For months, we knew she was cheating on him. She knew we knew. We knew she knew. None of that mattered, though, because the whole time he didn't know any of that.
The worst part was hearing him talk about her. He loved her with the kind of intensity reserved only for the relationships that last forever and the ones that leave scars that last even longer. To hear him tell it, she was the greatest girl any man would ever have the good fortune of crossing paths with. She could do no wrong. The still point in his ever-spinning world.
I remember how we'd always change the subject when he brought her up. For so long, he took this to mean we didn't want him to be happy, that something about her was just beneath us. He'd get mad at us, say we were jealous and bitter that we were going to lose him to her while we were all left to be miserable and lonely for the rest of our lives.
In truth, until we found out about the boy she was keeping on the side, we liked her just fine. She was nice, she was pretty, and the two of them had a good chemistry together. And until that night we saw her in the loving arms of the guy from her work outside a bar in Lincoln Park, we hoped they would last as long as he said they would.
She saw us, of course. Didn't even try to pretend, just leaned in closer to this mystery guy we'd been introduced to as her friend when she and her so-called boyfriend would host parties at his or her apartment. In a way, we admired her for that, for at least having the guts not to hide from the wrong she was doing. It removed the element of doubt and instead allowed us to freely contemplate bigger questions than the ones that started with "was that...?"
Her friend. To hell with friendship.
Did we tell him? We debated this to no end. He needed to know, we'd sometimes agree. Then we'd agree that it would kill him. Then we'd agree we couldn't let him keep making a fool of himself over her. If she didn't care that we knew, it was just a matter of time before everyone knew.
For months we kept quiet. Maybe she would tell him. If it didn't matter that we knew, we figured, then she'd probably just try to beat us to the punch and tell him herself. At least that way she could control what he heard or thought, or such was our conclusion based mostly on speculation and conjecture. He was about to get run over in spectacular fashion and none of us wanted to help that along.
So when the day came, finally, that she let him in on the secret, we were not surprised that it destroyed him. We were not surprised that he cried for days and weeks over this. We were not surprised at the weight he lost or at how withdrawn he became or how he could no longer listen to so many of his favorite songs, as they each had become three minutes of Hell. Where he once had such sweet memories, he now had postcards from a time when he didn't so blindly put his love and hope into the care of a woman who, despite her argument to the contrary, didn't want or need those things from him.
The shock came later. We were sitting at a bar one Thursday night, talking about baseball and music and other such trivialities while he kept quiet all the while. Finally, someone asked him how he was doing.
"I don't get it," he finally said.
Don't get what?
He was quiet for a moment, then "Why the fuck didn't you tell me?"
We knew right away what he meant. What killed us was not the lame answers we gave him; it was that they were all the wrong answers. We'd failed him. And we all knew it.
More importantly, this time he knew. And we knew he knew.
His friends. To hell with friendship.