Home alone

8 p.m. is still early, and here I am, drunk enough to be honest.

I am not an alcoholic. Since we had kids, I barely drink at all, so when I do, it goes straight to my head. I’m almost done with this bottle of wine all by myself, and it isn’t even good wine. My wife went to her sister’s for the weekend for the niece’s quinceañera, leaving me here with this mound of grant paperwork – but tonight I can’t do any more of it. I’ve been surfing the web, flipping channels on the TV, and letting the wine channel all the feelings I normally keep tightly wrapped up. The house is never this quiet, and having the TV on so loud dulls the sound of the locks around my heart cracking open.

I love you. I’ve loved you since you first came to campus three years ago, eight months pregnant. You walked with the gait of a woman about to give birth, yet your face was still radiant in a way that has normally faded by then. It didn’t matter that my own wife was pregnant with our second child at the time. What would I have done anyway? I was keeping everything under control, being a responsible member of the search committee, squiring you to lunch, telling you how great the schools here were, how you and your husband would find the property values to your liking.

Then you accepted the job, and you joined us here in the wintry north after the semester of leave you negotiated. I saw you in January for the first time since February, nearly a year. You were no longer pregnant, looking tired but pleased, like the life you had envisioned was finally assembling itself. You had made an offer on a house and your husband had found a job. The baby was doing well; you were pumping in between teaching classes and holding student meetings and calling the IT guys to get your software set up.

We went out to lunch and I gave you the inside scoop on the department. We worked together on a grant application. You helped me install R on my computer, and I showed you how to work with LaTeX. You were more beautiful every day.

You showed me photos of your daughter, a cherubic girl who looked much more like your husband than you, and I went home to my own daughters, the oldest in her terrible twos and the youngest as angelic as any newborn could be. I gave you daycare advice and we swapped stories of sleepless nights. I looked at my notepad in the middle of a staff meeting and discovered I had written your name with a heart drawn around it.

When my wife and I made love – when we weren’t too tired from a newborn – it was your face I pictured. You and I shared stories about the exhaustion babies bring in to your life, then you went home to the man you loved and I went home to my wife, whom I had somehow grown apart from during the five years I had been chasing tenure.

I love the way you unconsciously push your glasses back up whenever you’re thinking about a problem. I love it when you smile. I love it when you talk about your daughter and the unconditional devotion you feel makes your expression go far away. I love it when you come into my office and say my name, even if it’s just because you have a question about requisition forms.

I know you don’t love me. You think I am your mentor and your friend. If you knew what I felt, the space between us would grow wider, the air would grow chill. You’d eat lunch with someone else. You wouldn’t slip off your shoes during meetings, dropping your guard. Instead of being your trusted friend, I’d be just another lech who treats his wife and child shabbily.

Still, I can’t stop loving you. I’m home alone for the first time in ages, and my love is expanding, pushing on the walls, squeezing through the cracks, bursting at the seams, enlarging my heart, breaking my mind and my common sense, making me less and more of a man. I want to tell you everything. I want to run over to your house and make a declaration. I want to take you in my arms in your office and kiss you until we’re dizzy.

I won’t do any of this. I’ll take the coward’s way out, posting an anonymous first-person column to the Chronicle or a sad screed on Craigslist. I’ll write this document and then delete it and then empty the trash. I’ll have a headache Sunday and say what I always say to you on Monday. Since I love you, I won’t tell you that I do.

There’s half a glass of wine left. I’ll finish it by myself, and tomorrow I’ll start on that grant paperwork.

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About almosttruetales

The stories contained herein are entirely fictional. Any resemblances to persons living or dead are entirely coincidental. Anyway, what seems like a unique story probably plays out dozens of times in other academic departments each year. I don't know if that's consoling or depressing.
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