There it is, smushed up between “Good morning” and “I love you”.
“Natalia and I hooked up.”
My first thought: Wait, aren’t you staying at your parents’ house?
Second thought: You had sex at your parents house? For the first time? Without me?
Third thought: Crap, if this little kid catches me texting she’ll snitch to her parents, and then I’ll have my first-ever reprimand from the bosses.
The flip phone that I carry to work is a great look– my boss can let me know that I need to switch that laundry to the drier or thaw an extra bag of breast milk without getting up to find me, all while remaining confident that I am not scrolling Instagram on the job. But even with its brown-nosing lack of internet access, the phone is an opening. A link to the world outside the house and all manner of grown-up news.
As my five-year-old charge trills my name a second time, I flip the phone shut, shove it down the side of my leggings, and brace for the emotional onslaught.
Feelings come. Envy (fuck, Natalia is hot) mixed with vindication (see, I knew she was into you) mixed with lonesome woe (you’re not home and the teddy-bear is useless as a big spoon) touched with compersion, a little bit of happy-for (fuck, Natalia is hot). The swirl of it moves through me as I sit with a baby on my lap, pretending to listen to the older sister read. By minute three of today’s selection from Five-Minute Curious George Stories, I am swimming in the soup.
The last time she sent me a morning-after newsbreak over text I was sick about it. My ribs rattled and my hands shook all day long as I hid from my bosses behind corners, texting her questions that grew less and less curious, more and more accusing.
This day is not that day. These feelings, however complex, are not the same as that dark, suspicious rage.
In the time that has passed since the last time we have worked on ourselves, together and separately. I have learned how and when to ease into the background. I have learned that sometimes, it just isn’t about me.
But I still have questions.
I want to know: Was it good? Were you drunk? Do you think your parents heard you? Do you think you’ll fall in love?
I have insecurities. I have jealous little pangs. I want to know: Will I ever be invited to come with you when you visit? Will I ever see Natalia again? Did I just lose my standing invitation to the annual conference that you both attend? If I’m ever around, will I just be getting in the way?
I remember all the time I’ve spent in her position, on her end of the message box. I think of the times I’ve had to send the “we had sex” text– the times I was eager to spill the beans, the times I was anxious. The times I was terrified.
I remember all of the moments that I so badly wanted to lose myself into the first thrumming chords of a new love, only to find myself texting. In those moments I felt I had no choice but to turn my back to my new lover in order to respond to her every ping. Each time, I ignored my heart and took up the mantle, soothing her, explaining to her, reassuring her that she’s My Number One.
All of those moments in the past are today’s potential ammunition. I have all I need to demand precise recourse, forcing her to split her attention right now in order to satisfy my every curiosity and doubt. I could throw my temper. I could throw some guilt. I could suck her right down into me, with ease.
The phone buzzes. She asks, “Are you mad at me?”
I’m not. But I could say that I am just to make her grovel. The unease in my belly wants acknowledgement. I want some kind of reprieve, the kind that I might get if I spirit my phone off to the bathroom and rope her into an intense question-answer volley as two children hover at the door, whining, “What are you doing in there?”
I remind myself of what I know: this isn’t about me.
She has one more day and one more night together with her friend.
Whatever they are about to do, whatever they might one day be, is up to them. My feelings, my process as I cope with the challenge of this moment, are up to me. We will talk about it. These days that the two of them spend together will condense into a story. She will share that story with me, in some form, if and how she wants to share it.
But not now.
I get up. I go put the phone away, return, and drop down into the play-world of the children.
What’s the most surprising or difficult text you’ve ever received from a partner? How did you handle it, in the moment and later on?
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