saw her number on the phone.
"Fuck you for calling," and I hung up. I was trying to decide what to wear. I was not in the mood for a dress. Given everything that transpired, my brain was not in dress mode. I put on a white blouse, black wool skinny pants and a pair of black boots with a 3" heel. I looked at myself in the mirror.
"You are ready to kick ass. You are ready to kick ass. You are ready to kick ass," I repeated. I was armed for battle.
It didn't take long. I was going to get on the train. I had already missed one because of the crowd. A man was standing in the door. 5'11". Stringy runner build. Green eyes. Chin beard. And brown hair in a man bun. I hate man buns.
"Excuse me," I said. He smirked.
"Excuse ME," I said, elbowing him in the sternum.
"What the fuck" he said, as the train pulled out. When you're armed for battle, amazingly it finds you.
"I said excuse me nicely. Don't block the door and you don't get it.". He moved closer. People were watching. I thought I saw someone take out their phone. Great, now I'd get to be "crazy bitch on the N train" on YouTube. "Move closer and I'll geld you," I said, pointing at my boots.
He got off at the next stop, mumbling, "crazy bitch". I felt good, powerful. In control. Ironically, I could never have done that as Dan. Not without a fistfight.
I got off the train feeling good about myself. I got my coffee and an egg white sandwich from Starbucks, ready to face the day. Rachel came into the elevator.
"Wow Jess, you look great. Those boots are fierce," she said. There's nothing like a tiny little white girl trying to sound like a cross between a black woman and a gay man. Normally, that would annoy me. I hated when white people tried to sound black, but it was meant to be a compliment. And I felt fierce.
"Thanks, Rachel. I'm feeling fierce," I said with a smile.
The morning went well. I focused on my work.
Robin called. "Lunch"?
I wasn't ready to talk and I knew I'd want to so I begged off. "I am swamped. How about tomorrow"?
At 2 pm, Michelle called. "Hey JJ. How are you doing?"
"Fine.". I wasn't ready to talk again.
My "kick ass" endorphin high was wearing off. And it was Michelle. "I don't know. I just don't know."
"Has he even called"?
"Yeah, well I said fuck you and hung up, so there's that."
"Do you want him to"?
I thought about it. "No. There's nothing to say. Nothing I want to hear at least."
"Are you going to be OK tonight? I can reschedule."
"No, you have something. I'm fine. I was going to go to the gym anyway. Work off some of this.". I was down to 138. 34Cs. 24" waist. 26 percent body fat.
"Good for you. That's a great idea," she said, a little too brightly.
"You could never hide it, but I'm fine. I'll be fine. I'll see you tomorrow. Let's talk about it then.”
At 3 pm, Jasmine brought in a bouquet of roses.
"Ooh, those are so pretty. I wish Jaquan would send me roses". 'No, you really don't,' I thought.
"Thanks," I said.
"I'll get a vase."
"Don't worry about it."
"You sure? They could die.". Yeah, a lot of things could die. My marriage. My sense of self. Flowers - not a big deal.
"Yes I am sure. Thanks.". And she walked out.
I read the card. "I am so sorry. I fucked up. Please forgive me, my beautiful rose. Love,
Dan.". My beautiful rose? I almost lost my beautiful lunch.
I took scissors from my drawer and cut the flowers in half. I took a picture and texted Jess. 'Fuck you. Contact me again and I go for a restraining order - and I can get one, remember? I am serious. P.S., Flowers? Seriously?'
Mike came in to talk about a case. He saw the flowers in the garbage. "So, on a scale of 1 to 10, how deep in shit is he?"
That made me laugh. "44."
"Sorry to hear that. Anything you need, you let me know".
"Thanks. I’m good. I'll call if I need bail," I said, with a smile.
I left work and went to the gym. I had no reason to go home. I took a spin class then went to lift. Lifting always relaxed me when I was Dan. There's something primal about lifting a lot of weight then dropping it.
I loaded up one of the machines and went to lift. I couldn't move it. The guy on the next machine smirked. He was about 5'10" and 230 with a gut.
"Something funny over there?"
He looked surprised. "No."
"Didn't think so". I halved the weight and started lifting. I pulled down. Fuck Jess. And up. Fuck Jess. It was very therapeutic. I walked around afterwards to avoid going home. I didn’t want to face our home alone.
Eventually, I went home. I went into the bedroom, took off my makeup and got undressed. I couldn’t even look at the lingerie drawer. I put on a t shirt and underwear and laid down. I stared at the ceiling for an hour and couldn’t fall asleep. The picture of Jess and me on the dresser stared at me. Jess’ (well, my former) clothes felt like I was being taunted. Being in our bed made me feel worse. I went out to the couch and fell asleep with the TV on.
