Tag Archives: breakups

Chilmark Pond

We put our bags down at the doorway, and all I’m thinking is, Can this really help anything? Can anything really help? The house looks out onto Chilmark Pond and, just further beyond sightline, the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s worth 20 million,” my aunt said. “The owner, he’s 84. He leaves it seven months a year but needs people to watch it when he’s gone.”

I watch Luke walk into the living room and towards the plate glass window in the back that faces the water. A pair of ospreys are circling the dehydrated lawn. He puts his hand up to the door, looks at me over his shoulder, and flicks his hand to motion for me to come over.

“Christina,” he says. “Look.”

The wind is whipping at the bushes, capping the distant water in white. As I walk up, I watch the ospreys flick their wings, stabilizing themselves over the pond, still in the air. I turn to look at Luke, who has both hands pressed back up against the glass, his breath lightly casting a fog. He’s fixated back on the sky. At once, the ospreys, who’ve been holding for a full minute break the air and dive straight into the pond. They leave the air together; one hits the pond first and emerges with a fish. The other catches nothing.

“Did you see that? Wow,” he says. He doesn’t turn to look at me. His eyes are still fixed on the pond.

“I did,” I say. “I did.”

The wind picks up again. The house, sitting at the top of the hill, seems to catch every gust.

Not Dead Yet

It’s hard to stay together once you’ve watched your partner die.

Katie never understood this. She thought I was being irrational. “Everyone dies,” she said. Or will say, I’m not sure if she’s actually said it yet. “It’s something that happens. But you and I, we’ll always be together, at least some time. And whenever that is, it always exists somewhere in time, and it always will. Even death won’t do us part. So let’s enjoy our time together, for all time.”

It happened — or it happens — in Egypt in the biblical year 2011. No one knows what Katie is going to be doing back there, or precisely when in her own timeline it occurs, but we both know that it happens. Happened. Is going to happen. Whatever. I have to admit, it was my idea. Let’s tour the early Aughts, I said. The Age of Mass Media, so they called it in our history books. Before the bombs. Before the singularity. When mankind was on the precipice of change, speeding towards The Crash, when the rapid development of technologies opened up new opportunities in a global community faster than their less-evolved brains could ever handle.

And so we visited the times when the world truly began to change and evolve into the time from which we came. Our travel itinerary included stops at all of the most important historical events of the era, so that we could witness them first hand. Thus we found ourselves in the territory formerly known as Egypt somewhere near the end of the First Month of the biblical year 2011. Katie wanted to see the pyramids; I wanted to watch a revolution. They’re much more exciting.

We pushed our way through the steaming, sweating crowds of savages and supplicants to get a better view, and that’s when I saw her. She was the same as the woman standing beside me, only older, more tired and worn. She’d lost some weight — not that Katie had much to lose in the first place — and she looked as though she hadn’t slept in years. Perhaps she hadn’t at that. I hesitated for a moment, unsure of whether or not I should direct Katie’s attention to what appeared to be her Future Self before us, but that moment was just long enough to allow a bullet hit her in the temple and splash her beautiful brain across the statue in the square.

Katie and I returned to our hotel room. We slept on opposite sides of the bed that night and never touched. She tried to reach over once, but I moved myself down to the floor. The next day, I told her it was over. It was pointless for us to stay together, knowing that would be our future. I kissed her once before I left, but all I could see was the slow-motion bullet break against her skull.

Sometimes I return to then, and watch the scenario play out in real-time. Maybe one of these times, I’ll point Katie out to herself, and I don’t know, maybe she’ll turn her head to watch and it will cut the air just right to move the bullet off its course and save her life. But every time she dies, and I miss her just a little more.

Listed

They made lists of the things they did not want to forget about one another. She wrote hers in blue marker; she preferred the thick, effortless lines and the smell that lingered on the paper long after the ink dried. He wrote his in pencil, always cherishing the option to erase, alter, begin again. They sat across from each other at the kitchen table whose wood had splintered each of them countless times since they’d moved in one year before. The lease was up in a week. They needed to hurry.

He did not want her to watch him as he wrote. He crouched over his paper, using his left arm as a barricade, like he did in middle school to keep others from cheating. (Sometimes he would adjust his arm so the cute girl next to him could see. She was no longer the cute girl that he would let cheat.) She didn’t mind if he saw what she wrote; in fact, she felt the comfort of his watching her. She jotted down, “The way it felt when I could feel you watching me.” Her handwriting was too small, too loopy for a marker to be sensible, and the ink spread out to meet the other sides of A’s and O’s. The dots on the I’s reached down (or was it the stems that reached up?); they met in the middle, turning into a capital I, resisting her belittlement.

She addressed her list items to him (e.g. “The way you feel when I’m laying behind you.”). He wrote his as though it were a report, a detached evaluation of some employee (e.g. “She strongly supported my art and offered thoughtful criticisms and praise for my paintings.”).

