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Words by J.E. Cothren
Bookmark by Andi Chrisman
Photo by Shannon Chrisman
The hardest part is learning to be alone. That’s what Erin had told her before slipping off to the bathroom to covertly call her husband. Joy waited at the table studying the checked pattern of its cloth. Her lungs weren’t working and her brain was filling with blood. What if her heart suddenly stopped beating? She felt like that might happen. Loneliness felt like dying, and he had only just left. If this was the numb shock of recent disaster how much worse would it feel when it really started to sink in?
Erin had been telling her about God’s plan, and how this would all work-out for the best, meaning Joy and Adam would work-out, that they would get back together. But how do you get back together with someone who doesn’t love you anymore, who perhaps hasn’t loved you in a very long time?
How long had it been? Joy wondered, moving up from the table cloth to study her wine glass. Erin had sucked her teeth when Joy had ordered that wine at two in the afternoon on the day that her husband had left her. As she studied the curvature of the glass her mind continued to fester in its rotten contemplations. She had been married to Adam for seven years, and which of those anniversaries was the first he knew that the woman he married was no longer the woman he loved.
She knew so many more things than Adam, she was so much better than him at trivia and had always won every such competition with a gloating pride that Erin would say was obviously not the right sort of attitude for a woman to have towards her husband, definitely not Proverbs 31.
But even in spite of Joy’s knowledge of Russian literature and the English Parliament, Adam had known before her that they were getting a divorce. How long before? Well, only Adam knew that. When he had told her, his voice full of pity and guilt, that she wasn’t the one he loved any longer, perhaps that was his way of getting all the power back that she had taken from him over the years. Or perhaps that was his way of telling her, that everything about her was impossible to love-
No, mustn’t get too maudlin. God had plans. Adam had plans. Erin had plans. And Joy had a glass of red wine at 2:15 p.m.
Did she want him back? She could answer that easily. No, she didn’t want him back she wanted him never to have left. She wanted to believe, as she had at 10:33 that morning, that she was still loved by the man she loved. It had never occurred to her before 10:34 that the love she had counted on was a figment of her imagination.
And yet Erin, her friend and small group leader (co-leader actually, alongside her husband Cooper), insisted that marriage was worth fighting for. Joy didn’t disagree, but how do you fight to be loved? How do you go back to the person you trusted with your whole self, and every secret of your soul, and beg them to love you again?
Erin would say Proverbs 31 (it was almost as if that was the only chapter of the bible she had actually read). She would say that Joy needed to hold firm and make herself humble and that maybe this would bring her husband back to her.
The husband that didn’t love her, she should beg and plead and maybe just maybe he would stay with her out of obligation.
But Joy wanted to be loved and if that was selfish then she was selfish. She wanted the person she swore her life to, to swear right back and mean it. Was that so much to want? Was it so terrible, so unforgivable to want to be wanted? Marriage was sacrifice. Marriage was work. But Joy was sitting here being lectured by a woman who had never felt what Joy was feeling and telling her that the work was Joy’s entirely.
Men existed to be pleased, and if a women couldn’t please hers, well, Proverbs 31.
Joy could taste in every word of consolation Erin proffered the sourness of judgment. Erin thought it was Joy’s fault. Erin thought a woman’s greatest possible failure was the inability to satisfy a husband. Erin was now talking to Cooper getting his wise, masculine, advice on what next to say to this failure waiting unloved in a cheap Italian restaurant.
She concentrated on that wine glass filling her mind with its shape and smoothness, the delicateness of its stem, the fragility of the whole structure.
He didn’t want her, damn it. He did love her. She knew full well that love wasn’t all it took, she knew that they wouldn’t always be happy, that the whole idea of the thing was to stay with one person in the worst possible moments as well as the best. But he didn’t fucking love her anymore. He didn’t fucking love her anymore. No matter what she might forgive in her generosity and patience, no matter how she could acquiesce and change, no matter the pleading and plying and pacification, she was not the one who left. Martial unfaithfulness had to mean all sorts of betrayal, right? Even emotional betrayal.
How could she be the sinner?
Because she was better at trivia?
