You, The Ex, and the Neighbor

Kelly Morris

Kelly Morris

Not many people have an ex-fiancé.  This is one of the many things you learn after you acquire one.  You also learn that just saying the words ex-fiancé in casual conversation makes people uncomfortable. In fact, the only thing that makes casual conversation more uncomfortable than saying ex- fiancé is elaborating on the circumstances that turned your fiancé into an ex.

You don’t elaborate on the circumstances in casual conversation anymore, and frankly this feels like a very healthy step for you.

Healthy step number one:  lean on friends who remind you daily about all of your ex’s flaws.  As soon as the word ex butts its way in front of the word fiancé, your friends waste no time pointing out the things they hated about him.  Apparently it was an extensive list.  Some you are familiar with, like his unhealthy attachment to his mother and strip clubs and buffalo wings.  They take issue with his hygiene (adequate at best, especially on the weekends) and his lone sweatshirt, a gray shapeless thing that you will not miss, ever.  His nickname becomes the douche.  Your friends call him this with a vitriolic ease which makes you wonder if this has been his nickname all along.

On the days that you are very sad and wishing you could wear that hideous gray sweatshirt and stay in bed all day, your friends bring up things you have somehow forgotten, memories like Remember the time he forgot your birthday? and What about that New Year’s Eve he threw up in your bed? and How could you have forgotten the time he pretended his wallet was stolen because he was too cheap to pay for your anniversary dinner?

You honestly can’t believe you forgot that last one.  You decide that not only is love blind, it also brings on symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s.

On the bad days, your friends do not remind you that the ex has very nice green eyes or that he used to tell you, even on the days when your hygiene was adequate at best, that you were beautiful.

The reason he’s your ex- fiancé is because of the neighbor, the blonde one who lived three doors down in your old apartment complex.  She wasn’t your friend, which helps a little.  You actually can’t remember if you ever spoke to her before the incident.  You think that maybe one time you saw her at the mailboxes downstairs and smiled, but it’s also possible you have completely fabricated this memory.

The neighbor and you do not look alike at all.   But as you recall, she did not have bigger breasts or a smaller waist or better hair.  (It appears that these things matter.) In fact, the neighbor had thicker legs than you.  You are not normally the kind of person to point out the thickness of another woman’s legs, but since you saw those legs in a rather compromising position in your own bed, you figure you will be given karmic leeway for pointing out how very thick they are.

Somewhere along the way, many months after the incident, small things about the day strike you as funny.  This is healthy step number two, by the way.  Not that the story of how your fiancé became your ex-fiancé becomes your go-to party story.  Or a story you share with strangers when you are making idle chitchat at the post office.  (Not anymore, at least.)

But when you tell your new boyfriend about The Time You Walked In On Your Fiancé Fucking The Neighbor, you feel something that feels like laughter bubbling up inside you.  It doesn’t escape, the laughter, but the fact that it’s there seems promising.

Because in hindsight there are some funny parts to the story.  Once you examine the event under your mental microscope, as you are apt to do when you reminisce about The Time You Walked In On Your Fiancé Fucking The Neighbor, humorous things crop up, sort of like strep growing on a petri dish.

For example, you accidentally confronted the ex and the neighbor in just your shirt and underwear.  This is because you walked in the door of your apartment and took off your pants.  You remember making that universal sound all people make when they take off pants that are too tight, that Aaaaaaaah sigh of relief.   You called out as you climbed the stairs to your bedroom, “We have got to stop eating so much take out, or I will never fit into that white dress next month.”

They didn’t hear you coming because they were watching Oprah.  Or the TV was turned to Oprah.  (How much of it they were actually absorbing is up for debate.)

And even though you never had strong feelings about Oprah one way or the other before the incident, for months afterwards bile would rise Pavlovian-like in your throat whenever you saw the talk show host smiling out from her magazine, O.   Maybe because that’s all you could say for a minute: Oh. And then, Oh God.

This was also what the neighbor said when she opened her eyes and saw you standing there in your blue cotton underwear and white button- down shirt, a look that is not remotely sexy in real life, unless you are an underwear model for Victoria’s Secret.  Which, let’s be honest, you are not.  But the neighbor is also not likely to be approached by Victoria’s Secret to appear in their swimsuit catalog, unless she manages to address the aforementioned thick legs.  And unfortunate cellulite issue.

For a long moment – seconds? minutes? hours? – there were only the sounds of Oprah’s studio audience going berserk over a bag-less vacuum cleaner (“Ladies, you will wonder how you ever lived without this!”)  and you and the neighbor taking turns saying Oh God.  (She was a natural blonde, the neighbor, if you want to be technical about these things.)

The ex didn’t say anything; he did not join in the chorus of Oh Gods making the rounds because he was too busy attempting to cover himself.  You found yourself wondering why he was covering himself with the Pottery Barn comforter – he always claimed to hate that comforter. The two of you bought it on sale, and you loved it.  Oh, how you loved that comforter!  Something about the simple white background and the embroidered roses along the edges struck you as the height of sophistication at the time.

“I hate this comforter, but I love you,” the ex said as you were standing at the checkout counter at Pottery Barn, and the salesgirl had smiled over at you two.  Or maybe he was fucking her too, and she was only smiling at him about what a complete idiot you were.

