I started to pack.
It wouldn’t be so bad, I told myself. It wouldn’t take too long, fill too many boxes. It would be easy to erase myself from the walls and the rooms of this house, to disappear on a Wednesday night and never come back.
It would be good for me, this new start. I had done it many, many times: swept the products off their shelves, packed my things, tossed them in bags in the trunk and delivered them to their new home. Surprise! We moved.
It would be good for me to feel distracted. To focus on something besides what was happening around me, to have new floors to wash, neighborhoods to navigate, a new routine. I always liked to pack and unpack, playing house, and I was good at it. I could pack up whole houses in the time it took you to unpack a single room. Packing and unpacking suited my nervous energy, the constant need to have my hands full, a trait I inherited from my father. Go, go, go.
I would have my own space now, and once I had erased myself from this house with Clorox and a dustpan, I could create myself anew a few miles away. Burn sage at the door to keep them out, keep them from haunting my days and my dreams. Maybe burning sage is a superstition, but I’d do it just the same. I would have rooms to fill exactly as I liked: white and pale pink and gold, and piles of books stacked wherever there was space. It would be a safe place for me, a fortress I could build on my own. I would step out of this skin like a snake, shed this phase and begin anew. I was good at that, too.
But I still hurt, badly. This project was only a distraction, a detour from what was bubbling underneath.
I wanted his head on a silver platter. That was what I really wanted. The whites of my eyes constantly felt itchy and ragey red. I wanted the power of Salome. She had to have felt awfully bitter to wish for a man’s head to be severed solely to suit her whims, but I understood. Salome got what she wanted by virtue of her pretty face and swaying hips and I get what I want that way too, usually – except when I don’t, when someone stands impervious to my charm and the ambition in my eyes. I don’t like when that happens.
John and I were laying in the grass on the last sunny Saturday of the summer. We were both idly flipping through magazines, looking at books and half-absorbing their contents. We were comfortable enough with one another that we didn’t need to fill the empty silences with a flow of words, but we were talking about someone in a rich person’s magazine. “It’s like I always think, ‘Am I ever really going to be happy?’” John said. I was looking straight up at the sky, cloudless and blue, trees stretching their green limbs to touch it before the cold came. I didn’t answer his question because I didn’t know what to say
Am I ever really going to be happy? I ran his words through my head over and over as I packed boxes and prowled thrift stores in search of perfect white plates. I had been happy, and I had infinite space to be happy; I never thought that before, but I knew it now. I had tremendous capacity for joy, but it was hard to find.
I had been happy for awhile, and then it ended.
After a few glasses of wine, my fuzzy, sentimental brain would think I could just shake it off, write this off as a mistake, a stupid fight and we could fix it, but that’s not how things work. If everyone went around the world just a little bit buzzed and hopeful like that, maybe we could be really happy in the end.
But I thought about it and wrote my mental lists, checking off my pros and cons with every bead and groove of my steering wheel. I do my best thinking behind the wheel. And I realized that what I liked about you anyway was the sad, sappy hangdog look you’d get when you looked at me, and how I could feel your eyes follow me and caress me every single minute. This was what I had held onto for so long, because above all else I am vain as anything.
That’s not enough. I needed to pack my boxes and reset my rooms and let it all go with the newness of the season, start my little sage fire and breathe in its cleansing air. Maybe one day I would pass you on the street, my skin smelling of grass and warmth and all good things, skin that was always warm to the touch, sunshine dripping down my back, and you would take a minute to stop – stop right there as I walked away. And you would think, “That, that is what I had. That is the fire I had held in my hands.”