“I’m leaving you.”
Those words shouldn’t have caught be so off guard. But they did.
I will never forget the look on her face as she said them to me, standing by the stairwell, her bag on the bottom step.
She meant those words. She meant them enough to leave me alone with the house. All she needed were all the things she could fit in her bag and the keys to her car.
I never was the best with words.
“Even now,” she said.
“Even now, what?” I asked again.
“Even now you’re not listening to me.”
“I am listening to you.”
“Oh yeah, then what did I say?”
“You say you’re leaving.”
“What?” I asked.
“We’re not having this conversation again.”
“We’ve had it before?”
“Clearly just me.”
“You can’t do this, Joanna.”
“Why not? We don’t have any kids. We barely even use the same stuff. Only thing we share is debt.”
Your debt. She didn’t have to say it. I knew what she meant.
“We share a bed.”
“Not the same sides.”
“I’m sorry, okay. Maybe I didn’t take you seriously before. I’m listening now.”
“That’s too bad,” Joanna said as she picked up her bag. “Because I’m leaving now.”
And she did.
I stood there for a long time, staring at the door. I wasn’t hoping it would open or anything. I knew she wasn’t coming back. But I wanted her to. I wanted to see that door knob twist. I wanted to see her face.
Eventually I sat down on the couch. There I stared intently at the blank screen. I saw a man staring back at me who looked well into his thirties. In reality, I had only been thirty for a day.
Joanna could wait long enough not to go on my birthday. I understood then why we didn’t celebrate together. What felt worse was how I didn’t think this was anything worth making a fuss over. I didn’t even point it out. We had been together long enough not to need to make a big deal over such a thing as getting a year over. We hadn’t done anything for either of our birthdays for years.
At no point did she ever complain.
I listened. I heard everything she said. I couldn’t get all the stuff done around the house that I did if I didn’t.
I didn’t get up from the couch that night. I didn’t make myself something for dinner. I didn’t get on the computer. I kept my phone by me, and I glanced at it every few minutes to see if she messaged me. But I never unlocked the screen. I spent my time staring at the man in the TV screen who looked sadder than I had ever seen him. Eventually he lied down onto his side and (and this was a hard thing to watch) cried himself to sleep.
The next morning my phone was dead. I searched frantically for a charger. It wasn’t in its usual place on the counter. Joanna must have packed that one. I went upstairs to use the one by my side of the bed. After waiting a few moments for my phone to power back on, my heart leaped at the sound of a notification. But it was only junk mail. On a different day I would have been excited about the deals in my inbox. Not anymore. I came to see my spending for what it was. Debt. And debt had cost me more than it said on the statement.
When I looked up from the phone, I saw signs of Joanna everywhere. She hadn’t fully closed the closet door. I sizable chunk of her wardrobe was missing. Her underwear drawer was slightly ajar, though from what I could tell, mostly empty. Some decorative items were missing from the dresser, though I couldn’t remember what they were. The top of the side table by her half of the bed was completely bare. I had no idea what used to be there either.
I didn’t watch myself cry that time. I could tell by the dampness of the pillow. I could feel it in the vibrations in the mattress from my heavy sobs.
I don’t remember much from that day, but I do recall how slowly the time moved. And I remember how, at some point, I ended up sitting on the bathroom floor. This was as far as I could make it after flushing the toilet.
On the next day, I built up the nerve to send her a text message. I got no response. Had I waited too long?
I had. I should have said something years sooner. I should have noticed. Her. Everything.
At some point I made my way downstairs and stuck something in the microwave. It was leftovers of something she had cooked. Even then, she was still feeding me. I broke down before the beep. By this point I was too hungry to walk away, but I sobbed into the container until there was eventually more water left in the bottom than food. Then I made my way back to the couch. I hated the man I saw staring back at me.
When I opened up my computer, I saw that Joanna had blocked me everywhere she could. I thought about sending her an email, but that felt wrong. She had made it clear that she didn’t want to hear from me.
I skipped work the next day. I called in and told them I was sick. There was no need to fake a cough. I sounded terrible. I was told not to come in the next day either. I didn’t.
After that, I finally took a shower. I’d like to say I didn’t cry. I did. But at least this time there was something to wash away my tears, and when I stepped out, I almost felt something inside. That feeling wouldn’t come back for a while. I definitely didn’t feel it again that day, or the one after. Only at the end of the week did getting dressed start to get a little easier.
A week after that, the crying stopped. I knew Joanna wasn’t come back. She’d left me. I couldn’t say the words out loud yet, but I could think them.
Then one day, sitting in front of the TV, I decided I could no longer stand the man looking back at me anymore than Joanna could.
“I’m leaving you,” I said.
Then I shaved, went out for a haircut, and picked out a new outfit. Just one. My debt would soon be all mine. But it was a start.
“Leaving Me” by Bertel King, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.