It isn’t the absence that bothers me; it’s the silence.
Before last summer, you were the one who took responsibility for our conversations. I was allowed to be blasé. I could put work first; I could screen your calls. You’d call again. You averaged three calls a day, nearly every day, all eight years.
There were rare lapses. I learned that you could be inattentive when you were editing the first short film you shot, after we started dating. You were planning two local screenings. You were designing the DVD cover. You were collecting actors’ bios. I had to tag along on shoot days, if I wanted to see you. I helped you write and edit blurbs and bios. I calmed you, when you wondered if people would understand your cinematic vision.
The days leading up to the first premiere were the days of our first break-up. That one was childish, I’ll admit. I felt neglected. Even when I told you it was “over,” your shrug was audible through the phone. I could hear the rabid clicking of a mouse in the background. If that’s what you need to do… your voice trailed.
We were back together by the time the curtain went up in College Park and a cluster of a 200 viewers watched your thirty-minute production. “I’m so nervous,” you confided. “Me too!” I exclaimed, rushing behind you, clutching fliers and cords.
“Why? What did you do?”
* * *
Even with those notable exceptions, you were clearly the emotionally vocal one, quick to proclaim love (and lust), always the first to admit that the distance between us made you edgy and irritable. I miss you, you’d repeat with something akin to venom in your voice.
This is ironic, since I was the first to say I love you. I said it our third week of dating, right before hanging up the phone. You waited a while, until we saw each other in person again, waited until the very end of a date, when I’d already closed the passenger door of your car. “Hey,” you called through the cracked window. “Love you, too, girl.”
I floated up the steps to home.
* * *
Most of my family warned me that too much attention could be a sign of a control-bent partner. If you had to know where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, when I’d be home, what time I’d be able to call you back (and talk at length), then maybe you were treating me more like a barebacked colt in need of wrangling than a woman growing into her depths.
Or maybe you were a cheater, projecting.
As a girl who very unaccustomed to consistent male attention, I preferred to think you just cared.
I still think you cared.
* * *
The only other time you’ve been this detached is when we returned from Paris. With glittering eyes, I scoured the internet looking for a way to get back there. I found one: an ESL training program in Tournan-en-Brie. I could fly back to France in less than a season for a one-month intensive that’d earn me a certification that’d greatly broaden my career skill set.
You were opposed. And I was already writing a deposit check.
You kept insisting that it wasn’t safe for me to go to a foreign country for a whole month without you; it was the same fear tactic you’d used to convince me you needed to take that first trip to Paris with me, even though you couldn’t afford it.
I don’t think we were in love then. Before I’d decided to spend my spring break overseas, you’d been pressing me to spend that week with you, in California. Part of why I booked a ticket to France in the first place was to avoid another trip to your apartment. You’d tried very genuinely to make amends for the unintentional air of imprisonment my first stay with you had created. But I’d never been able to remember your place as anything other than Solitary.
We fought over that, first: you said you’d come here! No, I said maybe.
Then, we fought because you insisted I should be accompanied by another adult, like France was a rated R film and you were a ticket-taker.
Finally, you threw it out there: what if I come along?
There was something terrifying about taking my first trip abroad by myself, though I never admitted that in our marathon “discussions” about the prospect. I squared my shoulders and used my assertive voice. I can outtalk you, usually. I can leave you speechless.
But Paris is for lovers. And you were mine. It didn’t take long for me to want you there.
Before long, I always want you there.
But Tournan-en-Brie was another thing altogether. Paris was a four-day vacation. A one-month intensive ESL course meant round-the-clock work and no time to explore boulangeries and tourist carts. This was a scholarly venture. I like to pursue my scholarly ventures alone.
I tried reasoning. I tried complying. I tried reasoning again. You forcefully asserted what a bad idea this seemed to be. You expressed your grave concerns about how difficult four foreign weeks would be, compared to four leisurely days.
And then, for three days, we stopped.
When we spoke again, I’d already decided not to go to the program. It would entirely deplete my savings and I didn’t have my course assignments for autumn yet. It would’ve been an economic misstep.
But I kept all of this from you. I told you I wanted out of this relationship. I tried to explain how wearisome life with you had become, because every time one of my dreams grew not just gargantuan, but attainable, I found myself filtering them through your colander of approval, where the discussion of every detail begat a new, tiny hole.
“I want to be able to make personal choices, without taking your foregone disapproval into account.”
Our time together no end of ironies, I listened to myself, fully aware of how opposite the concept of marriage my statement was.
You protested, as you always do at the prospect of breaking up, and to curtail the debate that’d eventually wear me down, until we were back together before the end of a week, I also told you I wanted to meet and date other men. I didn’t even mean that, then.
I was just tired of talking.
Unlike previous separations, I was determined to make this one stick. Rather than just refusing phone calls, I also ignored texts, IMs, and the letter in which you hoped to solve our problems by proposing marriage.
I think this is what you thought that I wanted, that the root of my frustration was the fact that we’d never married.
You said that if I ignored the letter, too, we’d be done.
And we were. For a record four months, we were done.
Those were interminable months. I spent them worrying that I’d made a grave mistake. I spent them worrying that you were thisclose to getting it, that I’d been too ambitious, too self-serving, too impatient, that some other woman would find your rabid attentiveness, intense (over)protectiveness, and encoded conversation delightful and appropriate.
Were fumes all that were left fueling us in these latter years, or was there some overlooked fire?
I was underestimating you. I was unappreciative of your attention, maybe undeserving of it. I should tell you. I should call you.
We should, at least, be friends. This is the recondite dance we do; we had to preserve the steps.
I called you twice a month. I texted more. And it was your turn to be blasé or curt or oblivious.
Now we know this should’ve been the death knell. We should’ve kept our distance. This could’ve worked; we had finally proven that we could both live, however unhappily, if denied constant contact with one another.
Before then, I think we both worried we’d blanch and harden and hollow, if not together. We’d shatter, if left to our own devices. Who else would understand our oddities? Who else would bear so much, for so little?
* * *
We reconciled toward the end of last summer. But the four months apart had done their work. More than the others, this last hurrah was a return to habit. Tenderness was present; so was laughter. Love powdered us with its residue.
And this is it: love’s residue. This eventual-kid, who makes some sense to me and none to its father, was made from the silt of a together-life we both rejected, years ago, without telling one another.