by Cary Schwartz
Roommates. Speeding down Airport Boulevard, the word kept jumping into my mind and taking my brain hostage. Roommates. That was the word my wife used to describe how she felt about us.
I’ve had plenty of roommates in the past. The first one, freshman year of college. Immediately after graduation, he moved away to New York. He makes loads of money; has an expensive penthouse apartment on the Lower East Side (a block away from Katz’s Deli); two well-behaved children in a fancy private school; and a beautiful, loving wife. His wife loves him… wish I were that lucky.
Roommates. I had another roommate after college. We shared a crappy, roach-infested pad on the “wrong side of the tracks.” We also had a shared interest in watching movies, drinking scotch, and smoking pot. The movies, some of the time; the scotch, most of the time; and the weed, all the time. When we were not high, we would spend our free time getting drunk and hitting on the hostesses at the restaurant where we worked. Lots of alcohol, lots of drugs, no hostesses. He does not care about the hostesses anymore. His life is now dedicated to his three young and hyperactive girls, his loyal and devoted wife, and his lord and savior Jesus Christ. He is a believer of faith, love, and loyalty. We have radically different views on religion. We are also different because his wife is loyal.
One of my roommates was my best friend, the guy I turned to when I absolutely needed somebody to take care of anything. Need someone to help move a heavy couch I found on Craigslist? Call him. Need some company as I grab a beer and watch the Cowboys fumble in the last minute on their one-yard line? Call him. Need bail money and a ride when my car is totaled after partaking in way too many “Buy One, Get One” Jack Daniels shots at Mugshots Bar and Grill? Call him. The irony of drinking at Mugshots, 30 minutes before participating in a mugshot was not lost on either of us. That’s a roommate.
The word, roommate, always brought back wonderful memories of being young and carefree. It’s supposed to be a pleasant word, a positive word. It turns negative when your partner and lover of 10 years tells you otherwise. I replay the conversation over and over in my head. “Do you feel like we are just roommates and not husband and wife?” she asks, with a blank expression on her angelic face. “No, not at all. Do you?” I reply to the love of my life. She says nothing, but that says everything.
The Toyota Corolla weaves in and out of the two small lanes on the pothole-filled avenue. This road has good memories. On the corner is the dingy dive bar that we stumbled in on our very first night in town, minutes after parking a full U-Haul truck in front of our brand-new home. Across the street is the Vietnamese place we always talked about trying, but never will. On the left, I pass the auto mechanic that quoted her an extra 900 bucks because they thought they could take advantage of a naïve female, who simply needed new brake pads. Little did they know that she grew up with a dad who franchised three Jiffy Lubes, where she spent her high school summers, hanging with the grease monkeys and learning how to rebuild an engine. Right before the highway is the famous New Orleans Snowballs Shack that everyone says is the best shaved ice in town, even though we both joked that it tasted like they came out of a Snoopy’s snow cone maker we both received as birthday presents when we were kids. Those machines were cheap and definitely not built to last. Just like our marriage.
I continue the drive and have now gone a few miles without even grasping what is about to happen. It started three days ago, but it feels like it has been a year. Log into Facebook and there is the red notification I have seen 848 times before that I have a new friend request, although this is not a past acquaintance. It was a future companion I never wanted to know.
Who is this woman, and why did she send me a request to connect? It must be a mistake, right? I open her page and click on the profile picture of her beautiful family complete with two adorable children and a guy that I do recognize. That’s the guy my wife works with, the guy she is always talking about, the guy she went on the business trip with one week before she decided that we were roommates. This is the guy who talked it up with me at the company happy hour that my wife invited me to, but then rescinded the invitation an hour before it started. She asked me to stay home since it would be so far out of my way, but I thought it would be romantic to surprise her. She sure seemed surprised… and uncomfortable… when all three of us were standing at the bar, awaiting our watered-down margaritas. I chalked it up to the extra shot of tequila she downed as I entered her company’s roped off VIP area. I was never one to pick up on signs, but I think even Stevie Wonder would have been able to read this one.
My mind continues to wander, jumping from him to her and her and him together, so I barely see the red brake lights in front of me. My car skids to a stop as I am thankful for those brake pads the shady mechanic put in at cost, due to her threatening to call the Better Business Bureau regarding their initial interaction. She has always been very tough, which is what I was initially attracted to. She always seemed so strong which I’m discovering is a lie. Pretending to be so secure and know herself so well, when she doesn’t know herself, or anything, at all. The vehicle in front of me finally gets moving again and I quickly move over to the left lane and speed past, extending my arm out and flipping up my middle finger as I pass. I don’t even know why? They didn’t do anything wrong, other than wake me from my nightmarish daydream. I know I am not giving a “fuck you” to them, I am giving it to her.
Two more stoplights, and I am there, to meet the stranger from social media. We have not met before, never seen each other outside of photos of each other plastered across our feeds. I have never even heard her voice, but I already feel closer to her than I have to anyone. We have exchanged a total of 27 messages back and forth, but it was the last one that has lured me away from my bed at 2:04 in the morning, “I have it.” Those three words were more powerful than the other three words I had been saying to my wife for 10 years.
I rush through the final green light and make a hard right into the Taco Bueno parking lot. Locating her forest green Subaru under the streetlight, just where she said she would be. I pull into the spot one space to the left of her driver’s seat, tear the keys out of the ignition, reach for the handle, and freeze. Do I want to do this, just to be proven wrong? I have believed her for months – the late nights at work are due to her supervisor being let go and she was taking on the extra workload. Her long Saturday afternoons with Jenny were due to Jenny’s personal issue that she wasn’t ready to share with anyone but her. Her not coming home two nights ago was due to her having too many cocktails with Nicole, and the Uber surge price was ridiculous—I believed them all, and now, I will hear the truth.
My new Facebook friend is still messing with the computer in the passenger seat of the Subaru when she looks up, eyes puffy and red, and beckons me over without motioning or saying a word. My car door opens by my own hand, but I feel like it is someone else’s. I do not have control of my own body and in a daze, I walk up to her. There is no need for a hug, a handshake, or pleasantry of any kind. We are there for one reason… to listen. She opens her MacBook Pro and places her finger on the space bar that will unpause the dreaded audio. “Are you ready?” she asks. I answer, “Yes,” but I know I’m not.
She presses down firmly on the space bar, and there is nothing to do but listen to what the hidden mic has secretly captured. The audio is muffled and quiet at first, but quickly becomes clear. A couple in the throes of passion, breathlessly yearning for each other. I go completely numb as the audio continues to play, filling my ears with sounds I will never be able to unhear. The sounds of forbidden love between her husband and my wife, the roommate I will always love.