My wife, Holly, who has just entered the third trimester of her pregnancy with our daughter, Aurora, needs help climbing the steep stairs leading from the sidewalk to the courthouse in this small Massachusetts town where you live. Three men stand on the steps of the courthouse, smoking. One man isn’t wearing shoes. Holly reaches for my hand, albeit mostly out of habit I think. I hold the door open for her. A guard waves us through the metal detector. He seems bored.
You don’t live far from here. Each time I drove to and from your apartment, I would pass this courthouse. I haven’t seen or talked to you in five weeks, the longest we’ve gone without talking since we met nine months ago.
Holly and I have not lived together in a month, and her mother asks everyday if Holly will move to California with our son, Avery, and unborn daughter. Let Will enjoy his homosexual life in Boston, she says. Even if Holly has come to accept that I not only had an affair with you but also fell in love with you, her family has not, and probably never will. Can you blame them? Holly will not take my children away. Even if she wanted to, an attorney told her that in Massachusetts, a judge would call taking my children away without my permission kidnapping.
Holly squeezes my hand. Are you OK? she asks. She is holding my left hand; you can still see a strip of white skin marking where my wedding band had been.
Am I bad person? I ask Holly.
You’ve done some bad things, Will, she says, but you’re not a bad person.
Have I ruined my future by losing him? I ask.
He wasn’t the one for you, she says. He isn’t the one for you.
What if he gets in trouble? I ask her.
He didn’t think about the fallout from taking a restraining order out against you, she says. You cannot think about what being here will do to him. You have to think about yourself and your family. We need you.
Holly takes my hand and puts it on her stomach where our daughter is elongating and stretching.
He. No one in my life says your name. My close friends, the ones who helped put me back together when I felt torn into ribbons, call you RODA, an acronym for restraining order drug addict. A woman I work with calls you the psycho who works up the street. How unfair, the proximity of where you and I work and live, now that we are on the outside of each other’s lives. The Mystic River separates where you work from where I work. The times I drove to you during lunch, or after work, the times you met me at the train station, we traversed the river. We crossed over. There was a crossing.
And maybe I crossed a line when I staged on my one-man intervention. I don’t feel guilty, not about what I did to you—for you?—and not about what I did to Holly. I cheated on her, and even though my marriage to her had ended years ago, she deserved more than my cheating on her, especially my cheating on her with someone like you.
How nice, thinking about you as someone like you, as opposed to the you with whom I woke up some mornings, and the you to whom I would say: Waking up like this certainly doesn’t suck.
No, rabbit, you would tell me, waking up next to you certainly doesn’t suck.
I think I should continue talking to Holly, if only to ease the tension in my stomach, but Holly and I have run out of things to talk about. We are still drawing the boundaries of our new relationship. I am no longer afraid of living as an openly gay man. And she will not want to hear that my second date with you included a brief interlude outside this courthouse, even if I am thinking about that second date and how much possibility it had held.
You and I had stood near a corner of this courthouse. Christmas lights still hung on storefronts, even though Christmas had been nearly a month earlier, and from the stairs of the courthouse, we could see lights on houses in the distance.
I have something to say, you had said.
The way you had said I have something to say drained the night of its magic.
I used to be a crystal meth addict, you had said.
Here’s the other shoe, I’d thought. I’ve been waiting for its fall. Never mind my marriage. That was not the other shoe. I could get out of it. I wanted to get out of it. I had been afraid to get out of it.
I haven’t used in a while, but when I use, nothing else matters. And the last time I used, I destroyed my life, hurt people I loved, and almost died. Crystal left me with nothing, and I know if I use again, I will not come back. I will use until I die.
But you don’t use now, I had said. The way I had said but you don’t use now seemed like I was asking, not telling.
No, but I like to occasionally get high. I only recently started smoking. I never buy it. My roommate gives it to me. Will, I don’t know what we’re becoming, you had said, but if we’re becoming anything, if you ever think I’m going down that path again, if you think that I may even possibly use crystal, or if you think my drug use is growing out of control, then you have to promise that you will do whatever stopping me takes.
You had wanted me to know who you were up front. You had wanted me to know this large fact about you because you believe this large fact defines you. And maybe it does. In time, I defined you by this large fact. You are an addict, and I felt responsible for keeping you safe. From the beginning, you had asked me to.
OK, D, I had said, even though I hadn’t known what we were becoming either.
You had been able to tell I was cold. You had unwrapped your scarf from around your neck and tied it around my neck. You had said, there, that should keep you warmer. You were standing close enough that I could smell you. You had kissed me.
