I sent the letter – a revision of the first – that neatly explained the things he knew nothing about.
His abandonment of me has really fucked me up.
I know he’s a liar.
His proximity by virtue of remaining in our complex causes me great anxiety.
I don’t appreciate him openly viewing my AFF profile.
I kept it as short as possible – and narrowly focused – so that my message would be received. I wanted him to know that his choices hurt another human being, and hopefully not irrevocably. I wanted him to know that I was still in pain due to all of the aforementioned things and, most importantly, I wanted him to know that I was making a choice to no longer hide or hold onto them. I needed him to know.
I’ve set them down and I’ve backed away. What happens next is entirely up to the Universe.
By now he’s climbed the three flights of stairs and found the brown paper bag at his door.
On top, neatly folded, is his Iowa sweatshirt. Beneath it: a bag of his sex toys and lube, 20 or so movies, a blue patterned plate, a blue plastic cup, three pairs of socks, and one pair of underwear which I wore when he had asked for a break from me.
I curated this bag of things carefully; it’s all his. Not gifts to or from me, nothing sentimental. I briefly included the black velvet ribbon we used to signify I was in charge and our last dominoes score card he’d signed because I’d won, but I pulled them out. The score card got tossed and I’m saving the ribbon for the next man. It was always mine. This is a simple return of goods. I am not in that bag.
A week ago tonight I went to the gym to catch my favorite class. It’d been a few weeks since I’d gone, but it’s like coming home. The regulars say Hi, the instructor teases me, pushes me to limits I didn’t know I had, and the familiar smell of old sweat and disinfectant signifies it’s time to work.
I’d brought The Neighbor there with me long ago. He’d quit his gym, joined mine, and began coming to this class with me. We stood side-by-side for a year, to the instructor’s right, close to the mirrors. Eventually he stopped coming with me, but I’d kept on and remained in my spot. Cee-Cee knew I was “Hy on the Right.”
I walked in and caught a glimpse of a man with a familiar build on the far end of the room. Pale, beardless, bald. Surely it wasn’t…
“What are you doing here?” I asked stupidly.
It’d been two months since I’d seen him last. He looked like a ghost: whitewashed without his dark beard, his light eyes bled into his impossibly light skin and shiny white skull. “Um, working out?”
I was nervous. We maneuvered around each other, got our gear. I wondered if he’d set up in his old spot.
I dropped my things and looked behind me. He was in the other half of the room. With a woman.
They stood close to one another and talked familiarly, as couples do in the awkward fishbowl of a room filled with mirrors and strangers.
I looked around them.
Their steps were set up of identical heights (two higher than he used to use, but the same amount as hers) and they were set closer together than what non-couples typically do.
I felt like throwing up.
She was roughly my height, slightly slimmer build, small breasts. Her dark hair barely shoulder length, her eyes brown. Nondescript. She’d make a good spy. When she passed me once in class she looked through me as though I were just any other class member.
I spent those interminable 45 minutes hidden behind a dozen people away and one row up, though regrettably not far enough away to miss that when he should have faced my half of the room to do exercises he instead chose to face her. The one kid in the marching band who’s lost his way.
After class she waited for him and as I left the room and walked out the front door he was waiting for her as she loitered around a display. As I drove out of the parking lot I saw them talking near some cars. Thelonious Monk spattered on my stereo as if to remind me of breaking glass.
I could hardly breathe. My mind reeled The code did not compute.
My phone chimed. It was him.
“Didn’t think you’d still be going to that class! That was a one time deal for me – just wanted to see it again”.
I didn’t respond. I haven’t responded. I’ll never respond. Fuck you.
He is now in possession of what belongs to him, as am I: I have my heart and a little dignity. His text sorta kinda apologizing without saying the words sent a message: Hy, run. Run as far away as you can get from him, from this hurt.
This morning I set the grocery bag in my passenger seat and took Peyton to school then went and worked out. When I got back home his car was gone. I climbed to the third floor and set it in front of his door. The cologne I’d bought him lingered in the cold foyer.
