When she left, our friend wrote “bye” on our fridge in those alphabet magnets. I only had five of them and we’d spelled every possible word already, but we’d never arranged them in “bye.” It made me cry when I got home from work, slammed my tender girl body against the door to open it and saw that farewell on the freezer door. No cats at the door, no black tangled nest of hair on the couch to greet me.
I stayed up that whole night cleaning. Put on some old socks I stole from my ex-boyfriend, pulled my hair up, bit down all my nails. Filled the red bucket over and over with Lysol and scrubbed every corner, crawled along the floorboards wiping away all of our two years. Rolling the Shop-Vac into the crevices of the couch. Replacing shower curtains. Carting bag after bag of trash down, emptying entire shelves and cupboards.
And then I was alone. But I liked it.
My summer roommate moved in so fast, two weeks after I baptized my empty apartment in bleach and fumes. It surprised me that one person could bring so little to live someplace for an entire summer. We didn’t know each other very well, we were just friends of friends who got along at parties, who liked to gnaw each other’s ears off, beers in hand. We thought that might hold us through a couple months. He was writing a book and he was going to spend the entire summer working on it. Maybe we’d play music and sing and dance in our kitchen, if we found the time. I was going to spend the entire summer working on my tan.
Everyone thought we were going to fall in love; they were making bets about it. It’s kind of funny that we didn’t.
I was too sad to fall in love. My tough summers, always marred by heartbreak. “I can count on it; every summer, you’ll get your heart broken,” said my friend.
We didn’t fall in love, but he ended up in my bed one night. He’d been sleeping on a futon that whole summer and he was so quiet I never knew if he was home, the door was always shut. I was boozy, woozy behind my eyes, when I leaned over and kissed him. He kissed me back in the way certain boys do, the way you can tell that they’re good, that their hearts are in the right place. It was like the night that summer I showed up to a party all tanned and tousled, legs jutting out of a lace miniskirt and the boys, those familiar boys, looked at me like I was precious, like I was something new.
He ended up in my bed, in my pink sheets, the way lots of boys have. And he kissed me and I kissed him back and it reminded me of the boy who murmured, “We’re just two corn-fed kids” before he pressed his mouth to mine one winter night. It reminded me of kissing my best friend, the best boy I ever knew, the sweetest, most golden-hearted boy. It was everything I should’ve wanted and wondered about, and I was looking out the window. I could tell when those boys kissed me that they had only the purest of intentions, that they weren’t going to drive matchbox cars all over my heart or tattoo cruel words in bruisy roses all over my ankles and thighs.
But most of the time, he wasn’t around. He’d wake hours before me and leave so silently. He’d spend hours at the coffeeshop down the street and come home smelling of espresso and sun. And I was alone, when I wasn’t at work. I was alone, trying to pretend I wasn’t devastated in a million little ways. I would hold the phone at arm’s length, talking myself out of searching for things that hurt me: seeing my great, murderous old love smile, really smile, with that girl who’d taken my place. He never smiled like that for me.
That was the summer of the storm. I watched it from my brother’s car, we drove right into it. Massive old trees, once so proud, bowed to the power of this storm. Any harder on the accelerator and we’d have been the ones in the car that elm chose to topple. The wind whistled, rain blew sideways. My brother and I got out of the car, just left it in the middle of the street, and watched the weather throw tantrums from an apartment stoop.
My summer roommate wasn’t home that night, that night we didn’t have power. He went to a party or something, sat at a bar where nobody’s cards got swiped because nobody had a generator. I watched Sex and the City on my laptop til the battery died and carried an orange tea light around once it got dark, dark, dark. My mom was worried, but I loved it. No one could get to me.
In the morning after the storm, the neighborhood emerged all sleepy-eyed and we surveyed the damage. Roots of hundreds of years were splayed out, ripping out sidewalk. It was almost pornographic, that raw destruction. It took the city a few weeks to clean out all the trees. There are reminders of it all over, still.
I filled up the last month of that summer with boys. A sweet one who held the car door and kissed me gently, constantly, while Neil Young played on the radio. I got dressed up and shellacked my limbs with shimmer and floral body oil for another, playing the role of trophy in a silky green dress. Another one filled me up with tequila and slipped his tongue into my mouth in an alley outside the bar, and his kisses didn’t feel pure at all. My quiet boy roommate tripped over their shoes in our kitchen, took note of their bikes chained to the posts of the deck. He wrote about them, he observed my heartbreak from the next room. I read it months later, long after we’d left that apartment behind.
He left as swiftly as he’d come, packed up his one cast iron skillet, his few plates, the neon bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I showed the apartment to two eager young girls, who signed the lease from my mumbly landlord. I sold them the couch, the chair, my bed, stashed their checks in my purse. And I stayed up all night, cleaning.
On my last night, I laid on the kitchen floor and it was quiet, so quiet. I was alone. I had been alone for two weeks, just like the beginning of the summer. And I was going somewhere where a cat and a friend would fill up my vast expanses of heart and time, and that would be better. But mostly I just felt tired.