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The young and gentle sunlight slipped past the hotels’ thick curtains and curled itself around his dark hair. I was utterly mesmerized. He looked so much more worn when he slept: the intensity and passion disappeared completely and all that was left was a face of a man who had been beaten in his own game of life. This was so strange to me: I had only been exposed to his dominant and commanding side that was overflowing with vigor and life and love. But as he slept, it all drained out of him and left the stump of weakness. Strangely, I did not find this repulsive. Usually the men I fell for had enough confidence to shy Brad Pitt out of the room. They had no qualms about sweeping me into their arms with bravado and a smile without any gaps for faults to slip through. But this man that had lain beside me was exposed and vulnerable. And somehow I loved every bit of it. I traced my long red fingernail along the soft features of his face. His cheekbones. His eyebrows. His eyelids. His chin. His lips. I slid up onto my elbow and gently traced his lips with my own. He started to stir, hummed a content sigh, and then slipped back into the heavy slumber that left him raw and organic.
Smiling, I sat up and stretched. It was an uncommon feeling: smiling. I took my long, red fingernail and traced my own lips that reclined into a gentle curve. I wrapped my arms around my legs, watching him, absorbing every second of my rare smile, knowing that in a mere three hours we would have to board a plane to return to work. Where I would sit in a cubicle, monotonously typing and retyping information from stacks of paper delivered to my desk, and where he would sit in an office exactly two floors and three rooms to the left of my cubicle, monotonously creating and printing said stacks of paper. Where I would fidget and glance at the door, waiting for the moment for him to deliver said stacks of paper. Where my heart would tighten a noose around my throat every time he did deliver a stack of paper with a slight brush of his hand, sometimes a personal thought on a sticky-note, maybe a discreet and professional-looking whisper in my ear, then always a nonchalant turn back to his office exactly two floors and three rooms to the left of my lonely, little cubicle. But it was always worth it in exchange for the few precious nights I could spend with him. When we would go on business trips to cities across the sea and he would take me to elegant restaurants and wine tasting parties and midnight walks and kisses under the blanket of the night sky and mornings waking up in his arms. A night like the one we had just enjoyed. We were on a business trip in London and after our afternoon meetings he and I roamed the city for hours until we had eventually roamed back to his hotel room. I thought all of this as I watched him sleep.
Suddenly his phone rang from inside the bathroom. I detached from my thoughts of him and looked to see if he had woken. He hadn’t and the phone rang on. The third ring still had not roused him, so I slid out of bed, pulled on his t-shirt and tip-toed toward the bathroom. As I picked up his Blackberry, the phone stopped ringing. A box appeared telling him he had one missed call from Karen Warren. Warren? That was his last name. Staring at the screen, an uneasy feeling crept into my stomach and started burrowing itself. But I shook my head and laughed inwardly at myself. He never wore a wedding band! He never had any other commitments! No one had ever mentioned to me that he was married. Besides, he had a sister. It was most likely her calling. At least, I thought he mentioned to me he had a sister. Resolved to not let it bother me, I set the phone back down and looked in the mirror. What I saw pleasantly startled me. My sharp, short, black haircut was matted and frizzed, but it looked soft to the touch. My black eyeliner was smudged and smeared, yet it looked natural and purposeful. My lips were swollen and puffed, but they were full and a healthy pink. His t-shirt hung on my body like a used towel on a rack, but it gently highlighted the curves of my body. Surprisingly, I was beautiful. Not just that, but that his love made me beautiful. I relented to stand for a few minutes in the mirror, enveloped in the smiling woman that seemed to personify love itself.
The phone vibrated harshly against the counter and shocked me back into reality. The discomfort began to dig itself deeper into my gut as I unwillingly glanced and the screen again. Incoming call: Karen Warren. I felt a mole with sharp claws scraping down my stomach, burrowing deeper and deeper until my insides felt like they were carved out. Gritting my teeth, I growled that I would not succumb to this nonsensical fear, picked up the trembling phone in my hand, and pressed the glowing green button.
“Hello?” I tried to sound confident. Didn’t work.
A slight pause filled my ear. “Who is this?” A female voice responded. Her voice was full and vibrant, yet it was slightly shaky, as if she had just stepped off a rocky rollercoaster.
