Portrait Of A Breakup In Brooklyn

Israel Sundseth
Israel Sundseth

Romantic endings are best defined by the memories behind my eyelids while the time on the iPhone strikes 2 am, when adulthood comes sauntering through the door. We sat outside a man-made fountain, yards away from a glass cube atop an underground tech wonderland, and watched the cabs and the pedestrians make their way up and down Fifth Avenue. You introduced me to Ethiopian food at a spot in Park Slope. We exited the bookstore, picked up on the sounds of Fort Greene as other couples murmured to one another, conducting their “vaudeville acts,” to quote Zadie Smith. Young couples, mainly. The beautiful ones. The couples who seemed to master that which alluded us, from the very beginning.

I know there’s no such thing as forever, and there will always be endings. Miniature deaths. Practice rounds for the final ending, but let us not be morbid now…now…because life is to know love, and to know its slow peel away from my bones.

I’ve felt distracted these past two years, as if I made a wrong turn or took the off-ramp from a road I never before travelled, only to end up in another relationship. Serial monogamist. The term has the air of a malady to it, a sickness. Avoiding loneliness and the reckoning of regrets waiting to tear me apart. And yet, I still felt distracted. Somewhere else. Trapped inside my own head. I’m not writing. I’m not doing the work. I’m too busy dealing with love.

Love. What a waste of time, he says while secretly wondering if he has fallen in love again, but that’s for another story.

I should feel something right now. It is, after all, my last night in this apartment. Has this been my home for the past two years? There are memories here, ghosts under the bed, fights trapped inside the walls. For weeks, I craved a permanent flight from New York City, but it appears all I wanted to do was exit this relationship, and this apartment which housed it—us—since I relocated here in 2012.

I knew this is what I wanted. I knew it since May. I knew it since she left for Washington DC that Memorial Day weekend. I knew it since we visited my family a week later. I knew it while we made love in the guest room of my father’s new home, when I deliberately turned my iPhone over—screen face down—and I vacillated between coming inside her, or not, because we were getting older together and maybe a baby could fix all the things, but I elected to forego accidental fatherhood. I knew it since the days and weeks after, when I worried I didn’t pull out in time and maybe she might be pregnant after all. Now what? Now what would I do?

I knew it since her period came and I exhaled.

I knew she would make an excellent mother. I knew I could stumble my way into being a half-decent father. But I knew it. I knew since I thought about marriage, about the time I was married, and that other time I was married, and about how I might—perhaps—want to be married one last time, no matter if it ends in divorce or death, and all those nights I thought about her, and how I couldn’t see her as my wife.

Now what? Now what do I do?

It occurs to me now that I’ll miss this place. This apartment. This section of Brooklyn. I’ll miss the familiarity of the neighborhood: the music coming from the living room of those tenants across the street, a collection of carefree black girls across age groups who dance and laugh; the trans woman who bravely goes about her day, as herself, among those who will never understand her choice, or why she made it, and why she makes the same choice every day; the Hasidic Jewish families who live amicably, if not with civility, side by side with outsiders with their own cultures and histories, their own sense of community, and the unique way in which that community announces itself to the neighborhood, to the borough.

I will miss these people as one who misses strangers with whom one has small talk on the train every day, their lack of presence causing but a mere ripple in the totality of a life, but the ripple is perceived, and felt, all the same.

I should be missing her the most, but perhaps I’ve had enough lead time to prep for the separation. We both knew it was coming; who initiated it, and why, was and remains irrelevant, because endings, even when seen approaching from a distance, hurt all the same. They resonate, they ripple, they reverberate out into the years ahead, long after the ending arrived, and made itself known, and caused the usual, predictable damage.

Damage. What damage? I feel fine. I’m okay. This is what I wanted. The relationship needed to end, and here we are…at this hour, with her somewhere in New Mexico, and I’m here in her apartment—our apartment for a moment in time.

Damage. What damage? My heart is not broken. I am not alone. I am not facing the future without the hope, the prospect, of yet another partnership, perhaps the final partnership, the one I’ve required this entire time.

Damage. Yes, there is damage. I’ve had to watch her sob and feel powerless to console her—the villain can’t be the hero at the same time.

I wish it didn’t have to end like this. Like—what?

Like—with palpable silence, the kind which makes one wonder if she’s invisible, if she even exists in his eyes, while he seems completely detached from that which he cares for so deeply—according to him.

Like—with desperation, with pleas to stay, even if the words were never said; beggary shows itself on the skin, wafting from the pores, much like alcoholism.

Like—I’ve paid closer attention to the older black men on the train, on the platform pissing, crossing the street desperate for something, sitting in cafes, all without wedding bands, some without kids, and I am scared to death of growing old and alone in New York.

Endings make room for beginnings. I see the tiny cycles occurring from day to day. How the end of a relationship is a rupture, a split, and maybe something new will grow forth from the fracture—or not—but I tend to the wound anyway. The wound is mine. It is a new geographical point on my body. A new city on my skin.

The end is never silent. It is near silent, almost pitch black. I think of the train tunnel leading into Penn Station, the way it’s completely dark, but not quite as a few lights whiz by. The steel wheels thump and hum underneath the train, and strangers whisper behind you, or rustle newspapers, or stand as their backs crack and knees creak. The end reminds me of a body slowly aging, and randomly hurting; it is the cognitive dissonance of knowing this is the end, even as the train pulls into the station, and, with an exhale, you see life is ahead of you, still. TC mark

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