I Shall Wear White Flannel Trousers, 9
Last chapter about the break-up: I PROMISE! Happier things ahead. Thank you for sticking me with me. I'm just kind of flinging this one out, so that I can get back to the road trip storyline. I hope I haven't lost your interest with my melancholic musings, haha. .....Oh, and per the usual, with the romantic-related mature themes, for the older readers.
My boyfriend turned into the bedroom without a word. In the middle of the room, I put my hand on his side, chaliced his ribs. "Are you going to drop?"
He said, "I'm beat," getting into bed.
"You look it."
"It was that last conversation." He pulled the sheets up. "It was exciting, but it took something out of me."
Then he lay flat on his back.
And he was exhaustion embodied: I could see it. Stretched out, a spread of nutmeg. An unusual slime of sweat mounding his cheeks. He was burned.
"This has been a brutal month." I climbed over and sat next to him.
"Thank you for the French fries and poetry."
"My pleasure," he said, as if with effort.
With hesitation, "I was very lucky."
He was falling asleep.
"Please don't." Like a lionness, with furred edges, I pawed his chest, I pushed my nose into his neck. "Please don't go yet."
"I'm not -- ffbt -- going where."
"We do still need to figure this out."
"Figure" -- a snort, a twitch. "What."
"This lingering thing. This difficulty between us." I rubbed my hair into his skin. Trying to wake him up. "I can't leave without some kind of conclusion." My hair was crackling. "I'm realizing this right now. I'm so sorry."
"All right." He struggled upwards, and the sheets fell from him like breakers. A stream of white. "How about this. You need a rest."
"That's the word."
The breakers puddled into his lap. His eyes were half-gray. "Your friend from Ireland is coming. So enjoy your time with him. You don't have to think about me, or support me in any way. You're off girlfriend duty."
I laughed, slightly.
"You don't even have to answer my texts."
"No." I rimmed his collarbone with my thumb and felt pain. "Of course I will answer you."
"You do what you want. But just take a break." He looked like a shade, bending down to the river of Lethe. Taking the stupefying drink on the black bank of poppies. "Maybe we can all get dinner together sometime. But even that doesn't have to happen. Enjoy your time with Daniel. Maybe that will be the rest you need."
"Thank you." I squinted.
He laid back again. "There will be nothing -- no expectations from me."
I leaned over him, and stroked his eyebrow. His eyebrow was an otter pelt. I drew my fingertips along the fibrous line until it ended in his temple. "Just a pause is all we need." But his temple was a tender place he didn't like to be touched sometimes; I took my finger off immediately. "I was looking for that word 'break' but I couldn't think of it. We only need to breathe and re-group. You're offering something so gracious. How could you?" I asked. "When you're falling asleep."
His eyelids were like halved walnuts. "I just want you to be happy, Sarah."
I leaned farther and buried my lips into the hollow of his cheek. His skin tasted like bitter almonds.
My boyfriend lowered his voice. "That's all I've ever wanted."
Then I slid my hand down and pressed it on his heart. I made a hand print. He opened his eyes.
And I kissed him.
Asymmetrically I breached the fort. Hooves striking a drawbridge, like a grappling hook into the wall.
In both mutiny and surrender -- no more isochronal.
[Some taken out because, though it's just kissing, I felt like it was too descriptive for apricotpie. -- Sarah]
I kissed as it was in my memory to kiss, as I had kissed before I met him, as I had always imagined kissing. Wetting him with my colors -- saffron. Tangerine. Sapping him, sweet tourmaline. We were emptying our marrows, filling ourselves with lumichrome until we glowed from the inside-out.
Hollow and chatoyant.
Finally I let go. The strange thought entered my head: "At least I am ending on this note." I didn't know fully what I meant. But we could not say we had not kissed each other well: goodnight or goodbye.
His head was framed by his striped pillow, and I swayed over him. We were both blinking. I looked into my boyfriend's eyes, etching their colors into my memory. The whites were off-white and the caruncles were pearly-pink. His irises were green, but I decided that word was insufficient.
Copper, sulphur, merman.
And golden rays like spokes in a wheel. Unspoken words between. Then I whispered, "What do you want?"
He didn't answer.
"I want to do my part. What can I do for you?" My voice was vulnerable now. "Please tell me." I kept my gaze on his face.
He was silent.
