At first, I fought “us.” You met me, and you liked me. I liked you, too. It worked well. I honestly didn’t understand why there needed to be an “us.” Why force it? Identity is important. At the end of the day, we have to guard our individuality, because one day the other might be gone. And we’ll still wake up the next morning with somewhere to be, something to do. We’ll also need someone to be. I’d dealt with a lot of loss lately. Loss of job, loss of friends, loss of self. My identity was important to me. I was happy to share it, but I had to keep it.
It wasn’t long before I saw “us” beginning to form. It wasn’t the implied dates or the Facebook relationship status. Not even the trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond. Those are just domestication. You can’t read too much into it.
No, it was the nicknames. It was the inside jokes about which bathroom to use for what. It was the little bits of detail that flesh out a true, no sh-t relationship. It was seeing into your past, and seeing your own parents. Seeing the world they’d built for themselves, the world they’d brought you into. Seeing that we had those winks, those nods, those silly “isms.”
I resisted “us.” “Us” was terrifying. “Us” isn’t casual, but it’s also not “serious.” It’s not something found in the dating textbook. It’s not something you can relate to your drinking buddy. “Us” is its own life you bring into the world. And we were bringing ours to term.
You moved into my apartment. My one bedroom. I got it when my best friends, my two roommates, found their “us.” All the furniture was mine. You left all of yours.
I struggled to maintain my friendships. The numbers dwindled. We spent so much time together, and I needed outside contact. I had drinks with an ex. I told you beforehand. I invited a mutual friend to chaperone. It wasn’t enough. You were hurt, tortured by it. I felt guilty, almost traitorous. I cut them off.
We couldn’t have dogs, but you wanted them so badly. Around Christmas, we went to Ikea, and two stuffed dogs came home with us. We named them Dog and Puppy. At first they were silly decorations in an attempt to make my barren apartment more “ours.” We became attached. They were family.
You didn’t like my apartment. It was noisy, it was cramped, it was perfect for me. And only me. On Craigslist, you found us a new apartment. I didn’t like it. I wasn’t ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to move out of my apartment, because “I” wouldn’t be moving into the new one. We would. “Us” would.
Moving day came. I tensed and panicked. I threw fits. I hated you. You were so confused. You did all the right things. You ignored me and plowed ahead. You made the move seamless, effortless, perfect. I resented you for it. We talked less. You became unhappy. I continued to insist I wasn’t ready. You scoffed and pouted. I was trying to stop the birth of “us,” but in your mind, it had already come. And I was suffocating it. Holding it below the surface. It gasped for air. One night, you snapped. I snapped back. We talked even less. Suspicion and paranoia crept in. The fights got more frequent. I was stubborn, angry. You became increasingly resentful and desperate. You made it my fault, my problem to solve. I backed into the corner. I justified myself and said I couldn’t continue.
You made a half-hearted effort to find a new apartment. You gave me time to cool off. I stewed, unsure and angry at myself. Was I preventing this or ending it? I saw a glimpse of my life without you. I panicked. I needed time to make sure I wasn’t just lonely. You showed up, unannounced, at my office. You cried and sobbed, you screamed at me. You were so angry and so upset. You told me I was destroying our life. I was throwing away what we’d built. That I didn’t care about “us.” You asked what would happen to Dog and Puppy.
You left and I cried. I cried over you. I cried over Dog and Puppy. I hated myself for letting “us” happen. I made peace with it. I softened, and I broke. I tread lightly around the house. I stopped asking if you’d found a new place. You stopped looking. We cuddled in bed for the first time in months. I worked hard on your birthday.
We had dinner. It was impromptu, and I was happy. We could do this. I had turned the corner. It wasn’t me and you. It was us. We ate and we drank. The subject was broached. We continued to drink. We got tipsy. You got angry. You snapped. I was confused. You got angrier. You said I’d leave you. You said I’d find someone new. That I’d never cared.
I left without you, hurt and afraid. You came home. You packed a suitcase. I watched. You left. I stood in the dark living room. The next day, you emailed. My eyes glazed over. Your cold words. You’d found a new apartment. I got your things out for you. I left. When I came back, they were gone. You were gone. Your keys were on the table.
I went upstairs to our bedroom. I saw them. Dog and Puppy, on the floor next to our bed. Our family. Our “us.” I tried to cry, but I couldn’t. I thought back to me, to who I was without you, to who I chose over us.
I opened the closet. I put Dog and Puppy on a shelf. I shut the door.