I woke up the next morning feeling like death. I stared at my closet for a while and remembered that I was seeing Michelle tonight. It made me remember a time when there was no Dan and Jessica and it made me feel better. I put on a blue and white print wrap dress with a v neck. I tightened it to show off my hard work. I put on a pair of 3” heels and went off to work.
Once again, a guy was blocking the train door. Puerto Rican, 5’8”, 165 lbs. Medium brown skin. Short hair. At this rate, if the law didn’t work, I was going to be a cop.
This time, I didn’t elbow him. “You know what? I’ve had a shitty couple of days and you’re making it worse and worse than that, you’re impeding the flow of traffic. So how about you move in so everyone can get to work. K?” People on the train stared at me. But he moved.
Another man got up, laughing, and offered me his seat. “I did not see that one coming, miss. Maybe this will make your today better.”
It didn’t. Well, I mean it did a little. But I was still dealing with the fact that everything I knew, that I had a couple of months ago was now gone. Before this, I was a happily married man. Now I was a woman in her 30s with a cheating husband and a marriage on the rocks. I had become a country song written by David Lynch and Jill Soloway.
That afternoon, Michelle called. “So where do you want to go tonight? You choose.”
“Capital Grille in the Chrysler Building? 7:00?”
“I’ll make the reservation. Do you want to talk?”
“No. Yeah. At dinner.”
We went to Capital Grille. I had grilled swordfish and broccoli. We ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc.
Two glasses apiece in, Michelle said, “So, I’m sorry I keep repeating myself. But what exactly happened again?”
“I told you already. I found panties in his luggage.”
“And you’re sure they weren’t yours? Like maybe they got stuck to his underwear and he packed them by mistake?”
I was feeling the wine. “Are you serious?”
“That’s not Dan.”
“So you don’t believe me? Really? Your best friend? Since we were six?” I was getting angry.
“Of course, I believe you. This is just so…weird.”
“They were NOT mine. They were cheap underwear from g-d knows where. But they were most definitely NOT mine.” Now I was beginning to wonder. Were they mine? No, they weren’t. I know my brand. “Besides, if he didn’t say, why would he say ‘I made a mistake’? Huh? Why wouldn’t he say, aren’t those yours?”
She laughed. “You think he knows what underwear are yours? Really? Amanda’s a girl and she doesn’t know what I wear.” That confirmed it for me. Michelle was definitely the wife. Yeah, yeah, it’s a stereotype but whatever.
“Ha ha. He still said, ‘I made a mistake.’”
“I know. I know. I guess I just don’t want to believe it. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just angry.” Angry that my marriage was floundering. Angry that I was sitting here getting buzzed on two glasses of wine. Angry that I had lost everything I thought I had. “Why would sh..he risk everything we had for some one night stand? Why?” I started to cry.
Michelle moved over to my side, and held me to her shoulder. “It’s going to be OK…”
“Whatever happens, you’ll be OK. You’re a great woman and you’ll be OK.” A great woman. Great. It hit me. I could be Jessica forever. Or I could wake up tomorrow as Dan. But either way, I’d be without the man…the woman…the person I loved. Or thought I did. I cried some more. People in the restaurant stared.
I gathered my composure. “Sorry…”
“I embarrassed you in front of everyone.”
“What everyone? There’s no everyone here. I don’t know anyone here and if I did, so what? You’re JJ. I’m Shelly,” she said, smiling. “We are the Super Girls.” We were the Super Twins when we were little but I guess things had changed. She held out her fist. I bumped it and we went “pow,” like when we were seven.
“Thanks,” I said, wiping my eyes. “What did Amanda say?
“She wanted to call him.”
“Read him the riot act. She’s pissed. Called him phallocratic.”
“Wow. And I always feel like she doesn’t like me.” She didn’t like me. Maybe I was inadvertently phallocratic. G-d knows I never felt like I ruled, much less with my penis.
“Would you stop? She likes you. She’s a surgeon. She has knife skills, not people skills. Have you told Dave and Barb yet?”
“Oh G-d no! I don’t need that now. Can you imagine?”
She laughed. “Sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking.” In a perfect version of my mom’s voice, she said, ‘I don’t understand. What exactly did you do? What color panties were they? What brand? Because Mona said that you can’t get those in most stores and I said….”
I laughed. For the first time in what felt like forever, I laughed. And I kept laughing.
Michelle laughed. “It wasn’t that funny.”
“I know,” I said, laughing. “That’s what makes it funny. That or the wine. Either way, that was hysterical.” And we both kept giggling. Like ten-year old girls. And it felt really good.
