People who knew me before that day think I’m dead.I want them to think that.***On September 10, I went to work on the 96th floor of the north tower. It was like any other Monday in a mundane life as a Sales and Risk Consultant for Marsh USA, helping clients calculate and prepare for the potential catastrophes that could befall their organizations. It was my job to take all precautions, to anticipate the worst, to tell people I would protect them from that worst. Before September 11, we thought this was a fair promise. Before September 11, there weren’t many “what ifs” keeping me up at night. The only thing keeping me up at night was the man in the bed next to me, this man who was my husband, though I always just thought of him as Andrew. Sometimes it was his snoring that caused me to stare at the ceiling, alert at 3AM; but, more often, it was just his presence, his relation to me, the insinuation that I belonged to him.***Ben was the department supervisor. He worked ten feet away from my cubicle, in an office with blinds that we’d close after hours, after the others had gone. He’d lift me onto his conference table, confess, “I’ve spent all day wanting to be inside you.” We didn’t make love – we fucked. Andrew and I never fucked. Andrew didn’t even curse, so even if we did fuck, he wouldn’t call it that. Ben called it that. He whispered: “I want to fuck you so bad.”There were others like us – having north tower trysts. Then again, is “tryst” the word for spending a year falling in love with someone? Whatever the word – I don’t take well to “affair” – we spotted others doing the same. We could see it in their eyes in the lobby coffee shop – an attentiveness to surroundings, a concern for who might see through their charade as they pretended to be consulting about business, using code words that, in a language only known to them, translated to, “I want to fuck you in a storage closet.” Because that’s how these things go – they’re sinful and dangerous. They occur in back seats of cars, on corporate-carpeted floors, in secret rooms that only janitors know exist. There are bruises and rug burns and pulled muscles and an urgency usually reserved for greedy, impulsive teenagers. If there were rules for this type of thing, the first would be to work in different companies, on different floors. Closeness was a risk. We knew that.That morning, the morning of September 10, Ben brought me my usual coffee from downstairs – black, two sugars – real sugar, not that chemical crap. He’d taken to doing this regularly. We were getting more blatant, almost arrogant. Under tables in meetings, he’d put a mischievous hand on my stockinged thigh. He’d give me a sly wink in the break room. It’s like we were daring people to notice.He leaned against the wall of my cubicle, casually, said, so everyone in the vicinity could hear, so we’d have a work alibi if there were ever any questions, “Natalie, can you be available tonight to go over the presentation for Sherman and Associates?”Behind closed doors, he called me Nat.“Sure thing, Mr. Christensen.”Behind closed doors, I called him baby.My mother would call me a hussy. That’s what she called the neighbor lady who cheated on her husband with the postman – a rendezvous so trite, I have a hard time believing its occurrence. She – my mother – would shutter if she heard me shout, “Jesus Christ!” as Ben brought me to the brink. I was raised Catholic, after all, conditioned to feel guilty if I said “God damn it” when I stubbed my toe, trained to expect wrath from the Lord Almighty if I fingered myself under the covers while thinking of someone other than the man I’d promised the entirety of my earthly existence.I expected my conscience to chastise me, thought I might feel compelled to run to a confession booth for archaic absolution. It was easy, though, too easy, mostly because Andrew accepted my lies – easily, too easily – as truths. He trusted me, absolutely, stupidly. When I started telling him I had to stay late at the office – Another big presentation, honey – I thought he would raise an eyebrow. He didn’t though. He just said, “Don’t work too hard” and “I’ll just microwave something for myself for dinner.” That’s when it occurred to me that he was happy with our dull, boring little life – so happy that he couldn’t even fathom how I might need someone else.***When I told Andrew I was unhappy – “with us,” I said, too cowardly to say, “with you” – he looked confused.“Why? What is it?” he said, sitting up straight against the headboard, looking primed to promise me anything – I’ll take out the trash more often, I’ll do the dishes, I’ll rub your feet, I’ll make a baby with you. That was just it though – I didn’t want any of those things.“I don’t know,” I said, lying flat on my back, blurring my gaze until the cottage-cheese ceiling took on shapes – a cumulus cloud here, the Big Dipper there.“Well, you must know.”There was the truth, screaming at me – I don’t love you. But, I couldn’t say this, couldn’t bear the repercussions of such a confession.“It’s just little things,” I said. The pockmarks on his face that suddenly disgusted me. The way he cleared his throat. “Forget it.”He took that command, both of us content with denial, and switched out the light.“I love you, babe,” he said. “You know that, right?”