By Alysia Hush
Two September sixteenths ago, I fell in love with Eric Winters while sitting in the front row of his freshman lecture class, fervently taking notes on the Ottoman Empire. My laptop fell, crashed; we made eye contact, he winked, and I’ve been devoted to him ever since.
I’ve been his teaching assistant for a year. He’s a great boss: making sure my workload doesn’t outweigh my course work, listening with genuine interest while I complain about my roommate, bringing me those gluten-free cookies Professor Higgins leaves in the faculty room. He even lets me call on the weekends.
I’ve never had someone care that much.
Sometimes I call and call and call. Just to hear his voice.
Eric follows the same routine every morning: six-thirty alarm, snooze for eight minutes, stretch, shower, floss and brush, shave, Gillette for Sensitive Skin, and downstairs for coffee and breakfast before seven. Rinse, repeat.
As I watch, I like to pretend I’m there with him.
His wife makes him breakfast. They’re normally pretty healthy, but she enjoys baking, and he doesn’t mind the splurge. He ends each morning by kissing Lena goodbye, taking the trash out as he goes.
Lena is nice enough, pretty enough, fun enough, but he could do better.
Fridays, he has lunch with the other department heads on the green in the Quad. Usually, students are not included, but today, he invites me to join. It’s the sign I’ve needed. I will do it today.
“Let’s meet by the Science Hall.” He pats my arm and heads toward his office.
But when he arrives, he’s not alone.
“The more the merrier.” He introduces me to two of his PhD students—Dave and Meagan.
The whole lunch is an emotional twister.
“This is Kat.” He slips me a gluten-free cookie. “She’s the best.”
“Meagan’s researching the funeral rituals of Aegean civilizations.”
Meagan is a twat.
“I still remember the paper Kat wrote on ancestral Abbevillian industry.”
“Dave’s patience and creativity during his teaching lab is the most promising I’ve seen since I started teaching.”
“Kat’s my right hand. She makes everything better.” He smiles and laughs.
For me, he has a special laugh. It’s subtle, but markedly different from the rest; subtly, but markedly telling me that I’m different from the rest. It’s how I know that he knows what I know: He could be happier. I could make him happier.
Eric and Lena cook dinner together most nights. He’s teaching her how to make his grandmother’s piccata. He should be sharing the recipe with me. Not her.
Afterwards, he spends forty minutes alone in his garage. I assume he’s running because that’s where he keeps his treadmill, but I can’t be sure. The window in his garage faces the neighbor’s kitchen windows, so it’s too risky to watch.
Neighbors are tattlers. Always.
I can make him happier.
I can because I know everything. I know what makes him happy. I know which foods give him diarrhea. I know his wife is deathly allergic to peanuts. I know he grocery shops every Wednesday. I know where he gets his coffee. I know his favorite golf club. I know his password is always “GigEm07.”
It took dedication. But I know it all. So that I can anticipate every one of his needs. So that I can take care of him and be devoted to him and make him breakfast in the morning. So that I can love everything about him.
So that I can do everything Lena can do, but better.
Because Lena didn’t take the time to know everything. They’ve been married six years, and she’s still “learning” things about him. She may love him, but not as deeply as I do. Not as vigilantly. Not as thoroughly.
I’m better than Lena. I’m consumed.
And I know Eric loves me. I know it in the way his hand sometimes brushes mine when we gather papers. I know it when he’s focused deeply in his thoughts but looks up when I walk in. I know it in the way he smiles when I run into him in the grocery store; I’m holding his favorite coffee beans.or pushing the makings of his favorite meal in my cart: cacio e pepe with fresh-made pasta paired with a Sonoma Coast pinot.
Last week, I returned the pen he loves so much—the one his father gave him. I’ll never forget that Christmas: the smell of Vermont pines, the long drive in the snow, my cold and wet boots, crouching for hours. He didn’t even ask where I’d found it. He trusts me implicitly. I remember the look on his face: the adoration, the relief.
If Lena really loved him, she would’ve wanted him to be happy. She would’ve been reasonable when I explained. She would’ve seen that Eric is better off with me. And she would’ve left us alone. But she didn’t really love him, and she wasn’t reasonable.
She was just like Diane.
Diane. Two years of assiduous, devoted work kaput because Diane didn’t know what was best. Because Diane didn’t accept she had to go. Never mind that she was the one who grabbed the knife.
And he—he took her side. He acted like we had no connection at all. He said he didn’t love me, didn’t know me. He said I was just a ‘girl on his tennis team.’
And then the resulting two years of legal battles, and therapy, and restraint, and misery, and heartbreak, and missing him, and all the bad days since and….
That doesn’t matter. Only today matters. And today is a good day.
Today, my diligence paid off. Today, Eric Winters kissed Lena goodbye, took out the trash, went to work, and in fourteen minutes, will come home to dinner with me.
Lena was nice enough, pretty enough, fun enough, but now that she’s gone, he’ll be so much happier.
I’m thinking Italian.