So I sat down next to him on the comforter. "Do you want a massage?"
"That sounds nice," he murmured.
"All right. Where? Back, shoulders?"
He paused. I felt like some kind of fate would be determined in this lottery. My boyfriend said, "How about hand."
"Yes. I'd be happy to."
"They taught us how to at the hospital, for the chemo patients. It was so nice."
"I know. I remember you telling me about that." I ran my fingers down his forearm, which spiraled like the marble of David. "I've never done a hand one before, but I'll try."
In fact, this was the first massage he had allowed at all.
I took his right hand between my two hands. I held him there for a long time. I wanted to feel his hand, as if I had never touched him before. To get to his hand's root, and listen -- and hear its whispered need through my own cells. I held him hand between my two palms like one holds clay to warm it, to know it. To make the mud supple and ready for innervation.
Like a prayer. Like holding the dove, olive branch between its beak.
Then I started kneading.
Softer, softly, soft.
I listened and responded. Listened and responded. Whatever his hand told me to do, I did.
And while I caressed him, he fell asleep. I had never caressed anyone to sleep before -- except for infants, melting like a butter on my shoulder. It seemed almost a miracle.
Holding his hand on my knee, I sat back on the duvet, that ocean pattern of plaid. I looked at him, the funny way his lips opened, and how they puttered sometimes with his breath, a pbbt of escaped air.
Slowly, I lowered his hand, arranging it next to his body.
He smiled through his sleep. "Goodnight," he said.
"Goodnight, love," I whispered. He didn't open his eyes.
I slid off the end of the bed. While he slept, I rooted around on the floor. I almost always left something behind in his house: a stray ankle sock, a pair of sunglasses. I bent down and glanced under the bed. It was empty. I swished around in his pile of clothes on the ground. The pile contained only his athletic pants and t-shirts, crumpled and soft. Normally I didn't care if I left something behind, and I never scoured fiercely. But this time I got down on my hands and knees, and looked a second time under his bed. No.
There was only a polished wood floor, and a tuft of dust.
Then I walked to the threshold. I looked back at my boyfriend. The lamp by his bed flowed over his face, as his mouth released another gentle breath. I flicked off the switch, and he disappeared into sable. Then I let myself out the back door. I drove over the bridge, past the sweeping luminous wings, leaving the city of Worcester behind me. One last ambulance, with blinking red lights, pulled into the hospital.
The next morning I woke early.
My phone was dinging with texts. They were from a friend who had flown into Boston for a wedding the day before. I had not seen him since he moved to Texas two years ago.
Come to the after-brunch this morning, Sarah! he enthused. Bagels and coffee!
Are you sure it's okay? I texted back. I was acquainted with the groom, but not in the inner circle.
It's for the wedding guests, but I asked and they want to see you, too. Come!
So I jumped out of bed and splashed cold water on my face and scrunched gel through my hair. I ate a banana and drank a rare coffee. I drove into the city and puttered around the sun-splashed streets, until I eventually found the group by the lake. They were sitting and lying on the grass, under hazy puffs of clouds. They had laid out boxes of bagels under an apple tree. I saw my friend in a black t-shirt, and we almost hysterically ran at each other; grasped each other around the backs in a choking grip. A death-spin, mutually lifting each other.
Then I went and heartily congratulated the groom. He was sweet; pastel-spoken and wore glasses, and was on the autism spectrum. I didn't know the bride at all. She had static brown hair, and an overbite. I took her mealy-soft hand, and thanked her for allowing me to intrude on her morning-after brunch.
"I saw your dress on Facebook," I gushed. Then I remember in a freeze that I hadn't at all, and didn't know what I was saying. "You were gorgeous."
"Thank you," she lisped.
"And I really love the blue earrings you're wearing." They were a tender blue, surprising against her ruddy cheeks.
"Thank you," again. Blinking at me.
I extricated myself and sat on the grass. I was happy to be in my friend's warm presence, avoiding the goose droppings, and eating bagels and drinking a second lukewarm coffee out of a paper cup. Everyone had greasy skin and purplish eyes from the night before, but they were also buzzing with comfort -- with the elasticity of an event being over and human bonds cemented. I merrily watched my friend chase the geese on the shore, pretending to scold. He was the same as always. Vital.
Then my phone buzzed in my pocket. I stood up and walked away from the group.
