Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gracious Goes

A week after he told me he was leaving, Bobby left. It was Monday, September 23rd, and the sun was shining because it didn’t know we’d been up all night and the morning hurt when it came. We walked downstairs, said good bye, and I slid the gate shut behind him as if it were any other day and I just had to shut the gate, because that’s what you do when someone leaves the house. I didn’t watch him walk down the driveway, because I didn’t want to ponder what it meant to watch my partner of almost half a decade walk away from me, to a tuk tuk, to a plane, back home to America without me. I didn’t cry. I just turned around and looked at the emptiness of my house, not ours, mine, and the mine of it all felt like too much to have. I didn’t want to stand where I was standing when he left, so I went back upstairs and stood, instead, in the doorway of our bedroom and looked at the bed for a very long time. I felt a wave of anxiety that was so palpable I thought it would knock me down; I couldn’t look at the bed anymore. I sat on the living room floor and felt the immense open awareness of being alone, truly- not just alone because I was out somewhere without Bobby, or we were apart for a while, but because I was alone. Single. Solitary. No invisible thread of fidelity tied me to another person in this world. I pictured that thread that I used to have, and how it was gone, and I suddenly felt disastrously unmoored, like I was drifting out into space and getting lost and couldn’t find my way back because I didn’t know where I lived, in this too big house of mine, not ours. I started shaking and couldn’t stop, so I stretched out on the wood floor and shook against it until I wasn’t shaking. I didn’t cry.  

I couldn’t handle the doorway of the bedroom anymore, so I went back downstairs to fill my hands with a distraction. I picked up the broom, and I swept the entire house. Twice. The mop came next, and then a rag for the stairs, a step at a time to clean places that no one would ever see. I bleached the counters. I scrubbed the refrigerator, which was already clean. Sweat streamed off of me, rivulets down my neck and back, my hair clumped to my neck and stuck to my cheeks,  and I needed water but didn’t get any because I didn’t want to stop. I worked on my hands and knees and scrubbed the baseboards, carefully, because it mattered. I did laundry that wasn’t really even dirty, just for the methodical calm of the process of filling the tank, switching the drain, wringing the clothes, and carefully hanging them all. I gathered up all the dusty wooden chairs in a clattering herd and doused them, one by one, with buckets of water as their legs scratched mine. The mosquitoes came with the water, and the water mixed with my sweat until my entire dress was a sopping, clinging sheet. I was barefoot in the back drain of my house, not ours, mine, surrounded by chairs that just wouldn’t come clean. The sun pressed against my hair and the back of my neck and my shoulders until, between the heat and the sweat and the dirty water running down my arms and legs, I had finally exhausted myself enough to stop. The chairs went back where they belonged, looking none the cleaner. I walked to the gate and put my hand on the lock and thought about living there alone. I didn’t want to think about living there alone. I crept up the spotless stairs and peeled off my clothes and stretched out on the floor of the bathroom with the water pounding down and streaming off of me in gritty brown snakes. It was freezing cold and I would have thought about how good it felt if I had felt anything close to good in general.

I thought for certain this would be when I cried, but it wasn’t. This was when I thought of how, when we were first dating, I would stand in the bathroom after a shower while Bobby cleaned the deep wound where a mole had been cored out of me. I couldn’t reach it to clean it, and twice a day, he would. It was a bloody, nasty gash, threaded through with black stitches, and I would wince and pout and breathe the pain through my teeth while he carefully, carefully cleaned it. It had been turning into cancer and my doctor had told me I was lucky to have caught it when I did. Love, to me, in that moment, was Bobby cleaning my wound, taking care of a place I couldn’t reach myself.

I walked my way through the memories of all the times he had taken care of me, and this mental route, inevitably, as I knew it would, led to the night I called him, screaming, to tell him that my sister had died. He was there the next morning and all the mornings after that, and he cleaned my wound, because I couldn’t take care of it myself. I thought about how he held me up as I walked, howling, out of her funeral, unable to bear the reality that so many of us were there because she wasn’t. I whispered to him that he had to get me out of here, I can’t walk, I can’t walk, I can’t walk, but I could, because he held me. For months after he held that grief for her with me when I couldn’t hold it all in my hands. This grief of loss, the shared history of our years of combined lives, this loss had the same quality, if not the same intensity. It felt familiar. It surprised me, because I didn’t know it would feel like that. I didn’t know.  

