Karma in a Ring
She knew it was 7:53 a.m. because as soon as the sharp chirping aroused her from her slumber, her eyes went straight to the clock next to her head. The young woman groaned as she picked up her cell and glanced at the caller ID. Taking a few seconds longer than normal to comprehend, she realized who it was.
“Hey old woman! Whatcha doin?” spoke a male voice much too awake for the hour.
“It’s 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning. What the heck do you think I’m doing?” she asked, turning over on her side to avoid the sunlight streaming through her window.
“Well, if you hadn’t been out partying and drinking last night, you’d be up by now,” he replied, a light tone to his voice, indicating he was trying to sound like he was joking. She knew better.
“Please,” she shot back, getting slightly defensive. “I wasn’t out partying. You can ask Jamie.”
“Jamie? What does she have to do with anything?” He was obviously surprised that she was still spending time with his sister-in-law.
“Yeah, I was watching Gilmore Girls
with her. It’s a great show.”
“Gilmore Girls? It’s stupid.”
“Have you ever seen it?”
“Then how can you say it’s stupid?”
” ‘Cause I can.”
“Well, I just wanted to see what you were up to. I gotta go. I’ll give you a call later.”
She hung up the phone and laid back down, smiling. His wife must have been calling him or something, the way he rushed off like that. The fact that she knew he would call this weekend made the situation even more humorous. Almost gratifying.
An outsider may ask, who is this man who sneaks phone calls from outside his apartment building three states away? The one who leaves his job or home to go outside on the pretense of smoking a cigarette, in order to give her cell a ring. The man whom she could only get in touch with by e-mail to his work address. Who is he, and why is he hiding, one might wonder.
On first impression, it might be safe to assume that he is a two-timing cheater and she is the home wrecker he’s desecrating his marriage bed with. She must be the other woman, totally disrespecting the innocent nurse who has no idea that someone speaks with her husband occasionally and thinks of him constantly. Well, there’s no love triangle here to speak of. At least, not yet.
The music was loud, as usual. The youth pastor liked to make sure that God could hear their praises all the way from earth. The guitar players were strumming with all their hearts. The drummer was pounding furiously on beat, as if trying to mimic God’s own heartbeat. In the audience, people stood, hands lifted up in praise. Eyes were shut in concentration. Heads were bowed in joyful prayer and song. Everyone was really into the worship that morning.
At the back of the room, where the kids sat with their Sunday school teacher, another set of eyes was clenched tightly shut. Her head was bowed as well, but her arms were folded tightly around the waist of the young boy who sat in her lap.
“Miss Virginia?” The Sunday school teacher’s eyes quickly flew open and met the gaze of an incredibly curious four-year-old girl that she adored. She wiped away her tears and loosened her grip around the boy’s waist.
“Why are you crying?” The girl said, grabbing her teacher’s hand and twisting the diamond ring around her finger. The praise team transitioned into a slower melody, giving everyone the opportunity to take a seat.
“I’m okay, Christine,” she answered, wiping beneath her eyelids once again. “Go sit down with your sister.” And she did.
Twelve years ago, young Virginia met a tall, lanky, incredibly playful boy in that very same room. Both young and shy, they rarely spoke to each other. Without having taken the opportunity to really get to know one another, the chance was seemingly lost when his family moved away.
Six years later, Virginia arrived at that same church early one Sunday morning to notice a tall, lanky guy hanging in the background. She immediately recognized him and smiled, all the while thinking that she’d just found her future husband.
It became the first love that paints an elaborate smile on a person’s face. Fresh butterflies had just broken loose from their cocoons with the sole purpose of setting flight in their stomachs whenever they saw one another. They became the couple that their friends referred to in arguments with their significant others: “Why can’t you be more understanding like Virginia? Why can’t you be more thoughtful like Chad?”
