Home > I'm Fine and Neither Are You(17)

I'm Fine and Neither Are You(17)
Author: Camille Pagán

Once upon a time, in a land before children, Sanjay and I had been very good at sex. That’s probably what kept us together when we first started dating, because back then neither of us really knew how to have a healthy relationship. After all, I had never been in close proximity to one myself. Likewise, Sanjay’s parents’ marriage had been arranged, and rather than the story most people wanted to hear—that they fell deeply in love soon after their wedding—they didn’t particularly care for each other and spent most of their time in separate rooms of their large home. Riya was happiest when she went to India for a month and a half every winter to see her extended family.

Sanjay and I had no relationship role models, but we had epic rolls in the hay. By the time we finally figured out how to mostly be decent partners after our breakup, our erotic encounters had slowed a little, but they were still hot enough that we didn’t have to schedule sex like a dental cleaning, as the purported relationship experts in women’s magazines always seemed to recommend.

Then came Stevie’s birth and Sanjay’s brief medical school tenure. Sex petered out.

And by petered out, I mean we basically stopped having it.

It’s hard to bounce back from that kind of baseline—even Sanjay dropping out of medical school didn’t help. Nowadays it happened when it happened, which I supposed wasn’t particularly often. And when it did happen, it was usually in the dark or with my eyes closed, because I got distracted by Sanjay’s ear tufts, which he had the barber trim and then promptly forgot about until his next appointment. Anyway, it was easier to get to where I was going when I couldn’t see the laundry basket at the end of the bed.

Really, was it any surprise that when he came on to me—which was almost always at the end of the night when I was ready to pass out—I thought about how I would be awoken by my urine-soaked son in another two to four hours and said, “Maybe tomorrow”?

As I made my way into work, still clad in my coffee-stained pants, a comment Jenny made a few months earlier floated through my head. “Sex keeps our relationship going,” she had said after I feigned disgust when she showed up late to a coffee date with flushed cheeks and an excuse that Matt had been frisky.

Was she being disingenuous—or had she been trying to tell me that sex was one of the few things she and he had shared?

It was one more thing I would never know.

When I walked into my office, a bouquet of white orchids was in the center of my desk. I had never seen so many orchids in a single arrangement—there must have been eight flowers to a single stem and a dozen stems to the lot. It was the nicest bouquet I had ever received, and the sight of it made me want to burst into tears. At any other time, I would have assumed Jenny had been the one to send it. She did things like that—gifting me a lipstick that she knew would look just right on me, or bringing me tulips after I secured a big donation.

This time the flowers were from my coworkers.

“Is white appropriate?” asked Russ, who had just stuck his head in my door. He looked kind of embarrassed, and I realized he must have been the one to pick them out. “Do you even like orchids?”

I could feel a sob coming on and had to look away. “Yes,” I finally managed. “I like them very much.”

“Good,” he said. Then his head disappeared.

I composed myself and then called into the hallway, “What’s on the agenda for today?”

This time, his whole body appeared in the doorway. “I put the final touches on Blatner’s second proposal, so if you have time to look it over, that would be great. I’m meeting with Dean Willis at one thirty to discuss EOFY numbers.”

“May I join you?” I said.

“I can cover if you want to catch up on other stuff.”

I had been off work for several days, and he had come through for me on all counts. I appreciated that—but he was still Russ. The last thing I needed was for him to treat me with kid gloves, only to use this to unseat me as co-director or call in some massive favor later on. “I’ll come with,” I said.

He smiled, and then a strange thing happened. Semiobjectively, Russ was attractive—he had the kind of moody green eyes you didn’t see very often, straight white teeth, and an almost uncannily symmetrical face. He also happened to be pale, stocky, and on the short side—which is to say the opposite of Sanjay. Yet as I looked at him, I realized . . .


Except yes—I had just felt a twinge of attraction toward him. Was this some sort of inappropriate grieving response? A temporary spell cast by the sight of that beautiful bouquet he had chosen? Or had this been lurking in my subconscious, just waiting for the right time to wallop me?

My cheeks burned, but if Russ sensed my discomfort, he didn’t let on. Instead, he just kept smiling and said, “Great. Swing by my office at one so we can prep.”