No, that wasn’t the question. The question was what she should do now. She didn’t want him back, if she was honest she wanted this terrifying freedom. It woke the dead cells that had lain complacent while she was safe and loved. She wanted it damn it, and let Erin suck her teeth at that. Let her, tut and fuss, and quote. Joy would not beg to be loved, would not break herself to fill the voids in one man’s self-confidence.
The more she thought about it the angrier she got. Why should she listen to the opinion of this woman whose husband doted on her so much that he couldn’t even bare a thirty minute lunch away from her without checking in? And as Joy boiled so apparently did her wine. She kept watching it but the strangeness of this spontaneous boiling had no real effect on her. She was only thinking about the thinness of the glass, the delicacy, and the secrets and sensitivities poured into one man’s ear for seven years. She had taken care of him, she had protected him, relied on him, trusted him, believed in him, loved him, loved him with every atom of her being.
There was a loud snap as the glass burst into a billion pieces, obliterating it’s self all across the corny table cloth. The restaurant was muted, almost paused. All these frozen, gaping, silent people were watching Joy, who certainly seemed to be the center of the explosion. She was just as confused as the rest of them but was also the only one covered in red wine and the dust that had once been a glass. Somehow she felt implicated in the destruction.
Her waiter rushed towards her. “What happened?” His voice had lost all of its pretentious confidence that it had had when he was suggesting she try the more expensive items on the menu and feigning interest in Erin’s gluten allergy. He had been a cocksure master of the table moments ago, but at this moment he was a frightened and frazzled young man. Joy decided that she preferred him this way, in fact seeing this scared little lamb cheered her almost entirely.
“I don’t know," she replied, more happily than she knew she ought to.
“It- It just exploded,” he stuttered and was all the more endearing.
“It did do that, yes.”
The universe is a perplexing and frightening place. If we were really to sit back and think about it we would be left with the harrowing knowledge that, not only are we fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but we are also subject to the whims of nature and whatever other powers there might be beyond nature. As the poets have often put it; the gossamer thread of our mortality which separates the wholeness of our knowledge and experience from oblivion is quite easily snapped at any time and by forces entirely beyond our control.
To put it simply; we are powerless, always and completely.
This wine glass, so inexplicably destroyed, served as a painful awakening to the poor humbled waiter that such was his life, certain though it seemed while he was distracted by the business of living it. In stark reality his life was equally subject to the whims of the universe and the big scary nothingness. He was as capable of the same reasonless obliteration that it had suffered. And now that he was aware of it, it was impossible for him to become unaware.
Joy read all of this on his face and smiled soothingly. “I don’t know how, but it’s alright, I’m alright.”
“These things happen.”
“Apparently they do.”
The manager arrived. She too was faced with mortality in the metaphor of the wine glass, but she was better than the waiter at ignoring this greater reality to focus on the tedium of the moment. She offered deepest apologies and promise of money, of reparations for dry cleansing, and for any pain and suffering that Joy might have endured from her spontaneously exploding stemware.
Joy declined all of these offerings and kept on insisting that these things happened and that everything was alright. That she was all right. The table was alright. The restaurant was alright. And that everything everywhere was generally alright.
Adam was safely far from her mind while Joy comforted the manager and the waiter. But he reappeared in her consciousness with the reappearance of Erin. Erin looked horrified, but once again not in the same existential way as the waiter. Erin’s horror was from embarrassment. This reminded Joy that so far she had forgotten to be embarrassed of all these people staring at her covered in wine, and the staff doting on her, and the bizarreness of the situation of which she was somehow the center.
Of course she should feel awkward. She should be mortified for possessing an exploding wine glass. She should be apologetic to the onlookers for interrupting their business meetings and dull, friendly lunches with her fantastical event.
Erin passed out a few contrite smiles on Joy’s behalf as she made her way back to their table, stepping lightly through the remains. The lightness was unnecessary as there were no pieces big enough to cut or even scratch her expensive shoes, but Joy knew that this delicacy was all part of the performance for the gawkers. “What happened?”
“The wine glass blew up,” she said, still trying to hold on to the strange calm that was quickly abandoning her.
