Sometimes you’re fine, and it’s been a while. Life is better, you’ve accepted changes and maybe even begin to like the way things look. Memories are fading, or you’re used to sidestepping their traps. And there’s sunshine and the floors are clean and your bed is made and your laundry is put away.
But then you find yourself explaining what happened to someone in the outer circles of your life, and their questions relive events you both observed, and you’re explaining the layers that were below the surface then.
And suddenly, you’re dizzy with the physical ache for the good of what was, because, even if it got steadily worse before it let up with a curt exchange over a bike and a piece of paper passed off second hand, there had been good there you could sometimes touch, caress, hunger for and find satisfying.
You read books like Runaway Husbands and say to yourself, oh, oh, that was me, as you read it (slowly, because it’s like cleaning a wound with slow strokes to remove the grit), and you blink in the sunshine after work and wonder what now, when it’s time to go home and you have no habits to lead you anywhere in particular in that moment. But you put yourself on the metro anyway, and read voices unfamiliar to drown the hollow out of your head until you reach the last stop and confront the empty purposes of tonight by crying onto your steering wheel and swearing loudly.
And you scrub things clean, trying to fill your experiences up with clean air and laughter to scare off the staleness of the memories from the last time you did that or went there…with him. That time. Afterward, you thank your friends for coming out with you, when what you really mean is thank you for rewriting that memory space with me and being flippant when I can’t help the remarks about what happened with him, here, then. Thank you for holding my hand through the stretch.
Sometimes you drink beer, just to spite him, for a reason that would make no sense to anyone, and maybe not even to him. In the same way, you look good on Sundays and wear heels (only ever that day), because you can and he won’t chide you for ruining your feet. And because you look good, and you know it. But sometimes, you can’t say the creed or the Lord’s Prayer without your voice catching, because your fingers have empty spaces between them and your voice sounds tiny in your corner of the pew.
When you can’t rest, but the weariness is gulping your day up like a thirsty man come back from a run on a summer evening, you put on red lipstick and a headband and walk to the sunset, sitting to convene with the Muse if she pleases, hammering like John Henry at your to-do list in your head if she doesn’t.
You reshape words, dusting off clinging associations when they clunk out of storage in the back room of your head, and you push away the microscope he left and put them back into the foundation of things where they belong and began, and they fit (maybe better this time) and the timbers in the roof sigh with pleasure and stop leaning so far backward.
And some days, it strangles you in your sleep, and you wake with a burning letter under your collarbone (which has grown strangely tight), and you are a half-person, functioning and moving and doing as usual, with nothing in your head to barter with it or distract it. So you do what you do, more slowly than usual, careful like a drunk is with the fussy detail work of buttons and spoons on the morning after a night out, and you stop and breathe sometimes, like a woman with Braxton Hicks, and keep going. Your emergency coffee must be taken much earlier than 3pm, and you inhale above your cup with tenderness toward something that doesn’t change its quality of goodness under grey skies. Words like “tired” and “plucky” and “strong” and “fuck” tumble around in your head, repelling and clicking with each other like magnetic marbles in a jar.
And when the work day is all over, you turn to sleep to hold you and wipe away the day’s dust, but she has been philandering and so you numbly scroll through OkCupid and sip something cold and burning, and are bored out of your mind with the options there, so you get angry about Republicans on Twitter and act smart until your best friend makes a masturbation joke and the hollowness cracks wide open and you’re free from it and finally able to sleep, but before you do, you realize you have never smoked a cigarette and you might want to learn how. Just because. And then you sleep.