“So,” Russ said as we were walking across the medical campus to the dean’s office several hours later. “How are you holding up?”

July was days away and the sun beat down hard, baking the morning’s spilled coffee into my pants. And just as well, as that made it easier not to think about whether the attraction I’d felt toward Russ earlier was a one-off. “I’m fine.”

He looked at me. “Really? Because your eyelid has been twitching for a solid five minutes now.”

My lid had been fluttering off and on for days, in fact—not that I was about to share this. I knew it was stress related. But thank goodness Russ had pointed it out to me. That was guaranteed to make it better.

“I’m fine,” I said.

“You know, it would be okay to take a break if you need to,” he said.

So he could swoop in and become the sole director of our department? Not a chance.

“It’s good to be at work,” I said. “Keeping busy is better than doing nothing.” Yes, to be in motion was to not have to think about anything other than the task at hand.

He gave me a skeptical look. “If you say so, Pen.”

We had just reached the administrative building where the dean’s office was located. A gust of icy air hit us as Russ pulled the door open for me. A question popped into my head, and I opened my mouth before I could second-guess whether to let it out. “Hey. What do you know about prescription painkillers?”

Russ had not been to medical school, but he was well versed in health issues ranging from the everyday to the obscure. He claimed this was because he had only ever worked in medical development, but I would not have been surprised to learn that he rose early each morning to peruse science journals before hitting the gym.

He glanced at me briefly as we began down a corridor. I was relieved that his eyes didn’t unsettle me and he was back to looking like regular old Russ. “Do you want the politically correct answer, or my real answer?”

“The latter.”

“Let’s just say I only needed to pop one Vicodin to know I should never take another. It’s different for different people, though. Some people fall asleep on painkillers. Others feel euphoric, like they can do anything, and that’s usually what gets you hooked. If a doctor prescribes them to you—which, given what we know now, they probably shouldn’t unless you’re out of options—you’d better hope you’re in the pass-out category.” Now he was staring at me intently. “Tell me you’re not doing that junk, Penny. It’ll kill you.”

My expression must have betrayed me, because Russ did a double take. “Whoa—wait a second. Is that what happened to your friend?”

I blinked several times to pull myself together. In less than two minutes I would be discussing a several-million-dollar endowment with the dean who had the power to make or break my career, and it would not behoove me to walk in on the verge of tears. Also, I had just revealed a major secret to a coworker with whom I had an uneven relationship. “Please don’t say anything to anyone,” I said.

We had just reached the dean’s assistant’s desk, and Russ reminded her we had an appointment. Then he turned back to me. “I won’t,” he said quietly. “But for the record, I don’t think addiction should be a secret.”

Later that day, when only the janitor and I were left in the office, I sat at my desk and thought about the word Russ had used.

Addiction .

Matt hadn’t used that word, but the facts spoke for themselves.

How long had Jenny been hooked? How had I not noticed something was amiss?

Pen, how long did you overlook what was wrong in your marriage? I heard Jenny ask. You’ve had your head buried in the sand for years now.

“Your point,” I muttered.

As my imaginary friend had just reminded me, I needed to focus on my marriage. But what did I really want from Sanjay? And what did I want for us?

I could ask him to put his damn phone down once in a while, but would that really be enough to ease the underlying irritation I felt toward him?

No. But him doing more around the house and with the kids—without being asked to—would. So that would be my first request.

What else?

There was no question that he needed to begin bringing in more than a few hundred dollars here and there as well as the occasional check from his parents. I was grateful I had the ability to keep our family financially solvent, even if I did sometimes worry about what would happen if I, say, fell through an unsecured manhole cover and suffered a devastating brain injury. But our financial arrangement was looking permanent, and that kept me awake at night nearly as much as Miles’ bedwetting. I had been telling Sanjay it was fine—he would be making more money soon enough.

Well, he still wasn’t, and though I was loath to point this out, it wasn’t fine. I had bitten my tongue because I was worried the truth would crush his self-esteem and stifle his ambition. When he had first sat me down one morning and told me he was dropping out of medical school—“Today, Penny. I literally can’t do this for one more day”—I had mostly been relieved; he had been so damn miserable. “What are you going to do?” I had asked, and then he had confessed what I already knew to be true—he wanted to go back to writing.

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