I see you walk into the courthouse. Holly and I are sitting on a bench near a staircase. You put an envelope on the conveyer belt. I nod in your direction. There he is, I say. She had told me she would never recognize you.
I am surprised that you are alone. I expected you to bring your best friend, who must be happy that I am no longer in your life, or that you would bring your roommate, who is your dealer and who doesn’t like me, even though in the beginning he seemed to. My attorney arrives. He walks in front of you and blocks my view of you.
We’re on the third floor, he says.
He’s here, I say.
Where? my attorney asks.
I nod in your direction.
Holly and I walk up the stairs in front of my attorney who is walking in front of you. How surreal, I think. We’re walking up these stairs to see whether or not a judge will vacate a restraining order you took out against me because, without your knowledge, I had recorded you and your best friends getting high and snorting pills. Whatever it took. You had made me promise. I loved you. I thought I was fulfilling my promise.
Only after you had ended our relationship, made sure I knew you never wanted to see me again, and took out the restraining order, did I make sure you found out that I had been married the entire time. I didn’t want you to know to hurt you; I wanted you to know so you would understand how much I had been willing to give up for you, and how disappointed I had been that you had not been willing to make the same accommodations. I had told you Holly would never let a drug addict raise her children. You had promised to quit once we lived together. But you had asked me not to make you pick between me and the drugs.
I know you wouldn’t have picked me.
My attorney introduces himself to you. Can we talk? he asks you.
I cannot hear what you are saying. I do not want to hear what you are saying. If I look at you, I will cry, and if I cry, then you will know that my heart continues to break. Our coupling and uncoupling has no middle ground. I am not ready for the questions the judge will ask.
Who stole the tarts?
No, not that question.
Where is my heart?
The heart you gave back to me is not the same heart I gave to you. I want that heart back. I want to not have given you my heart. I want to not have met you.
Lies. All lies.
No lying on the stand. Swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Did you love him?
Do you miss him?
Are you sorry?
Am I sorry?
You know the story — our story — and you are mad at me for the part I played in our story — your story — and sometimes I’m mad at me for the part I played in my story, because my story was supposed to be your story was supposed to be our story. All I needed to do was divorce my wife, get you to stop using drugs, and then I could enjoy our ever after happy ending.
Have you noticed I’m wearing the engagement ring I bought you, the ring I hired a metalworker to make for me, for you? Had I not incorrectly guessed at your ring size, you’d have this ring, which you would have worn for one month, and then you would have taken off this ring, and never worn this ring again.
Even after the metalworker re-sized the ring, it does not fit my ring finger, not exactly, not quite.
We are here, in this courthouse, outside of which I started falling in love with you more than nine months ago, and I do not want to be here inside this courthouse, outside of which I started falling in love with you more than nine months ago. But we are here because we have to be here, because if we are not here, then the restraining order you took out will remain in place, and I will have to look for you in crowds and subways and at concerts and restaurants, never knowing if somewhere I am is where you will be, or are, and whether I will have to cut short my time in this somewhere, because you will be, or are, there.
I am at a concert, and even though you never expressed any interest in this specific band, I can’t help but look for you and your friends. I look for you because if you are here, you will call building security, show them a copy of the restraining order, and have me removed.
I can’t live like this, I think after the show. I ask Holly what she thinks about my filing a motion to reconsider the restraining order, and asking a judge to decide if the restraining order was validly granted, since I was not there to present my side. I do not feel you deserve to have that power over me. I will not make decisions about where I go based on where I think you may go. You were never afraid of me. She says she’s wanted me to do that all along.
The clerk of the civil court where you got your restraining order listens to my story and explains how I can file a Motion for Reconsideration. Holly holds my hand. Avery will not stand still. He runs around, and finally Holly sits with him outside. The clerk hands me some paperwork and says I can take the paperwork out into the main area and write out there. I tell her thank you. She seems kind. I’d like to think that she believes me and feels the restraining order was issued without merit. Maybe she has to make everyone believe that that’s how she feels because she never knows which person’s story is the more correct version of the story.
