“do you want the back half of my everything?”

i knew what i would be getting myself into when i finally left robert. but it had to be done and so here i was, sitting on my mother’s living room couch at 1:30am with a stack of worn-out sheets and blankets and a threadbare pillow from 1981 piled high as i watched late night tv in the dark.

the house was cold as usual and lonely as usual and it smelled like stale cigarette smoke as usual. i wasn’t looking at the tv. i was looking at my bulging suitcase tilted against the wall and wondering how i had even gotten it sufficiently closed. wondering how i had managed to lug it on the train from newton all the way back to malden when it must’ve weighed, my best guess, about a thousand pounds. i rolled my eyes and curled my feet under me. i fished through the faded glass ashtray on the coffee table for a salvageable cigarette butt. i found one but promptly remembered that i had quit smoking six years ago and tossed it back into the dish in disgust.

caught in the teeth of the suitcase’s front zipper was a stray pink bra strap. i cynically questioned whether it was even mine.

try as i might, i couldn’t remember exactly what robert had said. i played out the conversation over and over but i wasn’t putting everything into the proper sequence, i knew that. there had been shouting, more than a few filthy words, a hefty accusation or two. at one point i am positive he called me a cunt. if i had to put money on it then i’d have to assume that i had called him a faggot, not that i was proud of it. did i spit on him? i can’t possibly be that dramatic, minor in theatre studies be damned. what i do know is that i finally told him that i knew about chicago. it had been about four years and i felt dumb holding onto something like that for so long – and it was a completely moot point after he had admitted to his most recent fuck-around with the girl in brooklyn. but still. it had felt good to get it off my chest. righteous. grimly satisfying. superior.

late night tv is absolutely terrible so i shut it off and leaned back on the most comfortable pile of 30-year-old bedding known to man. i closed my eyes. i dozed. it was five hours ago. i was ringing my mother’s doorbell.

“ellie,” she was imploring, “what’s wrong?” and then she was understanding what a dumb question that was and she was opening the door and opening her arms. “i don’t have my keys, i’m sorry,” i was crying. her sweatshirt was getting damp. it was my fault.

i was asleep now. i was dreaming. it had happened, all of it. i was sitting dejectedly in the kitchen. wisps of smoke from her half-finished cigarette were wafting up to the stained ceiling. she was urging me to eat, an entirely expected and welcome response. she was shoving a plate towards me; a mostly-eaten bagel covered in sesame seeds and flecks of onion. “ellie, eat. get some food in your stomach.”

“here,” she was asking, hopeful and eager and as helpful as ever.

“do you want the back half of my everything?”

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