I cried then. I cried for all of it until I couldn’t cry anymore, and then I crawled into my bed, not ours, mine, and I found more to cry for in the sheets. I cried for the hands of my friends to pet me and let me sleep on their couch in the middle of the day because we’d all been there. I cried to be in the same town as my family so I could find my way to the sounds of laughter and coffee on the back porch. I cried through regrets and fear and found my way into a pathetic, shuddering sob that was little more than my own heavy, exhausted breathing. More than anything, I struggled under a guilt so tangible it hurt to feel it. A heavy guilt that shamed me. A guilt that asked me why? Why did I need things like overseas jobs in random developing countries, when that meant that my partner was so miserable he couldn’t bear to live with me? Why, after all those years we had shared, did I insist on continuing down a path he wouldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, walk anymore?

I kept thinking that what was so hard, so hard, was that we didn’t split apart so much as we diverged; there was no explosive separation, nothing to point to and say here, here is where it happened. Our parting was hard in its soft simplicity. It was a turn to the left and a turn to the right. We were, and then suddenly we weren’t. It surprised us both, I think, to look up one day and realize that the companion walking by our side was now far flung, way out in the world, and all you could see was the shape of the person on the horizon who used to be close enough to clasp hands. I thought of how far away he already was, and how long he’d be that far away, after how long he’d been close. I stretched out into a star, searching hands and feet moving into the wide empty space of the bed, and there on the edges I found more to cry for in the sheets, until I finally found sleep.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sometimes, Vientiane

Vientiane often tries me. Vientiane often bores me. Vientiane often makes me ache for so many other places I'd rather be, and I often wonder where that rather would specifically be if things had worked out differently.

But, sometimes?

Sometimes, Vientiane can yield a soft, cool night that starts with a random rooftop dance party.

Sometimes, you can climb the stairs, zig-zagging upwards through a tunnel of muffled distant, now close and clear, social sounds, and find a corner from which to watch the lights of Thailand glitter snaking on the surface of the river. You lean over the railing and you lean into the conversations around you and you learn new names. A stutter step slow start of music and sparse movement quickly turns into a crowd of clapping laughing stomping dancing under the stars, and for the next few hours you're lost in it. The party ends and then it's zig-zagging back down those stairs making plans for the next stop. You get there and the next stop is inexplicably closed, no matter, something else. Now you're flagging down fancy trucks and finagling your way into hitching rides in the back, the wind in your face saying remember? and telling your cheeks and closed eyes the memories of Texas summers on the way to rodeos, or to the creek to swim off a weekend. You're hopping the tailgate and thanking the strangers for the ride, kawp chai'ing, sincerely and windblown, their refusal of money or Beer Lao. Now the night is heading into that dingy club draped in spider webbed green lights woven through with dubious dub step. You're yelling the words and wringing yourself out and feeling yourself sweat still more. Moving moving moving. Forgetting forgetting forgetting. In this place you feel and see the tattered edges of a grime you don't want to touch, but more than that you're in a place where you just want to keep chasing that head thrown back rapture of feeling music go through you in the dark. Early morning comes and closes the club; now everyone's piling into the tuk tuk of So, who knows exactly where you live since he's taken you home so many times before. Those three wheels strain under the five of you; you shift weight to help out, but mostly you're huddling in a puppy pile of twisted legs and arms to stay warm. One by one people drop off into the night and back to their homes, and then you find your way to yours, walking through the tile path palm tree tunnel up to the first door on the right at the top of the stairs. You get a hot shower and a 5 a.m. bedtime. You have sore feet and a sweet deep exhaustion that helps you, finally, to catch some real sleep. It comes quickly, and when it does, it's dreamless and unbroken.

Sometimes, I can live here and forget how I got here, or what's happening there where I am not, and haven't been for so long. Maybe sometimes will be more often, or at least it will keep being sometimes often enough that I can make it through to June and whatever happens next.