My best friend was a beautiful young woman. Everyone thought so, even my husband. To be fair, her beauty was undeniable. It wasn’t his fault.
I could tell she was prettier than I was because she was thinner than I was. That’s how I measured relative beauty back then, as I do now. I know it’s wrong. While I would never look at a group of women and rate their looks according to their waistlines, I have regularly done it to myself. It’s humiliating. I do it anyway.
My husband was adept at telling me how much weight I’d gained and how fat and unattractive I’d become. So it was easy for me to equate a smaller body with greater beauty. He reminded me all the time.
My friend was petite, a tiny little thing with flat abs and the toned body of a dancer. Her teacup-sized breasts were perky and adorable. She worked in an office during the week. On weekends, she taught dance aerobics at the local gym. She was bright and vivacious and fun; she stood out like a shining silver dime among corroded copper pennies.
Most of the men and many of the women eyed her appreciatively from the moment she walked into the gym. We were plenty of years past Jane Fonda VHS exercise tapes and Flashdance fashion by then. Yet her workout attire consisted of high-cut leotards and sheer tights. She looked like she had just stepped out of a 1980s music video.
I saw her undress in the gym locker room once. Her body was just as flawless as the photoshopped models you see on the covers of swimsuit magazines. She was as smooth as a stick of butter, with none of the fat.
We could not have been more different.
My best friend had a boyfriend, but he was locked away in an adult correctional institution for the foreseeable future. He was also her first cousin. Since she was all alone on Friday nights, my husband and I started inviting her to spend time with us.
Introducing them was my first mistake. Although I don’t have any evidence that anything romantic happened between them, I had my suspicions. When I learned he was giving her rides to and from various destinations while her car was in the repair shop, I was floored. When my car was in the shop, I was forced to rely on rides from my mother.
In the months before I discovered the voicemails that revealed my husband was providing personal taxi services to my friend, we frequented sports bars together.
The three of us drank ourselves silly, and I watched the men at the bar take turns sending over drinks to my friend. We played darts. Well, my husband and my friend played darts while I watched and sulked. I was too self-conscious to join them.
One night, she drove us home drunk in a snowstorm and parked sideways on the front lawn before going inside to take turns sliding down carpeted stairs on metal cooking sheets. Well, they took turns sliding down my carpeted stairs while I watched. And I sulked. Once again, I was too self-conscious to join them. I worried about bending or breaking the thin metal cookie sheet with my heavier, more substantial figure.
Shortly after that night, I moved out. My leaving had nothing to do with her and everything to do with him. After perhaps two weeks of living apart, I moved back in. That’s when I heard the messages on my answering machine, my answering machine. I had picked it out at the store, paid for it with cash, and plugged it into the wall of the living room next to the sofa myself. Now, my husband was getting messages on that machine from her, and he didn’t even have the sense to erase them.
After I learned my husband was giving my friend rides upon request, I stopped inviting her to spend time with us. After all, weren’t they spending enough time together on their own?
I never confronted her about the rides. To my knowledge, they had taken place during a short period of time when I had moved out of the house where I lived with my husband. My name was both on the mortgage and on the checks I used to pay the monthly payment.
Did I leave him for good the following year, or the year after that? The details are unclear. My memory is fuzzy, but there is one thing I know for sure. I never spoke to her again.