We split a slice of chocolate cake and left the restaurant. We walked past McFadden’s and I said, “You want to go get a drink?”
“You haven’t had enough?” she said, giggling.
“OK. But McFadden’s? Seriously? When were we there last? 2007? Why?” McFadden’s is a bar on 42nd and 2nd. It’s incredibly popular with the post-college crowd. We used to joke that it had an age requirement. No one over 24 allowed.
“Come on. It’ll be fun.”
“Fine. If it’s too loud, can we leave?”
I pulled her by the arm. “Come on, old lady. Let’s have a drink.”
“You’re lucky I love you, Jess, y’know,” she said, as we walked in.
As I expected, it was a loud Thursday night crowd made up of kids in their early twenties. The women were all wearing too short skirts and too high heels. They were standing clustered in groups of three or four, daring guys to come over while simultaneously hoping for it. The guys were all walking around with the supreme self-confidence that only comes from being completely ignorant.
“Oh g-d,” Michelle said. “This is like a bad college, pre-coming out nightmare. One drink, Jess.”
“Fine,” I said, slurring slightly. “My treat. Bay Breeze?”
“What are you, 23? I’ll have an old fashioned.”
I got us our drinks and brought them over. Just then, two guys walked over. They were in their 20s, 25 at the oldest. One was 6’2”, 200 lbs with blue eyes and brown hair. The other was 5’11”, 165 lbs. with thinning brown hair and muddy brown eyes.
Blue eyes said, “Hi, I’m Michael and this is Jake. Can we get you some drinks?” Please tell me that I was never that bad. Michelle wordlessly held up her drink and arched her eyebrow.
Jake said, “Allow me to apologize and try again. I’m Jake. It’s nice to meet you.” I liked him. Reminded me of someone I used to know…
“Nice to meet you. I’m Jessica and this is Michelle. Would you like to sit down?” Michelle looked at me and shook her head.
“Thanks,” he said, giving Michael the ‘see I can do this too’ look. Maybe it was the wine, but I liked him.
“Sit down. Tell me about yourself.”
Michael interrupted. “I’m a doctor.”
Michelle looked him up and down. “Oh really? What kind? Where?”
“Well, I’m a resident at NYU. In surgery.” Poor guy. Amanda was at NYU.
“I think so.” What a jackass. “It’s very difficult.”
Michelle grinned and said, “I imagine so.” I knew that grin. It wasn’t a too much wine grin. It was the grin of the hawk when it sees its prey.
“What about you, Jake,” I said. “What do you do?”
“I’m in law school.” Bingo. “I’m a third year. At Columbia.”
“Really. I’m a lawyer. Small world.”
“Yes it is.” He shuffled his feet. It was cute. “What kind?”
“I’m a litigator. Construction and real estate mostly. What do you think you want to do?”
“I don’t know. I summered at Weil in m & a. They made me an offer.”
“Weil? Good luck. That’s a shark tank.”
“It is. But the money’s really good.”
“It is. But nothing comes for free, remember that. They’re not paying you $200,000 because you know a lot. No offense.”
He smiled. “I know. Would you like to dance?”
Michelle looked horrified and gave me the no sign with her hand.
I smiled, “Sure,” and we went out onto the floor. There isn’t a dance floor there as such. It’s more people dancing in place to the jukebox. Either way, we moved away and started dancing. He was kind of clumsy and stepped on my feet every so often. He apologized. I found it endearing. I saw Michael try and impress Michelle. And fail.
We went back to the table. “Thanks,” he said, shyly. “Sorry to leave you two here.”
Michelle quickly glared at me. “Hey, Jess. I’ve got to get up in the morning. Can we head out?”
I looked at Jake. “I think I’d like to stay, if you would.”
He gulped then smiled. “Sure.”
Michelle said, “Jessica, can I talk to you for a second?”
“Excuse me,” I said. I felt a little woozy. Between the weight loss and the fact that I was already seven inches shorter, I couldn’t hold my alcohol.
“What are you doing?”
“What? I’m having another drink.”
“You’ve had enough.”
“What are you doing? You’re leading on that poor kid.”
I smiled. “Who said that I’m leading him on?”
“Please Jess. Please come with me. This is not you.” ‘You’re right,’ I thought. ‘None of this is me so why not?’
“Maybe it needs to be.”
“You’re upset. You should be upset. I’m upset. But this is not you. This will not make it better. You’ll hate yourself. I know you, Jessica. Please don’t do this. Please,” she said, holding my hand.
“I’ll be fine, Michelle. I know what I’m doing.”
She looked at me sadly. “I wonder…” She shook her head. “Please don’t.”
We walked back to the table. “Is everything OK?” Jake said.