“How did you- What did you do to it?”
“Nitro glycerin of course, weird that it only worked on the glass and not the whole restaurant.”
Joy regretted this flippancy as Erin’s stern eyes filled with shock and disapproval, eyes that were made up perfectly with that smoky effect Joy could never master. The rest of the face was as close to photoshopping as any living human could hope to be. Everything that Erin was, was flawless. Her extraordinarily fashionable clothes fell in just the right way to compliment her shape modestly. Her hair was obedient and smooth. And then there was her blameless soul. She who’s worst sin to date was uttering “aw shucks” when breaking a nail, could and would throw the first stone.
“What did you do?” Erin’s accusations did not bother Joy so much as her tone.
“I didn’t do anything,” Joy pleaded as she felt herself being stripped of twenty years of wisdom and autonomy by Erin’s perfectly made-up eyes.
“How could she have done that? Look at it.” Oh, that lamb, the waiter was still hovering near the table. Joy could have kissed his sweet acne scarred face. Her hero, was he nineteen? He was braver at nineteen then Joy could be at thirty. There is a certainty that the young have about the world which is imminently eroded by living in it. At thirty Joy was only certain of the futility of any disagreement with Erin.
Erin was a fundamentalist and was without doubt or question. She too knew the world, and knew it completely. She had it all sorted and folded and tucked away into the draws and cabinets of her beautiful two story suburban home. Joy would lose any debate she could have with Erin because the answers were predestined and the righteous always prevailed. Erin had tried and convicted Joy in the time it had taken her to walk from the bathroom.
She spoke curtly to the young hero waiter. “Could you get a broom or a vacuum or something to clean all this up? Oh, and a towel and some soda water for her shirt, thank you.” And with that she had excused this lamb from her mind and acknowledged him no further. “Joy, I know that you’re upset and it’s very tempting right now to let your emotions take over. Believe me I know how it is, when we women get upset that human part of our nature takes over, but you’ve got to give your heart to God and he will help you control that part of yourself. Look to him for peace and serenity and don’t let the violence of you humanness overrule the divinity that is within you. As it says in Proverbs 31-“
“I didn’t break the glass!” Joy burst, standing so suddenly that she threw her chair back with a loud crash and all the blood rushed from her brain. “I did NOT, break the glass! It was not destroyed by my humanity or my woman’s hormones! Maybe it was the devil! Maybe it was Jesus! Maybe Jesus smote my wine because it’s 2 pm and I shouldn’t be drinking. And Adam doesn’t love me anymore!”
Joy was unsure of how that last part fit in with the rest of it. She was unsure of the rest of it for that matter. Where had all that come from? It seemed to have welled up from somewhere deep inside her rather than from her brain. The brain had always been the uncontested master of Joy. She was not the sort of person to have sudden public bursts of outrage, she was rarely the sort of person to be outraged. But her outburst still seemed to be reverberating around the once again silent restaurant. The windows and light fixtures were shaking as if a low flying airplane were passing, but there were no airports near this restaurant.
As the manager reappeared Joy knew that she was about to be asked to leave and decided to beat the woman to her corporately cold-blooded, customer service, punch. She gathered her things which had been flung along with her chair to the floor, and hurried out the front door. A hundred eyes following her and a hundred buzzing whispers escorting her from the premises.
When she got to her car she cried like she never had before. Each wrenching sob carved out another watery sucking well from her lungs, like scooping a hole in wet sand as the tide is coming in. She was leaking out of herself, the most isolated and most secret and most feared parts of her were bleeding out through her eyes and her nose. Her mouth was a gapping, sometime howling, permanent scream.
She was alone. She had been a part of a whole, but he had left and he had taken bits of her with him. She wasn’t even a half now, she was a crumbling useless nothing. She was alone, she was alone. She was in love with every single memory of him, even the ones she hated, every smell and every sound of him. And she was alone.
When she was wrung out, her head a pounding heavy thing that put her entire body off balance, her eyes sore and tired, she lay on the steering wheel. Something about the warm plastic against her forehead made her feel ever-so-slightly alive again. The world was still here and she could touch it, and it could touch her. Somehow that was comforting. Weak and barely present, but comforting all the same.
