Claudia met Jonathan at one of those 1st birthday parties people have at parks. The kind you have when your child is too young to be mobile but you want to do something to celebrate that you actually made it through the first year, baby and marriage in tact. Sometimes barely.
Like a petite techno neo hippie, Jonathan’s wife fluttered around asking the guests if she could mix them a mimosa. Her skirt skimmed the edges of the blankets laid out on the ground, the tapestry of rich refugees, and her eyes never stayed long on anyone she asked. Like a sprite, she was off to fill the orders she barely heard. It was Jonathan who brought Claudia her drink. Busy, organizing her own toddler’s things on her little square of real estate, she thought nothing about anything until he handed her the plastic cup. He leaned over her a bit, blocking out the sun, and she was momentarily blinded. They did the hand off of strangers save for one tiny centimeter of contact. Just a pinky grazing a thumb.
Honey, did you meet Jonathan?
Claudia’s husband bounded up carrying a Frisbee from some wedding they had gone to in their youth. (Claudia’s husband was good at saving everything but their marriage.)
Yes. No. Maybe?
Claudia smiled and raised her hand in front of her face, rocking it side to side in a gesture she’d been teased about but never been able to shake. She thought that was the moment they first met but later Jonathan had admitted to her that he had seen her before, at another party, and had noticed the same smile, wave, gesture, and that same night, over too much wine, confessed that at that moment he knew he would want to see that repetitive pattern of unconscious greeting again and again for the rest of his life.
A week later, Claudia saw Jonathan on the treadmill at the gym.
Claudia & Jonathan never actually made love but kissed in (what seemed to Claudia) every crack or crevice in the city that you can get to by car. Prime numbers together they are merely less than that apart.
There are 3 kids between them split up in two uneven divisions. One lover and wife who reigns supreme with freshly baked goods and faux primitive jewelry purchased at boutique shops in Los Feliz. While Claudia was the queen of giving out carefully measured vulnerability, Jonathan’s wife was the creator of many an online vegan recipe – the type that lends itself to not only a delicious bite but, also, how to create the perfect eco-friendly home.
On Instagram and Facebook they played with each other like tigers in separate cages. Pawing at cell block images as they flash between bars.
Sometimes Claudia would walk the streets from shop to shop, reading the marks and stains on the pavement like tea leaves. She stopped in front of a book store and stared into the window. More at her reflection than anything behind the glass. Below her, under the window, an ice cream puddle formed. As she eyed the discarded cone, she wondered if it had any meaning at all or was simply an abandoned waste of something sweet and delicious.
A few weeks later, Claudia thought of that ice cream puddle and not wanting to be an emotional glutton, Claudia knew she had to end it. It was too much. The grasping for breath trying to keep her marriage afloat and the painful undertow of something deeper that she didn’t know she needed until it appeared before her in the middle of a Sunday across an expanse of lawn. That breath of life that she knew she must snuff.
She called him from her car and pulled over to sit beneath the shade. Enclosed in the warmth of her car that smelled like coffee and child, she took a deep breath.
I can’t do this anymore
I know, said Jonathan
It hurts too much
I know, he repeated
Claudia knew Jonathan would know it before she said it.
Claudia came home and locked herself in the bathroom. Under the heated drops she cried. She sat at the table and looked across at her little family. Her prime number always her priority. Claudia’s husband smiled at her. It seemed different than before and she wondered if somehow it had been a long time since she had noticed him.
They put their son to bed and laughed at the way he fought to stay up.
This is nice, she said and reached out for his hand.
She felt him tighten then relax in a way Claudia felt was familiar. (For she had known herself to do the same thing before.)
Later they lit a fire and before Claudia could suggest a movie her husband started to cry. Guilt crept up and choked her silent. Immobile she watched him pull himself together.
I have something to tell you, he said
What is it she asked
I’ve been having feelings for someone else he said
An emotion affair, I think.
Oh, was all Claudia could manage.
Because the world we live in is complicated and tiring, Claudia longed to close her eyes and sleep. Because her life was one she had chosen, she stayed awake and tried to forgive herself and them both.
**photo by Christina Preiss**