It is a month now. Since I took the GRE. Since I came home to crow my delight to a receiver 2,839 miles away. Since I was coolly received. Since I was asked whether I remembered a conversation in which I’d stated “If ever you cheat on me, it will be over.” It has been a month since I replied a sinking, tentative “I remember,” and a month since he hung up, signing off with only a choked, “say hi to your mom.”
At first hurt the large, systemic questions hulk in the foreground, bustling and crowding one another like a pair of chubby thighs. They scramblestep fast, struggling against, jarring past one another, working up an untidy, embarrassing friction that creates a “shush, shush, shush” as background music for each step. Did he ever love me? was he lying all along? for how many days, weeks, months was nothing as true as I thought?
Did I coo “I love you” to an unfeeling, remorseless person who had lost his mind, or to a boy who had simply lost interest?
But, then, thirty days of chipping away at the big questions yields no satisfaction. Now in their place are unanswerable, fragmentary queries that used to comprise the big, unanswerable wholes. Now I wonder the silliest, smallest things. I cry over the tiny injustices, over the things I have yet to send back in an unceremonious cardboard box.
How does he think of me? Have I gone from Peachtown, from tiny dove, to simply “my ex girlfriend,” or does he dare name me when he speaks to her, to others, to himself?
Does he speak of me to her, to others, to himself? Am I still there, dirtying up his head? Or has he zenned me away with willful, mindful mindlessness? Am I as invisible, impossible, as the future he could not see for us? Am I as unwelcome and feared and unloved as that thing I represented?
Does he sing to her, ridiculous, made up, ebullient songs?
I am, even with a month intervening, unable to call him “my ex,” partly because I feel no right to the possessive, partly because he is, and always was, simply Greg. I have not been able to stop wondering why, or wishing I could wake up tomorrow and it wouldn’t be true. And I think about how it started, and the sweetness in between, and I think about seeing the green and gray stripes of his shirt from a high-up airplane window and wish–God, how I wish–I’d known that was the last time we’d suffer a goodbye. I would have looked him–really looked him–in the eye. I would have kissed him goodbye once more, hoping it would somehow matter. And I wouldn’t have taken his sweatshirt. It would have been one less thing to pack in the cardboard box.
Walking home in the cold, shoulders hunched against the wind, I wondered: does he look at the wool hat I brought him from Morocco and does he feel sad? Did he cut off the long, funny tassle, or did he throw it–the entire hat–in the trash? I hope he at least found a nice bum somewhere, a nice bum that needs a nice wool hat.
Does he ever think of me at all, and did he cry? Does he still miss me?
Why do I still miss him?
Nacho the otter has been exiled from my bed. He lies on his back on a notebook on the floor, stuffing leaking out of a seam I never got around to sewing shut. The last time Greg called me before The News was in the middle of the week. It was to tell me that he’d just seen a dog get hit by a car, by the car that drove behind him, then drove away. He’d pulled over and gotten out to hold the animal as it bled, squealed, cried. The owners rushed from their house and took the dog away to the vet. I don’t know if it died.
“Why did you call me to tell me?” I’d asked.
“I just though I should tell somebody,” he said. He had to go. He just wanted to say it. He hung up. Compassion or curiosity?
And now I have dreams of him mowing down animals with his car–flocks of chickens and one snow white rabbit–and I am holding open a gate that he’s meant to drive through. We have been escaping, through tall grass, to somewhere, from something. We are both tense. I yell to him to stop–he’s going to kill these animals. He doesn’t see them. He doesn’t stop in time. He is focused on driving.
I wonder why he called. I wonder if it was in that moment I asked that I became just somebody to tell something to. Or maybe it had happened long before. Maybe I’d just been a voice, a vessel, for longer than I care to consider.
I wonder who he calls now when he sees animals dying in the street.