He likes to be alone when he’s angry. He likes to stew in it and draw this mental venn diagram of all the things he knows to be right and all the ways I’ve fucked up and all the ways that he has compromised. He wants me to “give him a minute”—like we’ve got that kind of luxury in this tiny midtown apartment— and I’m trying to find out how to walk around him without invading his space. He forces me out of his space when he feels I’ve lost the right to be there, so I give him what he needs and I grab my keys and leave.
The winter is like a slap in the face, my cheeks pink and my eyes water and I don’t have anywhere to go. I pull my coat shut and head west toward—I don’t know. Somewhere else, somewhere warm. Somewhere farther than last time, so he can nurse what I’ve broken and I can remember what it’s like to have the capability of keeping things whole. Even now, I know it’s only an hour or so that I’ve got to kill before he starts to thaw to the idea of me again. I know I can go home long before I do. My cheeks pink up and my eyes water. God, what have I done to him that he should burn himself into soot to keep me out of the cold?
I’d call you up, but I don’t care much for how this ended. And I don’t want to know where you are. I couldn’t see you when I thought I had you, and I could never hold you though you said you were mine. What’s it matter now?
I know you’re in trouble. I can feel it in my skin. How many times have I saved you? You could never let it heal before breaking it into pieces so small they’re carried away by the wind and I can’t help you.
But I won’t hurt you. And I won’t watch. And I won’t call you, cause you can’t stop. There are more prayers in the sky for you than stars and your name falls from my mouth every night.
I can’t eat chocolate cake anymore. I can’t watch the first season of Friends or listen to anything by Coldplay. I can’t watch it rain or feel sand under my toes. I can’t breathe.
It’s the little things that you remember the most. All of the things that you never really notice haunt you and it’s inescapable. I told him I hate him for ruining orchids for me. I told him I hate that I can’t seem to see past him long enough to get my bearings.
“Come with me,” he said.
“I can’t do that.”
I can’t go with him, but he won’t stay for me. He could stay, but he won’t because we were never really much of a priority.
I told him to stay every day for a month. I told him we’d shrivel if he went. We wouldn’t last. He said he needed to figure out what life should be for him. I could never get him to sit still for a minute. I couldn’t hold him. He was a bird and I was a tree with roots planted deep. He’d stay for a moment. He’d build something in me and call it his home, but he always left again with wings stretched wide and the most beautiful, vibrant mind. How could I make him stay?
He wanted to see it all. I just wanted to see our future play out in front of me like a flipbook. We had everything we needed, but he was so sure that there could be something out there that we could want and never have unless we went. He was a man of elusive dreams and our reality wasn’t big enough. It wasn’t sturdy enough to support him. I was never quite deep enough to hold him without him overflowing.
He brought me orchids. We drove along the coast one last time, blasting Coldplay through the stereo. We walked along the bleach until the sand became rain-stained and we ran laughing through the storm. We split half a chocolate cake on the couch of his apartment surrounded by boxes and suitcases, watching old reruns of Friends while I fought sleep and time and grief.
“Stay with me,” I told him. “Where are you even going to go?”
“Come with me.”
“I can’t do that.”
Our whole lives were here. We had a plan that he couldn’t stick to. He was too malleable. He shifted too quickly, he moved too fast. If I went, I’d chase him forever. I’ve stopped running and now I’d just like to catch my breath.
I wanted nothing more than to just be there. I wanted nothing more than to be where he was. He found me when he wasn’t looking. I saw him when I was blind. Inflamed we ignited like fuel-dipped cotton. He burned all of the white from me until I was ash and bone. Tar grey, wired wrong and combustible, I exploded. He watched. Fire and glitter. Sparkling and burning.
“He was smart. Smartest person that I knew. It made him cynical. Jaded. He couldn’t find beauty in anything anymore. That’s contagious, that cynicism. It draws you in. Changes you slowly over time so that if enough time passes, you don’t even recognize yourself anymore.
I was lost in him. Lost in his head, and there wasn’t enough room for the two of us. I had to move closer to him, press against him to fit. He lived in his head, and I just wanted to be where he was. I grew darker for him. I wanted to see what he saw and feel the things he felt, but I didn’t understand them like he could. He was so smart. I didn’t understand him.”