She found an unused fast food napkin on her floor board and blew her nose into it, so hard that it made her ears hurt. Strange that after she had emptied herself her head felt fuller than ever. She started her car.
Driving was relaxing. Before she had met Adam, Joy had liked to go for long drives, mostly in the middle of the night. The benefit was that the mechanical actions required to drive kept busy that part of her brain which was all too willing to distract her from the real thinking, from letting her mind truly wander. There was also a nice symmetry in wandering physically and mentally at the same time. And a great satisfaction to be found in the act of going nowhere in particular.
She drove south because she had always believed that to be the most exciting of all the directions. On whims she would turn down one street or another. Sometimes just going in circles. Sometimes prowling around the residential streets at a slow pace to better review the gardens and mail boxes, and when the curtains were accommodating, the living room furniture.
She was a voyeur to the happy families in their well maintained and unbroken lives but her thoughts had nothing to do with Adam. She was thinking about wine glasses slender, fragile, spontaneously exploding, wine glasses. She was thinking about them as she peered into a particularly well put together brick house. The bricks were painted a thick healthy white and the garden was picture perfect, painfully perfect, exhaustingly perfect.
The large, curtainless bay window was what drew her in. It revealed a dining room so excruciatingly lovely she couldn’t take her eyes off it. The mahogany table top glistened in all its endangered-species excellence and the cut crystal that adorned it stuck at those deeply imbedded princess dreams that are subliminally programed into the minds of all women by the expectations of their parents and the proliferation of the media.
How beautiful and how frail.
It stuck Joy that all beautiful things are frail. Mortality is a requirement of beauty. All the things that last practically forever; plastics, styrofoams, cement…all of those are ugly. The ugly has no expiration date and perhaps that is what makes it ugly, because it continues on obnoxiously past its usefulness. Beauty and fragility are the same because it is somehow bigger to die than to live.
What could that mean?
Not that death was beautiful. No, death is ugly too because it’s the most permanent thing of all. But the ability to die is beautiful. The ability to be broken, the quality of having an end. Love ends. It always ends in one way or the other. Love is the attempt to bind two things which can never be totally mixed together, together permanently. But she was a separate being from Adam and would always be. No matter how closely they might cling to one another, for security, or meaning, or whatever else, they would always be broken by something. And could be broken by anything.
That is what mortality is, it’s a fingernails’ grip which at any moment in any way can be lost. The biggest lie of them all is that we have control. Death or brokenness comes independently of our choices or faiths. Death and brokenness are chaotic, meaningless, and arbitrary. In this way beauty is almost a pretense, a beautiful lie that what is frail can be against the inevitability of death.
This was becoming a day full of loud and sudden messes. And one had just occurred on the bumper of her car. While she was contemplating the dining room she had still been driving forward, all be it at an extremely slow pace. And while involving herself in questions metaphysical she was not altogether concerned in or present with, the very physical world. Nevertheless it was to this world which she was still bond and slaved. She had been an object in motion and had continued in this motion until met by an opposite force in the form of a sleek silver car. That is to say, she was in a fender-bender.
As she was slowly coming to terms with the reality of her situation the operator of the opposing vehicle rushed screaming from his German engineered sound proofed cabin towards her Japanese made, slightly less sound-proofed, model. She had once watched a documentary on the aggressive behavior of gorillas and tapping this knowledge by some primal survival method in her lizard brain she avoided all eye contact and shrunk down into her seat, wanting to look as small as possible. A strategy made difficult as years of apparently happy marriage had made her considerably not small.
The man/gorilla was unappeased and only became more enraged by her ignoring him. He began to knock on her window, directly next to her ear, howling about her general defaults as a human and demanding that she leave the security of her car for reasons unknown but apparently incredibly important to him.
She kept her eyes forward towards his luxurious car which had suffered, by her reckoning, no substantial damage from the collision. And she refused to be afraid of him. She maybe in the wrong but she felt no obligation to legitimize his temper-tantrum on the meager premise that his motives were grounded in truth while his actions were exaggerated by self-importance, greed, and probable spiritual emptiness. She saw no reason to placate a man whose entire scope of decency seemed to be reliant on the permanency of material possessions. Because that car was just a car, and its perfection, however diligently or ferociously guarded, was finite. It would break, be scratched, or otherwise made imperfect by the mere act of existing long enough. How ridiculous then was this man’s struggle against inevitability?