It was a text from my boyfriend, wanting to talk. It was important, he said.
I asked if it could wait. I was at a brunch.
Yes, it could. Phone slid back in pocket.
I said goodbye to everyone as they wrapped up leftover bagels and threw away cream cheeses. "Safe flight to Texas," I hugged my friend. "Come back to us soon. Come home soon."
Refreshed but dehydrated, and almost home, I stopped at the Marian shrine for a drink from the water fountain.
The grounds were swarming with people, throbbing with vigorous music, and I was the only white person. To my eyes the crowd was a smashed-up blur of color -- red, hot yellow, tropical blue. As I made my way through to the bathroom, I felt caught up in their current of life, wrapped and buffeted with warmth.
I smelled grilled pork chops on barbeques. "What feast day is it today?" I asked a woman, sitting on a chair by the bathroom.
She grinned at me and bobbed her head. "Si, si," she smiled up at me.
As usual, my Spanish went out of my head, and I smiled back and nodded my own head. "Oh, awesome!" I said, or something.
Then I hustled back to my car, feeling a sudden change of emotions: nervous and out of place. Even slightly paranoid, as if everyone was looking at me. The guitar amplifier was so loud. My boyfriend was texting again, asking if I was ready to talk. I hunted for my keys in my pocket and texted back. Can you wait a bit more? I just need more water and to eat a meal, feeling self-protective. Feeling like I had few resources to engage in one more hefty emotional conversation about solving our relationship. Then I added, What is this conversation going to be about, if I can ask? I thought, perturbed, "Some start to a 'breather'," as I closed my phone with a click.
He only answered my question with, Don't worry. Everything will be okay.
And that's when an icicle started to prick at the base of my neck. Okay, I typed back. I trust you.
At my house, I ate a hurried lunch, and he called again. I ignored him as I swallowed more glasses of water. Then I ran outside, without shoes. I started walking along the sidewalk. I called. "Go ahead!"
"I don't know how to say," he started off slowly, "except straight-out."
I stopped talking, and knew.
"Then say it straight out," almost a challenge. But my voice did not change: it was mild and even bright on the surface.
"I think we should break up."
-- Yet, those words. I wasn't ready, and maybe I couldn't have been ready ever. They sounded tender on his tongue, too. Minted, dewy, young. He had never said them before to a woman: this I knew.
"But I think it's going to be okay. You are brilliant, amazing, beautiful --" or something like that. "And I do think we're perfect for each other, in every single way, except for that one issue. I know we could have led a blissful life. It's just that one issue."
"Yes," dully. I was standing by a hemlock tree. The asphalt was rumpled under my bare feet. Hard and hot. Then I gathered myself. And shoved my shoulders up. "No. It's all right. I was headed in that direction anyway. I've been feeling rejected in little ways. So this isn't much different."
His voice was taken aback. "You're taking this surprisingly well."
"Yes, well. Don't worry about me. Honestly. I mean, I know I'm going to have a stronger or more real reaction later. But this is mutual."
He started to cry.
My voice was tight with cheer. "Hey, listen. Maybe this was just one of those learning relationships. Maybe it's time to roll the dice again and see what we get next. But whoever comes after you is going to have to live up to expectations I never had before. You certainly set the bar high for me. And I know I did for you, too."
He wept, pulling air in. "You did. You really did. Take care of yourself, Sarah."
"And I would have come out there, Sarah. I thought of driving out -- but I didn't want our last time together to be overcast with this. To have this be our last physical memory."
"You're right; this is best. Don't come out."
Then it hit me as my mind scrambled, put the pieces together: our last physical memory together. That was yesterday. Yesterday was our last day. I hadn't known that. I didn't know. I knew to look for my clothes, I knew to kiss him deeply, but I didn't know.
"Please stay safe," he said. "Please."
Oh, universe, God, heaven, angels, I hadn't known.
"Call if you need anything," he begged. "Ever."
I laughed shortly. "I won't."
I could almost feel him flinch through the phone. "I know you won't."
So my voice became kinder: "Don't worry about this. Really. I'll be fine. Don't worry about me."
"Okay. Well." He hesitated. "I love you. Take care of yourself."
"You, too. Though I have to say," suddenly, "it's insulting that you let your mom help you decide. Insulting that she actually wanted you to break up with me."
