I called it Shock.
Though, in the days leading up to the final break, the calm decision, the acknowledgement of what we both knew was coming, we were in denial. Can you go through this stage before the stages are even meant to begin?
Back and forth, we tried to get it out. We spoke in metaphor and analogy. Neither of us could just say ‘this is it. This is all. No more.’ We didn’t want to.
Afterward – after the the talking, the agreement, the disbelief, him holding me, me soaking the front of his shirt, catching our breath, realizing what we had just decided, failing to organize our thoughts, trying to joke but finding it not quite time yet – he left, and I sat down. I sat, and I stared. I made myself a drink, not to block what was coming but knowing there was no stopping it and so preparing for its arrival. I walked around, looking at things. The tree outside my balcony. My dresser. The dark shade over my living room window. My bookshelves.
I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I got up and started to write, but not about us. About old things, that I couldn’t capture anymore. I stopped typing, leaned back, and thought: I am so sad. An image came into my head of me wrapping my arms around him, my nose in his neck, and I just sat there, staring at the neighbor’s chimney, the tears falling freely.
When I next looked at my phone I saw that he’d texted me forty minutes earlier. “Is drinking helping? I’m trying to decide.” I replied “It’s just making me cry more and not be able to drive to the store for tampons.”
I went into my bedroom to look for old pictures to accompany the story about old things that I couldn’t capture anymore. I thought I needed a distraction.
Instead I lay down again, curled up into myself, and fell asleep. I woke later, cold, to the sound of my young neighbor and some friends talking loudly, and then, the doorbell.
He was holding a paper bag and unsure about whether he should come in or not. I was disoriented from my unexpected mid-day nap. He’d brought me tampons, and whiskey. I invited him inside.
While he made us each a cocktail, we talked about what we’d been thinking since we’d parted several hours earlier. His thoughts were drastic and desperate and grand – I should buy two tickets to Mexico for tomorrow morning and just show up and take her away; mine were of heartbreak and disbelief – he made me happier than I’ve ever been. How will I get through this?. We sat together at my kitchen table, a place we’d never sat before, and told stories we’d never told before.
Hearing him tell a story has always wooed me. Watching his arms wave in the air and the expressions on his face, the noises he makes and the way he laughs at himself, something inside of my chest always opens up and causes my breath to catch in my throat. Sitting there, talking with him, everything felt okay again. Or, like it could be.
He asked if I wanted to walk downtown to eat. Neither of us had eaten more than a piece of bread all day, and the cocktails and the crying were having their effect. I said okay, because everything seemed surreal and impossible, but still felt right, and so we went.
It was fine, nice even, talking, eating food that made us feel sick, drinking together, walking. “I’ve never been in this situation before,” I told him. He knew what I meant. To be an equal partner in ending a relationship that had filled me to brimming with happiness. Letting it go felt like performing hara-kiri. I’d never felt so devastated by the end of a relationship before.
Later I said “this is so strange. I watch you telling a story, you say something funny and I laugh, and I love it and then I think, oh, we just broke up.” He looked at me sadly and nodded. I went on, “and I see you right there and I want to kiss your face, and then I think, oh, we just broke up.” I didn’t tell him that when his arm or leg brushed against mine, it felt like grabbing onto an electric fence after a walk on a damp, fog-filled morning.
He said, “listen,” and then put his hands on my face and leaned toward me. I said “no, you can’t, you–” and tried to turn my head while inside I felt our time together slowly flashing over my heart. My lips were dry from the alcohol and the loss of tears, and I tightened my mouth against his kiss. I knew that if I sank into it my body would shatter and fall in shards to the floor around his feet. When he pulled away he said “I’m sorry,” and, seeing that I was trying hard not to cry again, he said “that was like kissing two pieces of dried fruit” to make me laugh. I cried anyway.
When we got back to my apartment, I wanted to kiss him. I wanted him to lay next to me, to curl up around me, to stay. We held each other inside my open doorway and cried, and when we pulled away from each other I couldn’t let go of him. He dried his eyes and then slowly uncurled my fingers from the waist of his jacket, held my hands, and said “I’ll call you tomorrow. Just…because,” then walked down my stairs.
I stood there, leaning against the open doorway, welcoming the cool night air. I looked at the love notes he’d stuck to the roof of my stairwell a few weeks ago. I closed my eyes and listened until I knew he was gone, knew he wasn’t coming back. I opened my eyes. I took a deep breath. I closed the door.