This story is by Jannika Vang and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I should have known those two would betray me. My husband and my best friend: what a pathetic, unoriginal pair.
I’m not going to lie: I knew that things hadn’t been right between Greg and me for a while. I was a full-time mom, home all day with our baby, Linda. I love her to bits, but she had nightmarish reflux and cried for hours at a time, never sleeping unless I was holding her. That and the never-ending round of feeds, diaper changes and laundry drained every bit of my energy.
I craved attention from Greg and wanted him to spend as much time as he could with me. I knew he had to work, but I resented every moment he was away. I knew the kinds of women he saw every day at his high-powered advertising job. Gorgeous women with taut abs that hadn’t been stretched every which way, and who had put together faces and glossy, salon-styled hair.
Unlike me, who lived in dingy sweat pants with hair hanging like lank seaweed because I barely had enough time to use the toilet, never mind attempting to groom myself. I brooded constantly over how other women must be after Greg, and how he must want them instead of me.
Greg claimed I was “clingy” and that I “smothered” him. He asked what had happened to the strong, confident woman he fell in love with. Our conversations seemed to follow the same death spiral, ending in slamming doors and ugly words, but we couldn’t break out of the pattern.
I remember the last argument we had, after he brought home some work and I scattered the contents of his briefcase out the window. “I’ve had it, Jessica,” he’d said quietly, as he moved his things into the spare bedroom. “I’m over this. I can’t take these ridiculous tantrums.”
His calmness scared me. I could deal with a good shouting match and making up afterwards, but this icy silence chilled me to the core. Greg called it the last straw. He wouldn’t even look at me.
But the accident changed everything.
The morning after our big blow-up, I was running after Greg as he headed to the train station. I wanted to say I was sorry and beg him for another chance, and I was getting out of breath as I pushed Linda ahead of me in her buggy.
Some 92-year-old fellow was driving along the road, and he apparently couldn’t tell his accelerator from his brake pedal. When his car started mounting the sidewalk, I saw it coming out of the corner of my eye. Instinct took over. I heaved Linda’s buggy clear, then shoved Greg as hard as I could. There wasn’t enough time to get myself out of the way.
Everyone said that I was so brave. “Hero mom rescues husband and baby in horror crash,” the headlines said. The press lionized me for what I did, and I liked that. My family was in line for a big chunk of compensation cash, too, which was good.
Greg was broken, but he never left my bedside that whole time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cry so much. It proved to me that he loved me, despite the problems we’d been having. He had to split his time between me in the hospital and our baby.
Thanks to my quick thinking, Greg wasn’t hurt, but he needed help with baby Linda. He was finding out what hard work she could be. Maybe now he knew why I was so desperate for some adult company at the end of the day.
My best friend Helen stepped in to help, of course. We’d been close since high school. Everyone talked about how wonderful she was to help Greg out, and at first, I was grateful, too. Blond, leggy Helen. When we first met, she’d been pudgy, spotty, snaggle-toothed Helen. But thanks to a fantastic dentist I recommended, and her catching my workout and healthy eating habits, she was now svelte, gorgeous Helen.
Why didn’t I see it coming? I was all kinds of blind, because it’s clear as day now.
Saving Greg’s life was supposed to salvage our relationship. For a while it seemed like it would. But it didn’t work out that way. For a while, I thought I could handle the split, even though circumstances meant I had to leave Linda behind. I couldn’t take her with me, but I saw her as much as I could.
But then I started to realize just how deeply Helen was insinuating herself into my family’s life. She was at the house all the time.
At first it all seemed so innocent. All “Call me if you need anything at all,” in her plummy, syrupy voice and “I’m here for you,” and casseroles and pies and sorting out laundry and babysitting Linda. And Helen offering her bare, well-toned shoulder for Greg cry on over how much it hurt that I’d left him.
I really did intend to cut them some slack, because I hated leaving and my heart ached to see how shattered Greg was. I admit that I found it gratifying that he couldn’t seem to cope at all without me. I didn’t pay too much attention to him and Helen because I was focused on spending my days with my baby.
Then I saw them kissing. Turns out my heartbroken husband was very easy to console. I started following them around when I wasn’t with Linda. Watching them. Listening. They never noticed me sneaking around. As far as I could tell, they weren’t sleeping together yet. But knowing how desperate Helen was for a man, I knew she’d keep throwing herself at him until she wore him down.
I wanted to yell at him, “What’s wrong with you, you idiot? After all I did for you!” I saved that slime ball’s life, and for what? So he could forget me and shack up with my best friend? I don’t know which of them made me angrier: him for forgetting me, or her for oiling her way into my place, living my life.
It got worse. Greg began to support her, so she left that dead-end job she’d been stuck in for so long. I still held it together, even though the thought of them together tasted like bile. But more and more, I began to think I should have let that car run over Greg instead of me. How dare he just move on as if I had never existed?
A year after the accident, Helen was at our house again. No surprise: she practically lived there. I was watching Linda sleep—I never get tired of doing that. Then I went downstairs and saw them on the sofa. They were kissing, and I could see my ring on Helen’s hand as she pawed Greg’s back. My ring. He actually proposed to her with my ring.
The rage swelled like a volcano in my chest. I screamed and punched the wall. My collection of expensive china miniatures rattled on the bookshelf. One smashed onto the floor.
That made them break off from trying to eat each other’s faces. They looked up in surprise.
Greg said, “How did that fall down?” His hand was still inside Helen’s blouse.
My anger exploded out in a visceral howl, and I hollered a torrent of abuse at them. As I shouted, more ornaments crashed down. Our wedding picture flew off the wall, the glass shattering inches from Helen’s head. They clung to each other, knuckles white, eyes as wide as saucers.
Then I noticed that they were looking straight at me. They could see me.
Helen’s face turned a sickly gray. Pale as death. Pale as me. Greg leaped up and scrambled backwards to the wall. I could see a damp patch spreading on the front of his pants. The gutless wonder had actually wet himself.
“Oh my God!” he shouted.
Seeing them so horrified pleased me, and I smiled. “How’s that for a tantrum, Greg?” I asked. “Strong and confident enough for you?”
I know that our marriage vows are only supposed to bind us till death do us part. And, yes, I know that since I didn’t make it after that accident, death did part us. Technically, Greg is free to move on. But I love him too much. I loved him so much that I sacrificed my own life for him.
I can’t let him go. And I won’t.