But then again, even against her beloved rational judgment, she was afraid of him.
Nobody particularly likes to be screamed at, but Joy was especially ill equipped for these types of confrontations. It had been one of Adam’s chief complaints against her. He could never get satisfactorily mad without her “shutting down”. Joy’s own web searched diagnosis suggested that it was a type of anxiety disorder.
It was unfair to still suffer like a little girl from monsters in closets and nightmares. It was unfair of this man, or Adam, or anyone to make her feel this weak. She hated her fear. She hated the tight feeling in her chest. She hated the part of her brain that urged her to run and the tears and the hyperventilating. She hated the pathetic, blubbering wreck that she was when she wanted to be strong. She wanted to be the woman that wouldn’t back down. She wanted possession over her own body and control over her own emotions. But her brain retreated into itself and surrendered before she could fight back.
The gorilla was still knocking at her ear, weaving together a tapestry of swear words and insults similar in scope to that of the Bayeux tapestry (a Norman artifact which Joy happened to know about and which had won her a particularly competitive game of trivia). She did not know how to oppose him, she was certain she could not defeat him. She only knew his will, and felt it overpowering her.
There’s only so much that can be ignored. And a request repeatedly shouted into the ear, even if through Japanese engineered glass, eventually has to be met with either defiance or compliance. Defiance was not an option. She opened her door and stepped out to be yelled at more directly by the owner of a stupidly expensive car.
“Listen, young lady, I don’t know what you’re on- if you were texting you’re fucking boyfriend- That- That car you just destroyed- that car is worth more than your fucking life. All right? You better call your boyfriend and you better have some fucking insurance. Are you high? Is that it? What’s all that shit all over you? Are you drunk? You fat bitch, you’re drunk!” He was red faced and shaking. Blue veins were pushing through the skin on his temple and neck. His hands were balled up and tense with the anxious desire to inflicted pain.
Joy was shaking too, shaking to her core as little flecks of his spit were burning on her face. He was right, she had managed to get herself into a car accident while covered in red wine. Her face was still puffy from crying and her head was still full and heavy on her shoulders.
What could she do? When the police came they would take her to jail, isn’t that what they did? Who would she call then? Not Erin, Joy didn’t feel like anymore judgment today. Not her parents, she hadn’t even told them about Adam leaving yet. That and a criminal act was a lot to spring on them all at once. And of course she could never call Adam.
How much had she depended on him? In seven years he had always been her first thought, good news or bad, she had always wanted to tell him first. He had been the one that could make her smile when everything seemed hopeless. Many times he had been her only hope, the only thing that had dissuaded her from total disinterest in the world. Now she needed some hope badly and her mind was full of Adam, but he wasn’t there. He would never be there again.
It was just her and the terrifying gorilla. He was going to either hit her or send her to jail for a tiny scratch on a stupid car. He could and would ruin her because she was nothing compared to that car. His values were wrong, obviously wrong. His actions were ludicrous, but he had the power not her. Him and his fists and his screaming and his spit. She was retreating into herself, because where else was there to go?
That car was worth more than her fucking life. Well, how much was her life worth anyway? That car, shiny and full of itself, was the kind of car with pretentious commercials where women in evening wear walked around them in a stiff wind. That car was a thing, a pointless, overly expensive thing. A thing that this man cared about more than common decency. Joy’s humanity and empathetic state was nothing to the man in relation to the immaculateness of his car.
She was crumbling in on herself as he spit and breathed his hate on to her. Yet there was a deep place wasn’t crumbling, a hidden place within her that was like a bomb shelter. Its walls were too thick to give in and from the inside of them a low buzz of calm was broadcasting out across the rubble of her will, radiating throughout her body. It was like a numbness but a wonderful kind of numbness that felt like floating. She felt the calm smooth the rhythm of her previously panicking heart. When it reached her brain she knew;
It was just a thing, the car was just a fragile thing, and the man’s anger in seeing it tainted was his failure to see the world in a wider scope. From the scope of the powerless, the end of all things is inevitable, and the destruction of all things is necessary. The car was marred because it was always going to be marred, because there was no such thing as perfect or forever, there is only broken and not broken yet.
