No porn. No sex. No self-love. What else is left?
Maybe people would find me dramatic and stupid for feeling so empty without those three things. Maybe they’d laugh or spit at me in scorn. But I have no energy left to explain how sex fills a deep hole in my chest. How for a single instant, it seems to take everything bad away.
Breathing hurts. Each inhale is like a knife stabbing into my ribs. I shudder against the cold tub and kiss my knees, shutting my eyes tight. I am losing my grasp on everything that has ever made me feel okay. Sex and Lo—they have vanished and left me so very alone.
My head lolls to the side, drifting. My body feels heavy and my tears grow silent, but the pain in my chest intensifies. I’m not even sure what will make me feel better. Not sex. Not Lo. Nothing can make me whole again. The thought steals my breath.
“Lily!” Ryke bangs on the door. “Come on out. You’ve been in there long enough.”
I can’t move. I can’t speak. My lips have frozen with my hope. Why would Lo even want to return home to me? He just escaped hell, who would want to enter another one?
“Lily! I’m not playing around. Open the f**king door.”
I open my mouth to reply, but words stick in the back of my throat, too strenuous to produce. Speaking takes strength that has eked away with my confidence. My bottled insecurities attack me like a parasite with no thought but to destroy until I’m weakened, withered and dead.
Moments later, I hear the door unlock. I assume he grabbed a key from somewhere. Maybe a steward.
“Jesus Christ,” he curses and kneels beside the bathtub. I blink slowly, still drifting. My cheek presses to the lip of the tub, but my arms still wrap around my chest. My last safety blanket is myself. Right now, that’s not very reassuring.
I listen to Ryke’s voice as he dials a number on his cell. “Dr. Banning?” What? Rose must have given him my therapist’s number. “I’m Lily Calloway’s friend…I found her in a bathtub. She’s unresponsive, and…” His usual stoic voice falters just a little. It should pull me up from my stupor, but I am so, so very lost. I just need to return home somehow. I need to find a reason to get up. “…I’m worried about her. Can you talk to her for me?” He pauses. “I don’t want to touch her, but I don’t see blood. I don’t think she hurt herself.”
I wouldn’t. Would I? No…
I feel the cold phone being pressed against my ear.
“Lily?” Dr. Banning’s calm voice fills my head. “Can you hear me? What’s wrong?”
Everything. This. I pray for strength, but it won’t come. I want to stand, but my legs won’t move. I need a reason to continue… “I’m sorry I woke you up,” I barely whisper. The words burn my throat, and I shut my eyes as a couple tears escape.
“Don’t be sorry, Lily. That’s what my emergency line is for, okay? Can you talk to me? What are you feeling?”
“Embarrassed.” I squeeze my eyes with two fingers. I’m so ashamed of what I am and what I do. How can I ever stop? It seems…like a mountain I have not been tasked or equipped to climb.
“Tired. Ashamed. Upset.”
“You’re going through a lot right now, Lily,” she tells me. “It’s normal to feel these things, but you have to stay strong. Before you feel out of control, you need to talk to someone and tell them what’s bothering you. It doesn’t have to be me, but I’m always here. How did this start? Is it about Loren?”
“Yes. No…I don’t know,” I mutter. I pause and open up a little, forgetting that Ryke squats by the tub only a foot away. As I talk, a weight begins to slowly (very slowly) rise from my chest. It’s still there, but it lessens just a little. “I’m going to have to stop masturbating, aren’t I?” I lick my chapped lips and cringe at my own words.
“Do you think it’s unhealthy or a gateway into other compulsions?” she asks, her tone serious.
“I do it,” I choke, “and I always want more. It’s never enough.”
“Giving something up isn’t the same thing as losing control. It’s the opposite, Lily. You’re taking back control.”
I try to relax by her statement. While powerful, the full force of it breezes through me and then drifts away. I imagine Rose saying something similar. I hear them. I see the strength in the words. I feel it, but I can’t hold onto it and believe it the way they can. I don’t know why that is.
“Everything is going to be okay,” she emphasizes. “I know it may not feel like that right now, but in time, everything will be okay. You have to start believing you can make it there.”
“Okay, good. Can you give the phone back to your friend?”
Ryke peels the phone from my ear and presses it to his own. I watch his face as he listens to Dr. Banning. I can sit up now. Even if everything still hurts, I try to numb the pain with her encouragement. Be strong, Lil, Lo would tell me. When I come back, I’ll be strong with you. I wipe the rest of my tears, imagining those last words. Praying that’s what his response would be and not the awful your problems are too much for me right now. God, please, let him come back to me.
“Yeah, I can do that,” Ryke nods, his eyes falling to the tiled floor. “He’ll answer. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. You have no idea.” He hangs up the phone.
