I’m running a hair late to work, but I’m otherwise organized. I look good, feel good, got my baby with me this week. I’m working out, not wasting time on silly men – just spending time exploring my needs and wants in relation to men. I’m feeling good.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that after two years and nine months The Neighbor finally moved away and left my orbit. I feel weightless, joyous, filled with hope.
I can hardly believe it.
So, in honor of all of this, I’m throwing it back old school and posting a random pic like I used to (before IG).
Almost six years ago he came into my life and today, finally, he is gone.
I had an inkling that he had moved out a little earlier than the beginning of October like he’d told me this summer, but I wasn’t sure, so I took a little detour on my morning walk with the dog and found myself outside the back of his building beneath his balcony.
Gone were his bike and black and white patio furniture. Could he really have moved out??
I don’t know what compelled me to walk up three flights of stairs, but I did.
The dog panted beside me and my breasts swung loose beneath my pajama top. My hair was in disarray, no makeup, glasses on. This was me at my absolute rawest climbing to confront the source of so much pain.
I don’t know what compelled me to turn the handle on his door, but I did.
Perhaps it was the many little carpet threads strewn about the hallway foyer, proof of new carpet installed somewhere on the floor. Perhaps I just needed to see for myself.
And when the handled turned with no resistance and the door swung open I walked right in. The door shut with a thud and my heart matched.
My chest felt tight, my breath shallow. He was gone.
New carpet was indeed being installed, evidence that it had been several days since his departure. My breath continued to evade me as tears welled in my eyes. I looked for remnants of him, any hint that he had been there. I opened kitchen drawers, the refrigerator. I remembered where we’d hung every picture and where I’d placed every piece of furniture and plate.
The refrigerator door was still on backwards and I laughed to think that he was just that lazy he couldn’t be bothered to call maintenance to switch the hinges.
As I walked into his bedroom I could almost smell the flavor of incense he preferred, sweet and foreign, see his cherry wood sleigh bed. But it was just an empty room with bare walls and a new carpet smell.
In the bathroom the tears came. This is where I took some of my favorite photos of him. The one of him in the bathtub and the one that would later become his profile picture for many sex sites across the internet the summer after we broke up, the one of him standing behind his clear shower curtain, the striations on his naked body like horizontal pinstripes on candy.
I had bought little wooden letters for him – a T and an N – as a token of my love and of our little secret. They had been on his counter. I’m sure they had long since been thrown away, but I remembered them nonetheless.
There was nothing left behind, not even a scrap in a single drawer or shelf. He wasn’t heree and so I left.
At the top of the stairs that once was the place of frolic and love I looked out and down below and remembered the last time I had been on those steps and felt another wave of emotion.
I had returned to retrieve the note on the bag of his things I’d put on his doorstep and left feeling triumphant. Oh, how silly I was then. But it didn’t feel right to leave just yet so I walked back in and stood in his kitchen at the island, a kitchen design nearly identical to my own, and looked out the windows still as a mouse, heavy as a mountain.
The dog laid down and waited as I put my head down on the island and cried.
I cried because I could and I cried because it was finally over. I no longer had to brace myself when I saw him come and go or worry about running into him at the mailbox. I cried because I hadn’t realized how much this would mean to me, this ending, this finality.
The last time I was there was the Wednesday morning he’d pulled me into his warm, sleepy arms, looked me straight in the eyes and told me he “Didn’t want to do it,” anymore. “It” being us.
The last time I was in that room I had cried a river and raged and begged and fought and knelt down before him and admitted defeat.
The last time I was in that space he had ripped my heart out and shredded it with his bare hands and ever thoughtful words.
My heart was destroyed in that apartment on the third floor and I was transformed. How could I possibly not come back and honor what had happened to me here?
I breathed in the air that was once his space, deeply and with much personal drama and quietly left. Now this is the last time I will have ever been here. With my dog, in my pajamas, fit only for my own company. Real. Healing. Possibly better than before.
I don’t remember walking down the stairs, just that I thought, “Hey, he doesn’t have a mailbox there anymore,” as I walked toward the little house that represented each residence. And then the other older black, fancy car just like his caught my eye and I thought. “Well, fuck.”
I suppose soon enough I will stop noticing that kind of car altogether.
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.