“Of course.”Even in the dark, I lay awake. We’d only been married three months and, unbeknownst to him, I’d consulted a $325-an-hour attorney, taken home the paperwork, started filling in the detailed information about my income and expenses, my assets and debts, thinking, “If only getting married was this complicated.”Getting married was simple though.We’d dated less than a year and decided, over Chinese take-out and beer, that it was the right time to take “the next step,” also known as “the plunge” or “leap of faith.” That’s how we talked – in idioms and clichés, characters in a made-for-TV drama. “Let’s pull the trigger,” Andrew said. “We’re not getting any younger.”People asked me how he proposed, their eyes big with expectation and romance. I disappointed them with the truth: “He just said, ‘Want to marry me?’ and opened the box containing the ring I’d picked out online.” I had just come home from work. He got up from the computer, pausing his game, and stated the question with the same intonation as, “Did you remember to get more toilet paper?” There was no fancy dinner to accompany the question. There was no scavenger hunt – no rose petals leading to a bubble bath and scented candles and Sade playing in the background. My mother asked, “Did he get on his knee? Did you cry?” I said, “Yes,” but the truth is that Andrew has bad knees and we had hardwood floors. And I don’t cry.We decided to do the simple civil ceremony thing because I didn’t want to make a big deal about getting married. I called it a silly extravagance, portrayed myself as ever-practical and detesting of fluff – like a minimalist hippie more evolved than the women who claimed to daydream about their veil. I didn’t harbor any fantasies about my wedding; and, more importantly, I didn’t harbor any fantasies about marriage. At least marriage to Andrew. In the middle of the night, when I woke up in a sweat, it all seemed so obvious: I was making a mistake. And by insisting that only immediate family attend, that there be no formal pictures, no customized vows and accompanying tears, no reception lasting until the wee hours with drunk people doing the Y.M.C.A, I was basically announcing my imminent mistake, begging to have it be as private and hoopla-free as possible. By day, there were stomach aches that would motivate any rational woman to ask herself, “What’s really bothering me?” I ignored them though, relied on a stash of Rolaids and Pepto Bismol to placate doubt.We booked our ceremony online with the City Clerk. Just a few clicks and we’d applied for the marriage license and made an appointment for our “I dos.” That’s what they called it – an appointment, not a ceremony, which seemed accurate enough to me. I ordered a dress – also online – from J.Crew. It fit. We showed up to the courthouse and waited for the clerk. We filled out one form. Just one. We paid less than a hundred bucks and stood in line between two ropes, like at a fancy Vegas club. A woman with badly bleached hair and a man with a gaudy gold chain around his neck left the little appointment room, tonguing each other in wedded bless. They were both wearing jeans. The officiant waved us in and, in less than five minutes, we were married. It was so quick, giving the false impression that it would be easy to undo.And that’s all I could think of less than a week later, sitting at my desk at work, having forgone a honeymoon to save money – how the hell can I undo this?***I didn’t tell anyone I wanted to leave him. We were newlyweds. How could I disappoint them – an undefined “them” – and admit that this was not my bliss? And, even if they accepted that fact, how could I accept the judgmental snarl paired with the question, “Well, why did you marry him?”The answer to that confirms my idiocy. See, I didn’t so much as fall in love with Andrew as I fell in love with myself with Andrew. In the year we dated, I had the unique opportunity of seeing myself as a saint. I helped him quit smoking, funded each of the five attempts, spending hundreds of dollars on those little patches they keep in locked, glass cabinets at the grocery store. There were the jitters of nicotine withdrawal, the transformation from nice guy to asshole, eased only by vodka.He’d always drank, was always the guy ending his day with something on the rocks, ordering a round for everyone at the bar even when he couldn’t afford it, which he never could. That’s how we met – I was standing at a bar, within the radius of a generous arm sweep when he said, “Shots all around.”It was only when we lived together, when I had to make two grocery store trips a week because he drained the bottle so fast, that I realized this may be the type of problem I was warned about in after-school specials. Milliliters to ounces, I did the conversions, calculated that he was drinking eight shots a day, roughly, mixed with soda, juice, whatever was in the fridge. His face was bloated, like the faces of famous people when they’re washed-up and bankrupt, predicted to kill themselves.