I am standing in my kitchen, the Evidence in my hand. I am wishing it not to be true.
Can he really have done this to me, I wonder? Is this really happening?
I know that you will want to ask if I saw it coming and the answer is No, I did not. I had absolutely no idea.
I’d been distracted, I guess; I hadn’t been paying attention. At the moment right before I found out, for example, I’d just finished up a phone call to get a dishwasher part. The robotic voice on the line had told me that my wait was six minutes, that I was caller number thirteen in the queue, which – even then – sounded unlucky. I added it on, at first, to the unluckiness of having ordered the wrong clip for the bottom rack of the dishwasher, to having been taken to the cleaners, if you’ll pardon the pun, on the $6.95 they’d charged me just to send me the tiny, incorrect piece of plastic. But I knew, deep down, that I didn’t order the wrong part because of bad luck. I ordered the wrong part because I failed to do the research, I thought ruefully as I got up from the desk, having committed to the exorbitant shipping charges for the second time. I should have been more thorough. I should have seen it through.
It – the Evidence – didn’t look suspicious or out of place when I first saw it. Because I was under the impression that everything was fine, that we were fine, I saw only a take-out coffee in a paper cup sitting on my kitchen island. I didn’t see betrayal. I – naïvely, I realize now – just figured that it must be mine.
Granted, it was not my usual kind of cup. It was not the white kind with the lonely green mermaid looking out the porthole. This cup was brown and plain, but there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for that: this cup was from the new coffee place, a place where my husband and had gone together. Together! I know, right?
The brown-cup coffeeshop had seemed a welcome change, like it might be exactly what we needed. In the humdrum of an age-old marriage, it felt good to mix things up, try something new. Hadn’t we just laughed together at how we’d suggested to each other at the very same time that we stop for coffee there, at how our brains aligned after all these years together? We’d had fun – hadn’t we? – taking turns pointing out to each other the ways in which this place was better than the white-cup place. Here, the baristas left fancy shapes – mine was a heart, which seemed fitting – in the white and brown foam on your latte. Here, they served it to you without a top, as if to say, I made this just for you. We know how much your coffee means to you and we make shapes in the foam to show we care. We may not be the industry leader, but we try hard and we brake for mermaids and we would really like your coffee business.
I really appreciate that kind of commitment. Of loyalty.
Anyway, after stopping at the new place, we’d brought our cups back to the house. My husband had gone back into his home office to make calls, and I’d gone to my desk in the living room to make calls. I had sat on hold on the corded phone, wondering why I hadn’t made the call on a cordless, and how there could be so many people calling the appliance people at one time, and also how long it would take. It was only when I returned to the kitchen and took a sip that I knew, in an instant, the truth. How he had betrayed me. What he had done.
This is not my coffee.
If this is not my coffee, I begin to ask, whose is it? Where did it come from? Spiraling, I am quickly aware that this coffee has no foam and never had a heart. Fitting, I think bitterly. I wonder if how much of today, of the coffee, of my marriage, for God’s sake, was even real. I am dizzy with shock and disappointment. I am aware of an emerging rage.
And then I collect myself, remembering what I learned from the dishwasher part fiasco. I remind myself that even though – and perhaps especially because – this is my unlucky number-thirteen day, I need to do the research, to be thorough, see this through. I cannot jump to conclusions because then I will make another mistake. Because then, just like with the shipping charges, it will cost me more than it needs to.
I stride into my husband’s home office, the Evidence held out between us like a weapon.
“This is not my coffee,” I say sharply, my eyes boring into the man I have loved, that I thought I knew. Immediately, I can see that he knows what I know, and of what I am accusing him. His blue eyes grow wide and I know for sure that it is true. Even in my devastation, I am comforted to know that I am not crazy. That I am right.
He looks around, panicky now, picking up a brown cup from his desk so easily that even I can see that it is weightless, completely empty. Jesus. His look grows more guilty, and all I can think is, Good. He should feel guilty for what he’s taken from me, from us. He left the Evidence in my kitchen, for God’s sake. Of course I would find it.
“I guess I picked up the wrong cup,” he stammers, and I leave the most obvious question unspoken, knowing that even now, even in this, our brains will align, that he will know what I need to know next. “Honey, I’m sorry,” he begs. “In retrospect, I knew it wasn’t right when I did it. It did taste different but I thought it was because of the new place. I should have known that it was wrong.”
I have his confession, and his remorse, and with them I am able to ignore the flare of anger, the deep disappointment growing in my belly. Be thorough, I think to myself. See it through. I know I need to be brave enough to say the thing out loud, to bring it into the light. It is the only way we can begin to deal with this.
“You drank my latte.”
There it is. The words sting, and he recoils a little. “This,” I hold the full, heavy cup out further now, “This is your Americano.” I pause for emphasis. “And it tastes hideous.”
He apologizes over and over, and I let him. I can see that he means it. He understands, better than anyone, what coffee means to each of us, what we had together, what has been lost. I can see that he feels terrible but I wonder if that is enough. I wonder where this leaves us and how we will move forward. I wonder if I can forgive him. We stare at each other in silence for a long time.
“The least you could do,” I say finally, “is tell me that it didn’t mean anything, that you thought of me the whole time.”
And for the second time in one day, the old married people laugh, over coffee, again.