"But, you're leaving...," he will say...
He will say it in that terrible, drifting voice, a voice that trails along with the blankness behind his eyes--supported only by the silent, bouncing ball, which I somehow manage to follow directly to the used condom resting at the very top of his bathroom trash can or to the disgusting, week-old hickeys on his collarbone at dinner, which he falsely swears was given to him by his brother in a wrestling match. I roll my eyes to that voice that feels like nails on a chalkboard to me--it is the sound that makes me want to scratch, crawl, run, and above all else, bolt with all of my senses--out of the door, down the stairs, down the street, out in the snow, to the next time zone, the next war zone, and whatever else might possibly make me feel worse and fully removed from this moment. And yet, beyond my own mother's deathbed wish for smart, gorgeous grandchildren, it is the voice that reminds me of my mortality. Life is short, I tell myself. People meet for a reason....There are no coincidences....Love takes work and it is worth fighting for. (Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.) Yes--it is simultaneously the voice, which, for whatever reason stops me cold in my tracks and makes me want to stay and stand my ground--on ground that is simply not mine--and deliberately push against the grain for something that is obviously...
But, I am worth fighting for. At least, this is what I tell myself to justify the futility of engaging something so pointless when the obvious is at hand.
I remind myself of this as I wrestle with the decision to leave, despite the fact that I know there is absolutely no choice.
But, wait? How did I find myself here again?
While I am looking out of the high window at the night on the lake that I have grown to love with so much tenderness, he fidgets with his flashing cell phone and motions for me to join him on the couch. I look back at him and try to smile. I look back and tell myself: He is nice. I have liked his smell and his company. There is a beauty to his spirit. There is a potential. Maybe? Yet where I am flowing and open, he is technical and robotic. He's a lot like an optical illusion. Somehow, there's always a flash of something substantial, then suddenly a glitch, a catch, a curveball--and yes--I know that I have been ignoring it. So, c'mon, honey-- just accept the obvious. No need to make this a big deal. Yes, it occurs to me that I wish his material warmth did not feel so hollow inside. I begin to blink back tears.
I cast one more glance out beyond from his window, perched high on the wall of the small town elite--his window--peering down upon this random place in snowy New England where my little heart has managed to travel so far by staying in one place in the past 14 months. In the distance, I watch the frozen water from the sky fall down and dissolve upon the deep, dark water from the earth. And still, from my side of the window, I am reminded that even on the inside of this home--his home-- I am an outsider, a polite guest, and this moment, detached, removed and distant from all of the rest, is the very last moment of my outsider's view from the inside of where I have been. Despite my best attempts, my eyes turn wet yet again. It is all I can do to sigh and attempt to focus on the lake. I blink and see bombs falling around me in Gaza. The sky feels like it is falling, and it's not just the snow outside. I blink and refocus on the lake, while I try to hold back my own, inner ocean.
Ultimately, my feet find their way back to my shoes, and manage to politely say that it is time for me to leave. At first he turns his back to me and says, "Ok, well, buenas noches." His words and inability to look me in the eye sting very suddenly but I am not capable of reacting. Instead, I just say good-bye. When he hears my heels on the stairs, his teasing and attempts to make me stay sound more like shaming than care. But he stays there, above me, fixed on the top of his stairs, beckoning me to come to him, just to make it easier for him to be more of a jerk than he has been already. Feeling as if he has been indulged by enough by women who need this sort of power struggle more than me, I remind myself of my ongoing awareness of my own complicity in making this interaction possible. Against my better judgment, I have given in enough already. This time, I hold my ground, even if I am literally and figuratively at the very bottom. I look around and realize that I am satisfied in the comfort of discovering how far I can sink when I tell myself it is ok to give in. Despite his transparent insistence to the contrary, I realize that I simply won't reach out because, ultimately, he won't either. I don't have words for it in the moment, but this is precisely why I am leaving. I am not done because I want to be, but because I have to be.
Because I have to be, I am done.
Of course, even if I did not truly want to return to my extremely cold house down the street, to the icebox of a bed that is temporarily where my body stays as I dream, I simply could not stay there, knowing that the morning will bring my inevitable replacement in my awareness of the currently rotating woman position next to him in his bed. I shrug my shoulders and realize that maybe this isn't my story after all, but his. Either way, I calmly, quietly and sincerely wish him good luck. Yet, as I reach the first door, I nearly cry again when I realize that he is the one who fears being alone more than I do. Even still, I tell myself not to cry for him, even though I know all too well that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. Ultimately, I know that I can be alone far easier than I can be complicit in perpetuating some elses' state of disequilibrium.
Perhaps he'll read the book I gave him, I tell myself...
Either way, I continue to leave, knowing that I did the best that I could under the circumstances.
Through tears, I gently shut the door behind me--his door--and make sure that it is locked, as to prevent any temptation for a dramatic re-entry, even though I fully know I am only capable of performing such a thing in my mind and never in the moment.
Then, I emerge into the night air from the sweet-smelling home--his home--also leaving behind me the parent folks inside who welcomed me without question over the Christmas holiday. As I do, pure oxygen from the middle finger of the famous Finger Lakes hits me hard at my first inhalation. The frozen water from the sky falls upon my hair, tangles in my crazy eyelashes, and blinds me for a second until it melts in the water of my eyes.
"I am...so...lost," I sigh. I feel directionless as I look up the dark street, in the direction of the empty college campus that will move forward without me once the students return. I laugh to myself as I remember almost asking him earlier in the evening to give me a reason, any reason to stay. Just, please, hold on to me because I am scared of flying away.
Then, as the 15 year old story always seems to go, I look to my feet and ask my brain to put my right foot in front of my left. And, as I always do, I find a direction by creating yet another destination in my mind: Home.
As I walk in the direction of a place that I am truly yet to reach, I give myself the moment to remember what it is that I have learned:
I have learned that I can be happy anywhere. I have also learned that where I am is where I need to be. I have learned that I can give until my heart is empty because I know that I am a part of a cycle of giving, and the center of this cycle is love. And finally, perhaps I have learned to learn the lesson of being honest with myself...and maybe, just maybe, this time I got it right.
In the end, I will wish that he had taken the time to get to know me better, to trust himself to hold me closer--not just with his body, or with his wallet, but with his heart. Yes, I will hope that he might think to read the book I slipped into his life just as I slipped away. But in the end, I know that it really doesn't matter. If he's ever ready, he'll read it. If not, then nothing--this never had anything to do with me. Things have a way of working out as they should, and, of course, they will for each of us. In fact, I realize that they already have.
Ultimately, I admit that this may be the smallest piece of my 14-month long puzzle. Yet, where my part of the story is concerned, the final lesson taken was...finally...the most important.