Before Jake, and before my pregnancy and the strange non-abortion that followed, I spent a year seeing a married man named Kyle Studnic. The first time I looked at him, I thought he was about 19, but he was actually 28, seven years older than me. Up close you could tell, he had these lines around his eyes that my mom calls crow's feet but they were really sexy on him. Kyle was kind of rugged. I used to kiss his eyelids when we made love, and grab hold of his thick black hair. I met him by accident; he was the audio-visual tech guy for my mythology class, the guy who made sure the slides were shown properly and the film reels didn't break. He holed up in the AV room. One day I was late to lecture and in my haste I entered the wrong door and found myself in that AV room, which was the size of a closet. A small, dank, dimly lit closet that smelled like weed. It was so dark I couldn't tell anyone was there, and I was cursing under my breath and all of a sudden the door clicked behind me and I gasped because I thought I was trapped. My heart was pounding.
"It's OK, it doesn't lock from the outside," a voice said, a voice that had a smile behind it. "You're not stuck here."
That was my first meeting with Kyle.
But I digress. Kyle and I were over long before Jake entered my life, and this is really more about what happened when Jake and I began working together at a restaurant in Ann Arbor, and how our simple co-worker banter led to a flirtation that culminated late one Saturday night after a six-pack and a bag of weed, an encounter which occurred exactly three times that night, but just that one night, and left me pregnant.
There was also the small matter of the cancer in my mouth, which rendered me unable to eat or suck liquids with a straw.
I stopped biting my nails just before the non-abortion, which didn't even resemble an abortion, despite the name I gave it, it was more like a badly botched miscarriage, for whom I had no one to blame but God. And Jake, of course. I was fairly certain by that time that he was on heroin. Sometimes we would catch each other's eye at work and he looked tired to me, he looked like he was about to cry, he looked like he was about to kill me. I had once had a roommate who was a junkie and she always had that look. He laughed when I finally asked him if he was on heroin. It wasn't a funny laugh; it was a sarcastic, cutting laugh, it was a condescending laugh, and I cried when he told me no, because I knew he was lying.
But to tell the truth, I didn't really know, because I didn't really know Jake.
I didn't know Jake at all, aside from the fact that his father had committed suicide after killing a woman, and that he, Jake, had above-average intelligence, he knew the derivation of the word "marathon" when I mentioned I was running one in October. His financial status was shaky, just like mine. I asked him for cash for the abortion and he went berserk. And even though I hated him, I finally just told him that my parents had given me money for the abortion, which was a complete and total lie. I never even told them about it.
The abortion itself, or lack thereof, was a nightmare.
It was worse than a nightmare, it was like a nightmare in slow-motion that I couldn't wake up from, and that I didn't have anyone there to hold me and tell me it was only a dream, even if it was just Jake. By that time I knew that there was something wrong with me, but the words mouth cancer never crossed my mind, all I knew was that I had been spotting and cramping since week five and the doctor kept assuring me, and then reassuring me, that it was normal, that I was OK, until finally he told me that it wasn't normal, that I wasn't OK, that I had cancer in my mouth and I wouldn't be able to carry the baby. Fetus. Whatever — the seven-week-old thing inside me.
I tried to tell Jake about it, but I don't think he understood. He had about a .500 follow-up rate, so sometimes he'd listen to me talk about my pregnancy and sometimes he would just hang up on me after ascertaining whatever information he needed, such as that I was alive, and that I had scheduled the abortion. He knew I had to have the abortion, but he didn't know why, besides the bleeding.
I started treatment for the cancer about a week after the abortion, which was really a non-abortion, because I wouldn't let the doctor do anything but prescribe pain medicine and an antibiotic, which he did only after I promised to return for a check-up every day to make sure the bleeding was normal, or relatively normal; to make sure I didn't bleed to death because I was pregnant and had cancer. Because I couldn't have a baby and cancer. I couldn't have both. I knew that, sooner or later, I'd need some kind of treatment, and I also knew that whatever treatment I got would kill it anyway, so I just went to the doctor for my appointment and then I flatly refused the procedure. Jake would have gone berserk again if I had told him, but I didn't tell him anything, except that it hurt, which it did, and that I was still bleeding, which most women do after an abortion. And then I started treatment for the cancer.
What I didn't mention about Kyle Studnic the married AV tech guy for my mythology class with whom I had a yearlong affair was that he didn't tell me he was married until months into our relationship. And then it stopped; I couldn't look at myself in the mirror while I brushed my teeth knowing that I was ruining a marriage. But I missed him, I missed him like crazy, I missed him so much that it hurt. And so it went on like that: I would end things, I would miss him, I would call him, we would start seeing each other, and I would end things again. For seven months it went on like that.
Until I got into a car accident.
It wasn't a bad accident, no airbags, no one was hurt, my car wasn't badly damaged but it had freaked me out. I needed a hug, or at least someone to hold my hand that night, I needed someone to be there for me, and I didn't have anyone. Especially not Kyle.
I knew where he was, it was around 9 o'clock on a Tuesday night, and I knew exactly where he was: home with his wife and his daughter. Home with his family. And even though I had called Kyle nearly every day for a year, I knew I couldn't call him that late, I knew I couldn't even call him at home, I could only page him, maybe, if I felt like living dangerously, and he might call me back, but more likely he would just get mad at me the next time we met for interrupting his life like that. Because Kyle, much as he enjoyed having a lover, also wanted a family, and not a family with me.
That's when I finally ended it for good.
He didn't seem very upset when I told him, we were on the phone and I could practically hear him nodding, and running his hand through his hair. OK, he said, if that's what's best for you. OK. I was outraged at his nonchalance and that's when he laughed at me, the same way Jake did when I asked if he was on heroin, the same cold condescending laugh that gave me chills and made me realize that you never really know what the people you care about are capable of. You think, he said, and then he paused to gather his thoughts, and continued in a low voice, he had a Barry White/Dr. Love kind of voice, that if I really loved you I would say no, you can't do this, but you're wrong. No, I'm not, I said, and I hung up. I'm right.
But I was wrong.
I realized that during the bleeding and the cramping and the waking up in the middle of the night with morning sickness and the refusal to have a real abortion that I was wrong; I loved the thing inside me the way Kyle had loved me, and in spite of that love I had to let it go, just like Kyle had let go of me. Even though I never want to be like Kyle.