"She didn't, Sarah! I just needed to talk it out loud to someone. And my housemate wasn't around. She wasn't pushing for me to break up with you. I wouldn't let her influence me. And she wouldn't try to, either."
"Okay. I figured so, but I just wanted to make sure." I paused. Then my laughter was not savage. It was authentic, in the soft place of our love. "It's hard for me to hang up the phone now." I was actually smiling. "Knowing this may be the last time I hear your voice."
"I know," -- in his voice there was also strangely a smile.
"Well. Take care."
"I love you, Sarah." And his voice became suddenly urgent, warm -- almost nostalgic -- in that frightening way time moves when relationships shift too fast.
Genuinely -- "I love you, too." And I hung up.
Then I walked towards the house, not quickly. Not slowly. The pavement still hot and rubbly under my soles.
Once inside, I poured myself a glass of orange juice. I got a green towel. It was terry-cloth and thick. I folded it over my arm in the kitchen and said,
"Just so you know, he broke up with me,"
to my mother.
"Just right now?"
"Just right now."
I think maybe she was washing dishes, the rainbows dancing around her knuckles, popping on the points of her ring. I didn't know. I turned and went into the finished basement, to the bathroom. I ran my hot hot bath and cried.
Then I laid under the water -- studied my knees (round and glistening) -- and waited for text messages. My phone sat on a shelf. Next to a bottle of lavender bath oil.
The texts came, sweetly, swiftly, delayed: it didn't matter which. I read each one; grasped them and shoved them inside my heart, trying to swallow something. Stop up the black hole, put fingers in the dyke.
After my bath, I stumbled up the stairs, my shoulder blades unbearably moist under my shirt. The carpet unbearably dry under my feet. I stopped at the top, short on breath. The landing was in the kitchen, and I looked up and saw there were three people sitting at the table: my father, my grandmother, and my uncle.
"Oh, hi, Nana. I didn't know you were here. I was -- in the bath." Disoriented, I went to her and kissed her, my lips sinking into the velour of her cheek.
"How was your weekend?" Her hand went to my lower lumbar, circling firm and too hard. "Miss B?"
"Oh, it was -- oh, it was nice. My boyfriend and I went to watch a folk band with his friends, and then we got ice cream at a dairy farm."
My grandmother patted me. I saw they were eating bowls of figs and dates. My mother was laying down a bowl of almonds, too. She wasn't looking at me. I excused myself quickly, murmuring the word "tired".
Upstairs I paced in my room, and then descended again.
"Actually, Nana," I went to her, "the reason I answered you so shortly was that he broke up with me this afternoon."
My nana actually screamed. She jumped in her seat; gasped, her hand shaking to her neck.
"Just an hour ago," I added, almost sheepishly, becoming bashful at her reaction. It made me see my own wound, already yellow with pus.
"Sarah," throatily, "-- no."
I saw my fourteen-year old brother take his ear bud out of one ear, in the living room.
My father said, "Well, Sary. Maybe it was too much, too fast."
"Seriously?" I asked.
"Tim," said my mother.
"He's only trying to --" said my grandmother.
"What!" my dad said at the same time. "Can't I express fatherly concern?"
"He's only trying to show care," finished my grandmother.
My mom said, "That's not the right response when your daughter has just been --"
-- but I left the kitchen and went out the front door. I avoided the walkway. I went straight across the grass, to the street.
I heard the door open and close behind me.
My fourteen-year old brother loped across the yard.
"Sarah," he called, in his newly-dropped voice. Oaky. He was shoving his ear buds in his pocket. "Do you want company on your walk?"
"Yes," I smiled, as he reached me and rested his arm around my shoulder, "if that company is yours."
We said nothing the entire walk, and I liked the limber, warm weight of his young arm.
We only got a quarter mile, before a silver Toyota drove up behind us. My grandmother rolled down the window and we drifted over to her.
"Your father means well, you know, B," she said. "Sometimes I think daddy just can't express the love he has in his heart."
Swung my leg in a small arc. "Sure, I get that," politely.
She looked at me, and I knew she was in pain for me. She had bought us a bottle of wine for Valentine's Day. A rosé. We went to the liquor store, my nana, my cousin Kelsey, and me. Kelsey asked, "Do you think this might be the one?" And I raised my shoulders and my smile was a rose, too. "I think it might be." And then my grandmother rustled a bottle into a fancy bag, and handed it to me. "Tell your boyfriend it's from Nana. As a congratulations."