Not knowing quite how to respond, this not being my phone or technically my designated conversation, I lean against the counter and say “Winona.” Silence floods the phone. “Winona James.” Silence screams in my ear. Thinking of nothing else, I say “Do you need me to get George?”
The phone pressed against my ear makes a sound in between a hiccup and a gasp. That sound alone, bearing the colors of shock and grief propelled the dark, burrowing mole in my abdomen. After a few moments of silence and digging, she responded with a weak and quiet. “If he can.”
I stared at my smudged eyes in the mirror. Suddenly they didn’t look beautiful. They looked dreadful. Tired and mushed, like a tomato laden with tire tracks. I calmly forced myself to ask the fear-filled question. My dry, swollen lips parted slightly as I prepared my body to make the syllables, but I was interrupted by a voice that confirmed my greatest fear.
From the speaker of the phone, a distant voice belonging to a young girl asked Karen simply and serenely “Can I talk to Daddy?”
Panicked, I gasped and threw the phone into the sink. Clutching my head in my long, red fingernails, I dropped to the floor breathing erratically and heavily. He was married. He had a wife. He had a daughter. He had a family. And I had just destroyed everything. Between my uneven gasps, I heard distant sobs echoing around the basin of the sink. I didn’t realize it then, but two women across an ocean were desperately sobbing and were connected by two things: A phone call and a man. My head swam with confusion and guilt and terror and grief. How could I? How could I have been so naïve, so selfish, and so completely ignorant of my self-filled actions? I started choking on my despair. My vision swayed. I felt like I was being roughly picked up and carried around, then roughly set back down again. I heard my godforsaken name repeated over and over and over. Winona. Winona. WINONA. The last time the voice came through clear and strong. It was George. I look up. He icy blue eyes were drilling into mine. For a moment I am disillusioned. This was not the man who I woke up with this morning. This was not a man who was open and vulnerable. Those thin, cold lips were not the lips I traced my full, healthy lips. This man was fierce and strong and aggressive. His eyes darted around my face rapidly and spontaneously. And all I could think of was a wounded house cat: hurt and ready to kill. His strong, cold hands grasp my face and force my head up. “What’s going on?” He had no trace of sympathy or concern in his voice. It was hollow, save for the leaking gas of panic. I heaved silently, like a fish flopping uselessly on a scalding and grainy beach. He repeated his question, louder and with more force, his hands squeezing even tighter around my face.
For a moment, I stare blankly, rethinking of all the things that had happened recently. I recalled every detail, remembered the sounds of the ringing phone to even the tone of his wife’s voice, but I could not remember one second before that. I could not recall the morning in specificity. All I could think was that I thought I was beautiful and that I thought wrong.
Aggressively, he started yelling “What happened?!” at me and shook my head violently. Fear floods through the caves the dark mole had dug, but I just sat very still.
With every ounce of control I had, I calmly replied, “Karen called.” He froze, eyes growing wide. He straightened very slowly and readjusted his pajama pants he must have thrown on in a rush. Suddenly, a slap whips across my cheek and sends me sprawling to the floor.
“YOU B----!” He screamed as he ran towards the bathroom. I heard him desperately muttering and praying and dialing and calling and calming then yelling and screaming and cursing then crying and pleading and redialing and calling again and again and again until I couldn’t hear him anymore since the hotel door had slammed behind me and my jostled suitcase. I stumbled towards the elevator, slipped into the dimly lit, cold prison and pressed the first button I could reach. The thick, menacing, black doors slowly slid together as I crumpled to the red velvet carpet like a coat that had slipped off its hanger. I stayed in a fetal position, immobilized, until the dark doors crawled open again on a lit, peaceful, empty floor. Moments later, they shut again, leaving me to my misery. Tears snaked down my face and pooled into the red carpet. Blood had dripped from the slap and mingled with the tears, making them taste like rust and salt on my swollen, puffy lips. Lips that had locked with ones that had said the words “I do” to another woman. To the mother of his own child. A single sob raked my body from my stomach to my mouth, sending vomit and blood across the red velvet carpet. I had been cheated on before, but this was different. This time, I was the whore. I was the insensitive girl who had ignorantly yet willingly torn the roots of this family tree out of healthy soil and into my long, red fingernails. I had become the very girl I hated most: the girl who followed blindly and didn’t bother to think of anyone but herself. I had become the home wrecker.