To say the car exploded would not be quite right, explosions connote fire, but there was no fire. There was only a loud crack and the shiny silver dust where the car had once been.
The gorilla’s anger turned to confusion, and then confusion turned to fear. Dust was on his suite and his purple face.
“Everything ends., Joy said aloud without really intending to do so. It had welled up from the deep place, the bomb shelter.
“What…what happened?” the gorilla whispered, his voice strangled by sudden fear. In that moment he was so totally converted from anger to fear that he was no longer like a gorilla at all. He was just a slender thing with thin chapped lips and watery eyes.
“I don’t know,” said Joy. And she didn’t. It was quite possibly the most unexplainable and extraordinary thing that had ever happened in front of her, but she was still numb with calm and the two words humming in her brain.
The former gorilla was shrinking even further. It was his lizard brain’s turn to tell him to be small and nonthreatening. He was inches away from playing dead.
Joy could feel how afraid he was of her, and it seemed funny so she laughed.
“Why are you laughing? How did you do that?” He cried in a nasally falsetto thread.
The calm was fading and Joy remembered to be human and feel sorry for this person. She wanted to comfort him but how could she even start? Like Erin and the wine glass, the former gorilla seemed to assume that Joy was the agent of these strange spontaneous particle disbursements (that was better a classification than explosion, Joy thought. It was beginning to seem more and more likely that she was somehow involved since two had just occurred in couple of short hours with her presence as the only connecting factor.
It was too fantastic to believe, but she then again she had just seen a car turn to dust before her eyes. The fantastic was becoming likely.
She reached an arm out to pat his shoulder. That was the human way to sooth another human, wasn’t it? She wanted to convince him that he shouldn’t be afraid of her, more to put herself at ease than him. But he recoiled from her approaching touch with a melodramatically squealing “Don’t touch me! Don’t hurt me!”
Joy couldn’t help it, she laughed again, which made the man squeal even louder.
If it was really her, if it was somehow her that was doing these things, what could it mean? How was she doing it? Could she control it?
If it was really her, then she had just destroyed a man’s car. No matter how awful that man or stupid the car, she was guilty. She started to share in his fear.
He had been screaming very loudly and it had attracted an audience. People peered out their windows and poked their heads out their doors to see what all the noise was. When they saw that the noise was a grown man cowering from a woman covered in red wine while a bunch of silver dust blew around in circles with the shifting breeze, the scene did little to satiate their curiosity. Several people were now standing in their front yards and a few of them were on their phones.
Joy’s reintroduction to fear allowed for the renewed concern over the police and their ability to jail. Now she had actually done something jail worthy, hadn’t she? She wasn’t sure if she had and didn’t know how anyone else could exactly blame her, but she didn’t have enough faith in the justice system to wait for their opinion.
As casually as she could muster for their audience, she got in her car and drove away. The former gorilla in her rearview mirror crying with the reality of his finite state while a neighborhood looked on and took pictures.
This time she drove more hopeless than aimless. Where could she go? What could she do when she got there? Was she dangerous? How and why was this happening to her?
The hardest part was learning to be alone. Learning how to make sense of the world without a someone to ground you, to make the big terrible empty seem light years away. When Adam held her she had never felt more connected, safer, more comfortable. But now was she fat and drifting through a world where particles dispersed without warning. The big terrible empty was right over her shoulder and there wasn’t anyone there to brush it away.
How had she never realized how much of herself depended on Adam? In seven years she had grown so self-aware, she was confident and educated. She had been slowly learning to have faith in herself. It was like she was coloring herself in, finding all the different shades of her personality. But when he left, he didn’t take her colors, he took all the black lines that held them in their places, and now they were running all together in a blurry ugly mess. Her trust and dependence on Adam had made him the skeleton onto which she grew the fleshy parts of her life. He left her boneless, ineffectual, and afraid.