“Will you see a doctor?” I said. He hadn’t seen a doctor since he was a kid, he said. All this time, I’d thought his mother showered me with gifts because she really liked me. But, maybe, she was just thanking me for taking her place.He agreed to go, but only if I made the appointment, if I went with him, if we went to his favorite burger place for lunch after.The doctor called two days later and said, “Did you consume alcohol prior to having your blood drawn?”He hadn’t had anything to drink for three days, prepared to deceive. He didn’t deceive though. His liver was fucked.I went to the meetings with him, begged aloud for the wisdom to know the difference between what I could change and what I couldn’t. It wasn’t until he got sober that I realized he was an alcoholic, that he needed to drink – not to live, but to be alive. Secretly, I missed him mixing cocktails, dancing with me in the kitchen, bending me over the sink and pulling my skirt down impatiently. The thing is that “dry” means both “without alcohol” and “dull, uninteresting.”He decided to take an “employment hiatus.” That’s what he called it, framing it as a kind of self-improvement retreat. He sat on the couch, video game controller in his hands, the plastic worn from the sweat of his palms. He wore one of those headsets, talking to 10-year-olds in other states, trading immature taunts over a game of virtual football. All the while, he wouldn’t touch or talk to me.I resorted to the “shoulds,” which is all I knew how to do when I was lost – Nat, he’s struggling. You should be supportive. I scrounged up side jobs in addition to my full-time job at an insurance company. I cooked and waited on him, did his laundry, folded his boxers just so, picked out his clothes, signed his name on birthday cards for his family. On days he needed to get up before noon – for interviews for jobs I’d arranged and he never took – he tapped me on the head, like a snooze button on an alarm clock. When he suggested getting married, I suppose I didn’t protest because I figured all this effort had to be reserved for more than just a boyfriend.I considered filing the papers that would deem our marriage a failure, an oops. But, the day after the night I had told him I was unhappy, that it was the little things, he had to go and buy me flowers, and I had to go and think they meant something. It was as if he knew I was already taking mental inventory of what I wanted from our crappy apartment – the dish set (a hand-me-down from my mother), my clothes (obviously), my signed copy of Fear of Flying, my photo albums and framed pictures, my laptop; he could have everything else. He made a spaghetti dinner, too proud of the garlic bread, which he deemed homemade because he’d buttered it himself. He told me I was everything to him. He told me to close my eyes and envision us buying a car and driving upstate to relax in the mountains for the weekend. He told me to see us standing with a sold sign in front of a brownstone in Brooklyn.He said all of this – these visions – started with him going back to school, to be an elementary school teacher. I just said, “Oh?”, furious at the expectation that I be excited for him, as his ever-supportive wife. Was this my role now? Cheerleader? Why didn’t I just buy a short, pleated skirt and some fucking pom-poms? Was I not allowed to tell him that I thought it was stupid to spend thousands of dollars earning a credential for one of the most underpaid jobs in the country? Was I not allowed to remind him of the time he said he wanted to be a chef? Or how about the time he said, “Maybe I should look into a trade. Like plumbing”? If a wife was supposed to take her husband seriously, unconditionally, then I wasn’t supposed to be a wife.When I got up to go to work in the morning, I started flipping him off as he slept. As I walked to and from the subway, I started having passive thoughts of wanting to get hit by a car. I didn’t have the audacity to actually throw myself into traffic, but I thought just dying would be kind of nice, a way to escape the reality of my poor decisions. But, no cars hit me. So, I started fantasizing of Andrew dying, of getting a phone call saying he’d been in a horrible accident, of summoning tears to play the role of distraught widow. When it occurred to me that this might make me an awful person, I tried to “think positive.” I reminded myself that people had arranged marriages, marriages with strangers, and they found happiness. I told myself, in a pep talk kind of way, “Nat, people make this work.” I listed his good qualities – he would never leave me, he would never hit me. But, the thing is, it wasn’t what he wouldn’t do that mattered; it’s what he would – which wasn’t much.Every night, before bed, I started taking off my ring, just to see how it felt. Maybe I wanted to be free to flirt in my dreams – not with other men, but with the idea of being alone again. After I showered the next morning, I put it back on again. Each time I did, it was like I was re-proposing marriage. I would ask, “Nat, do you want this life?” Scared of the answer, I’d just shove the thing on the appropriate finger, realizing I was late for work.The day I got laid off from the insurance company, I’d forgotten to put on my wedding ring. I was sitting at my desk, ring-less, when the HR lady told me there were cutbacks, that my position had been eliminated. Sixteen others shared my fate. Some cried. Most called their spouses. One guy threw his phone on the ground and threatened to flush important files down the toilet. I didn’t call Andrew. I waited to tell him when I got home. I had to try hard to hide my smile. Secretly, I was overjoyed to break the news, to destroy his plans. See, I assumed he would have to drop out of his teaching program, get a job – any job, like those committed husbands who bus tables and stand outside hardware stores looking for work, just to make ends meet. But, no. He said, “We’ll work it out, sweetheart. We’ll just get your unemployment benefits for a while.”I used the library computer for my job search because I couldn’t stand being home with him. In between rehearsing for mock third grade science lessons and making math flashcards, he got to level 23 as some kind of ninja, which seemed to excite him more than any kiss we’d ever shared.