Our garden-level apartment in Fort Collins was home to Clemitis that crawled the walls. It was home to the stench of sunlight pouring in through the thick white draw-curtains. After my accident, after he had been so careful not to care, I went back to riding. I got back up on that horse. He was only good for his paycheck, and even that was only minimally useful. At the top of my game, nationals approaching at a furious pace, I sat down one morning in the kitchen, my back against the primer-white wall, in the wicker chair that we had gotten at a garage sale.
"I think it's kind of over, don't you? I mean, you've been shagging the neighbor girl for, what, six months now? I mean, is her baby yours or is it actually her husband's?"
"I think you're right. I mean, you are out every night, riding all day, what's left for me?"
We agreed to share the space until the lease was up in December. He would bring girls home from wherever he'd been, and I would bring boys home from the bar. Drunk, sloppy. Wake up the next day and face each other in the kitchen, against the sunlight, he would head to work in his grubby grey-streaked construction-worker garb, toting his yellow hard-hat and a mug of coffee.
"I made some coffee..." He would say, and pause at the end, as if he wanted to know who was in my bedroom. I would never tell. I would never let them stay. I sent them home in the middle of the night, so I didn't seem like the bad girl. I fingered the engagement ring in my right hand, wondering how much money I could pawn it for. Not much. Not enough to cover those years. He'd leave in his grubby clothes, but we all knew what he was doing. He'd gotten hooked up with my family again, stealing cars and selling them. Not just any cars--expensive cars, fast cars. He'd chop shop them, sell them off. I knew where he got his money. I knew how I'd been supported all those years, me, my horses, the clothes, the new truck.
Night after night, I would go to the bar to meet up with friends, watch bands play, drink, party. The ex got a night job, bouncing at one of the clubs we frequented. I walked in on a random Friday night only to be carded by him.
"I know you know how old I am, J."
"Ha. Yeah. It's cool. No cover."
"Wow, thanks for the favor. I actually don't ever pay cover."
"So, I hear you've been dating someone."
"No. I'm not. I actually...I need to give you the ring back. It's not worth anything...to me or to the pawn shop, so you can have it."
"Right. It actually did mean something once. I guess that's neither here nor there when you're dating rock stars."
"Yeah, I wouldn't know. You should tell your girlfriends to stop leaving their pubes on the soap, though."
I enter the club with a new chip on my shoulder. I slide into a booth with some girlfriends when Nick sits down next to me. He kisses my neck and asks if I want to come over after the show, he's the guitarist, the lead singer. I shrug and take a sip of my cheap PBR. It was all I drank in those days. Typical 20s. Typical. Out of the corner of my eye, I see J eyeballing Nick and I pull him back into the seat next to me. He smiles, blonde hair matted over his thick head, all of him is thick. He kisses me and heads off to the stage where his first love eagerly awaits him with, yawning a deafening amplified vibration of strings and current. I grab my beer and head to the ice hockey table. I play a few rounds with Alison and notice J walking towards us.
"God, what does he want?" Alison sighs with exasperation. She has seen him with the neighbor girl on campus lately.
"Hey, uh...can we talk?" He asks.
"I don't know, I just...wanted to know, I guess, if one of us should move out or if..."
"If you wanted to stay? With me?"
"No, I don't want to stay. I mean, this is how it's been our whole relationship. You...with whomever you can get your hands on. I might have grown up with mobster relatives, but I moved away from that city for a reason. So, no. I'm not staying."
"She's moving in with me." Alison says.
I raise my eyebrow, Lee Majors-style, and turn towards her.
"I'm moving in with Alison."
"What's with you and Nick?" He queries.
"I don't know. Nick is Nick. He does what he does."
I stare at my Docs, scuffed. They're at least 10 years old. I can't afford a new pair. This is my new life of not being able to afford. I know I 'm going to have to sell the horses, or ask for more money to train.
"I'll pay through the rest of this year for the horses. I know you don't make that much."
Like he read my mind.
"Yeah, thanks. Don't let anyone ever call you a deadbeat dad." I raise my glass to him, as thanks.
I end up leaving after Nick's set. We walk home together and by then I'm sober enough to drive.
I get into my car, parked down the street from Nick's, and I drive to the barn. I have the windows rolled down, techno blaring, I'm staring up at the sky, the wide open Colorado sky, framed by foothills to the west. I roll onto the gravel drive into the boarding facility, quietly, turn off my headlights, and crunch along the path to Tanya's stall. She nickers almost silently as I approach. I touch her soft nose, push her back so I can unlatch the door, and collapse into sleep on her straw pile as she stands guard.