Thursday, April 21, 2011

Before and after

Each time it felt like coming home. The taught ropes of his thighs, the thin skin connecting them to his hips, the subtle swell of his ribs like a ladder to be climbed. She knew his body better than her own and loved it better, too, its warmth more desirable to her than food. She was hungry for it; each touch was nourishment and she wanted to only ever run her fingers over his back or cross her ankles with his. She knew where to bite, where to apply pressure, where to linger, and in return his body responded to her attention and returned it.

She knew before he said it that it was over. It was one of those times where you just know, and you know you are not wrong, like gravity or blinking. She could feel the inevitability of it following her around all day, attaching to her like a thin film. She thought maybe if she walked fast enough she could shake it, lose it somewhere in the crowd, but it clung to her. When the words finally left his mouth they traveled through the steam rising from the tea and curled around her eardrums in little wisps. She sat there, fears confirmed, and said nothing.

When they’d started, she had been totally taken by surprise. It was like her mom always said: just when you’ve driven the last thought of it out of your head, it comes barreling down on you at full speed. He’d joked with her, been articulate and thoughtful, called her out when she needed to be put in her place. He was, in short, respectful and responsible, and she remembered thinking oh- there you are. When she’d left the bar to meet a friend for a movie, he’d walked her across town and hugged her goodbye, telling her how happy he was to have met her and her friends. She thought when she finally sat down to look at Robert Downy Jr.’s face, 20 minutes late, that her heart was pounding because she’d been in such a hurry; but no.

They made a pact. Their first night together, they talked about their fears and how overwhelmed they were by what they felt, and that conversation stayed with her. A few weeks later they were in his apartment, listening to that Nancy Sinatra song from Kill Bill. When the song changed he’d pulled her up from the couch and held her close and started telling her a story- a short film he wanted to direct set to the piece they were dancing to. She saw his ambition, his willingness to work, and she knew then that she loved him. When the song had finished, she waited, and then said to him, “let’s do this right.” He smiled, and said yes, and they resumed dancing.

Someone asked her in the days after it happened if she was angry. She wasn’t; but she was sad for herself and sad for him and sad for how she had tried. They’d had a lot of long conversations at the beginning, confessing demons and their pasts and asking for help from the other. By the time she realized what was happening, he was too deep into his old pattern for her to shake him out of it. She’d trusted in his ability to get through it like he had before, but that hadn’t been enough. In the end, she listened to him ask to be friends and knew that those words had come out of his mouth more times than she wanted to know about

She watched him sleeping next to her, face buried in the pillow, blankets rising rhythmically. His watch glinted in the streetlight coming through the window – he’d forgotten to take it off – and she laughed softly, remembering how it had caught her hair. He stirred, and she reached out to smooth her palm gently over the stubble along his jaw. As she drew her hand back he reached up, eyes still closed, finding her hand by instinct, and settled them both on the mattress near his mouth. His fingers tightened around hers; she drifted off.

In the mornings she would get up in the dark and slip out of bed to wash her face. When she came back to get dressed he would be facing away from the door, blankets almost covering his head. He slept while she got ready, and before it was time to leave she would crawl back into bed for 5 more minutes next to his skin, next to him. When it was time to go she moved slowly, lingering in the space between his shoulder and jaw. He pulled her close even though she told him she had to go, and as she kept coming back for just one more, he would frown sleepily and tell her that he loved her. She smoothed his brow, and left for work.

His reasons were typical reasons and she reacted typically. There was really nothing else to do, truthfully. She was quiet for a while, and then, for the first time in her life, said exactly what she meant to say exactly when she should have said it. She wasn’t rude, or vindictive, but she was honest and that was hard. He told her when she was finished that he felt like an asshole for making her feel that way. She thought, well, you should.

For her birthday, he made her French toast. She couldn’t eat very much because she already knew somewhere in the back of her mind that he was going to end it, and her body had decided to get a head start on the grieving process. When she’d finished, he washed her dishes and asked if she wanted her present. He made her wash her hands, then close her eyes because he hadn’t wrapped it. As she leafed through the book, her hands reverently turning each page, he watched her. When she looked up, she saw in the split second before he could hide it that his eyes were empty, and she pretended that her tears were because she was so touched by his gift.

They spent Thursday nights in the park. They showed movies every week outdoors on one of those big inflatable screens, and after work they would get dinner from somewhere and take the A train to Brooklyn. When they were finished eating they would lie on their backs and look at the clouds, searching for shapes. As the sky darkened, they would sit up by degrees, reluctant to leave the spell of being low to the earth. The movie would start, and his arm would go around her, and she would marvel at how simple it was. When they walked home through the crowds of people they were often quiet, finger linked with finger in the dark.

She wondered later if he missed her now that he’d left. She thought not, she knew not, but knowing and believing are two different things. All she knew was that she was not the same, that something was fundamentally changed, and lost, and that he had to fell it, he must feel it. The last time they talked she told him she’d been ready to see him; he was nowhere in sight.

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