On the date of the hearing, I was at St. Elizabeth’s completing a partial hospital program. I never received notice of the extension. D was in regular contact with my wife, Holly Henderson, during this time. On August 5, D sent me an email and I thought the restraining order had expired. At this time, he still had belongings of mine, and my son. On August 16, I called the local police department to ask about the restraining order and they said they had no record of it. Later that day, he gave my wife my stuff, sent me messages through her, and then had a four-hour text message conversation with me. We continued to talk the next day and the day after we met for coffee. He told me at that meeting that the restraining order had been extended. The next day, we texted most of the day and that night, he, my son, and I met for ice cream. That night he told me he loved me. The next night he told me he wanted to marry me, raise children with me, and get to know my wife, who I have since separated from. The next day, August 21, he told me he loved me, but when I said something he didn’t like, he sent me a picture of the restraining order and said he’d have no problem having me arrested and taken from my child if I contacted him again. Two days later, he told my wife that if she ever contacted him again, or went into his place of employment, he would take a restraining order out against her and have me arrested. He told me he took out the restraining order because he loved me and he knew if I had contact we’d get back together, not because he was afraid I’d hurt him.
We broke up because I had recorded his roommate selling him an ounce of marijuana; D turning around and selling half an ounce to a friend; he and two friends smoking half an ounce of marijuana; and then snorting prescription pills. While I didn’t have his permission to record him, he had given me keys to his apartment and given me an open invitation to come over when I wanted. Also, D is a former crystal meth user and early in our relationship he made me promise that if I ever thought he and his marijuana use was getting out of hand to do whatever I needed to do to help him because if he started down that path he’d never come back. After receiving a copy of the extended restraining order from him, I verified it with the clerk of the civil court and have not had any contact with him. I am not the first ex-boyfriend he has taken out a restraining order against, and I do not feel it was issued under the right circumstances. We never had a violent relationship, and I would never harm him. In the e-mail he sent threatening my wife, he ended it by saying he would do whatever it took to protect his roommate and his friends.
Holly reads my statement, and I ask her if I’m doing the right thing. I don’t have to do this, I say. She says I have to do it, and if I won’t do it for myself, then I have to do it for Avery. She says that I have to protect my family. He’s crazy, she says. You don’t know what he’s capable of.
I thought he was capable of loving me, I say.
Restraining orders and love do not usually go together, she says.
I turn in the paperwork and ask the clerk for copies. She gives me the copies. She says she will send you notice of the hearing.
A friend recommends an attorney. I set up an appointment. Holly meets me at the appointment. She can only stay 45 minutes; she has a doctor’s appointment after. Another sonogram I will miss.
I tell Attorney the story. He listens. A second-year associate takes notes. I have brought e-mails and text messages and phone records, anything that may help him prove you did not take out the restraining order because you felt I was a threat. Attorney looks at Holly. You’ll write an affidavit supporting this? he asks.
Yes, Holly says.
You can attest that Will is not a violent man and has never threatened you? That you have never felt afraid of him?
Yes, Holly says.
Attorney looks at me. You know you have that one in a million wife.
I know, I say. I reach for Holly’s hand and hold it.
Not many women would sit next to a husband who is defending himself against a restraining order filed against him by his ex-boyfriend.
I know, I say.
I have to tell him about St. Elizabeth’s and what led me there. He doesn’t react, just says he hopes I’m doing better and that I’ve realized I had, have, other options. You will get through this, he says.
Second-year Associate reads the text messages we exchanged that week in August, what Judi still calls my relapse week.
What’s the deal with the rabbit references? she asks.
He called me rabbit, I say. I know you will think about me when you hear the word rabbit. I do not tell her that I called you horse, and that when I’m feeling most bitter, I think that I did not call you horse as in hung like a, because you are not, hung like a horse that is.
After Second-year Associate finishes reading through our text message history, I ask her if I made a mistake. Did I royally fuck up or did I dodge a bullet?
He was intense, Will, she says.
I also ask Holly. She is tired of answering this question. She may not use the same words, but her answer is essentially the same.
You didn’t fuck up, she says. D did what he did to protect himself. She uses the words maladaptive behavior. She says you have been taught to react like this when you are hurt. You did the only thing you knew to do.
He loved me. I loved him. I didn’t mean to take over his life. I was just trying to help.
I know, Will, she says, and I think he felt that way at the time, but it’s easy to twist stories so that facts mean one thing one day and something different another day.
I won’t do that, I say. The story is the story. I don’t need to change what happened in order to look or feel better.
You don’t look very good in the story, she says.
I know, I say, but I’m starting to look better.
She snorts. I’m almost as tired of hearing about how thin you’re getting as I am hearing about how broken you feel, she says.
I hug her and kiss her hair. This is as close as we get to physical intimacy. I love you.
I love you, too, she says.
A week later, Attorney sends me and Holly our affidavits to sign. I read through my affidavit twice. Here are the facts of our relationship, how it was never violent; how you were in touch with me and Holly after you took out the restraining order; how we had gotten back together; and this, the last fact to which I am attesting: On August 21, 2010, D texted me: I know you’re it. My it. Us. You, me, Holly, Ave and Aurora. Then: We can and we will get there. Then: I’m yours. And: You’re mine. Rabbit.
