[size=9]i of ii.[/size]
Dearest Eve, bearer of the apple, punisher of the impure,
I write to you as Charlie Kowalski, wife of Ray Kowalski ? the only and true wife because he's been divorced, did you know that? He sought out an annulment from her shortly after we began seeing each other, within the first four or five months maybe, after it came up that that he hadn't annulled his marriage. I realized we could never be married and I accepted it just fine, but I don't think he did because he started the process without me even knowing about it almost immediately. As if he knew long before I did that this is where it was all heading.
If I tell you that I had second thoughts over and over, would you dare ever tell another soul or keep it safe? Or not 'second thoughts' as much as I was nearly paralyzed by fear - terror, if I'm being honest. I know I could never love anyone in this world as I love Ray, that I have never loved anyone in this world as I love him, but it terrified me. I don't know why. There were times I couldn't breathe thinking about the impending moment we would be eloping in front of the priest, translator, and Frank.
Cath?drale Notre Dame de Paris at twilight, a retinue of candelabrum lit. Juliet roses, lilies of the valley tucked into nests of baby's breath, delphinium trails and fat blossoms of hydrangeas. Years & Years, ?Shine? is so similar to how we fell in love so I wanted that to play instead of the more traditional Bridal Chorus: I danced and he danced, too, and even the priest didn't manage to entirely veil a smile about the delay when we danced together.
I wasn't afraid as soon as the candlelight hit me, but every moment leading up to it I wondered if I should run, or not if I should but if I would be able to quell the irrational, devil-possessed compulsion of it?board a train to Barcelona, prowl through the towering doors of the most exclusive, ridiculously decadent gentleman's club around and demand a job, map out some half-baked vigilante scheme and end up pink-skinned from all the hot water, wrap myself up in a broken heart for I know it as well as ?tre C?cile and Valentino and Monique Lhuillier and Dior (and Diane von Furstenberg; Frank loved her for me when I was a smaller girl than I am today and I would be his doll, Wolford tights and Gibson curls in Europe?beads and cotton so breathable it was see-through in Bali, blood on my chin as I ate lawar babi off a bamboo leaf cupped in my hands, the sun violent-red-hot on my closed lids sanctus, sanctus, sanctus. Words of a language I don't know except from the bowels of a basilica.)
I think that it was nothing to do with him. It's me that I'm secretly terrified of. He's no pentapod monster, but I am a wild lost thing and I leave disaster in my wake.
I am the underaged girl that left after midnight as the world slept with nothing more than a few quietly packed bags in order to save a boy that I loved, a boy that every bone in my body told me was either dead or would be dead before I could find him, but I refused to believe it because the slim possibility that it wasn't true was the only thing keeping me together. In time, I could accept the alternative (and likelier) outcome, but I didn't stop there because I swore even if it was nothing more than a body that I could bring home to his parents, that made what(ever) I had to do (in any given moment) worth it. Also, I wanted vengeance. I wanted to watch the empire of the monster that did this to me burn. I wanted him and every last being that aided him in taking my first love to suffer as I had suffered.
I would dance on every stage that I had to (which is how we met, I'm sure you remember). I would kill every devil or dark thing that stood between me and my revenge, and I did - sometimes with a momentary pleasure that burned out quick like a cheap candle and left me rocking, hollow and devastated, alone in the darkness. I lied, I cheated, I stole. I laid in an opiate-blurred tangle of limbs in a New York studio, staring at the textured ceiling while it rearranged itself like stars as the nighttime hours ticked by, half alive at best in the only way that actually matters. I turned a blind eye to horrors that turned my stomach and broke pieces of my soul, telling myself the most important thing I could do is live.
Girls could be trafficked in a lounge I entered to barter for a crumb of information and I might've crouched in the street afterwards to lose whatever was in my stomach, but I could not save them: because I couldn't be discovered to be someone that didn't belong or else further information would be hard to gather farther down the line, because... if I went back in there and lit the place up, I might die. If I died, no one would be able to save Isaiah. So I lived. And when I encountered a man that grasped the only lead I'd found for months and he told me I had to spend the night with him to get it, I did that, too. I woke up to a lover's note and what his idea of breakfast must've been, and what I felt was beyond tears. I took off my dress, so I think that means it was supposed to be consensual. It was. Maybe. I had a choice, probably, even if it didn't feel like it at the time.
When they tell the stories about how the heroes save the damsels, they never mention how full of despair those journeys are. They make it sound so simple, so heart-warming... it's such a lie. It's nothing at all like that and I don't think it's because this was a girl-saves-boy or girl-fails-boy story. Girl-kills-boy story. No one tells little girls that the boy is also the dragon at the end and that all of her shortcomings, all of the thousand excruciating ways she failed him, helped to create that outcome. Human weaknesses and the dark side of the soul are unpleasant subject material, and the happy ending is better because we need that hope. Maybe we need that hope. I have to confess that too many times, it was the only thing that kept me going one foot in front of the other.