I set a little note on top, “Just the last of your things” it read.
On my way back down I felt the prick of tears. I swallowed and sat in the car, drove up the hill and continued to sit outside my building.
After almost exactly 10 months since he ended things and 14 months after I should have, it was now finished.
I walked up to my apartment and sat some more. I sat for hours not moving or thinking. Heavy, worried, I felt disconnected from the process in general, like I was watching from the outside, peeking in through my own windows. Something didn’t feel right.
It was time to get Peyton from school, but before I drove through the gates beside his building I detoured and double-parked in front of his stairs. I ran up, two at a time. The bag was still there, though the air was clear of his cologne.
I grabbed the crisp piece of paper off of “Iowa,” and turned on my heel. Instantly, my face broke into a wide grin. I bounced down the stairs, the sun on my face.
Striding to my car I crumpled it and let it drop to the grass, defiant. A reminder, like bird shit on a window, that even if you forget they’re there they’ll still do their bird thing to survive.
This weekend was hard. Today has been hard. Yesterday was hard. Nice people keep checking in on me and asking how I’m doing and the answer is the same: Eh.
I’m doing eh because my dumb ass finally — and just — realized that I’m still in love with The Neighbor. I thought I wasn’t. Truly. I haven’t won the war.
I thought I’d taken enough time to catch my breath and pull my big girl pants back up from my ankles and march on. I thought I had an open heart for new love. But, I don’t. Not even close.
Spending Saturday with him was so familiar, like old times, that it hit me on two fronts: one from the present and one from the past. The one from the present reminded me of what I’m missing: the sex, a future with him, his company. The one from the past reminds me that even when we were in a relationship I got no more than what I did 4 1/2 months after he dumped me, which made me sad for that old Hy. I felt trapped in a loop.
I’ve spent a lot more time with him in the last week and a half than I have in months. He came bowling with me and Peyton recently, stopped over another night to hang out for some reason, and then we were in more than usual texting contact leading up to his birthday. It’s like I have a TN Hangover: I binged on him and now I’m paying for it.
I’ve deleted all my texting threads with men and Tinder off my phone. I haven’t checked into AFF in a week because I can’t wrap my head around the idea of one more stupid fucking date. Friday burned me and I’m avoiding the kitchen.
Realizing that I’m still in love with a man who secretly-not-so-secretly withdrew from me for months and then disengaged altogether without a fight because he’d decided I wasn’t the one for him is humbling. I feel about as bright as an ant intent on her duty to get to the nest despite the river between her and it.
I’m a conflation and paradox of all those things: I love the hunt, I’m seduced by the chase, yet I do love myself and am content. I don’t need to be alone, I need to get my head on straight. Being alone makes me go crazy, not because I hate myself or can’t stand me, but because the stillness of energy drains me as swiftly as removing the cork from the bottle.
So I am stuck in this breakup purgatory of being unfit for dating, but in need of contact.
Someone suggested I rely on my friends.
If only I could.
My friends are far flung and busy. Gone are the days when we move in packs and come and go with revolving doors. My friends are mothers and wives and workaholic singles. I don’t have enough people in my life to fill the many gaps in my time; it’s why I got a dog. He’s always up for an adventure or a cuddle. Also, my friends can be real shits. It happens. They have priorities and many times it’s not me reaching out to say I need them.
The men left somewhere in the orbit of my life aren’t taking up any space at the moment. I’ve switched the command to something akin to an alert system. If they put out a signal, I see them, respond, and go back to dark.
I need to figure out how to get filled up with what little contact I get in a quiet week because I can’t spare one more ounce of effort to get more. That’s how I’m going to heal: staying quiet and being open to the connections offered me and doing with less.
The other day I learned that my birthday in 1783 marked the end of the Revolutionary War. The Neighbor’s birthday happens to be on the day it began. We are bookends in history and like all stories, ours has an ending of its own. It’s time for me to figure out life after the treaty.