It would take her years to process the truth. Not the truth of the last moment: Her, weeping at the airport into the shoulder seam of a man’s sweatshirt. She was upping the ante, that day. Making the ultimate bet, the win of which — would be her staying. (At least, she thought that was the win she’d wanted, at that last moment.)
And it was not the truth that he had been feeding her for years. No, not his truth: The truth that he begged her to accept, just so that he could buy himself more time. So that he could continue to have it both ways. Both women.
But how much more time could a man need? He had already taken six years out of her life. Six years out of her youth — and out of her better self.
When they first met, she still had a cherubic face: The same face he would’ve seen had he expressed an interest in seeing photos of her younger self. Her better self: The self before the sans six years had happened. It would’ve foretold the face of their firstborn, if he were to have any courage to follow through with the affair.
But then, perhaps, it was not a question of courage. It was quite possible that the matter narrowed down to the initial intention. Down, down went the spiral, to the root of the matter. On every loop, their faces changed. Their characters changed slightly, altered by each other: And that was the only way she could expect to matter, in the end. In the truth of that last moment, and beyond. After six years, she would have changed a man. She had happened to him. And after her happening, he had to have changed.
She failed to change him for the better. She couldn’t as much as change his mind to make her life — his first choice. For the duration of the affair, she would remain the back-up; the retreat in which he hid when things weren’t well at home. She would remain a fantasy. The Other Woman: The one that fabricated her own calendar, rescheduled her holidays and channeled each day toward the brief line-up of hours when she would see him; then, dismiss the rest. The one that pressured herself into better housekeeping, into whipping up gourmet meals and shaping her body into the best he could have had. His life’s first choice.
In literature, women like her were despised. They were often written mean, or needy; with serious daddy issues. Complete head cases, in films these women went berserk; and they would do the unthinkable things that later justified their suffering. They were insecure, although often very beautiful. Their puffy faces waited by the door on Christmas, and by the phone on birthdays. They were the back-ups, forever waiting for arrivals. They fed themselves on leftovers of loves. The paupers. The self-imposed outcasts. And their faces — sans the years that their lovers took out of their better selves — were the faces she never hoped to see in the reflection of closed store fronts, by which she, too, had waited all these years.
“A bright girl!” she had been called before. A bit naive, perhaps, but not an idiot. But it would take her years: because she wanted to believe that she was good enough to change his mind. Good enough to deserve love.
Up, up went the spiral, up to the clarity of truth. Not the truth that she had wanted to believe so desperately. Not the truth that may have been actual, when the lovers were intertwined: In those moments, he may have loved her; but no more than he loved himself. He too had to be thinking that he deserved love, that he deserved to have it both ways. That he deserved — both women.
The truth was to be found in the initial intention: The root of the matter. He never wanted her for keeps. An adventure, an escape from the dissatisfactions of his chosen life. In his chosen wife. That was the matter: He felt he deserved the comforts of the chosen wife and the fantasy — of the Other Woman. He deserved both.
The problem was: She was a good woman. A good girl. “A bright one”. And to protect himself from the guilt, he had to tarnish her. So, he would leave it up to her — to make the choice to stay. To be the back-up. He left it in her hands to keep on waiting, while he continued — to come back.
And he would have kept going until she lost the memory of her better self and would become that woman: that Other Woman, with puffy-faced reflections and reconstructed calendars. The pauper. The disregarded.
She would have lost her self-respect, and how could anyone respect a girl like that? So, he wouldn’t. He left it in her hands — to destroy her better self. And that would always justify his choice of the chosen wife.
But in the truth of that last moment, she upped the ante: He could either have her better self — or whatever was left of her, after the sans six years — or no self of hers at all. She left him to his chosen life.
And in that last truth, the only person who deserved compassion (because she still would not receive his better love) — was the man’s Chosen Wife.
But hers — was a whole another story:
Of yet Another Woman.