All these little moments get clouded in hindsight, unfortunately.

“Is this your thing?” you asked the ex.  “To have sex while watching Oprah?”

This was clearly not what he was expecting you to ask.  It’s just you never really know how you’ll react in these kinds of situations.  You think you know – you think you will cry or yell or both.  But the stun factor of walking in on someone you love having sex with someone else tends to eliminate all rational thought, which is the only reason you can think of for why you briefly fixated on Oprah.

In the seconds before doing the predictable crying/running out of the room part, you even said, “I’ve never seen you watch Oprah a day in your life.”

After you tell the new boyfriend this story, you say, “You think you know someone’s TV watching habits until the day you walk in and find them spanking the neighbor in your bed and watching daytime TV,” and when he throws his head back and laughs, you do the same.  It feels so good to laugh, really.  To not have that familiar prickle of humiliation burrowing its way under your cheeks like a pack of fire ants at the climax, so to speak, of the story—well, it feels good to laugh instead.

Less than a week after telling the new boyfriend this story, you run into the ex at a grocery store that you have never frequented before.  He is with the neighbor. Because they are married now.  You did not know this.  You can tell that the ex knows that you did not know this because he looks uncomfortable.  The neighbor looks uncomfortable too, but this is probably because she is hugely pregnant.

“A boy,” she tells you, even though you didn’t ask.  She rubs her stomach clockwise and then counterclockwise.  Her legs are much thicker now, if you want to be technical about these things.

The ex and his wife are both wearing cross necklaces, which leads you to believe that they think Jesus has forgiven them for fornicating in your bed.  Maybe He has.  While you would never presume to speak for Him, you think that surely two people need to repent for longer than thirteen months to be forgiven for such a transgression.

You find yourself thinking about your wedding dress, the one that was stored at the back of your old closet.  Such a shame about the dress, because when else in your life will you ever get to wear something so white and fluffy and lacy?  If you ever get married, you will probably be one of those people who wears a simple white suit.  You try to think this without an ounce of self-pity.

“I’m glad we ran into you,” the ex tells you.  He does not look like he means this.  You wait for him to tell you that he’s sorry and that every time he thinks about what a shit he was to you, he feels terrible, just terrible about it.  And if you only knew the amount of sleep he’s lost over how badly he treated you – at this part his eyes should fill with tears, real ones, not the ones he cried while the Pottery Barn comforter was wrapped around him –  there’s no way to describe the countless hours—nay, days,—he  has fantasized about apologizing to you and making amends.  He has to say all this for you to breezily say, “Water under the bridge” before sashaying away from him on your thin, lovely legs.

But he doesn’t apologize, just waves good-bye before slinging an arm across his wife’s broad back and continuing down the cereal aisle.

You tell the new boyfriend about this when you get home, and he makes a face that you’ve recently started to associate with him, where he pulls down his mouth and lifts up his eyebrows at the same time.  It’s his sympathetic face, and the more you see it, the more you like it.

As far as you can remember, the ex did not have this particular face in his repertoire.

“He’s an idiot,” the new boyfriend tells you, before taking your hand and kissing your knuckles.  He kisses the place where your engagement ring used to be, and you wonder if he has done this on purpose, before you decide that it doesn’t actually matter one way or the other.

Healthy step number three, you decide.

8 Comments

  1. Bravo, Kelly! I loved everything about this story, especially the attitude of the narrator. Her telling of the story is at once sardonic, tense, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. I especially love this paragraph, where the story turns to address the issue at hand:

    “The neighbor and you do not look alike at all. But as you recall, she did not have bigger breasts or a smaller waist or better hair. (It appears that these things matter.) In fact, the neighbor had thicker legs than you. You are not normally the kind of person to point out the thickness of another woman’s legs, but since you saw those legs in a rather compromising position in your own bed, you figure you will be given karmic leeway for pointing out how very thick they are.”

    Keep up the great work. You have a particular talent for first-person voice.

    Rick Brown

  2. Love the story, Kelly! Not many writers can use the second person POV so convincingly.

  3. Wow, David, I just now realized that the voice ISN’T first-person after reading your comment. All the more of a compliment to you, then, Kelly. The narrative is so intimate and close I didn’t even notice my own misreading of it (he says with no small amount of chagrin…).

  4. Love the story. When I read a story in second person pov, I always puzzle over what the story gained using this vector vs. one of the others. It gains an intimacy, for one thing, somehow closer than first person because sometimes our inner voices speak to our inner selves from this angle. In some sense it is self-talk. My favorite line in the story is the last one. In the heat of transit, we forget we are documenting “healthy steps,” the journey of healing, and then there it is, number three. For some reason only a real author can see, that is as far as the story needs to go. That is the end. Going even one word further begins a new story, characters reset and renewed, a different title hovering at the top.

  5. Wonderful. Great read!

  6. Truly enjoyed your story Kelly! You have real talent. Looking forward to reading more stories in the future.

  7. Truly enjoyed your story Kelly! You have real talent. Looking forward to reading more stories in the future.

  8. Kelly,

    Second-person becomes a very intimate choice in your hands–the reader is torn between living the story from the outside-in and the inside-out. Well done.

    As to the healthy steps, good things come in three’s! And the last line proves my point in my first sentence here.
    Best, Cindy

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