When the towers fell, I was seeing two women: Angela and Barb. One wanted to get married. One wanted to have sex in public parking lots and mall bathrooms. I wanted them both. Twelve years later, it’s two different women: Melissa, my wife, and Nikki, my brother’s girlfriend.

What kind of man has to keep a woman on the side his whole life? Everyone agrees the world has changed, but maybe it hasn’t changed enough. The world changed, but I sit in the same office, at the same desk, in the same chair.

Tonight, Melissa and I will go to a memorial service. Her first cousin was killed in the South Tower. The family talks about it like it happened yesterday. Maybe that’s one reason it feels like such a surprise that it’s been 12 years; I guess none of us know how to let anything go. I’ll stand with Melissa, hold her hand when she offers a single rose to an empty grave marker. When the ceremony is over, the family will gather to toast her cousin’s memory and remember the bright future we were all cheated. I’ll have one shot of Irish whiskey to warm me before telling Melissa I need to drive around, that I need to be alone. I’ll tell her the sadness is too much for me, and at least that part will be true.

Then I’ll meet Nikki as she’s coming out of the grocery store. She will leave my brother to meet me. I’ll be even hotter knowing how little time we have, that our time together is just a break from her life with him. Sometimes, I won’t even let her come because I want her to go home and make my brother wonder how a gallon of milk can get her so wound up. Maybe he’ll see a red mark on her neck—evidence of my mouth on her body—and question where she’s been, who she’s been with. But more likely, he’ll ignore all evidence. It’s what we all do in order to survive day after day.

Do I sound as though maybe I enjoy this position we’re in?
I don’t.
Maybe Nikki will marry my brother. Eventually, we might all have kids. We’ll rent a house on the beach and vacation together. Another 12 years or so will slip through us, around us. Maybe by then, I’ll have grown up, proved this was a passing phase. Surely, the world isn’t so treacherous that I can’t still learn to be a good man.

Denton Loving

About Denton Loving

Denton Loving is the author of the poetry collection, Crimes Against Birds (Main Street Rag). He is also the editor of Seeking Its Own Level: an anthology of writings about water (MotesBooks). He works at Lincoln Memorial University, where he co-directs the annual Mountain Heritage Literary Festival and serves as executive editor of drafthorse: the literary journal of work and no work. His fiction, poetry, essays and reviews have appeared in River Styx, Flyleaf, [PANK] and CutBank. Follow him on twitter @DentonLoving.