He stepped forward into the nothing. I think I screamed but now all I can remember is that sudden sound of the emptiness. It seemed like the place that he was just standing in was quivering in his wake, ripping apart as time seemed to jump. How was it true? How did we get to this place? A month ago we had our anniversary dinner on this rooftop with candles and blankets and kisses all over. And now there is a violent absence: the deep rasp of his voice, the spicy bite of his cologne, his hair blowing in the soft breeze. And now what do I do? How do I honor his memory? I grocery shop and watch films and go to work and try to pretend it didn’t happen. Try to pretend he didn’t happen. My brain is still short-circuiting the loss.
“Can you come over? I think I need to clean out his things and I just don’t know how. I don’t know if the clothes should go to his family or to Goodwill..” I was rambling again. Olivia knew this and cut me off, “Of course, I’m free all afternoon so I’ll be right over. Can I bring anything? Never mind that, I’ll just bring some coffee.” She rarely lets me answer these days because she knows I’ll go on forever without actually getting anywhere. An hour later and she was at my doorstep, she’s always getting distracted by things and runs late because of this tendency. Our friendship works because I understand and am never actually ready when I ask her to come over anyways. She looks at me deeply, searching for an answer to a question not yet satisfied, “How are you?”
This question will never make sense to me. How am I? My husband decided that diving into slick asphalt from twenty stories up was a more appealing choice than spending another day in the life that we had built together. If you can go through and not be in a constantly shitty state of mind then please write a book or go on a speaking tour because I know lots of folks who would love to know your secret. “I’m fine, thanks.”
When the apartment looked sufficiently like we had to wade through boxes to get through the front door we decided to take a break for lunch. Olivia suggested a new cafe downtown and I didn’t have an opinion so that’s where we decided to go. With her mouth half full of sandwich she began in, “So are you thinking you’ll stay in the place or move? I’ve seen a bunch of cute studios in midtown for sale. Maybe that would be good for you Margs, a fresh start.”
“Maybe yeah. I don’t know Liv, it just seems so fast. His family hasn’t even been out to the place since everything, it might be too soon to just up and leave don’t you think? I would hate for them to come and try to settle things just to find it empty and you know as well as anyone how completely unhelpful the landlord is, he would never be able to direct them to their new place. What if…”
“Yeah I suppose that’s true logistically. I’m just thinking of you here. You have to deal with it in the best way for you Margo, you have just as much right to grieve over him as anyone else.” She sighed into her coffee cup.
“I just worry about you that’s all – you seem to be internalizing a lot of this.”
“Well I don’t exactly have the luxury of laying in bed all day crying.”
“I know, I know, I’m not suggesting that. I don’t know…” Olivia trailed off as she absently traced the edge of the table with her finger, “You just don’t seem to be acting the way the most people do.”
“Oh is that what you think?”
“Don’t get mad Margs, I’m just worried.”
I got angry and my face grew hot. I was furious she would say such a thing and frustrated with myself because I knew she was right. Suddenly, my cheeks grew sticky with warm tears.
“Sometimes I wake up and reach across the bed still expecting to find him there. My fingers grab and pull at the sheets even after I remember. They look anyways in the hopes that my head is wrong, that I’m remembering wrong. Sometimes I watch tv and make a snarky comment and jump a little when it’s met with only silence. Then I shrug it off and try to pretend it didn’t happen and that I’m fine because you know what? Sometimes I get so mad at him that if he came knocking on my door I don’t even know if I would open it. I want to scream at him and throw things and make him hurt. I want him to realize how fucking selfish he was. I want him to realize that his leaving was only half of it, he left me here alone. He bought a ticket and went on a trip without telling me to pack my bags.” Olivia reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “And then the worst part is the guilt. I yell at the empty places and cry and pull at my hair and then it’s all out and then I feel so awful. I think I must be the worst person in the world to hate someone I love more than I miss them. And it’s true Liv, there are moments where I really do think I hate him. How is that okay? How do I live with that? If he hadn’t gone and done what he did then I had vowed to love him forever but instead he’s gone early and I hate him sometimes more than I love him. That isn’t how I’m supposed to feel. That isn’t how normal people feel in these situations.”
I collapsed into the wall and Olivia slid in next to me, placing her arm around my shoulders. She let me cry for a few minutes – the ugly kind where my nose ran and my chest heaved and I didn’t even try to fix my makeup. “I don’t know how people are supposed to feel in this situation but I think you’re going to be just fine. He took away the most important thing in the world to you and that was a shitty thing to do. One of my exes – Tommy, you remember him right?” I sniffled and nodded. “Well when we broke up he took my favorite candle just to spite me, I know he doesn’t even burn candles. I still hate his guts for it and I didn’t love him half as much as you love Richie so I can only imagine the level of passion there. Look what I’m trying to say is that I think that you shouldn’t worry about what’s ‘normal’. I’m sorry about what I said earlier, I didn’t mean it that way. You feel whatever you need to feel to get through this.”
I don’t know when I stopped reaching across the sheets or talking to ghosts in the soft light of the television. I don’t remember when the anger faded but I remember that it did. One day I was reaching for a box of cereal in the grocery store and realized I wasn’t angry anymore. I still don’t understand why he did what he did and I’m still working on being okay with that but I know that day will come too.