My mom has Sirius radio in her car. On the way there we heard this song.
On the way back, we heard this song.
Thank God it wasn’t the Ella Fitzgerald version, because that probably would’ve broken me.
My mom suggested we drive around my old campus on the way back, so we did. I haven’t been there in two years. There are so many new buildings. The duplex I lived in junior year has been torn down. When we took the new road behind campus, I was very aware that I was yards, not miles, seconds, not minutes, from your house.
We stopped at the new Subway by campus so I could relieve my bladder before making the remainder of the drive. It was deserted but the women’s restroom was locked, so I went into the men’s (it was a one-person kind of thing). I thought about what I would do if I opened the door and found you waiting on the restroom, but of course I didn’t have to find out.
My mom wanted to stop at the liquor store by the Dollar General on the way out of town because for some reason she was thinking it might be cheap. But I told her on state line I was pretty sure it’d be more expensive, and when she pulled up and saw its tiny size decided not to. I know the odds of seeing you there were greater than the odds of seeing you at Subway, so I was equal parts relieved and disappointed.
The mind-boggling thought of accidentally bumping into you nearly drove me mad, which is what makes the proximity so terrible. But I don’t have to tell you that.
I know it doesn’t matter at all, as I fully expect to never see you again in my life, but I will be minutes from you tomorrow. I will drive through your town in a car packed with my mother, stepfather, sister-in-law, and boyfriend. And I will pass within one mile of your house. Twice. On the way to and back from my younger brother’s college graduation.
I’m telling you this because I can’t bear the weight of this terrible proximity alone. If I’m going to feel this physically near to you tomorrow, I need you to feel it as well. I need you to know that we will be breathing the same air, experiencing the same weather, hearing the same birds, enduring the same traffic, basking in the same sun.
For a short while, it will be the same. And then I will return to that different place indefinitely.
I’m so mad at you. Did you know that? So mad. It’s been almost a year since you said goodbye. (Who would’ve thought that’d be the one that stuck, out of all of those goodbyes that spanned several years?) I’m mad because our final goodbye was so unceremonious, so unexpected. I’m mad because it was actually only your goodbye. I’m mad because you didn’t give me the chance to say it too.
I’m mad because I still think about you every day.
I’m mad because our birthdays went by without any contact. When was the last time that happened? 2009? God, it was brutal. I thought for weeks about whether it’d be better or worse to hear from you. I knew if I heard from you it’d be a simple “happy birthday,” just like the ninety others I received on Facebook. From ninety other people, it’s more than enough, but from you it’s nowhere close to enough. There is never enough with you. But not enough was always better than nothing. You knew that. You knew it the day you decided to ignore my birthday. You knew it’d make me wonder if you even knew what fucking day it was at all. You knew I’d then have to ignore yours, as if I had no idea what fucking day it was at all. I knew. I know every day which day it is. But I don’t get to tell you that I know. I’m so mad about that.
I’m mad because this is all on your terms now, and–it has to be said–your terms suck. They’re unfair and hurtful. I’m mad because you don’t seem to realize or care how unfair and hurtful they are.
I’m mad because I bought a ton of new dresses recently, and you won’t see any of them. The weather is gorgeous right now, but it’s about to get so hot. It was ninety degrees here today. So I bought dresses. One in particular I thought you’d like. I don’t know why that one. It’s pink with a scalloped hem. I walked all over downtown for lunch the day I wore it for the first time. It was a bad day at work, so I walked. And then I sat down in the grass by the river and felt such sadness over the fact that you’ve chosen a life where you’ll never see my pretty new dresses. I’m sure the life you have chosen is filled with many wonderful things. New babies, for example. (Forever new babies–what is it with you and the new babies?) New wonders. New commitments and loves and opportunities. But it’s not filled with me in a new pink dress. Maybe this doesn’t bother you. But it makes me so mad.
I’m mad because tonight I tried to find you on the internet, but you were nowhere, so I watched my YouTube videos to you from three years ago. Spring of 2009, the last time we ignored each other’s birthday. Jesus, what a time. I’m truly terrible at guitar in those videos. I’m not any better now, but at least I’m good enough to know how bad I was then. I don’t think I’ve learned any new songs, maybe just one or two, since then. I was so alive and so depressed and in so much pain and so alone, but I sang and sang and sang. What do I do now? Work? Sleep? I’m mad at you because you made me feel so alive and now I feel dead all time. And old. Dead and old and mad.
