I've always been the one who leaves.
José Ortega y Gasset once wrote love was a phenomenon of attention. I don't entirely believe that, but if there is any truth to it, then surely it is applicable to more than love. Surely pain, too, is a phenomenon of attention. Surely if I busied myself with everything else, I wouldn't have to feel it full on, right at that moment. I'd feel it later, I knew, when it hit me like the worst hangover of my life. But right then, at that moment, I wouldn't have to feel it -- and that was more than enough.
As a result, I was always the one who left. When you leave, you have too much on your plate to contemplate the loss. You need a new destination, a new place to rest your head. You're full of details to look after and things to do. You are in motion. Time heals, they say, and that is true -- but motion is a powerful pain-reliever. It might not heal a thing, but it relieves.
So I always left. When something ended, I left. Sometimes I didn't just leave the relationship or the apartment, but the city, the state, the country itself. If passports had tag clouds, the biggest word one on mine would be "Break-up."
Until today. Today, you left. It doesn't make a difference that we know this is the best course of action. It doesn't make a difference that there is peace and a remaining closeness between us. It doesn't matter that it's amicable, that I know you will be back to help me rearrange the furniture that's left, to work on projects we have together, to catch up, to have a coffee. The fact is that you've left. When I walked in the door tonight, there was no one home to greet.
Photo by TheArches. (Flickr)
No one to ask how things went, or even give me a sideways glance from behind a glowing screen. No friendly ear, no lover, no comrade, not even a shadow or a scent. And no bar stools, no giant his-and-hers desk, no bed, besides.
No bed. It's strange to look into the room you once shared with someone and find it empty, vacant of any trace that once, it'd been the home of something that defined you.
It's not that I wasn't expecting it. We spoke at length about how we would divide everything. He took the bed and I kept the living room furniture. He took one of the Sonos speakers and I kept the Wii. He took the surround sound and I kept the television and media box. He took the server and I kept the patio furniture. He took the knives and I kept the china.
I knew it was coming when I saw the moving truck pull up as I left to go to dinner. But it's one thing to know and another to experience. Walking into the bedroom and finding it empty except for a dresser and twisted floor candle holder paralyzed me. This is what it looks like on the outside -- a woman shrinking into the hardwood floors of an empty room until she's the size of an egg, a thin shell pushing back hard against bare walls and silence.
But if there is pain, there is also wonder. For the first time in a long time, I am here in this apartment, completely present, completely aware of my humanity, of my aches and joys, of my sadness and pleasures, of my fears and my wants.
I always left. I've never been the one who stays behind. It takes a special kind of courage to do either, I know -- but for me, it took a lot more courage to stay, today, than it would have to go.
"Wake up naked, drinking coffee, making plans to change the world while the world is changing us -- it was good, good, love," I sing softly, falling back against the wall and sliding down to sit in this room we once shared, tears blossoming behind lashes and trailing slowly down the sides of my face. "You used to laugh under the covers -- maybe not so often now -- but the way I used to laugh with you was loud and hard…"
We need that again, you and I. We deserve that again. You do. And I do, too. And we will. We will.
But first, thank you. Thank you for that first cup of coffee you served me in silence as I worked naked by the window in your apartment the morning after the first night. Thank you for just knowing that I love forts built out of pillows far, far more than I do presidential suites. Thank you for the roses you always sent, just because. Thank you for the night you found me crying in the shower and stepped right in with your clothes still on just to hold me. Thank you for tolerating the Luis Buñuel films and for coming along on all the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon marathons. Thank you for showing me how well dubstep goes to the nature documentaries I adore.
Thank you for the little songs you were always making up. Thank you for gaming with me long into the night. Thank you for accepting the bizarre exposure that is the lot of anyone who dares to sleep with a writer. Thank you for never leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Thank you for the snow. Thank you for showing me that I could love photography even without film. Thank you for Japan. Thank you for swing music on the border, where we couldn't tell the fireworks from the gunshots.
Thank you for your truths and your dreams. Thank you for inspiring me to start riding my bicycle again. Thank you for the little treats you always added in while ordering groceries, just so I would smile when they were delivered. Thank you for salvaging that laptop I thought was dead forever and for trying to revive the Flip camera that I took with me into the river when I fell. Thank you for your secret places, the ghost towns and sequoias. Thank you for the nights you read beside me, just holding my hand. Thank you for the trail mix, the laughter, the codices and the words that will only pertain to me and you.
Most of all, thank you for leaving me the blanket for when I curl up on the couch to sleep tonight, my laptop at my side, a pile of books at hands’ reach -- the way you first found me, only so much more. You leave me as more, not less, because of your refusal to let me leave that first time I tried and the second and third, so long ago now, when I was terrified of closeness. You taught me that closeness was possible. You taught the wildfire the beauty of a hearth. And maybe I'm not meant to be a hearth, but now I know what it means to be a safe place even as I rush across Sepulveda Pass thanks to you and the years we made ours.
I wish you everything you gave me and so much more.