“I’m sorry,” I say in a small, tired voice.
Ryke raises his hand. “I’m going to call Lo. You cannot start crying and have a breakdown over the phone. He can’t do anything to help you right now, and you know how much that’ll kill him.”
I nod wildly, my heart lifting at the very idea of speaking to him. “I promise.”
He hesitates before dialing.
I lean my arms against the bathtub rim, nearly falling over to be closer to the receiver—to hear his voice.
After a couple rings, Ryke says, “Hey, did I wake you?” He rolls his eyes. “You’re such a f**king smartass…yeah, well, I have someone here who wants to talk to you.” He pauses and then glares at the ceiling. “No, she’s fine. She just finished talking to her therapist.” He rubs his jaw and then nods to himself before holding out the phone to me.
I grab it quickly, but once I have it against my ear, my thoughts start to sink somewhere foreign. I forget what I planned to say. Maybe I had nothing to tell him. Maybe, I just wanted to hear his voice. I whisper, “Hi.”
“Hey,” Lo replies back. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Ryke kicking my comforter back into the living room. He avoids the vibrator and doesn’t ask questions about it, but my cheeks flush, mortified all the same. I sink lower in the tub.
“It’s Daisy’s birthday,” I tell him. “I’m in Mexico.”
“Ryke told me already.”
Ryke props the door open against the wall and nods to me. “Don’t close this.” He heads to his chaise, plopping down with an exhausted sigh.
Long, silent tension pools over the phone, and I lose track of what I should say. I’d rather not bring up the fact that I’m sitting in an empty bathtub after an emotional meltdown. I don’t want to give him another reason to avoid me when he returns home. Because who in their right mind would want to take care of this?
I’m about to mention how we’re all going ziplining tomorrow at Daisy’s request, but he beats me.
“So what happened tonight?”
“Nothing really, and I don’t think we should talk about it. You’re all the way over there.” Wherever there is. No one will tell me his exact location. He could be in Canada for all I know.
“If Ryke handed you the f**king phone—someone who definitely disapproves of our relationship—then I know it had to be bad. I want to know, Lil.” This is not how I imagined our conversation. I thought we’d avoid the topic like we’ve always done in the past. He briefly mentions alcohol. I’ll say a little bit about sex, but when things become messy and truly focus on our addictions, we abort.
“It wasn’t bad,” I mumble under my breath. “Ryke told me not to bring it up. I think we should talk about something else. You need to concentrate on your recovery, not worry about me.” I hesitate from going further. Dr. Banning invades my mind, and I can almost hear her saying that Ryke is wrong. That separating from Lo isn’t the answer. Finding a healthy way to be together is.
But does he still want me? I’m not so sure. I wipe my eyes.
He lets out a short, bitter laugh. “If you don’t tell me, I’m going to be worrying about it all f**king month, Lil. And Ryke hasn’t fully comprehended the fact that I’m going to eventually come home. And when I do, I’m going to be with you again. We’re going to have to start talking and reforming a better relationship. If I can’t handle this shit over the phone when I’m sober in rehab, then I shouldn’t be returning home anytime soon.”
All I hear is: I’m going to be with you again. I bring the receiver away from my mouth and wipe uncontrollable, silent tears that stream down in an avalanche. A huge pressure rises off my chest. I feel like I can breathe again.
“Lily?” he says in a frantic voice. “Lily, you there? Lily, dammit…”
I put the speaker back. “I’m here.”
I hear him exhale and breathe heavily. “Don’t do that. And don’t make me f**king guess what happened.”
I rest my back against the tub. “It’s embarrassing,” I admit.
“So you really want to do this? To talk and stuff…”
“If we want to stay together, like really stay together and not go back to enabling each other, then yes, we’re going to have to talk. I need to know when you’re freaking out, and you need to know when I am so that we can stop each other from doing stupid shit.”
“Like the opposite of what we’ve been doing.” Dr. Banning said as much.
“Basically. Look, we’ve spent so much energy hiding each other’s addictions from our families. If we put that into helping one another, we just might be able to make this work.”
I like the game plan. It starts clearing that haze that has been clouding my future for so long. A picture begins to form of us when he returns. And I’m more overwhelmed by the fact that there will be an us after a three-month separation.
I finger the hem of my shirt. “We divorced,” I mutter. “I thought you weren’t going to want me back.”
His voice lowers to a pained whisper. “Why would you think that?”
I lick my dry, chapped lips again. “Couples who divorce usually don’t get remarried.” Of course, we’re not actually married. But he’ll understand the metaphor. He’s used it before when we were teenagers. We played house most of our lives. It’s kind of f**ked up, but I guess that’s just us.
“I’m remarrying you, Lil. Fuck, I’d remarry you a hundred times until it stuck.”