“It’s fine,” I said. “Girl talk.”
As Michael smiled, Michelle picked up her coat, turned to him and said, “Say hi to Dev for me.”
Michael looked shocked. “Dev?”
“Yes. Dev Parikh. Your chief,” she said, giving him that hawk-like grin.
“Tell him to tell Anuja we wouldn’t miss the birthday for anything. Tell him I can’t believe Raji is three already. Tell him it seems like just yesterday Amanda and I were at the hospital visiting Nuj after he was born. You can remember that, can’t you? Because,” she said, staring at Jake and Mike, “I can. And Amanda – she’s my wife, she’s a surgeon there too – can. So, I’m sure two smart guys like you can.”
A couple of hours later, I came back into the apartment, took off my heels and turned on the light. Jess was on the couch. I jumped.
“Where were you?”
“None of your business,” I said, slurring slightly.
“Have you been drinking? Who were you with?”
“That’s none of your business either. What the hell are you doing here? I told you to leave me alone.”
“Please. I have nowhere to go.” That felt good.
“Not my problem. Get out.”
“Please. Let me explain.”
“Why should I?”
“Because. I don’t know. But maybe you shouldn’t. But please. Please let me.”
My buzz was wearing off. I was tired. “Fine…why? Why did you do it?”
“Because I could.”
“Because you could? Get the fuck out. Because you could? And you thought that would be OK?”
“That’s not what I meant.” I should have thrown her out but some part of me felt like after all these years, I should let her explain…and then throw her out.
“Fine…you have two minutes and then leave.”
“What I meant was that, for the first time in my life, I could do something without being judged. You know what goes at these meetings…”
“I thought ‘what happens on the road, stays on the road,’” I said, sneering.
“Yeah, well, if you’re a guy, it does. When I was you…”
“You are me. Or did you forget that? Oh yeah, you did.”
“What I meant was when I was a girl. Anyway, what happens on the road applies to men only. When I was Jessica, I mean me, I couldn’t do it. Even when I was single. If I did it, I’d be a slut. A guy gets to be a player. And, for the first time in my life, I could be the player. I could do it and not be judged and I did it.”
“So, you didn’t cheat on me before not because it’s wrong but because your coworkers would judge you? That makes me feel so much better.”
She started to cry. “No. That’s not it. That’s not it at all. I never cheated on you. I would never have cheated on you.”
“Really? So what happened this time? What made this so unique?”
“Sunday night. We were in the bar having drinks. This woman comes over and starts reaching over me. ‘Excuse me, can I have some of those peanuts?’ ‘Can I borrow a napkin?’ She was rubbing her tits all over me.”
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Anyway, she offered a key and everybody was egging me on and I was drunk and I did it. I’ll leave now.”
“Did you get a blow job? Have sex? Anal?”
“Oh g-d Dan. Yuck. We had sex. Shitty sex. Honestly, it felt like I was masturbating into someone. That’s how bad it felt.”
That was an image. “Good.”
“I deserve that.”
“Does our marriage mean nothing to you?”
She slumped. “Of course. I mean no. It means everything to me.”
“So it meant so much that you cheated. So much that you took my body, my dick and fucked someone else with it. Because you could. Why should I believe you about anything?”
She went to take my hand. I yanked it away. “Don’t. Not now. Maybe not ever again. But definitely not now.”
“Sorry. I don’t know why you should believe me. I just know that I fucked up and would give up everything just to not have you hate me, forget take me back. But I have never been more sorry about anything in my life.” She got up to leave.
I looked at her. Something in me broke. I didn’t exactly believe her but I wanted to. “You can stay.” She walked towards our room. “Not in there. On the couch.”
I turned and sat back down. “I’m going to ask you some questions. If you lie to me, if I think you’re lying, not being 100% honest, we’re over. You leave - now. And you don’t come back. I file papers and we’re over. No more. Understood?”
She looked at me gravely and said, “Understood.”
“Did you ever sleep with anyone else after we were together?”
“Not just after we got married or engaged or lived together? Even after our first date? Ever?”
“I have not slept with anyone since before our first date. I swear.”
“If you could have, would you?”
Without blinking, she said, “No. Never.”
“How can I trust you again? How do I know that, if we never change back, you won’t keep doing it?”
“I don’t know. All I can say is that, when I saw the pain and anger in your eyes – in my eyes – I saw what I had done. I knew that I had hurt the person that I love and that I would give anything to make that pain go away. That I’d rather feel ten times that pain every minute of every day of my life than to ever make you feel that way for one second. All I can do is promise and show you that I won’t. If you wanted me to live stream my life, I would. If you wanted to be there with me every minute, I would welcome it.”