“Aren’t you proud, honey?” he asked, about his video game feat.“Sure,” I said, through gritted teeth.When my unemployment checks stopped coming, I told him we needed money, that we could only last two more months in our apartment, that we’d have to cancel our cable. I thought that would get him – the impending cancellation of the cable. He looked at me, straight-faced, and suggested I reach out to my “network,” as if he was my fucking career counselor. “Do you know anybody who might have a job lead?” he asked, with a paternal quality to his voice that made my face hot. “As a matter of fact,” I said, “I do know somebody.”***Ben and I met in sophomore year of college, at a fraternity Halloween party. I was dressed as a genie and he asked if I could make his wishes come true. I said, “Depends, what are they?” And he whispered in my ear that he wanted to kiss me. That’s how it is in college – desires are just stated, with alcohol to blame if the recipient of the request isn’t interested.I lost my virginity to him, though I hate to consider it a “loss.” Perhaps I gave it to him. We dated up until graduation when we decided it would be best to part ways. We were young, we said. There were proverbial fish in the sea, proverbial oats to sow. We had opportunities to explore. We didn’t know what the hell these opportunities were, but we were told they were there, that we shouldn’t be “tied down.” It was all bullshit, really, the truth being that if we were older, at a more appropriate time for settling down, we would have done just that.I found him on one of those social media sites. Fifteen years of no contact and there he was, staring back at me from the little square of his profile picture. Technology makes it easy to revisit the past, to re-imagine the hypotheticals, to think twice.It started out innocently enough. I told him I was looking for a job, said I had been working in insurance and remembered he was in a similar line of work – “I think that’s what I heard through Emily Trout, at least. Remember Emily Trout?” He did remember Emily Trout – my old roommate, the one who pushed me into him at that Halloween party, saying, “You should talk to him. You guys would, like, totally hit it off.”I suggested we meet up for a drink – to talk work, I clarified. He said, “Will your hubby mind?” I said I hated the word ‘hubby,’ to please call him Andrew. As if we were all friends, as if Andrew wouldn’t mind if Ben fucked me.See, I was already thinking about that – about Ben fucking me. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t.He told me to meet him at a trendy bar in Greenwich Village. Just that – the location of our meeting – got me thinking about the life we could have together. We could frequent just-opened restaurants, plan trips to desolate islands, have adventures, build dreams. Andrew and I, we didn’t have dreams. Or, as Andrew said, not realizing how pathetic he sounded, “My biggest life dream was realized when I married you.”“You took out your nose stud,” Ben said, after hugging me, guiding me to the table he’d found. His hand was on my lower back in that way that makes a woman feel safe.“Well, I was watching one of those house hunting shows on HGTV and there was this 40-something woman with a nose stud and she just looked so…stupid. I didn’t want to be her.” I reached out to touch his head, telling myself I was doing so playfully, flirtatiously, but harmlessly. “And you – your hair is shorter.”“I guess we all grow up.”He ordered a bottle of Merlot for us and loosened his tie. We’d changed, aged, so much in these fifteen years. We were done with piercings and overgrown hair. We were watching HGTV and drinking fine wine. We were wiser. We could handle this – whatever “this” turned out to be. I fiddled with my wedding ring, wondering if he noticed it. Andrew bought it on credit. We were married by the time the bill came. I paid. The diamond was tiny, called “delicate” by the guy in the jewelry store, but “cheap” by everyone else. I wanted Ben to see it, to realize that my husband was not rich, that I did not rely on him in any way, that I was an independent, free woman just waiting to be lured away.The rest went exactly to script, though it felt unique to us while it was happening. There was the first kiss, the one we both called “accidental,” when we leaned just a little too close while giving each other a hug after finding out I’d gotten the job with Marsh USA, in his department no less. There was the first fuck, the frantic removal of clothing, the rush of questions: “What are we doing?” and “Is this wrong?” There was the mutual consolation, the joined effort to declare what we were doing as right. We were just humans. We had needs. Whenever I said, “We can’t do this” as he pushed himself into me, it wasn’t genuine; it was foreplay.