I have so many things I could write about my time up here in the woods–the mysteries that have worked themselves out with a cheerful efficiency, the quiet tribe I have formed with Grace and the two dogs living here. I have been walking a lot, matching the rhythms of Daisy, the white terrier mix who is outgoing and hypervigilant in a way that feels ruefully familiar. As I walk, ideas about my work arrive as well as the heavy feelings I usually keep at bay: fear of the future, grief, some sour anger. Daisy’s pacing is good for me—the emotions show up and depart with a briskness that reminds me of other people’s mothers changing sheets, fluffing pillows, smoothing duvets. More cheerful efficiency.
Memories show up too—mostly painful ones—as if here in this out-of-time-space where the silence is punctuated by crickets and wind and many birds’ opinions, here I can piece together my past without the usual danger of being destroyed by it. I wake from a voluptuous nap in a hammock, an open book still dangling from my hand, and it is as if I just now told my lover that he would not be coming to Maine rather than five years ago this month.
He and I had fallen in love a long time before then, but it was only that summer that we began to weave our lives together. He’d left someone else—a woman with whom his financial and creative livelihood was murkily entwined—but that separation was revealing itself as something he could not quite manage. I was hopeful, though this hope was already curdling in my chest, making me quick-to-draw and gun-shy all at once. All in all, it had been a rough, exciting summer, a time when my heart always seemed to be beating too fast.
The fight that I woke into began on a much hotter, clattering day than this sleepy afternoon. He’d not been ready to abandon a pickup basketball game when I fetched him as we’d planned. “I need the workout,” he’d panted as I’d admired his long muscles and easy beauty, and though I was wearing a tiny dress and tinier sandals—the sort of footwear lousy for long walks, let alone streetball—I joined the game. I suppose I was trying to be a cool girl, a girl for whom he’d definitely leave another.
At first it was great fun—I’d forgotten how much I’d liked sports when I was younger—then I landed funny from a jump shot and knew I’d sprained my ankle. I insisted I was fine–went on to be a charming lunch date even, one who graciously, gratefully received his sexy mea-culpas. The ankle did not really begin to really blow up until he’d disappeared into the fortress in which he still lived with 2E, as I thought of his other lady. With the particular bravado of sensitive mid-century kids, I just iced it and went to bed. In the morning, I convinced myself it was only a bone bruise and went to fetch groceries. I bought such hopeful things, things I would never eat but knew he would appreciate my having, tamari almonds and soy milk and even tempeh.
It makes me wince remembering the contents of those bags.
Lifting them into my car proved the final straw, and suddenly the pain seized me by the throat. In a haze I drove to his studio to ask him to drive me the rest of the way to my house—to carry my bags up the three stories that now seemed like thirty. Even as I drove I wondered at myself. There were a million other ways I could handle this emergency. I was testing him, I could see that, and knew he would see it too. What’s more, I knew he would find a way to punish me for it. Arriving with an urgent need was guaranteed to crumble the careful structure of lies and truths he’d been telling all three of us, and a part of me seemed willing to sacrifice my dignity and mobility to see it fall apart.
Indeed, his face darkened when he saw me balancing on one leg at his door, car idling behind me. Then his features smoothed into something more suitor-like, and he cooed and ushered me into the huge, cool expanse of the building he shared with this woman who was somewhere in its many floors. “I’ll be with you soon,” he said after settling me on a divan with water and lemon and a neatly tied bag of ice for my ankle. It was the kind of flourish that always made me crave domesticity with him, and I settled into the cushions.
He did not return soon, though, and lying prone on his couch I began to seethe, imagining my groceries spoiling in the hot car, the badly parked car getting towed, the jive he was telling that other lady in this building’s bowels. The word bowels was right, I thought. Bullshit up to our ears.
I cursed then, and pushed to my feet. I wasn’t even planning to say goodbye, but he came down the stairs and saw me. Without a word, he shook his head, took the keys from my hand and led me to my car. We were both furious. On the drive to my apartment, he talked of his music—about the composition he’d been wrangling with when I’d arrived—and though I knew he was offering this story by way of making nice, I felt a rage swelling in me that made it impossible to play along. “I don’t give a fuck,” I heard myself saying, with an ugliness that even now is hard to recall. “I don’t give a fuck about what you rationalize in the name of your music and—”
But I did not get to finish that sentence because he’d stopped the car and jumped out, leaving the drivers-side door ajar and the engine running as he sprinted down the street. At first I was sure he would return. It was such a grandiose gesture and by now my ankle was three times its normal size. Then I realized he really was not returning. I began sobbing—hiccups, snot, red-faced; that child forgotten at the department store in full effect–and through my sobs dialed his number again and again. Finally I climbed out of the passenger’s seat and drove the rest of the way home, gingerly operating the clutch with my bad foot, nearly blind through my fogged glasses. After parking, I stared up at my building, helpless and sticky in the hot tears that seemed to drain every ounce of my life force. A woman I vaguely recognized as a neighborhood dogwalker tapped on the window. “I saw what happened,” she said. “Do you need help?”
I told her I did, and without further discussion she heaved my groceries up to my apartment—galloping up the three flights two steps at a time– and then helped me up as well. “I hope you dump that guy,” she said not unkindly, and took her leave.
When he called five days later, I was ready. From a speech I’d printed and stuck in my wallet, I said that he was no longer coming on my trip to Maine, that we had no trips together in our future, not even to the corner store. As I said the words, I hoped I meant them and knew I did not. Then I quietly ended the call. New technology had robbed me of the ability to slam down the receiver.