When I met Adam, I was in bed with my boyfriend. Tommy and I watched a Judd Apatow movie—those days it was always a Judd Apatow movie, a packed bong, a nuked Domino’s pizza—and Adam walked in shirtless, exposing a tribal tattoo of a tribe to which he didn’t belong. He’d just finished moving his things into our spare bedroom, and he had something important to tell us. He rolled the desk chair to our bedside and straddled it, asked could we turn down the television volume?
“I have mad bull disease,” he said.
In cattle, mad cow disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that destroys the brain and spinal cord. In 1997, the New York Times used the term mad bull disease to describe brokers binge-buying stocks, resulting in the Dow rising 337 points in one session. Adam referred to neither of these definitions.
“You know how bulls won’t have sex with the same cow more than once?” he asked. We didn’t. “Well I can’t have sex with the same woman more than once.”
That first week living with us in our apartment, Adam had sex with six different women. So one might find it difficult to understand why, three years later, while Tommy visited Atlanta for a volleyball tournament, and I drank vodka on ice in a stranger’s apartment (in which a topless Brazilian woman danced, begging for sangria and smooches), when Adam excused himself to the restroom, I followed. Adam didn’t question, though: He welcomed me inside and locked the door. He hoisted me onto the marble countertop, outlined my breasts with his fingertips, kissed me.
Let me rewind.
The three of us were in college. We lived in a South Beach high rise popular for its cocaine distribution. We kept empty liquor bottles like trophies. A fourth roommate slept on a mattress on the floor; he drowned spaghetti in jars-worth of tomato sauce and ate straight from the pot. He did this while dressed only in pajama pants, his gut bulging over the elastic waistband.
Here Tommy and I unraveled, slowly at first, then at once. During the slow first act of our demise, Tommy blamed me for why he needed boys’ nights out and girls with whom he could innocently flirt; why he deleted text messages from his ex-girlfriend, his co-worker. I stayed after Tommy failed to come home one night, after he was arrested for fist fighting outside a hotel on Collins Avenue, after he slammed my back into our bedroom wall. (I cried that it hurt, not because his fingernails dug into my shoulders, though they did; but rather, because the wall was textured.)
Tommy had suspended a 3’ x 5’ Ohio State flag above our desk and a signed Larry Bird poster by our bedroom door. We kept framed photographs of his brothers on the bedside table. I appeared in other pictures but only with Tommy, as if I existed only when he did and this bedroom was mine only through proxy. We’d moved there together. When Tommy argued against abortions and gay marriage, I, typically liberal, voted McCain. When Tommy sided with Arizona’s “stop and identify” statutes, I alienated my dozen Latino friends who protested at the Cardinals versus Marlins game. When Tommy called me a “whore” for staying out past midnight while he celebrated his volleyball team’s victory (in a strange woman’s house in Atlanta), I went to a strange man’s apartment with Adam.
I knew the implications of an affair, society’s vocabulary for women like me. If I kissed Adam, I was an adulteress, or more accurately, a slut. But through a recent Google search on domestic abuse, I learned the answer to a question that’d persisted in my mind for months: If he never hits you, does it count?
That spring night I wanted to make a decision that benefited only me. I wanted to be bad. And as the hours passed, while the city sounds gave way to those of the ocean, and my fingers curled around the bathroom knob, twisting it slowly, deliberately, I wanted Tommy to find out I cheated so for once he could hurt with me.
A week later, I’d break up with Tommy. We’d spend the morning drinking blow job shots and tequila at the Fountainbleu Hotel pool. I’d wear a thong bikini: the one I bought so Tommy would find me as attractive as the women to which he compared me. Tommy would ask me to leave with him, but I’d refuse; my high heels would stomp through poolside puddles. I’d stand on the white pleather loveseat, swing my arms into the air (champagne would dribble onto my toes, my thighs) and I’d yell, “I’m single, bitches.” My friends would hug me, collapse into a dogpile, all of us bronzed and free. I’d kiss Adam the entire taxi ride home. Tommy would never learn of any of it.