When I was three months pregnant, my best friend Lonnie called to tell me that she was going to get married in a few months — at my ex-boyfriend Dick's house in Los Angeles.
Dick isn't just any old ex-boyfriend. He's the kind of guy who locks you in a room with your favorite European chocolate, lights a bottle of vodka on fire, and watches you burn as you labor to escape, yet simultaneously ache for more.
I couldn't really be upset about her choice of venue. Dick has a fabulous house — Lonnie wanted to get married poolside, and he has a beautiful pool — and it wouldn't cost a penny. Also, Lonnie had known Dick longer than she'd known me. In fact, she and I met through him. When Dick and I ended things, I warned him that I would be claiming Lonnie in the breakup. There was not a chance in hell that I would miss her wedding.
I had met Dick when I was 23, and he catapulted me into adulthood with blind force. He was older and worldlier, aloof but passionate, tall, dark, Italian, blue-eyed and foul. He taught me about fancy cheese and Spanish wine.
But for our entire two-year relationship, he refused to introduce me to his family and friends, instead keeping me stashed in his apartment for warmth. I lost myself, catering to his every whim in the vain hope that he would let me in, but there was never enough space.
Through it all, Lonnie was at the periphery, discreetly helping me cobble together a delicate but sturdy shack of courage and conviction, a structure that would shield me from total collapse when I made the inevitable — yet devastating — decision to step away from him.
It ended badly, as all flaming failures should. Many years later, here I was: older, living in a different state, married to a different man, six months pregnant and waddling into my best friend's wedding at my ex-boyfriend's house.
I wore a floor-length, floral dress and 4-inch wedge heels. I walked in with my swollen belly — and boobs — held high, on the arm of my kind, generous new husband, who gloriously stood a full inch taller than my tall Italian ex.
I buttressed myself with tasks: running around, helping Lonnie into her dress, baking hors d'oeuvres, and taking care of the rings. My husband was stoic, enduring the awkwardness with cool-headed class and claiming his rightful place as the guy who got the girl. I armed myself with my one doctor-approved glass of wine and focused laser attention on the lovely bride. All was going swimmingly until just before the wedding, when I had to take a piss.
I ran inside while the guests assembled in the backyard by the pool. While I stood in the hallway, waiting for the bathroom, Dick rounded the corner, and our eyes met. He looked at me softly, and with pity, which was not exactly the response I was hoping for. Jealousy, wistfulness or even resentment would have been nice. Yet, there I was, standing in his hallway — bulbous and bloated, bound by my compressed bladder — holding a plastic cup of red wine filled to the brim, desperately pinching my knees together.
Nodding at my wine, then my belly, he said, "That's quite a pour. All you need is a mirror and a line, and you'll be all set."
Nice. How very 1996 Los Angeles of you, Dick.
Then he said, "Use the bathroom in my bedroom."
I paused, hesitant to enter his den of iniquity. But I really had to go.
"Go on," he prodded.
Slowly, carefully, so as not to spill my precious vat of wine, I squeezed past him, my belly brushing him lightly as he stood aside in the narrow hallway.
His bedroom reeked of the past, and his immense bathroom overflowed with exotic, unfamiliar cosmetics and powders belonging to his woman of the moment. After relieving myself, I ran my fingers over the small white tiles surrounding the sink. It was a world I used to crave. At 23, I wanted nothing more than to be a small speck in Dick's inner sanctum, and here I was, large — quite large — a pregnant stranger peeing in his toilet. I laughed out loud and borrowed a lip gloss from the makeup bag spilling out over the counter.
Dick's bemused smirk from our brief reunion hadn't stung like I'd thought it might. I realized how seductive disdain and delirium were in my early 20s, and how worthless they were to me now.
I returned to my seat by the pool and tucked myself under my husband's arm.
At the end of the night, with Lonnie married off, I kissed her goodbye, knowing that she would be at my side when the baby came. I thanked Dick for treating us all to such a wonderful evening and walked out the door, under the palm trees and through the wrought-iron gate.
Dick was a good time once. He was an exercise in finding my voice and learning to break free of destruction, but most importantly, he brought me my best friend, my Lonnie. She was the prize.
She was all I ever needed from Dick.