The original agreement was to make copies, seal them in envelopes and swap. He had decided not to read her list, and took part in the process as a necessary purging of his own softened thoughts toward her, one last session of dwelling before he could move on. He didn’t expect that he’d paint her figure in the backgrounds of his paintings for years to come.

She relished the anticipation of reading his list, of having something concrete to reference when the days that followed would drag out or unrelated circumstances deflated her. She did not expect that she’d fall asleep with this paper in her hands, use it as a bookmark when traveling, that it would influence the parts of her she displayed more prominently to the world.

They sat at the table for an hour and a half, chewing their respective lips. When they were through, satisfied with the lists they’d made, the nuances they’d articulated, and the memories they’d rehashed, they made copies and sealed each one in those old-timey envelopes bordered in red and blue dashes.

He said neither “Goodbye” nor “I’ll miss you” before he left, just stuffed the envelope into his breast pocket, smiled the half smile that she’d included in her list and walked out the front door.

The One in the Corner with the Petunias

There’s nothing new about him. I haven’t seen him in three years and he hasn’t changed. Not in that “once a liar, always a liar” kind of way, but in the physical, he’s-still-got-that-damn-goatee kind of way. I sound like my mother, but what was I thinking?

He walks up to me, acts like he’s just seen me, when I know he saw me the moment I came in and has just been waiting until I noticed him so he could return the favor.

“Hello, Eleanor.”

I used to tell him, “You sound like an ass when you say ‘hello.'” I used to tell him, “Stop it,” under my breath. That’s not my place anymore.

“Hey.”

I can smell him; he must still use that same soap that took me three washes to get out of my clothes and sheets. His nails are dirty like they used to be. They used to make me sick when I noticed them, now they don’t bother me so much. Once when he was passed out drunk on my couch I took the nail clipper to them. I went slow over each wide edge, trying to gauge how close I was to the skin underneath. I nicked one of them, his left pinky, and it started to bleed. I stuck it in my mouth by instinct, and his finger tasted like he’d been touching rubberbands. He didn’t wake up though. I folded the little finger over and tucked it under him, got started on the other hand.

We’re quiet and staring at each other like we’re both trying to figure out what to say, trying to remember what we ever had to say to each other before.

“Your paintings look good. They’ve gotten darker,” I say. “I remember that one in the corner with the petunias.”

“Yeah,” he says. He glances at it as if to refresh his memory what it looks like. “I meant to give that one to you.”

“You did not,” I say. I do this without thinking like I used to.

He laughs like he’s remembering this tic of mine as well, scratches his whole head like he can’t locate the itch. “Yeah, yeah, I did.”

I shrug, say something meaningless and transitional; we half hug. He sees someone he knows and is gone. I gulp the last of my warm white wine and set the glass down, embarrassed at the mess of fingerprints I’ve left behind. I glance at the petunias on my way out, decide I don’t need a painting of myself.

What Goes Without Saying

Shannah has a big ass and he’ll probably never love her. It’s sexy now, when they’re 25, but it won’t be ten years from now when they’ve settled down and had kids and she can’t lose the baby weight. However well she knows him, he knows himself better and even if she loves him, even if their children are beautiful and in spite of quiet moments on the couch, all of them intertwined with some cartoon or movie in the background when she catches his eye and he sees the woman he married exactly how she was before the spit up on her shirt or the mess of wrinkles near her eyes from where she’s worried—he will still find it in him to look at younger women on the sidewalk and in commercials, thinking and really believing that he’s missing out, even if he isn’t, even if when he’s with her he doesn’t feel any sense of lacking or want. Even if their sex life is exponentially better than it ever was when her body was younger, more in control—even then he thinks he’ll be looking for something that looks (and therefore must be) better.

Even when his parents die and he doesn’t for a moment think of calling the secretary or barista or bartender he’s been sleeping with, and his wife sits up with him on the porch, holding his hand with the perfect amount of pressure and warmth, without the slightest hint of rush or impatience, eventually the immediate and urgent pain will fade. He’ll start returning the girl’s phone calls, going back to where he knows she’ll be, thinking about what color her underwear is.

Tonight when Shannah asks him, “Where is this going?” her S’s turning into a hiss that smells like beer and Jameson, he’ll end up yelling without wanting to but knowing he has to storm out and not return her phone calls for a while. When he finally does return her phone calls, her messages having evolved from apologetic to angry to hateful, he’ll apologize. He’ll beg her to meet up with him, to get some coffee, to get a drink, to let him stand on her porch while he explains. She’ll say yes because her hate for him is some replica of her mother’s love for her dad, and she’ll sit next to the window until she sees his headlights. She’ll feel nervous like it’s their first date instead of their last. She’ll pretend she’s mad until he gives her a reason, not even a good one, not to.