Last night was the first night of our experiment. I was to stay at our new apartment, a small place that hasn’t been renovated since 1973 and probably last cleaned only shortly after that (we don’t plan to move in until after much renovation and much cleaning happen, probably late summer if we can get on the good side of the construction gods).
My husband and I sat in the car outside the building, listening to the end of a story on This American Life, about a former meth dealer who hunted down a meth addict couple who gruesomely murdered their landlord and kidnapped their children, running south from justice. Just the kind of story you want to hear before spending the night alone in an apartment with one working light, self-creaking floorboards and windows at street level.
I called my husband about three minutes after he drove off.
“In what world did this idea make sense?” I asked him, as I gingerly pulled down the grimy window shades, so the doorman across the street would stop watching me.
“Great – I’ll turn around and come get you.”
“No,” I told him. “I need to know I haven’t grown too soft to pull this off.”
“You don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” he said gently.
But I did. I had to prove to myself that I was still tough, still capable of being alone, of ignoring grime and discomfort. I needed to prove that the luxuries of love and money hadn’t spoiled me completely. I was a woman who had spent eight months sleeping directly on the floor of a wooden box suspended from the ceiling of a derelict Bushwick apartment, for fuck’s sake!
I took off my jeans and sneakers and sweater and, cautiously, got under the covers.
Cautiously, because I was in agony. I had pulled something in my back earlier in the afternoon.
“It’s a sign from god I haven’t been kvetching enough about the pregnancy,” I had joked with my husband. I had bent down to lift the cat travel box, with two cats inside, when I felt an internal thing the length of my palm and the thickness of rubberband, shift, pull, and hurt like hell. It had been aching all day since.
I should probably mention why I was moving a cat travel box with two cats inside – we gave our cats to my brother and his fiancé to foster. My husband loves the cats, but cat hair makes his eyes and nose run, and prolonged exposure to cat dander closes up his throat and sets him off in sneezing marathons that can easily outlast a box of tissues. As much as I hate to see him suffer, I adore my cats and I couldn’t give them away unless I was confident they would be loved. But my brother, who, universe be praised, has left religion, peeling himself off the gigantic block of my former “family” to join me in the great secular unknown, had fallen in love with my cats, and asked if he could foster them.
We drove them down to his apartment, where they settled in easier and faster and more happily than I could have predicted. Me, my husband, my brother and his fiancé all ate a salmon and rice dinner together, me rubbing my aching back, fighting the first-trimester nausea that regularly descends in late afternoon.
When it was time to go, I kissed the cats goodbye. I said goodbye to my brother and his fiancé, while my husband said goodbye to the cats, and then we left on our two hour drive home – well, homes - new home for me, old home for my husband.
“I was surprised how upsetting it was,” my husband told me as we navigated on to the highway. “Saying goodbye to the cats. I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” I told him.
We drove in silence for awhile.
“What are you thinking about?” he finally asked.
“Not really thinking, just trying to breathe past the back pain.” The tight throbbing had gotten worse.
“Seriously, you aren’t upset about the cats?”
I shook my head. “No, not really. When I say goodbye, I leave a clean break, no matter how much I totally love someone. Once I say goodbye, it’s as if they never existed. You know that about me.”
It’s a coping technique I developed after the abrupt departure of my family from my life, as a teenager, that still operates as needed.
“I know,” he said. “It worries me. That you’re capable of that.”
I turned away and looked out the window. I knew he wanted me to reassure him that it would be different with him, that I could never leave him like that, that if we ever parted, I would obsess over him for months, years. But I knew that wasn’t true, no matter how much I loved him. And I didn’t feel like reassuring. My back was hurting, I felt like vomiting and I was irritable. Perhaps I was already unhooking myself from him, in some superficial way, to prepare for the evening apart.
The apartment was dark. Voices from the street streamed through the drafty windows. I tossed on the firm mattress, trying to get comfortable without squashing my belly or making my back hurt worse. The old heater hushed a long hissing complaint, and cars wooshed by outside.
I finally fell asleep, and dreamt of a man breaking in to the apartment, and shooting himself in the heart.Printable Version