Eventually, like the tunnel of love at the carnival, all great things must come to an end. A decision to join the military took him away, and their love boat wasn’t strong enough to withstand the hurricane of a long-distance relationship for no more than three years, despite the glistening gold promise that eventually left a dent on her left ring finger. Actually, the name of the hurricane was Emily, the innocent nurse who was just trying to be his friend. Within weeks of Chad breaking things off with Virginia, he exchanged marriage vows with the nurse.
A few months later, the clandestine phone calls and e-mails started, filling Virginia with a sense of tortuous hope and, at the same time, glee. Hope that Chad still cared for her, glee that he was sneaking around behind Emily’s back. However, for the very sake of having a grip on reality, she wished to be able to stab away the memories that dangled around her head; she wanted him gone. When he received orders to be stationed in Germany, his wife to be left behind, she thought she’d finally be able to turn the page and start a new chapter.
“Well, we met September 10. He was outside talking on the phone. I figured he was talking to a girl, so I didn’t say anything and just went out to my truck. After he hung up the phone, he approached me, and we started talking from there.”
“Yeah. He told me he was engaged, and that was when I left him alone. But he kept coming back, until I told him he needed to figure out what he wanted to do. I kicked him out of my room one night. He came back later and said he had everything taken care of and he wanted to be with me.”
Virginia said nothing.
“A couple weeks later, he proposed to me in the shower. He had the ring in his mouth and he asked me to marry him. Even though it was quick, we knew it was right.”
Virginia shifted in her seat. Why did Emily feel the need to create such a vivid image of her first love in the shower with another woman? That bitch.
“I never meant to hurt you, Virginia. He didn’t want to hurt you either. But we’d found each other. I know he was the love of your lifeÃ¢Â?Â¦ but, well, now he’s the love of my life.”
Another kind of insect had been born in Virginia’s stomach since Chad left her. The butterflies had disappeared, shriveled up and faded into the twists of her intestines. With each kernel of truth that Emily planted into Virginia’s hands, a scorpion was banging its tail against the walls of her stomach. It thirsted for those kernels.
As Emily continued to feed her unappetizing dishes of knowledge, Virginia wondered how she got herself into such situations. What was she doing there, speaking calmly to the woman who stole her fiancÃ?Â© from her? Her outer appearance may have been one of a patient, sweet persona, but her throat burned with the fiery words she wanted to spit out.
Early one morning, 6:57 a.m. to be exact, after a night of partying with her friends to celebrate her 23rd birthday, her cell phone chirped an unfamiliar ring tone. Feeling as if the alcohol she’d chugged the night before was sloshing around her brain, Virginia blearily answered the phone, expecting it to be one of her well-wishers calling to rub a hangover in her face.
“Hello?” A male voice. Definitely not recognizable at 7 in the morning and after an alcohol-filled late night.
“Who do you think it is?” And then her heart couldn’t decide whether it wanted to jump or plummet.
“Chad? What are you doing calling me? Aren’t you in Germany?”
“Yeah. I wanted to call you and tell you happy birthday and to see how things were going.”
So, she told him how things were going. They talked for over an hour, and even though she had to move her head slowly, Virginia enjoyed every single moment of it. For every second he was on the phone with her meant another second he wasn’t talking to Emily.
Over the next few months, the conversations increased, despite the fact that Virginia knew that by keeping in touch with him, her heart was hanging outside on the ledge of a 15-story building. Talking to him was addictive though. Not only did she enjoy their conversations, but the very thought that he was devoting 20 minutes on the phone at night to her instead of his precious nurse made her feel a tad triumphant.
“Did you really want to marry me?” he asked during one conversation as she dressed to get ready for work. She had to sit down for that one.
“I said yes, didn’t I? I stayed with you even though we only got to see each other once a month, didn’t I? I never went out anywhere. I stressed myself out with a bunch of classes and working full time so that I could hurry up and graduate so we could get married, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. True. But why didn’t you just go ahead and marry me? What was taking so long?” She couldn’t believe she was hearing this.
