This story is by Krystal Watkins and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
I hate who I’ve become. Last week, my husband told me that “things just aren’t working out” and then he left. I’ve spent the entire week asking myself what I did wrong. I’ve wondered what I could’ve done differently to make him happy and want to stay. I’ve dissected every happy memory I have of the two of us wondering if he was really happy or if he was just faking it. I’ve cried until it hurts at the thought that maybe it was just because he found someone else.
When I was a little girl, I used to imagine the kind of life I would have when I grew up. This just isn’t what I imagined for myself. I guess that’s how life is. It never turns out the way you plan, which kind of sucks because I imagined something so much happier for myself. It’s funny how everything I imagined was always the same. I was always the pretty princess whose dreams all came true. I was always the princess who found her prince charming. I always made sure I lived happily ever after.
For some reason, all I could think about is The Office: a show about a documentary of a Paper Supply company based in Pennsylvania. There were two characters who everyone knew would end up together: Jim Halpert and Pamela Beasley. Before they fell in love and lived out their happily-ever-after life, Jim dated a woman named Karen Filippelli. I’ve seen the show a hundred times and every time I found myself hating Karen, but then I realized that she did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing. I just hated her because, well, she wasn’t Pam. That’s when I realized that I’m not Pam. I’m Karen.
Three knocks at the door caught my attention as I was staring mindlessly out the window. “Who is it?” I yelled turning my gaze to the dark wood door on the opposite side of the room.
“Just a sec.” I forced myself to get up and unlock the door. Had it been anyone else, I wouldn’t have, but Luce has been my best friend since third grade.
After opening the door, Luce takes one look at me and her face fills with pity.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I say as I turn and walk back to my comfy chair in front of the window.
“Like what?” Luce walks in, letting the door close behind her.
“Like you pity me.”
“I don’t pity you. I just, hate that you’re going through this.”
“Yea, well, I’ve been through a breakup before, I’ll get through it again.”
“I know. But I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you need me, I’m always just a phone call away,” Luce says as she reaches out to touch my left hand.
We just sat there for a moment taking in the love we have for each other. Luce is the sister I always wanted. She’s been by my side through everything.
“Look, Riley. You know I love you and I hate that scum of a man that put you through this, but you can do so much better,” Luce says smiling.
“No, not this again.”
“Girl, you need to get out there and let the world see just what you have to offer.”
“Eh, I just want to look at the world from my window and hate the beautiful couples that walk by.”
“No, no, no. You’re going to go shower, get dressed, and then we are going to lunch,” she says as she pulls me out of my chair and pushes me down the hall, locking me in the bathroom.
“Alright,” I think to myself. “It’s my fault for unlocking the door.”
I do as she says. I shower, get dressed and we go out for lunch. It’s nice to actually get out of the house. I didn’t realize how much I hated being cooped up for so long.
After lunch, Luce walks in the opposite direction to her job and leaves me alone to walk back to my apartment. I enjoyed the walk alone. It gave me time to reflect and remember what it felt like to have the breeze brush against my skin, or smell the fresh flowers at the shop as I passed, or even notice the normality of everyday life going on around me while my whole world is crumbling to pieces. It was a nice reminder that life goes on. Nothing is permanent.
This isn’t how I thought it would end. I imagined myself being old and decrepit, before losing my husband. I really thought we would have all the time in the world to make a life together and grow old with each other. I thought that I’d be this old woman whose hair had turned from a golden brown to a silver gray. I thought we were happy. This is not how we were supposed to end.
I wish I had taken the time to say a proper thank you to Luce. She’s done so much to help me through all of this. I wish I had known what was coming next. I would’ve sat in the park a while or bought the lilies that caught my eye on the walk home. I wish I hadn’t wasted this week just sitting in a chair and staring out a window. I wasted so much time I didn’t realize I had.
Walking up the flight of stairs to my apartment door, I noticed my door was cracked open. I’ve been in such a daze that I couldn’t remember shutting and locking it, so I decided to kick the door open to see if anyone was in there.
As the door flung wide open, I could see my husband. It felt like a kick to the stomach to see him just sitting at the small table we bought together two years ago at a nearby antique shop.
“Sorry if I scared y…”
“What are you doing here?” I interrupted.
