Friday, 2 January 2015

Sorry I Had To

She slept in the middle of the living room, on the couch where they never made love, for a week’s worth of nights after he left. The couch wasn’t comfortable, but she had found comfort there instead of the hostile bed. Her bed was the place he chose to talk about another woman, his failed love, his bleeding heart, as though she was expected to be his bedside psychiatrist. How do you tell your lover it is normal to grieve, and keep grieving, for old loves? The ashes of old flames still dangerously warm. Wasn’t it common knowledge that first kisses and body memories made us human? For him, it was a revelation, a floodgate, a topic of interest. For her, it was boring. To make a point, she would fling herself out of the sheets, already soaked with another woman’s dried sweat and broken promises, and crank up Alanis Morrisette’s You Oughta Know in the living room. She would wrap herself in the angry noise. He would wait patiently in her bed, tea balanced in hand, for her return. The point was always lost. He puzzled at her dagger eyes and pent-up tears -- What is the matter? I’m only talking. I’m only telling you that I will always love someone else. Why can’t I talk? -- He was a shard of glass, a hard-edged stone, and sometimes she wanted to cut him deep. Sometimes she managed to. He was gone now. He took his books, most of his clothes, and homesickness for where he was going – home. He left his hiking boots, folk music, and a few second favourite shirts. Still, he didn’t take the other woman with him. She wouldn’t fit in his suitcase. Instead, her name moved from the bed and hung from the stucco ceiling like tiny, sharp suckles. She already knew her name well. Her green-tinged skin would glow at night, watching him dream in another language, and waiting for her name to tumble out in his sleep. One night, it did. She stuffed her pillow into her mouth, soaked the pillow case with saliva and salt, and finally crept from the bed. The computer glowed in the dark living room. The google page emerged and she typed in each letter with trepidation. A first name, country and occupation, and there she was with her half smirk – conniving and treacherous. Saying her name made her grind her teeth on the hard sounds, and bite the inside of her cheek. It was ludicrous, really; a farce. This other woman didn't want him - it was only the two of them who foolishly brought her into their bed. She didn't want to be there. She was halfway around the world, oblivious. He was holding onto a half-love, but still happy to be in another woman's bed. He was on vacation here, living in a parallel universe, where no one really knew him. And yet, this other woman who didn't ask to be talked about and didn't ask for her picture to be found on the information highway in the middle of the night was a threat to her. She was a two-dimensional obstacle, but she had a 3-dimensional room waiting for him when he flew home. Yes, he was using her, as well. He told her he wanted to cut costs on his accommodation while completing his Masters. He didn't want to throw his boodles of money out the window on rent. His ex-girlfriend, nay, fiancée, was a means, not an end. Nothing was happening, he said. There is nothing to worry about. I haven't done anything wrong, he argued, showing his exhaustion for the topic, while she stood in the corner of the room with her arms folded and forehead creased. She remembered how he had leaned away from her, lowering his tones while talking and giggling into the phone, on her couch, talking to his lost love across the ocean. She emptied the dishwasher, slamming the cups back into their cupboards. He didn't look over, perhaps embarrassed as though she were the one intruding. He thought she wouldn't know because he spoke in a foreign tongue. For all his intellect, he couldn't conceal that the signs of infatuation are universal. Her thoughts were screeching in her head. Was she being unreasonable? Didn't couples stay friends after breaking up? If only he'd kept his mouth shut about his unresolved feelings. The threat was in him. She went for a run around the block at midnight. She didn't care about the bums in the park. They couldn't catch her. There were enough cars circling, and lights on inside the apartment building windows. People were still awake. She huffed rhythmically in the dark, January air, her ankles pounding into the soles of her feet. She knew deep down she would never leave here. He didn't like Canada. He complained daily about the customer service in stores, the way he was treated in the emergency room, the banks and restaurants. He didn't like the cost of anything, the way the radio broadcaster announced the weather prediction. When the two of them began fighting about the weather forecast, she knew. This wasn't going to work. Emotion couldn't be conveyed in a messenger chat room, and she couldn't be woken up anymore at 3am on a work night because he was bored and miscalculated the time difference. Once she called him, as an experiment, knowing it was the wee hours and dark on his side of the world. He answered, sounding incoherent and annoyed. In a groggy voice, he protested to her, "-- but I was sleeping". She knew then, too. He would also tell her "this isn't a real relationship if we're not in the same place." He was cold, emphasizing his physical distance from her. She was no more than an idea to him, a happy thought he carried in his back pocket, as he strolled around his home and familiar surroundings. She started to play a movie reel in her mind, hitting rewind, and then watched how she gazed after the couples who strolled by holding hands downtown. How she would wait for her 9am Saturday date with him on the computer, keep his voicemail on her phone for weeks, and send rambling and distraught emails that he wouldn't respond to. In her mind, she left him. All it took was not thinking about him because he wasn't there. The idea was a jolt, a breaking of chains around her, and an unloading of bricks off her small and sagging shoulders. She stopped writing. She stopped calling. He phoned one night as she was watching a late movie before bed. He was in tears - he couldn't understand her. Why hadn't she been sending him emails? Why would she end it? What was the matter? Funny, she thought, how he lived in his head, too. Funny, how he would begin to cry only when she stopped. She felt as though after a long sleep she had stepped back into her own body. She felt her happiness tingle back into her arms and legs. He had been giving her mixed messages, just enough to hang on to some small spark. He could have his theories, his nationalism, and his invisible women. She told him, calmly, the truth - that he was right: this wasn't real love, this wasn't a relationship, and this wasn't going to work.