“I don’t want you to go,” I sobbed. We sat on his couch, surrounded by his packed boxes. We had only been together for a couple of months. We always knew he would be transferred away. This was expected. But knowing that didn’t make it easier. I cried and he held me and I could feel him sigh. I buried my face into his black sweater and my fingers clung to the soft fabric on his back. I could feel him beginning to cry. He hugged me tighter. He pulled away and holding my hand, he looked at me. His voice caught when he spoke.
“You’re one of the most special people I’ve ever met. You’re kind, generous, loyal, funny. You’re one in a million. No, one in a trillion. I’ve never met anyone like you. I don’t want to leave you.”
At this romantic moment, I pointed at his chest. “I left snot all over you.”
“I don’t give a fuck! Here!” He yanked his sleeve down and wiped all the tears off my face with his sweater. We both stopped crying for a moment and laughed.
Or something like that.
Five years later, almost to the day, we sit across from one another in a different room on the other side of the country. Tension reverberates between us. My packed boxes sit inbetween us. Belongings spill out of them and onto the floor. More empty boxes sit in the basement, still warm from the Uber ride home from work. He sits on the glorified futon with his shoulders at his ears and his hands clasped in front of him. He leans forward, his weight on his thighs. I sit in my desk chair, legs crossed and hands hidden under my knee. My posture could almost be mistaken for coquettish, except my shoulders are almost at my ears. I feel unease and wariness sitting across from him. He talks. I listen and ask tentative questions.
“I’m having a lot of anxiety.”
“This.” A wave of his arm at my boxes.
And so it goes. He talks and I listen and I ask tentative questions. As he talks, I realize he doesn’t sound like him. He doesn’t sound genuine. He’s trying to be open, but his guard is up. It’s not so much that his answers are fragmented, and sometimes don’t really make sense, it’s his voice. His voice sounds stilted. There’s a wall, I realize as I listen. He’s trying to push bricks out of it rather than just kicking it down. Or fuck, opening a door and walking through it. I listen and I ask questions and I feel along the wall for a crack or a hinge.
After awhile, I talk.
“You know I love you, right?”
“I do love you. A lot.” My voice breaks. “But I can’t be with you when you’re drinking. I told my brother about how you acted Saturday night and when I asked him who does that remind you of, he said, without hesitating, “Dad.” I love you so much, but I can’t be with you if you’re drinking. I just can’t.”
I’m crying, and in a second, his wall goes down. He pulls me towards him and grabs me in a hug. I bury my face into his green hoodie. I can feel him crying and my hands slide helplessly around his back. I grip onto the worn fabric. We’re holding one another tighter and tighter. Hope swells up into my chest. Maybe it’s not too late. My mind goes back to that time five years ago and, deep down, I’m afraid that this is the end. These two moments are the bookends of us.
Our relationship was marred with long distance and seperation. There were more good-byes than I can remember even though every one, at the time, always felt unforgettable. I cried every time even though I knew I would see him again, even though I knew it was temporary. With all the practice of saying good-bye and missing him, I thought it just made me stronger. One time I thought, “Years and years from now when we’re married and old and if I outlive him, with his chain smoking is probably likely, at least I know how terrible it’ll feel and I’ll be able to deal with it. ’cause this shit is horrible.”
How very naive of me.
Eventually, we let go and we end up downstairs on the couch. We talk, still tentatively, but it’s open and honest. I’m emotionally drained. I fall asleep leaning against the back of the couch, sitting up. I wake up to him taking my glasses off of my face. I mumble thanks. He places them on the coffee table and I close my eyes again, starting to fade back into sleep. He tiptoes away into the kitchen and then I hear it. The sound of a bottle sliding over the granite countertop. I open my eyes and watch him slide the bottle of whiskey towards himself. He turns and carries it outside, still tiptoeing.
This isn’t the first time or the second time or the third time I’ve sat on the couch and watched him sneak drinks when he thought I was sleeping. I never said anything, I just sat and watched and felt resentment, anger, disappointment and despair well up in me. Not this time. Not the time when it really mattered. Not this time, when just minutes early I told him I couldn’t be with him when he was drinking.
The hope I felt minutes earlier evaporated. I knew then. I simply thought, “Of course. He needs it.”
I didn’t feel anger, resentment, disappointment, despair – I let it go. And I knew that I had to go. That even though he was the one that was telling me to go, I knew I had to go. This was out of my hands. It always had been, but I was finally learning that.
So I got up and went upstairs. To sleep on the glorified futon. He came back in to an empty couch.
All of those good-byes, all of those “don’t gos”, I now know that was my heartbreaking. I now know that all those times didn’t lessen the pain. There is no practice for grief. I felt it the night he told me to leave, I felt it when I told him I couldn’t be with him if he was drinking, I felt it when I watched him tiptoe away with the bottle, and I’ve felt it so many times since then. I feel it when I remember something bad, good or funny that happened between us. I felt it the other night. When I literally pressed my hand against my heart and said out loud to no one, “My heart keeps fucking breaking! When is this shit going to stop!”
My breaking heart is all that’s left of us that was bad, good and funny.