“We talked about it, Chad. I was going to finish school, so we could get married and you could go back to school if you wanted. I was going to take care of you, of us, so that you could do what you wanted to do for your career. Remember?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
Conversations like this ate up many of their minutes, and it wasn’t too long before the pages of her book really did turn back, farther back than they should have.
“I love you, Virginia. This never should have happened. Once I get divorced from Emily, I’d like us to go back to the way things were before.”
The silver sports car cruised down the highway alone. It was Christmas Eve, and most people had abandoned the idea of being out on the road this time of night. As Virginia maneuvered the car down the silent road, she took a sideways glance at the person who sat next to her. She really was pretty. It was obvious why Chad had married her.
What she couldn’t figure out was why she’d invited Emily to hang out with her in the first place. Why was she so nice to this woman, anyway? Since she’d stepped into the picture, not only had Virginia lost her fiancÃ?Â© and best friend, but scorpions raged in her stomach every time she was around. The last time Virginia had seen her, all Emily could do was rub her wedding ring in her face, whether she meant to or not. The comment she’d made, “He proposed to me in the shower,” had become graffiti across her skull.
After dropping her ex-fiancÃ?Â©’s wife off at her in-laws’ house, Virginia decided not to go home right away. Instead, she traveled in the opposite direction, towards the road beside the airport, where she knew that her foot could go heavy on the gas pedal without fear of being pulled over. Her frustrations often manifested into the need to hear her engine roar and her tires squeal, and this was no exception. As the needle on the speedometer inched further and further to the right, she could feel an army of fire ants attack her heart, stripping it clean of everything she had. She was fed up with all of it. Of Emily’s determination to lay the blame of her deteriorating marriage at her feet. Of Chad’s uncertainty of what he wanted. Of everyone, even her parents, thinking that she was a home wrecker. Her tears cascaded down her face, and all she could think about was how unfair it was that she would be miserable on Christmas Eve. All because of Emily.
A few months later, Chad took leave and came home. Although still married, he didn’t sprint off to see his wife. While Virginia had determined that he was a risk to her mental health, she couldn’t stop herself from seeing him at least once. She felt like a chronic smoker who’d given up the sweet taste of nicotine and would settle just for a quick inhale of the smoky perfume.
She picked him up from his parents’ house just before midnight. It was strange to be in the driver’s seat with him next to her.
“Where do you want to go?” she asked, afraid to look at him. His stare was so intent on her that she could feel warmth growing beneath the skin of her cheeks.
“Wherever,” he replied. “I just want to spend time with you.”
They drove down familiar back roads, nothing having really changed in the past few years. Before long, Chad took Virginia’s hand in his, and she didn’t pull away. Despite the awkwardness that burrowed in her stomach, she could only think about how long it’d been since she’d had such an innocent act of intimacy.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked, trying to mentally reach back and remember the security his presence once gave her. It was a hard struggle, but she could feel remnants of it dancing on the edges of their aura together.
“I don’t know, just how happy I am right now, I guess.”
“Well, I’m glad.” The warmth beneath the skin of her cheeks exploded, and although she wouldn’t admit it aloud, she was pretty content with the situation as well.
After about half an hour of driving around aimlessly, Virginia whipped her silver sports car into the gravel parking lot of the park that was located in the middle of the city, the place where many of their dates had ended and many of their fires had started. She knew it was dangerous to go there, much more dangerous to go there in the middle of the night and turn the engine off, with him still being a married man and all, but her rationale for her innocence was that Chad had asked her to go to a quiet place so that the two of them could talk.
With the cloud of silence squeezing the comfortable oxygen out of the vehicle, Virginia felt nervous. She had no idea what to expect from him, and there was no way she could anticipate how she’d react. A part of her felt sorry for Emily; after all, here was Emily’s husband sitting next to his ex-fiancÃ?Â©, caressing her hand, desiring her company, not his own wife’s. A very small part of Virginia’s heart went out to Emily; the rest of her wished there was some way she could frame this night and send it to her with a big tacky card with a cryptic message: “Karma is a bitch.”
