Everything here was new but you. You must’ve felt inundated with the unfamiliar.
You’d never seen my car, a vintage burgundy two-seater purchased outright just two months before you arrived. Your legs were too long for it, but your luggage was a perfect fit. I felt you tense when I swerved too sharply, around the airport exit lane.
I paid the parking toll. This is an annoying habit of mine, keeping track of the things I pay for. I wasn’t always this way. This is your doing.
We decided to eat before heading to my apartment, also new, rented just two weeks after I bought the car. We went to Red Lobster and both ordered Endless Shrimp. You drank a Long Island. I had a margarita, with an extra sidecar of tequila. I didn’t drink it like a shot, just poured it onto the surface of my tall, frozen cocktail when it began to water. I paid for this also. But you drove home.
In the parking lot, before we left, you smoked a Newport and I watched your eyes crease against the cold. Your two years in LA had weakened your tolerance for frigidity. You would need that tolerance here. I looked at your faded blue corduroy coat, half-open, even as dusk drew the temperature down. I shook my head.
Back at my apartment building, you parked in my assigned spot, under the carport. I traipsed confidently ahead of you, proud of my place and its security access card. You’ve always been vigilant about things like that: “It’s dangerous,” you used to say, “a woman living alone.” You’d pressed me to get a roommate or, on fewer occasions, to live with you. I’d always declined.
Once inside, you looked around, refusing to be impressed with the warm, autumnal paints adorning the walls; my bookcases–one in the living room, one in the bedroom; the queen-sized bed and its dust ruffle, shams, pillows; the large TV and cable with its 170 channels. You didn’t compliment the olive green futon, even though olive is your favorite color. You didn’t smile at my shelved lamp and the small black globe and black dancer statue nestled on it. You just dropped your tattered suitcase and began to unpack your laptop.
I had to prod you. “Do you like the place?” You shrugged. “It’s nice.”
It’s nicer than yours was, I thought to myself, because your indifference draws out my thorns and sharp edges.
You’d given up your own apartment days before visiting me here. Your lease had ended and, for reasons you wouldn’t fully disclose, you didn’t want to renew it. I had my ideas. It was a one-room efficiency. I’d stayed there, years ago, when you first got it. I bought your dishes. I stayed for three weeks and you never cut me a key. You were gone, nearly every day of my stay, until after dark. “Working,” you’d grit. Always working.
I didn’t mind that you were an aspiring filmmaker, even if I didn’t always “get” your work. I loved that you were creative, dreamy, aspirational. I loved that you wanted lofty things. I loved how you pined for a job on a major production and, often, I believed you’d get it. Then, I figured, we could work on a life together. Finally. We would both have achieved enough of our personal success to start weaving each other into a long-term tapestry.
I was supportive, even though on occasion, you’d swing into some low mood and insist that I wasn’t.
We had the same arguments, year in and out. I was constantly accusing you of a neanderthaline chauvinism–the kind of male entitlement and inequity that begins sentences with, “No woman of mine will…” The kind of strange logic that keeps the woman you claim to love locked in a depressing one-room apartment for three weeks, with no means of letting herself back in, if she ever went out without you.
We broke up after that. At my behest. Before, all of our breakups were at my behest. All six of them–from the one that was the result of your anger that I moved out of town for grad school (“What about me? I guess you don’t care about us.”) to the one that followed the email from your coworker with its incriminating photos of the two of you together.
This visit, your first and probably last, to my apartment, began as all our visits do: distantly. We always had to work hard to close the space so many months apart would carve between us. We’d stare intently at each other, then off at something else for an hour. We’d touch sparingly. We’d say little.
Then, by the end of a night or a second day or a full weekend, we would know each other again. The small, vital changes our absence from one another wrought seemed to bare themselves, in bed or over dinner or in the small enclosure of my two-seat car.
We said I love you. We might’ve meant it.
During the first week, we had an argument about my toilet. Its base seal cracked, flooding the bathroom. This raised our age-old debate about chauvinism, since you insisted that the issue, which required the extensive involvement of maintenance, was one that you should handle alone. “Strange men shouldn’t be coming in and out of your apartment at all hours.” “… Strange men, like maintenance?!” You asked me to stay in the bedroom while you talked to the repairman.
I scoffed and refused and immediately wanted you gone.
But two days later, we got past it. The problem was fixed while I was at work and you were “at home,” overseeing the job and likely feeling quite authoritative about it. You scrubbed every inch of the work surface and by the time I arrived at home, the place smelled of bleach, orange-scented Pine Sol, and safety.
We began cooking together. Meal upon complex meal. You pitted and mashed avocados for guacamole; I cut the tomatoes and onions. I baked rosemary chicken and macaroni and cheese. We fried green tomatoes. Those first mornings, I made you omelets. I had this thing about cooking you eggs, even though I don’t eat them. Practice, I told myself, for our future. You ate well, for perhaps the first time in months.
Purchasing groceries with you in mind and smiling at the sizzle of oil in a pan or the scent of a fresh-cut herb were the most traditionally nurturing things I’ve ever done.
By week two or three, when things had become quite domestic and peaceful between us, I was already expecting. Neither of us knew, but my paranoia had already begun to nudge me toward a pharmacy.
As far as I can tell, we conceived your first weekend here, likely before we were even fully reacquainted.
This is, of course, an irony. I’ve always viewed our relationship as per annum. Chronologically, we’ve been together since April 2001. Eight years and eight months. Until you left, whenever anyone asked how long we’d been a couple, I’d give them a measurement in years (which was typically greeted with a low whistle and a quip: “That’s a lot of time. When y’all gettin’ married?”).
I viewed those years as a structure. Brick by brick, a pyramid, a marvel. Something fixed and ancient and admirable. I never considered that our relationship should never have been viewed through the lens of linear time. This relationship, with its broad gaps of long distance and its biannual breakups, its buildups of distrust and foregone conclusion, its reserves of emotional reflex and also of emotional atrophy, is simply incalculable.
You sat mutely in my living room for three hours that night. The kitchen still smelled of garlic and lime. I’m not sure what I expected of you. Tenderness, for certain and at least. Communication, both rational and careful, at best. A touch, however small, by way of comfort.
Even by virtue of this three weeks alone, without taking the previous eight years into account, I deserved that.
My ears perked when your lips finally parted. I was stupid enough to be hopeful, naive enough to believe you that, by giving you three quiet hours, you’d give me words I could use as a balm.
“I think you need to get rid of it,” you said. “I do not want kids right now.”
I looked around, listening to the water steaming in the radiator. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Shocked, in fact, and shattered. But why? Did I even have a right?
Insanity is repeating the same thing for 8.8 years and expecting different results.