For days now–three, to be precise–I haven’t cried. I’ve felt as though I’m steadily growing taller, standing straighter, stooping over in a motion of sick and woebegone fetal aching less and less.
When the phone rang on Monday night I did not answer. I watched it there on the bed as it sounded and stared at the familiar numbers flashing across the screen. My palms were pricked with sweat, heart raced as I gazed. But I did not answer. Only after it had lain dead for a while, chimed to signify a missed call and new mail, did I listen to his message. My real name–not Peach, not Little Dove, not Bean–in his voice, then his own name, as if I couldn’t tell who it was, as if I hadn’t been holding on to that voice telling me he loved me across months and miles. He said he wanted to see how I was doing. He said he was glad I was reconnecting with my friends. He said he’d been conferring with the older brother I like so well, that I should use my November tickets out West to see graduate schools in California in place of seeing him. He said he’d call back.
And that’s when the shaking commenced.
Somehow I texted back a curt reply about having already canceled the plane tickets. I said his obligation to me was at a close. I said to tell his wonderful mother that he’d done his job by getting in touch. I said he was a “very good boy” to have done so. He called seconds later but I just stared there at the phone, knowing that if we spoke now, it would be only to hear him protest that he’d called because he wanted to, not because his mother or his brother told him he should. And I’d know it was a lie.
If for a second I believed he’d called because he cared, I would have flipped it open. I would have said hello.
How do you love someone who does good only out of fear of the punishment he’ll receive should he not? How do you believe in someone to whom giving something to you will always translate into giving something up? How do you trust someone to whom loving you, by definition, can be nothing but a job, even if it is a job with occasional acknowledged benefits? These are questions to which I do not have the answer, so regardless of what my heart wants, of the intimacy I crave, of the continued confusion and the indignation of being given up on, I cannot–I will not–answer the phone. I can’t put myself at risk to continue loving or wanting something that I shouldn’t want back, that doesn’t want me back, either. His bed is warmed now. His ego is stroked. I was the suspect, prehensile tail that kept him from pulling on his new life, one leg at a time. He’s evolved into something that does not require or include me.
I am obsolete.
The last time I saw him was from a plane rising into the air, away from the Oregon coastline I was certain I’d see in only a few months. To my surprise he’d stayed there at the airport for nearly an hour after we’d parted, waiting for the last glimpse of my plane as I left him to his new life. At the time I’d thought it was a way to hold on just for a few moments more, but now I wonder if he stayed and watched just to confirm that I’d finally actually gone, giving him entirely back to himself. I wonder if he rejoiced after.
I sobbed so hard on the plane that the stewardess brought me more napkins, offered an extra glass of wine. I don’t know why he stayed now, and I don’t know why he cried, too, when we said goodbye. I’m trying to untangle why, the night before, he’d pulled the blankets over both of our heads and pulled me against him, eyes welling with tears. He told me he wished he could keep me there forever, and I believed. I remember the dark sparkling of his eyes in the dim light, of holding onto him and weeping, of telling him that I didn’t want to go. I know that at least I meant everything I said.
If he called again I’d answer, but I don’t know why. He could have kept me by his side forever, but he’ll never get me back.