“If we’re at that point, we’re already done,” I sighed.
“My point is that I can’t say anything that’ll make you trust me. I can try and show you if you let me.”
“If the roles were reversed, would you trust me?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I hope so. But I don’t know. I can’t imagine you doing it.”
“Why? Because I’m too romantic? Too feminine?”
“NO! Because you do the right thing. Because you’re a good person. Because you’re better than I am. I never thought you were feminine and I’m sorry that I’ve said it. I thought, I think you’re a caring, kind, beautiful person. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Can I ask you a question?”
“Did you ever do it?
“Ever what?” I knew what.
“Did you ever have sex with anyone else?”
“Live with the uncertainty,” I said, going into the bedroom and closing the door.
The next morning Jess was waiting with coffee when I got up. Which was good because I was hungover.
“I thought you might like some coffee.”
“Thanks.” She leaned over to kiss me. “No. Not now.”
“OK. When you’re ready.”
“That may be a long while, if ever.”
We sat at the table and stared at each other. I wanted to say something, anything but, for once in my life, words failed me. Jess looked like she had something to say too. She stopped and started several times.
“It’s supposed to rain today,” she said, to break the silence.
We both got dressed and went to work. She waited until I was done before she even went in to get dressed.
I came in at 9:30 to a voice mail from Michelle.
I called her back. “To answer your question, nothing happened.”
“Thank G-d…what happened?”
“You left. Mike left right after you. He looked at me like ‘please don’t let her get me thrown out of residency’,” I said, laughing.
“Good,” she said, with a laugh. “And then?”
“Jake and I talked. He’s a nice guy. Reminds me of Dan kind of.”
“You have a type.” I didn’t know what to do with that. Too weird. Unlike the rest of this.
“Yeah, well, anyway, we finished our drinks and we went back to his place…”
“Yeah, and we got there….”
“How was it?”
“Like reliving my 20s again. Law books everywhere. Flat screen with an Xbox.” I had a PS2. “Lots of framed prints that he bought from the art store. Y’know, those ‘look at me, I’m cultured’ black and white pictures of the Flatiron in the fog…”
“He really is Dan,” she laughed. “You couldn’t even pick someone different. Such a girl.”
I ignored that. Too creepy. “Well, anyway, we got up there and I was looking around and I felt nauseous…”
“Mentally or physically?”
“Both. More of the first though. It hit me. And I said to him, ‘I’m sorry…’”
“What did he say?”
“He smiled and said, ‘that’s OK. you’re married.’”
“He took my hand and said, ‘I just noticed the indentation from your ring. It’s fine. Plus, you’re drunk. I don’t sleep with other guy’s wives and I don’t want to be something someone regrets in the morning. No matter how beautiful she is.’”
“Really? For real?”
“I know,” I said. “I wish I wasn’t married. That was really sweet. He took a cab back with me to make sure I got home.” And, when I thought about it, that’s what I would’ve done. Stupid morals.
“I’m glad you didn’t do it.”
“Me too. You were right.”
“It’s OK. You were angry. I get it. Sorry if I was all judgy.”
“You weren’t judgy. You were being my friend even if I was too drunk and pissed to get it. I hope you’re not angry at me.”
“Stop. I was never angry at you. I was just worried. Power Girls have to look out for each other.”
“I came home and he was there.”
“Where was he?”
I realized that I never asked. “Huh. I don’t know.”
“Did he explain?”
I couldn’t tell her what he said. “Not really. I asked if he had done it before and he said no. And he made all these promises about how he’ll never do it again…”
“And we’ll see. I don’t know that I can trust him again.” And I still didn’t.
“I hope…I hope…I don’t know what I hope. Other than you’re happy.”
“Thanks. Power Girls. Life was easier then.”
“Yup. I love you JJ.”
“I love you too Shelly.”
The next month was torture.
We settled into an uneasy rhythm. We’d get up in the morning. She’d make me coffee, which I appreciated. We’d watch New York 1 for the weather. Then I’d get ready, then she would. We were never in the bedroom at the same time.
We never called each other at work. Before this, we used to speak a couple of times a day, even if only to talk about the mundane details of life, like what to have for dinner. But we’d always say, “I love you to each other.” I missed “I love you.” I wasn’t sure whether she loved me or I loved her right now, but I missed it.
For the first two weeks, I didn’t care. I appreciated it, in fact. It allowed me to focus. After that, I went to pick up the phone a few times to call her but couldn’t. Beneath my pretty exterior was still my male brain. And my male ego. I felt like calling would be like letting her win and I couldn’t do that. She never called either.