Yours. Mine. Ours. Invisible cords, once taut; now not.
I can’t believe the fact that he called me rabbit is going to be part of the public record, I say to Holly. How did this become my life? How did a term of endearment become a reason why the restraining order should never have issued? How did this happen?
And she says it is kind of funny that rabbit is part of the public record. You have to go through with it, she says. He didn’t care about what the restraining order would do to you and your life. You have to do this to protect yourself and get your life back.
I say, I know. But really what I want to say is, You’ve read what he said to me. You’ve read how convinced he was that I was his family. He meant it then. At least I think he meant it then. And five weeks later we’re about to meet in court so I have the chance to convince a judge that I’m not a physical threat to him. How did this happen? How did I let this happen?
Attorney talks to you, is talking to you. In your hands are the materials you thought relevant to why the restraining order is just and should remain in place. I cannot look at you. Holly reaches for my hand and squeezes it.
Five weeks ago, you and I were getting back together. And now we’re here. I know nothing about your life. You know nothing about mine. I assume you’ve slept with someone, and are probably dating someone. I am now a footnote in your dating history, if I warrant a story.
Aurora is moving, Holly says. She pulls my hand to her stomach and presses in. I feel nothing at first, and then there it is, a kick, and another kick, and a third kick. I think that already she loves me and is waiting to meet me. I breathe. Regardless of today’s outcome, everything will be OK.
A bailiff asks you and Attorney to talk elsewhere. No conferences outside of the courtroom, the bailiff says. Attorney takes you out into the hallway. My stomach hurts. My heart hurts more. Holly and I do not talk. There is nothing she can say, and because there is nothing she can say, there is nothing I feel I can say.
Attorney comes back. I don’t want to hear you respond, but he says you followed him into a parking lot once. And you, he says, looking at Holly, sent him a bunch of papers.
I am stuck on you followed him into a parking lot. Really? I think. You blamed yourself for that happening. You thanked me for not giving up on you. You told me that you never said I wouldn’t have to chase after you. You said that you’ve learned that sometimes shutting up and getting into the car is in everyone’s best interest. Today, that same moment is why you need a restraining order?
However, Attorney says, I think he will agree to vacate the restraining order. I told him that if it remains in place, you will not be able to go on field trips with Avery, and that it will harm your ability to play an active role in Avery’s education. He said that that was never his intention.
OK, I say.
He wants both of you to sign an order of non-trespass banning you from his home and where he works. I don’t think he’s really authorized to ban you from the store, though.
I don’t care, I say. If that’s what he needs, we’ll sign it.
I’ll have to write up the order, Attorney says. I think that permanently ending our relationship — our affair — and undoing the time we spent together is costing me a lot of money.
Attorney goes back to you to iron out remaining details.
At least he thinks I sent the journal, Holly says.
There is that, I say.
She is still holding my hand. My heart continues to break, even though I had thought that there was nothing left to break.
He wants you to write the statement, Attorney says. He wants you to have no question what he is asking for and what you are agreeing to.
Fine, I say.
Attorney dictates what I need to write. He suggests adding a clause that if I see you in a public space, that I will leave.
No, I say. I do not want that. I will write that I will avoid and ignore him, but I will not leave. That’s part of why I’m here. I do not want to base any plans I make on whether or not I think he will be there. No.
That should be fine, Attorney says.
I add that I will stay at least 50 feet away from you. I think that I should say I will stay at least 57 feet away from you, but only because I think you will see the inherent irony in my using that number.
I think I could smell his lotion on the paper, I say.
You could not smell his lotion, Holly says.
I think you will not stay in the area much longer. You routinely pick up and go once you have exploded your life in one city. Moving away is how you heal heartbreak. I think about the ex-boyfriends you told me about. These men are my brothers. They survived you; I will, too. Line us up as we were at the end of our separate relationships with you, and I think we would each have the same haunted look in our eyes.
I think you will move home to be with your mother, who lives next door to your grandparents, so you can help them too. And with her cancer spreading, and your apathy about your job, along with losing me and Avery, I think you will consider your life more exploded than it has ever been.
Or if you don’t move home, I can picture you and your best friend moving to New York. Or, as you and I learned while I was inviting people to your birthday party, the woman who moved to Boston with you is now in college in Los Angeles. I can see you moving there too.
