You try to listen. Your friends, your mother, the people who have known you for decades, for longer than this relationship has existed, say something else is going on. They say words you refuse to comprehend—drugs and affair and alcoholic. You say: If it’s anything, it’s the drugs. He would never have an affair. We’ve talked about that. He would never do that. Not to me.
You feel your heart crack on your birthday. He tells you he is not sure this will work. You ask what he means. He gets annoyed and asks if you are going to dinner or not, because the reservation is in fifteen minutes. It is the day you turn thirty. You feel less like thirty; you feel younger, more fragile, sick, unsteady. You try not to cry through dinner. You try to smile at him, to appease him. You cannot taste the food. You cannot feel your fingers against the metal of the fork. You stare at the floor and bite your lip until it bleeds on the inside and you say nothing for fear that what will come out will sound like an animal dying.
You lie awake at night wondering where he is, why he hasn’t come home. In the four years you have lived together, he has always come home, always told you where he was, and you always believed him. He has always been considerate, timely. Around midnight, you get a text: Too drunk to drive. You text back: Okay. Thanks for letting me know. Even though it’s not really okay and you don’t feel thankful. You try to give him space, because that is what he said he needed and you want him to be happy. And so badly, you want to trust that he will be back, wholehearted.
you keep trying…
You sit in couples counseling, crying. He sits stone-faced. Half present. Not even. In the waiting room, he paced for ten minutes, threatening to leave. You sat silently, slumped, making yourself small and then smaller still. Don’t leave. Please don’t leave. Your heart pleads, but you say nothing. You stare at the floor. You smile. You ask if he wants anything—water, something to eat—and you hand him your water bottle. He drinks the last few sips and hands it back to you, empty.
You lose weight: 112 pounds, 110 pounds, 105 pounds. You weigh less. You become less. You cannot eat. You feel nauseous, sick all the time. You drink coffee to get you through the day. You stare at the ceiling, periodically checking the clock throughout the night. Looking at the scale, you wonder if you’ll weigh less than a hundred pounds soon. You have not weighed that little since eighth grade. You wonder if you will eventually evaporate, implode to nothingness. Weightless. You imagine floating above the world. You imagine you are stardust.
You go away. You come back. He is home. He has put a guitar in the living room. He is cleaning the house. His alarm clock is on the side table on his side of the bed. He decides to sleep in your bedroom. You lie still all night. You don’t dare to move; you take shallow breaths. You listen to his breath. You hope he is sleeping. You think that, if he can sleep soundly here, he’ll want to sleep with you. You think that if you are perfectly inert, he’ll see you again. He’ll come back, wholehearted. You wonder if this is the last time you will ever lie beside him. Dimly, somewhere in the back of your weary mind, a thought begins to form: You realize you can’t see him anymore. His edges have become blurry, unfamiliar. You hold your hand in front of your eyes in the darkness and you realize you cannot see yourself either. You have lost your sight. You touch the place where you know your wedding ring rests. It is loose on your bony finger.
…until you can’t try anymore
You don’t ask questions. You climb a mountain alone. Afterward, you visit a friend for coffee and conversation, and she says that you should do the things you want to do. You manage a smile, because she has been through this, too. You know she is right. You try, but you cannot remember what it is you want to do. Even as you gaze out at the earth from the top of that mountain and into the eyes of dear friends, into all the things you love most, you are shriveling like a grape in the sun.
You almost feel relief when you find the notes. It is Easter. He hasn’t come home. You had asked him to spend Easter with you. Your husband had responded, “I’ll be around, so yeah, maybe.” You don’t know where he is, where he has been. You have called. No answer. You wonder if he is hurt, if he is alive. You open his work bag. You’ve opened the bag a million times to retrieve a used Tupperware, a pen, a dollar. You pull out a pile of Post-It notes sitting at the top. The air leaves your chest all at once, but quietly. You feel dizzy. Last night was goddamn magic. You cannot stop reading this note. There are others, of course. But you read those five words over and over and over, hands shaking. You call your best friend. You call your mother. You call your father. They knew this was coming. They knew it months before your heart could. You call his phone again. He does not answer again. When he pulls into the driveway, you walk outside and say: we need to talk. At least you finally know the person you are speaking to.
You say all the things you think you should say about forgiveness. You try to be as kind as you can. You feel numb, and you wonder if you should feel angry. You eat dinner together. Like you will be friends. He leaves a week later. You lie on the bathroom floor, sobbing. He kisses your forehead. You don’t know if you should scrub your skin until it’s raw or never wash it again. You wash it. The night before, you stroked his hair as he cried, but he did not stroke your hair. And you were crying, too. When you hear his car pull out and you know that he is finally gone, you get up off the floor and drive to a yoga class. You spread your arms and legs wide. You take up space. You take a deep breath for the first time in months. Years, maybe, if you are being honest with yourself. But you are not yet ready to be that honest with yourself.
and then you exist again
You drive south down the highway until it’s warm. Then you drive east until you’ve reached the farthest point you can reach, where the road is enveloped by the Atlantic. You park. You slide from your car. You climb the dunes. You hear the waves. You collapse into the sand, exhausted, encapsulated in a sorrowful soul. The sand is soft and cool, and you watch as the sun sets and the sky turns pink and red and then purple and the darkest black-blue. You watch by yourself as the stars appear, singular and then en masse.
The moonlight glimmers on the surface of the turbulent salt waters. You hold your hand in front of your face. You see its outline. You count four fingers. No rings. A thumb. When you touch the sand, you feel the grains with your fingertips, soft and cool and gritty.