One Saturday, about two weeks in, I got up to go for a run. I was getting dressed, when Jess said, “Hang on. I’m going to come with you.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.” The sole saving grace of this torture was that I had been going to the gym every day and working out even harder. Combine that with my lack of interest in eating and I was down another five pounds, to a total of twenty.
What she said next surprised me. “I don’t care. I want to go for a run. And, more importantly, I want to make sure you’re safe.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Your brain may think it’s Dan, but your body is Jessica. And I know you don’t care what happens to me, but I care what happens to you.” My brain wasn’t sure what it was. Other than hurt.
“I do care what happens to you. I’m angry but I don’t want something to happen to you. Unless I do it.” That was the first time that I had articulated that.
She smiled. “I’ll run behind you. Like the Secret Service.”
“You’ll run behind me because I’m faster.”
We went for a run. She ran alongside me. We didn’t speak much during the run but, for the first time, since it happened, I felt like, maybe out of the destruction of our marriage, we could start rebuilding. I didn’t know whether what was built would last or be inhabitable. But, at least, we could start clearing away the rubble.
What helped the process was a call from my father one Monday.
“Hey, sweetie,” he said.
My dad was not one for using the phone, except for clients. “Is everything OK, daddy?” I had taken surprisingly easily to calling him that.
“I can’t call one of my two favorite daughters?”
“Sorry. It just that you usually don’t. Usually I get mom.”
He laughed. “So then this is a double bonus. Don’t repeat that. Anyway, I’m going to be in the city for CPE on Wednesday and your mother is having dinner with the girls…” It was funny. These were women in their 70s who were the ‘girls.’ My grandmother played cards with the ‘girls.’ But, a girl in her 20s is a woman. I said that once and my father said, ‘It’s simple. Any girl younger than you is a woman. Any woman older than you is a girl.’ “Anyway, so I’d thought I’d see if you’d like to go to dinner.”
I smiled. “I’d love to. Dinner with my favorite daddy.” OK, that one made me retch a little.
“Dan going to join us?”
Uh, no. “Let’s just make it father-daughter night. Where’s the CPE?”
“The Hyatt in Grand Central.”
“How about Pescatore? I’ll meet you in the lobby and we’ll walk over. 6:30?”
“Great. I can’t wait.”
“Me too.” I hung up and felt a little better. I always liked having time alone, just me and him. This was the first time I’d being do it as Jess.
We met at the hotel. I was wearing a green knit dress from Ann Taylor and booties with 3” heels. I gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Hi, daddy.” I don’t know why I felt the need to be so girly, but it felt better.
My dad looked at me and said, “Wow, sweetie. You look fantastic. How much so far?”
I smiled proudly. “20 pounds.”
“You look terrific. What is it? Diet? Exercise?”
“Well, whatever it is, you look amazing. I need to do something,” he said, patting his stomach. He needed to lose about ten pounds, but for a 68 year old, he looked good. He was 5’11” and about 200 pounds. I was sixteen when I passed him in height. That always made feel better. That and when he begged off from wrestling me.
We were sitting at dinner when I decided to tell him what was going on. I took a deep breath and said, “I have something to tell you.” His face lit up. ‘Oh shit,’ I thought.
“No daddy, not that. In fact, it’s definitely not that.”
He looked concerned. “What’s wrong, Teddy?” Teddy was my family nickname when I was little. Apparently, when I was 1 ½ or 2, I had a stuffed dog. I decided it was a bear and called it ‘Teddy’. Every time someone tried to tell me it was a dog, I adamantly said ‘Teddy,’ so I became ‘Teddy’. I hadn’t been called it in years. “Is everything OK?”
“I want to talk to you but you have to promise not to tell mom.”
“I don’t know that I can do that. That’s not fair.”
“OK, well, I’ll tell you. I’m asking you not to say something but I trust your judgment. If you think she needs to know, tell her and I’ll deal with the fallout.”
“Fair enough. What is it? Are you OK? Is Dan?”
I took a deep breath. “I’m fine. Dan’s fine. Well, not really, he cheated on me.” It felt weird yet cathartic saying that. I don’t think I could’ve had the same conversation with him as Dan. It would’ve felt weak.
He shook his head. “Jesus. Really? No….”
“He did. You believe me, right?”
He looked shocked. “Of course, I believe you. Why would you lie about that? You’re my daughter. I believe you. I just don’t want to believe that. What happened?”
“On a business trip.” I started to sniffle.
“When?” He looked angry. And hurt.
“Three weeks ago.”
“And you didn’t say something?”
“I wasn’t ready…”
“To listen to your mother?” He said with a smile. “This is privileged, right?”
I laughed. “How would either of us benefit from repeating that?”