They talked about innocent things-their jobs, their friends and family. All the while, their hands touched, finger embracing finger, palm kissing palm. It didn’t take long for Virginia to feel completely comfortable with him again and to talk as they used to.
“You know, Virginia, I’ve really missed you,” Chad whispered, caressing her hand. “You’re even more beautiful than I remember. I’m sorry for what happened between us. I’m sorry for hurting you.”
A knot of liquid salt caught in her throat. Why did he have to bring that up? “It’s in the past,” she whispered back, looking down so he couldn’t see her tears.
His index finger tilted her chin up so she’d be forced to look at him, and the sorrow on his face made more of her tears escape. Although he’d hurt her so badly, to see him in pain was like throwing a bucket of ice-cold water on an already frost-bitten victim. He leaned over and, despite the console between them, managed to pull her into a full upper body embrace. She cried into his shoulder, the shoulder she’d leaned upon for so many years, finally letting go of all the midgets of sadness that had plagued her for so long.
“I’m sorry, Chad. I didn’t mean to cry like that in front of you,” she said quickly, pulling away and wiping her face.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. You’ve probably needed to do that for a long time.” And unexpectedly, he leaned in and kissed her lightly. Virginia was surprised that familiarity could dwell in a pair of lips, and when she didn’t repel, he leaned in for a more passionate kiss. As her lips hungrily inquired of Chad’s physical emotions, she couldn’t help but feel slightly excited. It all seemed so forbidden, and while she was aware that nothing good could come out of what became a lustful encounter, she couldn’t tear herself away. The quick inhale of the smoky perfume
was just too enticing.
Before Virginia could catch her breath from the lasciviousness, she was driving back to Chad’s parents’ house, barely able to control herself with his hands roaming all over her body. Every time she stopped at a red light, their lips would automatically find each other in the dark in order to relieve some of the sexual tension they’d created. Once they finally got to his house, it took all they had to get out of the car and sneak into his room. His parents were out of town, but his brother was home, and neither one of them wanted anyone to know. After all, Chad was still very much married, and the allegation of Virginia being a home wrecker was still very much alive.
Later on, after Chad had fallen asleep in her arms, Virginia examined his ring finger. She expected to find a gold wedding band there, or at least a tan line indicating he’d worn one for at least a year, but there was no trace of either. She smiled, nuzzling closer to the man who once was hers, was beguiled into marriage by a nurse, and now slept in her arms once again. Not that she expected anything from Chad now; she was beyond that. Why would she want to be with a man who so readily gave in to adultery? No. Through this experience, Virginia came to realize that all she really wanted was the opportunity to hurt Emily the way she’d hurt her. Although Virginia would never confess aloud that she’d had mad illicit sex with a married man, the very fact was enough, in Virginia’s mind, to put her ahead of Emily.
She had had the same number for the past four years; when she switched phone companies, she was afraid to change the number, just in case Chad ever needed to get in touch with her. It was a lifeline for him, a security blanket for her. As long as she kept the same number, she knew there was always the chance he could come back.
The day after Chad boarded the plane that would take him back to Germany, Virginia called her cell phone company and had her number changed. After they had spent a glorious week together, reliving every passion and sensuality that had inflamed their previous relationship, Virginia knew she could finally cut the lifeline and throw away the security blanket. Spending time with Chad had allowed her to finally achieve a sense of closure; after all, the last time he’d been home, they had still been engaged. Now she could look back over her shoulder to see Chad in her past without the weight of his decision to end their engagement crushing her. More importantly, their time together had planted a seed that she knew would hatch an overgrown tree of pain and sorrow. By helping Chad cheat on his wife, Virginia had had a hand in creating the very karma that would put Emily in her place; before long, they would finally officially divorce, and the innocent nurse would know what anguish really looked like.