Hope that I could save Isaiah. Hope that I could still save myself if I ever went far enough that it became too far in attempting to save him. Hope that I could somehow correct the wrongs?I kept a journal of them, every single thing I would have done differently, meticulously recorded details of the criminal organizations I came into contact with, places where I knew bad things happened, the names of the people that did the bad things, the cars parked outside and the color of the paint job. Hope for respite. Hope for forgiveness. Hope, in the soft quiet of the AM hours that lie closer to dawn than to midnight when there was nothing else. Hope, what convinced me to crawl out of my bed when I was still half child to brave the darkness on my own long before I even understood what darkness was.
I was so brave then and now I am so scared. I love him?is it enough? At times, when I'm confused and terrified and so terribly sad, I don't know if it is (for me or for him) and what hurts is I bet you have no idea. You're one of the best friends I have and you probably have no idea because I am no one's daughter?a demon saw to that when I was barely old enough to walk on my own two feet?but I am Frank's perfect little prot?g?, I am the partner-in-crime he raised me to be no matter how much I have tried to rebel. Whether I like it or not, that is part of me, and I am a con artist too. Appearances are what matter most in the con and he taught me that so horribly well, so you see a couple in love, you see a girl completely infatuated with the love of her life because that's what I want you to see the same way I let people believe I'm so defenseless I need Ray to fight my battles for me when I could snap your neck with my legs just so if I needed to. If I had to. If you made me.
Not that we're not in love, not that I'm not completely infatuated, but you don't know about this part that cries in the living room with my face buried into a pillow because I can barely live with myself?because we left Isaiah in Hell and ever since, so am I. I'm in Hell, too. I can't leave him there and I don't know what my husband would think if I told him I loved him, but if I have to die to save Isaiah's soul, I'll die because I made a promise once and this one I intend to keep.
I make sure every hair is in place, but I cannot stand to look at myself in a mirror the same way I couldn't stand myself at times when Crispin Ashwood was in Hell and I stayed out of it when I shouldn't've.
I hated Crispin Ashwood, though, because he made me feel something for the first time since Isaiah and a part of me hated him for that so much; I hated myself, too, probably more than I hated him because how are you supposed to be on this epic mission for love, and suddenly, you care about someone else? I think because he was first, I didn't have to hate Ray when he made me feel something, too, and sometimes I've wondered if I hadn't picked Ray if?I think because I've missed him, not romantically per se, but he was my best friend and I was his, and I miss that (to this day even when I convince myself it was all make believe and he's nothing more than a stranger I never knew to start with) because I haven't managed to replace it as I think he has. But I don't ever want to be his friend again, I can't, because I cared for him once so much that?so all I can do is keep this distance between us to where we'd never really be friends (and I think he did that, too) even if we were because there has to be this space, this obstruction, or let it go, and I had to let it go because I love Ray, because I was so tired of going through the motions but neither of us able to let each other close for fear of (words have been crossed out several times and can no longer be discerned) and pretending as if what happened never happened, because I had to. I just had to.
So when Crispin Ashwood pretends as if I'm not there when we're in the same room and I do the same exact thing, I'm grateful and I'm sad and I hope that never ends because you can't be friends with someone if both of you can say: ?I almost loved you. I could have?would have loved you.? I believe he could have said that, I know I could have said that, and so we can't ever be friends because I love Ray and he loves Leena, and that's just how it is. Because when you grow up and you realize the things you do have far-reaching consequences, you can't risk an errant spark. You can't risk the small chance something you buried will rise from the dead.
He saw me in ways even Ray can't because I can't show Ray what I'm capable of, I can't tell Ray what I'm truly capable of, because I think he loves the Charlie that he can protect, the Charlie that always means well, not the Charlie that wants to burn your kingdom to ashes in retribution for what you have dared do to her, the Charlie that stays awake at night imagining ways to hurt you the way you hurt her when you took the thing she loved most in the world. One day, I'll show him that girl if she still exists and he won't leave, maybe he won't, or maybe I'll chicken out and he'll never see me like that because you know, Eve, I'm thinking maybe there are certain things about people that no one else is supposed to ever find out.
Don't ever mistake me or ever think I don't love Ray wholeheartedly because if I didn't mean it, I wouldn't have walked into that church. I love him so much that sometimes I think I lose myself. I wanted an apartment in New York, but Ray belongs to Chicago so I learn to love Chicago (even if it's not and will never be New York for me) and he wants a house, and I suppose I did dream about houses and fresh-cut grass when I belonged to Frank so I convince myself to want a house, too.
I didn't want babies, but I ended up pregnant by accident so I ended up wanting it once I felt this life blooming inside of me, then I lost it so I wanted it back, of course I wanted it back, it hurt so much and I didn't want to hurt anymore; but farther away it becomes, the easier it is to remember why I didn't want to be a mother so young, the more I wonder if I'm truly ready, the more I'm scared of it, the more I think I can't do this because I can't stay a whole week sober with all this darkness bubbling up inside of me and if I do it, it'll be a mess, I'll be the worst mother, I'll be a dead mother because if I don't save Isaiah, I won't make it another year without throwing myself off a bridge. It isn't happiness if he's burning. Do you think he's burning? Why do we have to do it now?
Couldn't we live forever, or couldn't we pretend we will?