***That Monday, September 10, I came home from work at six o’ clock. Ben and I had dinner plans, at an Italian place on the Upper Westside – Someone’s Trattoria, I can’t remember whose. I told Andrew I was just stopping at home for a change of clothes, said I had to get back to the office, that we were on a tight deadline, “a killer.” I’d be staying the night at Beth’s again. That’s what I’d been saying since I started spending the night with Ben. Beth’s apartment was right next to the towers. It made enough sense. Andrew gave me a distracted kiss on the cheek before resuming interest in his game, shouting over his headset, “Man down, man down.”I remember what I wore – a black pencil skirt with a white, button-up blouse, black nylons and three-inch heels. I left with my all-nighter bag – toothpaste and brush and deodorant. I told Andrew I’d see him the next day and left, click-click-clicking down the hallway. If he gave a shit, he would ask more questions, I told myself. I was good at this – making it his fault. Sometimes, when lying in bed next to him as he slept too-soundly, I whispered things like, “If you’d paid attention, you would have known to expect this. You would have known that when I find a good song on the radio, I still can’t help but see what’s on the other stations.” I blamed him for being so dumb. I suppose this is how I lived with myself.***At 8:46AM on Tuesday, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower, I was in Ben’s bed, wrapped up in his sheets with the ridiculously high thread count. I’d overslept. Ben hadn’t. He really did have a tight deadline, “a killer.” He’d said so the night before, over our lobster ravioli.“I think I’m ready,” I’d said, after the waitress cleared our plates and there was just an empty table and used cloth napkins between us.Ben started to stand from our booth, thinking I was ready to go.“No. To leave him.”He sat again, taking in this declaration. “Are you sure?”Ben had said, all along, that he wanted this, that he saw us together in the usual ways, in sweatpants on the couch watching sitcoms, obtaining pets together, visiting each other’s families. I’d hesitated though, terrified of the prospect that he’d lose interest the second we were no longer taboo.“I’m sure,” I said. “I’m going to tell him tomorrow.”“Nat,” he said, noticing my apprehension, reaching across the table to hold my hands in his, “It will be okay.”“I know. You just better love me when this isn’t so thrilling.”He rolled his eyes like I was crazy. “I never wanted thrilling. I wanted you. I can’t wait to just be boring together.”No matter what we tell ourselves, this is always the goal – a safe, comfortable, ordinary existence. There may the occasional infusion of desire for something new, different, exhilarating. But, the human heart can only handle so much of that before it just wants to rest.“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “I have that big presentation tomorrow.”I turned on the TV in the morning, a thoughtless part of my everyday routine. I towel-dried my hair, brushed my teeth, ironed my clothes, all while attempting to sing that remake of “Lady Marmalade.” I had the hair dryer in my hand, primed for use, when I turned my attention to the newscast, expecting the weather report. What I saw I first assumed to be footage of a war-torn Third World country. All that smoke and ash and anarchy. Then I saw the footage of the plane flying into the building. And the towers – my towers – falling. They just kept replaying it, as if to quiet the parts of my mind that argued, “It’s not real.” I dropped the hair dryer. The diffuser attachment went sliding across the Travertine tile. I didn’t even try Ben’s cell. I knew he would have tried mine if he was alright. The only person calling me was Andrew. And I let it ring and ring. When it wouldn’t stop, I went out to the balcony and threw it over the side, watching it fall into the chaos of a city I no longer knew.I stayed, holed up, in Ben’s apartment, for a week, wearing his NYU sweatshirt and subsisting on canned soups and stale saltines. When the city was somewhat functional again, when I could find a driver to take me upstate, I packed my overnight bag, put on my heels, and left. I locked the door on the way out. I can’t figure out why.***I’ve been in Benson nine years now. Population 200. I work at a family-owned grocery store, as a cashier, my days nicely predictable: scan, beep, scan, beep. This life makes more sense. It all adds up, perfectly – the gallons of milk, the loaves of bread – on the little screen in front of me. My name badge says Rebecca, but the townspeople call me Becky. Becky Pearce. That’s my maiden name – Pearce.Sometimes I wonder about Andrew – if he ever got that teaching credential, if he moved out of our apartment, if he’s sober, if he still thinks of me and cries so hard he can’t catch his breath, if he’s met someone else. Sometimes I wonder if he’ll ever pull up to the station, if his beard will be grown in, if there will be sadness and epiphany in his eyes.Then I remember he’ll never own a car.