“What the hell is this?” I muttered as I tore open the fuchsia envelope, sealed with a lipstick kiss, and stepped off the elevator. My hands trembled when I read the card stuffed inside.
Hey! Hope you enjoy these. I got them extra creamy for you! — Jessica.
The stationery edges were scalloped; the froufrou pink border made me nauseous. Even the handwriting was smutty, with its loopy letters and big exclamation points. I stood in the hallway of our building, absently dropped the bundle of blue tissue paper and flipped the packaging over to re-read the address: 4-E, our apartment. No name, only the initials R.D.
I bent down to pick up the debris and scurried toward my apartment. Inside, I laid the two envelopes, the card and the wrapped bundle on the kitchen counter. As I prodded the corner of the package open, nude-colored lace underwear emerged. It had been “preserved” with an airtight vacuum sealer. I jumped backwards, my body hitting the refrigerator.
This can’t be happening. Please, God.
I’m the offspring of a criminal, a man who went from loving, caring and attentive to cheating, lying and stealing before he disappeared forever. Mom trained me to “look for red flags,” hints that someone might be a fraud. “Listen to your gut. Don’t discount behavior that makes you feel uneasy,” she’d said. I had already rebelled against her warning once, and found myself hopelessly in love with a liar who broke my heart. But I’d found a true partner in Dean, a man that I trust and love with all my soul. Had I been duped again? Is R.D. some code for Dean? I thought.
I reached for the kitchen phone to call Dean, who was out drinking with his friends. An hour ago, I pictured my boyfriend surrounded by his buddies at a sports bar, now I imagined him sneaking glimpses down the bartender’s cleavage.
I took two deep breaths. It’s just a bad joke. I dialed Dean’s number. He didn’t pick up. Again I dialed and, again, he didn’t pick up.
With the help of red cooking mitts, I lifted the contents and flung them to the floor. I spritzed the counter with allpurpose cleaner.Twice.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Dean called. “This better be a joke.Tell me it is,” I pleaded.
“What?” Dean yelled over the cacophony. “Hold on, I’m going outside.” He hadn’t said anything to absolve himself, but I already doubted his involvement. His voice had always calmed me. “What’s up, baby?” I emailed him a picture of everything:
“Could this be from Jessica, as in your exgirlfriend, Jessica?” I wrote.
He walked through our doorway in 15 minutes flat.
“It’s over by the kitchen,” I pointed in the vicinity, ignoring the shrieking voice in my head.
He screamed, “Gross! That’s disgusting.” He spent a minute examining the package and then sat next to me. “I can’t believe I’m even in this position. Kim, I had nothing to do with this. I have no idea where it came from or who Jessica is. It’s not my ex. She’s married with two kids.” He looked at me so empathetically. “I’m so sorry you had to open this alone.”
He didn’t laugh or make jokes. He knew how grave this moment was for us. Given my history, I shouldn’t have had the capacity to believe him. But I did.
Still, I had the uneasy feeling that I promised myself (and Mom) not to ignore. I was surprised to hear myself accuse
Dean, but the wound I thought had healed was suddenly raw again.
“Did you meet someone else? Online maybe?” We laughed nervously. He gave me a firm look and squeezed my hand, “I love you. So much.”
We went to bed without our usual pillow talk that night.When I woke up in the middle of the night, Dean was wide-awake. “Is it possible someone’s trying to sabotage us?” A jealous ex? Of his? Maybe of mine?
The next evening Dean called when he arrived home from work. “You’re not going to believe this! I just asked the doorman if someone in the E-line of apartments has the initials R.D., maybe 14-E? He said no, but there’s a Robert Defonte in 4-F.”
“Oh my God. 4-F looks a lot like 4-E, huh,” I said piecing it together.
I asked the doorman more questions on my way in. Is Robert married? No. Is he young? Yes. I proceeded to tell the doorman everything. He laughed, confident that it was Robert’s.
I wanted R.D. of 4-F to be embarrassed. I wanted his Jessica to be embarrassed. I wanted to make sure I never got another package like that. R.D.’s package made me revisit a place I hated. A place that shamed me.
Later, I put on the red oven mitts and placed the contents inside a Ziploc bag. I wanted to write evidence on the outside in black Sharpie.
Dean said, “Come on, we can’t return it like that.”
It was the first irrational exchange we’d had since the package arrived.We handled every other step with such caution. But now we were bickering over the implications of a plastic baggie versus taping it all together as if nothing had been opened, or just giving it back disassembled and exposed.We returned an unsealed envelope to the front desk.The “extra creamy” contamination was gone from our home.
We sat on the couch, his leg crossed over mine, our fingers interlaced. And just like that, we found our ease again.
Kimberly Hamill is engaged to Dean and has vowed to carefully read the labels on packages before opening (and accusing). She, her mother and her sister are currently writing a memoir about “red flags.”