Do you mind if I smoke?
Listen and I will tell you a story.
I packed up our breakup and learned a painful lesson too late.
Alone in a big house for a long week that wasn’t long enough, I boxed up all of her possessions, took down the curtains, scrubbed the toilets and bathtubs, unhooked the televisions, the washer, the dryer, dismantled the beds, emptied drawers and vacuumed floors, on and on. At times, I was overwhelmed, physically and emotionally, and on a drunken Thursday afternoon, to the point of genuine despair.
- the complete loss or absence of hope.
“in despair, I hit the bottle”
It wasn’t the amount of work, though admittedly it seemed to never end, a penance which reminded me of a long-forgotten biblical story from my childhood, the one about Elijah and the destitute widow from Zarephath, both trying to survive in the midst of a famine when a miracle of God kept the woman’s jar of oil from depleting–as long as she cooked a hearty dinner for the hungry prophet–there would always be some oil remaining for her and her only child, no matter how much she would use. In my case, no matter how much of my ex’s belongings I staged from floor to ceiling in the garage, there was always something more multiplying behind my back in the house. More and more and more.
A lot of things had accumulated through the years.
The day of judgement was fast approaching when rent-a-boys in a rent-a-truck would load everything I’d taped and labeled and drive away. I dreaded the frightening arrival and rumble of the diesel engine, the squeak and scrape of a long metal ramp, that slanted plank where sweaty pirates would cover my lover’s belongings in white sheets as if she were dead and carry her off to a storage graveyard.
I wept in private for days. Tears began to flow at the bookcases in the front room. That’s where I started. This woman whom I loved (and still do) actually believed and sometimes preached that fiction is a waste of time and all things imaginary are just that: imaginary. Her position, in my opinion, was equivalent to literary blasphemy but the titles weighing down her shelves (which, regretfully, I took close notice of for the first time) were an eclectic mix of bible studies, mystical enlightenment, holistic healing, yoga, cookbooks, motivational self-help, kinesiology, and alotta lotta lotta counseling books and couples workshops for healthy relationships. Secrets to a happy marriage and eternal love. Many of them were scratched with personal notes. That moment she unknowingly taught me that hope sometimes requires hard work.
As I proceeded at a sweaty snail’s pace throughout the house, I paused at her bedside stand, conflicted, because it contained personal journals I should’ve never opened. Her private heart bled all over the floor. A light had been turned on inside of me. I had eaten from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and my eyes were opened.
Hidden in various and sundry places were photo albums of her childhood and early adult years which I’d never seen. I stared at one in particular, she was maybe eight or nine years old, hugging a fuzzy dog. Behind her innocent eyes there was a clear blue stream of perfect peace–her brand new life hadn’t known any trouble or loss. “Oh precious child!” I said, “Do you not know that God has jammed His stone-cutting finger deep into my heart and written your name?” I dropped me to my knees and prayed for the first time in a long time. A selfish and desperate prayer.
Her walk-in closet contained every article of clothing for every occasion and I was duly impressed by her good taste. She was a woman who understood her body. She knew how to dress and, occasionally, how to flaunt. With so much left to do before the pirate ship docked on the front lawn, in a frenzy, I pulled shirts, dresses, pants, jeans, shorts, leggings, lingerie from velvet hangers, shelves of panties, socks, pantyhose, shoes, sneakers, sandals, flip-flops, boots, and packed it all into forty gallon black contractor bags. What I was doing felt like a sin. It was as sin. I could smell her femininity and sexiness. Toward the back of the closet, I discovered a secret that really disturbed me and the raw sensitivity of my loss became more acute. Soon, too soon, I started to imagine with an 80 Proof spin how she would give herself to another, making all that we’ve shared far less than it was, dragging every intimate memory into the mud, treating me as if I were commonplace (I hadn’t yet realized that this was the exact way in which I was treating her on a daily basis). Jealousy and anger pulsed in my veins. I drank until I was drunk. It was the only way.
Too many times, I was unable to distinguish between my fiction and her nonfiction. This had been an ongoing problem. It was my fault, not hers. Insecurity. Ego. All of that wrecking ball bullshit.
Intuition? Well, yeah, sometimes it’s right but oftentimes it’s wrong. How many times has an innocent been condemned by a mere gut feeling or the unfounded accusations of a troubled mind?
I remember. My ginned ears were roaring in the closet. I lifted a particular blue dress to my nose. I pressed the limp material to my heart, longing for her to fill it once more, and remembered what started between us one random day like thunder. A thousand passionate fucks later, cum dripping and stringing down my leg, I realized with shock how I’d never cherished her as a gift from God. I’d always taken her tenacious love for granted. My wild unstable ways had finally worn her down. All she ever really wanted was a man who’d come home every night and be with her. It was really that simple. Someone who’d damn listen. Someone who’d be there. She’s was still that same little girl hugging the dog, but all grown up, you know?
Now I’m a couples counselor who’s always humming Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Not sure if I’m a good one but I do give every dumb ass man this assignment (if he sincerely desires to save and preserve a lifelong relationship with the only woman who’s ever invaded and rocked his self-focused world to tasty pieces), I instruct my clients to do this: pack up her stuff, dammit! Send her away! I mean, shit, that’s what you’re already doing, right? Might as well finish the job, Mr. Middle-aged Slob. The moving truck is already on the way!
Stop thinking only of yourself.
Open all of your woman’s drawers, sift through her things, smell her, read her, stare at her childhood photographs, risk discovering her secrets, ponder her thoughts–really get to know her–then box her up and watch as strange men drive her away.
See how that makes you feel about your petty shit. Damn, boy! Get to it.
You will mourn and groan and wail for the one you should have loved better. The one you’re losing and have already lost. The one whom you were never really worthy of in the first place. She was too good for you. She was out of your league. But for some unknown reason she looked your way for a moment in time.
Fight for her not with her!
OR mow the lawn one last time, partner. Remember how she used to watch you with love and lust, holding out a glass of water, ice cubes snapping in the summer heat? Nope, no more. Not if you refuse to handle the simple details of her heart or pause more frequently to adore your darling.
Remove every curtain and open every blind of an empty house. All the windows become the blank eyes of the dead. There’s nothing behind them.
Turn off the romantic music. Your house has breathed her last. She’s gone silent. A different contract has been signed with permanent ink. Others will fill her.
Mop the floor, it’s the last thing you must do. Shine the floor, foolish man, on your final trip out the front door. Erase every footprint. You were never really there.
Turn off the lights. Throw out the candles that she bought for you. That was years ago and they still haven’t melted. Get rid of the lighter. Your baby’s love has gone cold and she’s been on the market for a while now. That’s why she giggled about the good looking man at work. He’s already invaded her mind. It’s too late. She was yours to lose and congratulations, old sport, you’ve done a thorough-fucking job of it.
Hand in your keys. Back out of the drive. You must not return because you no longer live there. That is not your house and she’s no longer your girl. Yes, please, take that final drive. Notice every bittersweet detail of your former neighborhood from the fresh perspective of a sad single man. On Moving Day, every flower will bloom for someone else.