"Do you want to spend the night at my house?" she asked. "I have movies."
"Thanks," I said. "But I have to work tomorrow. Thanks, still."
When we returned from our walk, Michael stayed outside to shoot hoops, and I walked inside.
To the kitchen island. Waterfalled my head into my hands, elbows into the granite.
A sharp smell of open onions. "Sarah. Did you give any indication that you wanted to end things with him, perhaps?"
"No," anguished. "No, Mom, this isn't what I wanted at all. I've been completely blindsided."
Slice. "But are you sure you didn't say anything lately?" She manhandled the onions into a glass bowl, in a single scoop, the moist scent sticking to her reddish hands.
"No!" But I couldn't remember anything beyond the past two hours. "I didn't. I mean, well, yes: things have been tense lately, but I didn't expect him to do this."
"Maybe he thought you were going to do it first." She picked up a carrot.
"I wouldn't have!" Poked into the hollow above my eyes.
"But maybe he thought you would. You can be argumentative, you know. And you said that the two of you had been disagreeing a lot lately." I heard her give the carrot a hard chop. "And maybe he thought he needed a more submissive wife in the future."
I lifted my head. "What."
"His mother called you opinionated, remember. Maybe that's how he was raised, to want submission. And he's going to be working hard as a doctor all day long. He will probably need someone who likes to cook and keep house."
"What? No. We talked about that. And he liked me to have my own opinion. Though he did actually break up with me because --" I picked up a dish towel. "We disagreed on one major issue. He said he broke up with me over --" I wadded up the towel, "-- because of my beliefs on that issue."
My mom continued looking at the chopping board. "So why didn't you say you would try to change your mind in the future?"
I put down the dish towel, crumpled. "Because I won't. Because I don't want to, and that's enough reason. Mom! Why aren't you sympathizing with me?" I started walking out of the kitchen, but then I heard her say behind me:
"Well, can I punch him in the nose for you?"
I stopped at the threshold and laughed. "Naw."
"Please?" She still was looking downward, but her voice had become more like cayenne. She dropped all the carrots and onions into a pot. Many rooty thuds. "Or can I just -- strangle him a bit? Wrap my hands around his scrawny little neck?" She raised her hands at throat level; twinkled her fingers.
"Yes, you can," I laughed. "Actually, please do." Then I added -- "Thanks, Mom."
That night, I sat on the leather couch.
My knees, in their pajamas, were pulled up. I hugged a heating pad to my stomach. I didn't know what we were watching on t.v. It was some Dreamworks kids' movie.
Michael was leaning against me. His foot was rubbing my ankle, almost imperceptibly. The inside of his arms were sunburned. He rested his head on my shoulder. His young scalp smelled like jewelwood, like the forest. With chemical top notes of gel. I ran my fingers through his brassy hair, once. He was a miniature version of me, in looks. Except that he was taller than me now. Michael's arms were crossed, holding either elbow.
Afterwards I went to bed. Or rather, I wrapped my blanket around my shoulder. And stared at my wall --
body bent, a brittle pupa --
-- my length bunched. Our dissolution had felt brutally sudden, so unexpected, that my body was in shock and my heart as numb as if he had died. I kept looking at that wall. Off-white. With miniature craters. Like moon cheese. Cottage cheese. Mud white.
And then, behind me, a noise made me jump. My phone was sitting on the table next to my bed. It had made that particular sound: four notes scaling up, and popping cheerfully like a bubble at the end. I reached over, and picked it up. 1 New Message, hopping on the home screen: a picture of an envelope, with a yellow flap. I opened the icon, and a ragged sour line went up my gut, zapping me on fissured nerves.
One last text, my ex wrote, to help ease this transition. Goodnight Sarah. Sweet dreams now and always <3
Dead. I had heard from the grave. The dead had spoken. I understood it even less than him dying. I dropped my phone back on the table. The tablecloth was a rich cream, with an offensive print of pansies. I turned off the light; wrapped myself up in my blankets and turned back to the wall.
But after ten minutes, I unraveled myself and picked up my phone. "You, too," I wrote with a heart.
And then I lowered both my hands.
The sun was stumbling over the edge and turning the mountains ruby.
The petunia pots had stopped dripping, and the fog was gone from the meadow.
The loon was no longer calling.