When I got out of the shower Jill had almost finished packing her things, which was amazing considering the fact that I hadn’t noticed her get started. If only she wasn’t such an efficient and dynamic person I might’ve noticed she was leaving me. If she didn’t fold socks with such mechanical precision I might’ve perceived my world falling to pieces.
“What’re you doing?” I asked, hoping the combination of innocence and stupidity in my voice might inoculate my heart—and hers—against the obvious fact of the matter
“What does it look like?” she said.
I gave her my best dumb puppy face. It’s a face that’s gotten me out of untold jams. It’s a face that I make so often and so naturally you know it can’t possibly be fake. But she wasn’t having it. Not anymore. She wasn’t having any of this. I didn’t blame her. I knew that I wasn’t worth keeping around, not in the long run. I’m a flash in the pan. A spicy dish that eludes memory once devoured. And even that might be an overvaluation of my personal stock.
“I don’t want this anymore.” She said. She wasn’t angry or anything, which made it worse. She was just tired. Tired of me. Tired of my ways. What can you say to that?
“I hate you so much.” I said. She smiled, as if confirming a frank and damning suspicion. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t need you. I need you, for godsakes. What the fuck am I going to do? I’m totally useless! You know that!”
Halfway through this tirade she was already halfway out the door, rolling a slim and hopelessly elegant looking suitcase behind her. She must’ve already moved out most of her things while I was at the gym. Such a rotten trick, considering it was her fault I was even working out at all. All for her!
Hoping to cut her off I headed for the back door and the fire escape, my towel whipping around rather heroically, I assumed. But when I got to the bottom of the stairs and made my way up the short alley to the street, she wasn’t there. She must’ve had a car waiting for her. Probably shiny. Probably moderately expensive. Probably helmed by some silk-shirted pimp drug-dealing PhD with a vested interest in gender theory. I had also, at some point, misplaced my towel.
The front door was locked, so I had to go back around the way I’d come. Going to jail for indecent exposure was something I specifically had a tremendous fear of, for reasons that are so ghastly and numerous it’s not worth going into. And sneaking around naked isn’t easy in broad daylight, trust me.
The black galvanized steel fire escape was unbearably hot in the August sun. Like, really seriously hot. Running up the steps in bare feet, each step scorching my tender hooves, I’d have to leap across the top landing, which was the hottest part, so flat and prone in the infernal sun. Usually I could wrench open the storm door with my left hand and grab for the inner doorknob with my right in one deft movement, my feet barely caressing the dreaded top step. I’d never had to try it naked before. Also, the inner doorknob had never been locked. It was this time. In my failure to open the locked door, my sweaty blistered feet slipped on the landing and I went down, hard, striking my forehead against the handrail (also hot!) and practically incinerating my testicles.
Lying on the couch with thick daubs of burn gel and an icepack on my genitals, I started to wonder what it would be like to have friends. Like, real friends. Drive to the end of the Earth type friends. I’d never been able to fully respect people who genuinely thought they had friends, but now, with my balls in their present condition, and my hands totally juiced from prying open the window, it seemed as good a time as any to take some stock of my life. I started to wonder if I hadn’t been wrong about not just the friend thing, but many other things as well: like poetry (against); vigilante justice (for); and deep-dish pizza (against). It’s also totally possible that I was wrong to have sex with Jill’s friends. At the time the cheating seemed like an attractive accouterment to an imminent literary career. But now, without any career or prospects whatsoever, I saw it for what it was: just plain old betrayal.
Honestly, I should’ve known our relationship was doomed, having met her father. Practically the first thing he said to me was: What does your father do for a living? I told him my father was a paperhanger. Hitler was a paperhanger, he said, not missing a beat, as if he’d been expecting me to say that. I, in turn, had nothing to say back to him, so I didn’t say anything. He kept looking at me forever, waiting for a response.
Jill’s father, a tall burly man with thick dark hair and big rough hands despite working in finance, died a month ago. Sure, maybe I shouldn’t have celebrated his death so splendidly, so publicly. Hindsight, as they say.
He was such a beautiful man, Jill said at his wake. Maybe it was the fact that I was drunk and wearing an aloha shirt, or maybe it was the fact that I snorted so loud at the egregiously inaccurate portrayal of her progenitor, but I suspect that our relationship died that day.
Sometimes life gets so stupid it’s hard to see the beauty, and other times you see the beauty but it just doesn’t mean a thing. Or maybe you see the beauty, and it means something, and that’s what fucks you up. Who knows? Who knows anything? All I know is that I’ve spent most of my life running from pain, and anesthetizing the nasty bits that got stuck to me, and either it’s an impossible project, or I just suck at it. Either way, it might’ve been nice to have someone to talk to.
I was prone on the couch for a couple days, hard to say how long. Time had gotten away from me. I felt like a sick dog that wanted to wander off into a field to die alone, but I couldn’t make up my mind to do it.
Then, all of a sudden, she was back.
“Look at these shoes I just got,” she said, smiling, as if nothing had happened.
I couldn’t tell if she’d bounced back, or if she was faking it. I knew I hadn’t bounced. Couldn’t bounce. Couldn’t fake it, either. I could tell she was disappointed in these two new failures of mine: bouncing and faking. I started applying to writing residencies, then considered the reality and gave up.
My balls got better, eventually. So did my face and feet. But it wasn’t enough. I needed more than balls and feet to navigate the treacherous waters of the world.
I started walking a lot. All over the place. Maybe looking for a new life, or maybe just for a good field to wander off into. I didn’t know. I still don’t.