And do you know what happened even further back, five years ago? We were already very much in love. Five years ago! Five years. That spring it rained every day for a month and I had the office with the huge windows and long stretches of time with nothing at all to do but wait for you to e-mail. Five years! How can it be that long? What have I even done since then, besides get this dead and old and mad?
Where are you in this? When I used to think about us, I would see us in my mind’s eye bound up together with a rope. Now I just see you bound with a rope alone. And I don’t see myself at all. Where am I in this too, then, besides mad? That’s not who I am. I don’t usually stay mad for this long. I forget too quickly. But I can’t forget this. We made a lot of choices, you and I, but my choice was always you. Didn’t you see that? It was always you. But I was never yours. And, I suppose when it comes down to it, that’s really the only thing I’m mad about.
There are things I want to tell you about affairs. You are drawn to it for any number of reasons, but one of them is probably that it is forbidden. You forget why it is forbidden, or maybe you never knew. It’s forbidden because of the pain, but it’s not what you think. It’s not because of the pain you will cause his wife or their kids or your husband or his friends and family or your friends and family. Fuck them. You don’t care about them. You obviously don’t, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s the pain it will cause you. Did you catch that? It’s forbidden because it will cause YOU pain.
And that’s also not what you think. It’s not the pain of being separate from your lover or of concocting a problem you can’t find a way out of or of falling into a miserable depression when it inevitably falls apart or of never, ever, ever getting the fulfillment you desperately crave from him. It’s the pain of watching yourself transform into a liar, an adulteress, a mistress. It turns your soul pitch black.
You will never recognize yourself again. You will wonder what else you are capable of. Murder? Suicide? You will look in the mirror and see Humbert Humbert’s monster staring back at you, ugly, distorted, disfigured.
People will find out, and the truth will come to light, but your soul will stay in the dark. You will wear Hester’s bright red A on the outside, but you will also wear Dimmesdale’s A etched in your skin, over your heart, on your soul. Hester’s A eventually becomes old news. People forget what it stands for. You will never forget.
And that way Anna Karenina keeps her eyelids half closed after she does The Bad Thing? You’ll do that too. You will not look anyone squarely in the eye again. You will wear an invisible veil, not protecting yourself from the world but protecting the world from you.
You will wait for karma. You will accuse your perfectly loving, loyal boyfriend of wanting someone else. Will glance at his previous texts as he sits next to you on the couch and think you see a girl’s name you don’t recognize. You will calmly ask him if he’s satisfied with you. When he says he doesn’t understand, you will cry and release him to be with someone else. He will tell you that you are wrong, and you will not believe him until weeks later, when you glance at his phone again and realize that the girl’s name was the nickname of one of his male friends. You will wonder if the karma that you’re waiting for is already here, and it’s the waiting for karma.
You will have dreams about sitting down with your former music minister’s wife and explaining to her that you and her husband intend to eat dinner and see a movie together, but it’s not what she thinks. You will sit there with your red lipstick and red nails while she tries to figure out what you are telling her and you will hope she doesn’t ask you boldly if there’s a temptation there, because there is, and it is actually what she thinks. You will awake and wonder in the early hours of dawn if that really happened. It didn’t, but you will try to remember who else’s life you’ve ruined while you were sleeping. Then it will hit you: You’ve ruined your own, your own, your own.
It’s a different kind of ruin. It’s inescapable. It will be there for the rest of your life. You say you did it in the name of happiness. Bullshit. You did it in the name of selfishness, and the irony is that there was nothing more self-injuring you could’ve done.
You are scarred. By your own hand, in your skin, over your heart, on your soul, you are scarred.
Look at all this nothing I have for you. I wish it were less than the nothing you have for me, but it’s not. It’s not nothing at all, actually, because it’s really everything. Everything and silence and love and secrets and springtime and lies and the news you kept from me and pain and hope and forgetting and mail delivery subsystems and remembering and pounding hearts and feeling lost and cheerful Facebook statuses and flowers and 2 days and a morning and what the fuck am I supposed to do and tears and sex and sheets and sweat and a swirly F and nothing.