Jake’s head dropped as he let out a sigh and replied, “I needed some stuff and you weren’t home, so I got curious as to what you were doing and thought I’d wait around to see.”
“Come on. It’s me, Riley.”
“Yeah. It’s you. The man who, for seven years, made me believe that you loved me and then just said, ‘It’s not working’ and left. It’s you who left me with no reason as to why this wasn’t working. It’s you who didn’t call for a week. It’s you. And now it’s you who needs to leave.”
Jake paused for a moment and then raised his head to look me directly in the eye as he said, “No. I came here for a reason.”
“Riley, it’s my apartment, too.”
“Yeah, but then you left. So now it’s my apartment and I’d like for you to just leave again and stay gone.”
Jake took in a deep breath. “I need to tell you why I left,” he said in a soft voice.
“I met someone else.”
At that moment, all the things that I’d been afraid of this past week were confirmed. For a while this afternoon, Luce had me believing that he was just a jerk, but the truth is that I was right. It was me. He’s Jim and I’m Karen.
I tried so hard not to let him see me cry, but holding it in somehow made it all worse. Jake ran to me and tried to hug me while repeating, “It’s not you. It’s me,” but I couldn’t take it. I pushed him from me. He tried once more to comfort me after he had broken me, but I tried to push him away again. This time, he was much too strong to push away. I tried turning, but he was still too strong. Pushing him wasn’t working so I tried pulling myself away.
“Please, Riley, stop. Listen. I promise it had nothing to do with you not being good enough,” Jake said as he was trying to keep me from pulling away from him.
I kept sobbing, “Just let me go.” Finally, he did. All the force of me pulling myself after he let me go flung me across the room. I tripped over a chair leg and hit my head on the corner of the Kitchen counter.
After having to be treated for head trauma and going into a hypovolemic shock, I finally came to in a hospital room filled with my favorite flowers and a letter laying on the table next to my bed.
“It’s from Jake.” Luce grabbed the opened envelope and handed it to me smiling as she said, “Sorry I opened it. I wanted to know what he could possibly have to say to you after all of this.”
“I don’t mind,” I said smiling. “Is it bad?”
“You need to read it.”
“But is it bad?”
“Just read the letter, Riley.”
Letting out a sigh, I pulled the letter from the envelope, unfolded it and began to read.
I wanted to stay with you until you woke up, but Luce was very adamant about me leaving, so I wrote you this. Let me start by saying that I am so sorry for everything that has happened this past week. I never wanted this for us. I loved you. I truly did. But this past year, I’ve realized that I’m just not good for you. We both knew what we expected from our relationship when we started it. We both wanted to be in this together for the long-haul. Marriage, kids, growing old together. I really wanted that with you. But I can’t give you what you want. Do you remember when we started seriously talking about kids a couple of years ago? Well, after the first year of trying with no results, I went and got tested. Riley, I’m the reason that we couldn’t have kids. So, I could never be the husband you want, much less the one you need and I didn’t want to put you through a lifetime of no kids because I know how much you want them. That’s when I started going to the bar. I met someone else who already had kids and just needed me. Riley, I’m so sorry that I lied to you. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t be what you needed because I really wanted to be. I hope one day you can forgive me for that, but until then, I just need you to know that I love you.
Blinking the tears out of my eyes, I looked at Luce and whispered, “I told you I wasn’t good enough.”
“How could you think that?”
“I’ve been a Karen my whole life, Luce. I was Jake’s Karen. That’s why he couldn’t tell me the truth until now.”
“Riley, you were Jake’s Pam. Jake just wasn’t your Jim. He was your Roy. Remember him? The guy Pam was engaged to before Jim. Pam thought Roy was her soul mate, but it wasn’t until she discovered herself that she realized what and who made her truly happy. You need to stop focusing on being someone else’s Pam. Your Jim will come along, I promise. So, for right now, learn to love yourself because I cannot deal with another hospital visit.”
“I can’t argue with that.” I smiled, wiping my face.
Luce hugged me, but let go at the sound of a knock on my hospital room door. The doctor walked in with his clipboard and a smile and said, “Hey, you’re awake! It’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Dr. Heard, but you can call me Jim.”
Luce and I looked at each other and just laughed.