“That’s my girl. So, what happened?”
“I don’t know. Other than he did it.” Obviously, I did but saying to your father, ‘you won’t believe this but your daughter used to be your son and your son-in-law was your daughter-in-law and she felt like, as your son-in-law…’ is always difficult.
“Are you getting divorced? Is that what you’re trying to tell me? Because you know we’re here for you no matter what, right?”
“I know you are. I just don’t know what to do here.”
“Has he done this before?”
“He says no.”
“Do you believe him?”
“I think so.”
He took my hand. It felt nice. “What do you want?”
“I want us to be us again. Sorry, I know that sounds stupid.”
“It doesn’t, sweetie.” I liked being sweetie and Teddy. It made me feel safe. “This is not my strong suit, you know. But, I want to help. Let’s analyze this.” I smiled. My dad was an accountant. Everything could be analyzed. “Do you still love him?”
“I think so. I don’t know.”
“You can love him and be angry at him, honey. Ask your mother. After 40 years of marriage, I know that.”
“Can I tell you a story? Don’t take my head off though.”
“You probably don’t remember this. You were maybe five when this happened. No, around six, because Carl and Mona had moved in. Anyway, what was the name of the fat girl that lived down the block? The one with the foul mouth?”
“Dina Levin.” Dina was a friend of my sister. She was fat. She did have a nasty mouth.
“Yeah, Dina Le-VIN,” he said. In addition to her foul mouth, my father thought they were ridiculous. ‘It’s LEV-in or Levine. French. By way of Poland.’ “Anyway, Grandpa Ike was over and Dina and Laura weren’t letting you and Shelly on the swing set and Dina called you dumb little babies or something like that and pushed Shelly down. So, Shelly starts crying and you,” and he started laughing, “are 3 foot nothing and weigh 40 pounds. And she’s already 5 feet tall and 100 pounds. And you,” and he was really laughing.
I started laughing too. “What?”
He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “You get up in her face and you push her and you say, ‘I may be a dumb baby but you’re a big fat bully and this is my swing set and get off. It’s OUR turn! And, damned if they didn’t.”
“OK…” I was lost how this related to me.
“Grandpa Ike and I were sitting on the deck watching this. He turns to me and says, with a big smile, ‘That one is going to be fine. Laura, she’ll need a man to take care of her. But that one. She’ll take care of herself.”
“That’s a funny story.” My recollection now was that I called her a big fat pig and my father told them to get off the swings and me not to call girls fat, but I didn’t remember a lot lately. “I’m not sure that I follow how this relates to now though. Sorry.”
“I was getting to that. My point was you can take care of yourself. You always could. Whatever happens, stay or go, you can take care of yourself and you’ll be OK. It’ll take a while but you’ll be OK. Which brings me back to the point which is, even if you’re angry at him, even if he screwed up, do you still love him?”
“I think so. Yeah, I do…what do you think?”
“I don’t have to think. You have to know. But, for what it’s worth, he fucked up, excuse my French…”
“I deal with construction all day, daddy…”
He rolled his eyes. “SOR-ry, my big shot lawyer daughter. So, you love him. Do you believe him? That this was one stupid mistake?”
He paused. “My opinion? Yeah, you should.”
“I’m surprised. I didn’t think you liked him.”
“I like him fine. You don’t understand. It’s tough seeing your little girl love someone else.”
I started to tear up. “Stop…”
He started to tear. I hadn’t seen him do that since Tucker’s bris. “I mean that. He’s a good guy. A mensch. He made a stupid mistake. But he’s not a bad person.”
“I know. I want to forgive him but I can’t.”
If your mother was here, she would,” and he took on a singsong voice, “’Grandma Rosie would’ve said ‘forgive and forget.’ You know what though?” He smiled devilishly. “She’s not here. Grandma Miriam would’ve told you don’t forgive and you don’t forget. You move on and keep the card in your back pocket because you never know when you’ll need it. Laura’s Rosie. You’re Miriam.”
I laughed, “So I’m a bitch?”
He smiled, “Hey, that bitch is my mother! No. She wasn’t a bitch. But she was smart. She took care of herself. Like you.”
I laughed and leaned over and gave him a kiss. “Thanks, daddy. You can tell mom if you want.”
He gave me a kiss back. “I think we’ll keep this one between us.”
He walked me back to my apartment. “Are you going to be OK, Teddy?”
“I think so.” I gave him a kiss.
“Call me if you want.”
“I will.” He turned to walk away. “Hey daddy?” I said, touching him on the shoulder. “I love you and thanks.”
“I love you too.”
I walked in and Jess was on the couch.
“Where were you? I got worried.”
“Dinner. With my father.”