The big terrible empty was breathing down her neck and she was never more aware of her own insignificance.
Or was she afraid of what she could do? She had destroyed that car hadn’t she? If she could do that…
She didn’t enjoy the idea of having the power to destroy things. She hated it. The idea of destruction repulsed her.
But this whole thing was ridiculous. Of course she hadn’t destroyed the car. Of course she hadn’t broken the wine glass. It was all some strange coincidence. Time would tell, these things had nothing to do with her, she was just jumping to crazy conclusions based on nothing.
This is what she tried to tell herself, but it would have been better coming from someone she trusted, like Adam. Adam soothed the wild beasts that lived in Joy’s tempestuous brain. Adam and Adam only was the one who could make the big terrible empty go away.
It was a combination of muscle memory and the blind panicking desire in her mind for safety that lead her car back to their apartment. She was struck by how exactly the same it all looked, and for the moment tricked herself that it might truly be the same. Maybe he had changed his mind. Maybe he was waiting inside with flowers and a humble apology.
They could be the same again. They could be whole again. She had been alone in the world for somewhere around five hours and that was enough, she wanted to be home again.
The dream broke as soon as she opened the front door. Piled next to it, almost entirely blocking the entrance way, were all of Adam’s things. All the things he wanted to take anyway.
How quickly he must have worked. How motivated he must be. He had never been the one to take initiative before. He had been the one that needed constant pleading and begging to make a move of any kind. But that pile next to the door spoke differently. It spoke of an eager Adam, a hopeful Adam, an Adam who was anxious for the life where he would take these things and be free of Joy.
She wondered how easy it was for him, if he took much time deciding what he would take, or if he had the whole list planned out long before. She tried to imagine the life he was headed for, what it might looked like, how much he’d smile when he got there… if there was another woman.
Somehow she wanted it to be another woman, somehow another woman felt better than just not her.
Her eyes started tearing-up again, but she didn’t want to cry. She wanted to be properly angry. She hated this pile of things more that she had ever hated anything before, animate or inanimate. She hated his DVDs, she hated his t-shirts, and his toothbrush. She hated the things he left behind, because every single one was a piece of her that didn’t fit into Adam’s new life. She hated that the one and only time in seven years Adam had been willing to be spontaneous and try something new, he was spontaneous leaving her life and trying a new one without her.
She hated that she knew without a shadow of doubt that there would never be a day of her life where she wouldn’t love him.
The pile started to rumble, the walls and light fixtures began to shake. Joy was not in a part of the word accustomed to Earthquakes.
She hated the couch where they had sat curled up watching TV. She hated the dining room table where they had rarely ate their meals but they had once made love. She hated the knickknacks his grandmother had bought her, and the dishes and appliances and cook books they had received as wedding presents. She hated every laugh and smile and kiss she had given him in this apartment. She hated that this had been their home, that this is where in all her life she had felt the most at home. She felt robbed. She felt drained. She felt stupid for ever thinking that love could exist and if it did it would choose her.
A window in the kitchen cracked and the whole place was rumbling so hard that things fell off shelves and pictures left their nails on the wall and crashed to the floor.
She was alone. She was afraid. There was no going back. There was no being fine. There was no okay. This was never going to be their home again.
The plaster started to crack on the ceiling. A few window panes burst. The building shook back and forth as boards within the walls began to snap.
If she could be endlessly eloquent and write down all the ways in which he had destroyed her it would never be enough. Because it wasn’t Adam who did the destroying, it was Joy. She had built her life on the love of one man. She had poured herself into him and filled out to meet his shape. She had let herself be Adam and Joy, not Joy, there hardly ever was a Joy. She hated her name just as much as she hated this apartment.
There was a calm from deep within her, surging up from some place beyond her brain and beyond everything. Her bomb shelter, her Adam-free zone, he didn’t matter there. He didn’t matter so much that it didn’t matter that he didn’t matter.
She knew. She spoke the words aloud to the shaking apartment, but she didn’t really speak them. They bypassed the vocal chords and had no need for breath.
There is only broken and not broken yet.
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