Attorney returns. You have agreed to the wording. Now you want the paper notarized by someone other than him. You have to write a motion vacating the restraining order, which Attorney says you’re doing. While the clerk finds someone who will notarize my statement, Attorney says that you told him that you feel very betrayed by me, and you need no contact in order to heal. I think you telling Attorney this is odd.
There’s nothing left for you with him, Attorney says, just in case you weren’t sure.
I know, I say. I am still holding Holly’s hand. She squeezes. She knows, perhaps better than anyone, how badly I hurt. I’ve known there is nothing left for nearly two months.
I think I have known there is nothing left since the morning at the Charles River when I listened to you tell your friends your plan for inviting the man from your doctor’s office home to get high. Six-and-a-half months, a very long relationship in your world.
Focus on your family, Attorney says.
I will, I say.
Attorney brings the statement, once notarized, to you. Then Attorney comes back and asks me and Holly to come upstairs. We go into the courtroom and take seats near the back on the left-hand side of the room. Attorney comes in and sits next to us.
Do you have the key to his door?
The key to his front door.
Yes, I say. It’s in a box. But I have it.
You need to mail it to me.
OK, I say. I’ll put it in the mail tomorrow.
Attorney leaves again. You walk in. I realize only now that you are wearing a pair of shoes that we each bought and a belt that we each bought. I think you chose to wear these items purposefully. You are wearing the white plugs in your ears that you wore on our first date. You sit down in a seat diagonal from us on the right-hand side of the room. I see you wipe your eyes. You are crying.
He’s crying, I whisper to Holly. I have someone to whisper to. You have brought no one.
I want to get up, sit next to you, wrap my arms around you, and tell you that everything will be OK. I want to say, I’m here, horse. Why are we doing this?
Are you OK? Holly asks.
I will be, I say. We will be. But fair warning, I’m going to break down in the car.
OK, she says. You can.
The judge calls two cases before ours. A woman wants her boyfriend to stay away from her and stop bothering her family. The judge rules in her favor. A woman wants a restraining order against a man who could be her boyfriend, or her fiancé, and since he has not shown up, the judge rules in her favor. I think that this was you two months ago.
He calls our case. From you and me to you vs. me. You stand on one side, and I stand on the other. Attorney stands between us. We have reached an agreement, Attorney says.
The judge asks for our names. You give yours. I give mine. Attorney says his. The clerk asks us to raise our right hands and solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You say yes. I say I do. I realize that this is as close to saying I do as I will get with you. The judge asks if you have agreed to vacate the restraining order on your own accord, and if you knew you could come back, even if the order is vacated. You say, I do.
The judge vacates the restraining order and bangs his gavel and the case, and we, are done. You leave quickly. You do not look at me and Holly. I cannot tell if you don’t look at us because you hate us or because looking at us is too painful for you. You are crying again. Attorney tells me and Holly to wait. He follows you outside. I think he is making sure you leave the building before Holly and I leave the courtroom. He comes back in and says we can leave.
Attorney talks to us about our divorce and custody issues. He thinks we’re handling our “situation” very adult-like.
I don’t know how else to handle it, I say. Being here is nothing like me.
I know, Attorney says.
Thank you for giving me back my life, I say.
Don’t overdramatize it, he says. Make better choices next time.
Attorney gets a copy of the vacated restraining order and suggests I carry it with me. If I do, I think, I will carry it in the wallet you gave me, which is the wallet I use.
Holly and I walk to my car. If I wanted, I could point out the spot where you and I had stood on our second date when you had asked me to promise to do whatever I thought necessary to keep you safe. But there’s no fixing something that doesn’t want to be fixed. I should never have tried.
I haven’t driven more than three blocks before I start to cry. Holly starts crying too, but mostly because I am crying about you. The new Sara Bareilles album is playing. The album goes from track 11 (“Not Alone”) to track 12 (“Breathe Again”). I consider this album our break-up album, even though I don’t know if you’ve even heard it.
Do you think I will ever love again? I ask.
Yes, she says.
Will I ever find a man as beautiful as he is?
You shouldn’t be thinking about finding your next boyfriend. Focus on yourself. And when you find him, focus instead on his inner beauty. Outer beauty fades. But really, have you ever dated someone who wasn’t beautiful?
No. I guess I haven’t. He was beautiful inside and out, I say. He loved me. He loved Avery. He was ready to love you and Aurora too. What if he was the one and I totally fucked it up?
Will, if he was the one, he wouldn’t have taken out the restraining order, and you wouldn’t have been here in the first place. He wasn’t your one. He wasn’t the right match for you. But I know you will find him.
I hope so.
Don’t hope, she says. Know.