“OK. Can I ask how it was?”
“You can. It was good. We had a nice conversation.” She looked nervous, like she was afraid to ask anything.
“That’s good.” I walked into the bedroom to get changed. I took off my clothes and put on a t shirt and yoga pants. I laid down on the bed, looked at the door and thought, “Do I still love you? Yes, you piss me off but I still love you. But, do I still want to be married to you? Do I want to spend my whole life with you? Can I? Or am I just afraid of being a 33 year old divorced woman, when I had never been one – or any kind of woman – without you?
I sat in the bedroom for an hour going over the pluses and minuses. The obvious minus to staying – did I trust her? Could I? The pluses – we had been together for seven years and married happily, I thought, until this happened. She knew me. She understood me. Even after the change, she understood my moods and knew that I was Dan. Would another man or would he think I was some weird woman? Did I want to be with another man at all? With Jess, we weren’t man and woman, we were us. Could I be an us with someone else?
Then I thought, ‘we don’t know what this is. We don’t know how it happened. If we’re not together, does this become permanent? Am I OK with that? Do I want to be Jessica, to be a woman, no matter what? Or, maybe, if we split up, we change back. Do I want to be Dan without Jessica?’ I stared at the ceiling and just thought. My dad seems to think it was a stupid mistake. Everyone else thinks it was a stupid mistake. Do you?
I walked out. She was flipping through a magazine. I sat down next to her. “I’m ready to try again if you are.”
She let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will spend the rest of my life making this up to you.”
“I’m making no promises. But I’m ready to try. That’s all I’m offering for now.”
She smiled. “Can I give you a hug?”
“Yes.” She hugged me. It felt good to be hugged again.
The next month it was like we were dating again. Except this time she was wooing me. She still slept on the couch.
Two weeks in, she called me at work, “Hey, Jessica. I was looking on line and Film Forum is doing a Scorsese retrospective and ‘Raging Bull’ is Saturday…”
“Cool, thanks for letting me know. I’ll see if Mark wants to go.”
“I was thinking we could go together.”
“You don’t like Scorsese,” I said. “And this one gets kind of brutal.”
“Yeah, but you do. And we don’t do enough stuff you like.” Which was true.
“Really. And we’ll go wherever you want for dinner.”
“OK. I’d like that.” It felt nice to be wooed.
We went to the movie. I was wearing a long floral print skirt, blue peplum top and sandals. Jess had worn an oxford shirt and black khakis which, to be honest, is nicer than I would have worn. I would have worn jeans and whatever button down shirt I found in my closet.
We left the theater.
“So what did you think of it,” I teased.
“I, uh, didn’t mind it that much.”
“You’re lying. You looked nauseous and bored.”
She smiled. “OK. So maybe I wouldn’t have seen it on my own. But I appreciated the performances. I get why people think Robert De Niro is so great.”
“And I appreciate that you saw it,” I said, kissing her on the cheek.
She smiled. “Thank you,” and she took my hand. “Is this OK?”
It felt right. “Yes, it is.”
We had Thai for dinner and walked home the 3 miles from the theater. Hand in hand.
We went into the apartment. Jess sat down on the couch to take off her shoes.
“I’m going to get ready for bed,” she said.
“Do you want to sleep in here tonight?”
She looked shocked. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Don’t get the wrong idea. We’re just sleeping. Nothing else.”
She smiled and walked in. “Thanks.”
We laid in the bed. I was wearing one of my old t-shirts. I didn’t want to lead her on.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
“I’ve missed you too,” I said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Physically, I wanted something more but mentally something held me back.
Jess kept wooing me. A week later, she sent me roses again. This time, I asked for a vase.
The next day, my phone rang. The phone said, “Stone Pharma.”
I picked it up, “Hey, Dan.”
All I heard was loud laughter. “Hello?”
More laughter then Dan’s boss Melissa got on the phone. “That was…hilarious,” she said, gasping for breath.
“What?” I said, innocently.
Jess got on the phone, laughing. “Do you know how much shit I’m getting?”
I had sent her flowers. That night, we had sex again.
“Are you sure this is OK?” Jess asked.
“I’m ready,” I said, with a smile.
“Um, this may hurt a little. It’s been a while.”
“So? I went eighteen years without sex?”
She smiled. “Um, it’s a little different for you now…”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re not that big. Sadly, I know this.”
“It’s not that…”
“Shut up and kiss me.” She did. And she was right and I was wrong. It hurt. Not mentally. It felt good to reconnect. Physically, it hurt like hell. Another lesson in womanhood, I guess.
That night, after she passed out, I put one of my nighties again for the first time in two months. It felt good. Right. I slept like a baby.
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