They called him Batman, and his mistress was called Cha Cha. I wish I could say that those are code names, but that's really how they were known.
"What an idiot, huh?" Matt shook his head. "Bring your girlfriend to the bar where your wife and her family come all the time?" To my relief, Batman and Cha Cha left not long after I started my shift, leaving me to stew in my anger. Batman's wife was at once a needy but dominant patron, but she was boisterous and kind and fun. She was pretty, even if a little heavy set. She always struck me as smarter than him, certainly as friendlier and more outgoing, and I frequently wondered how they ended up together. Most of all, she simply didn't deserve what was clearly happening. No one does.
When Batman and his wife walked in a couple of hours later I could barely contain my disgust with him. He ordered his usual Bud Light and a rum and coke for her, and the two took their place at one of the two-top tables in the middle of the bar. I studied them while I pretended to wash dishes and make conversation with the other patrons, until I saw her face crumple.
"Are you serious? Are you really doing this? You're really doing this here?" she cried, and I was suddenly embarrassed for her and ashamed to be watching it all unfold before my eyes. She cried and left the bar and my face burned at the fucking nerve of that guy who didn't find it sufficient to leave his wife for another woman, but dragged her into public humiliation as well. I watched a marriage end, shatter in front of me, like it was just another Saturday night.
I saw her again many times. She never shed another tear in front of me. She never mentioned her marriage or impending divorce, except to say "Oh, well." The tears I saw were from but a fissure that was quickly sealed and I admired her sense of revenge - To hardly bat an eye in the face of what I was sure was a terrible time in her life. No one could ever say, "Hey Batman, I saw your ex-wife crying into her beer at the bar last week. And by the way, how's Cha Cha?" Instead all they could say is "I saw your ex-wife - I don't think she's noticed that you're gone."
But she has noticed. I know, because I have frequently used her as my model. The breaks and cracks that cover my heart bleed relentlessly and I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm only afraid to show it.
At home there is a distinct sense that something is missing. For two weeks I had no overhead lighting in my room. I never had to change the light bulbs in the ceiling fan before, that was my husband's job, and I was slow to replace them this time. The ceiling fan is located directly above my bed. To change the bulbs alone I had to climb onto my bed, setting two bulbs at my feet, replacing each one at a time then bending to set down an old one and pick up another new one. Beneath me my toes wriggled in the purple material of the comforter that I selected when I set out to reclaim my bedroom.
In my shower, among the pastel bottles of soap and shampoo against the backdrop of pink tile, a can of men's shaving gel sits out of place. When I release the gel the masculine scent fills the close quarters of the shower stall and it reminds me why I bother with things like shaving my legs anymore - because the touch of a man's hand feels so much better when my legs are smooth, and though my efforts might go unnoticed and unappreciated now, someday I'll feel it again. In a similar vein, when the longing for Gabriel gets to be too much, I wash my sheets in baby detergent. For a couple of days, for a few moments, before getting out of bed or while standing in the shower, I can close my eyes and where the sound and the sight and the touch of another time evade me, I can smell the memories and I can savor the hope.
The smile and the laughter are sometimes a show, but not always. The sense of freedom that comes with listening to whatever I want on the radio is real and it releases me. The joy I get from a night out with girlfriends is real and carries me. The pleasure I get from a pretty pair of panties that no one else will see is real and thrills me. The power that comes with being able to dedicate time to a budding career is real too, and it drives me. The breaks and the cracks are real, but so is the strength that comes from keeping it all together.