I knock on the door of her apartment with three light taps. I’m nervous. My feet squirm a little on the welcome mat. I don’t know what I’ll find on the other side of the door, but I have expectations.
I hear movement. The carpeted apartment floor creaks and I hear a muffled sniffle. I take a deep breath. The doorknob twitches, a lock clicks, and the knob twists, then all at once we’re face to face.
Her eyes are red, tired. Her cheeks are swollen and the shoulders of her t-shirt are damp. I try to muster a smile, but as I look at her and the sad, cold air of the apartment seeps out onto the porch, I can’t help but shiver a frown. My eyes begin to tear up, and hers to do the same. I take her into my arms and we just stand there, crying.
“This wasn’t how it was supposed to be,” she says a little while later, curled up on the couch. She’s wrapped herself in a blanket, with only her head poking out. Her hair is in a messy ponytail and matted to the sides of her face.
“I know,” I say, trying not to look at the picture on the fireplace.
She stifles a sob and lays her head down on the couch pillow. The moon is shining in through the living room window and she stares at it as if it might soon tell her something profound.
“Have you talked to him today?” I ask, cautiously.
She nods with squinted eyes. “He says he thinks it will just take time.”
With a quick glance and crippling curiosity, I look at the picture. Taken 8 years ago, you wouldn’t ever assume it would lead them here. She stands with her arms in the air and her mouth open wide, laughing, and he has his knees bent, almost in a squat, and both arms reaching towards her, his eyes are bright and his are lips curled into an unconditional smile. She’d framed that picture as opposed to the traditional hand holding bride and groom photo. She thought it better defined them as a couple.
I’d looked at it thousands of times before. I’d always relished the feeling it gave me—a hybrid of jealousy and inspiration. One day I would have that, I thought, or maybe I never would. My mind would run circles around these two thoughts until she would interrupt me with a story or question.
I too had talked to him today. I’d been by his house this morning to deliver his mail and offer similar condolences and support. He had thanked me for coming and offered only kind words on her behalf. Talking to him then and seeing her now, I can’t help but try and believe this is all a big misunderstanding. But then I see the papers, signatures still wet, and the truth settles an unshakeable nausea in my stomach.
“It will be okay, right?” she says, looking over at me. “This is what we’re supposed to do?”
I note her nod to the old cliché, “if you love something, let it go” and I tilt my head to the side in sympathy. The truth was, I didn’t know if this would help. I didn’t know it was truly possible to fall out of love with someone you swore you’d love forever. I didn’t know that two people who had once referred to each other as their corresponding “halves” could start to fade away from one another without feeling empty.
They’d never fought. Not until this decision had been put on the table. I had watched them start to live separate lives, but even then, they’d almost seemed happy, supportive of one another. One day it was as if their increasingly different lifestyles had become a relief. But then doubt started to creep in.
“Is this what being married is?” she said to me one day last year.
They’d gotten married young, everyone told them that. But they’d fought through hell together, and that was supposed to bind them for as long as they both shall live. On the night of their wedding, she’d cried looking into his eyes, telling him she wasn’t sure she’d have made it this far without him, and he took her in his arms and covered her with equally lyrical affection. But as the years passed, the smoke of previous battles drifted far from their skies and their adrenaline-fueled fire sizzled out its last coal. They began to crave something outside of themselves. Dreams put on hold shifted back into focus. “We’s” began to turn into “I’s.” They began to exist next to one another rather than for the benefit of or the God given purpose to. I still saw them smile and I still saw them laugh, but something had gone missing, and though I think they noticed right away, it took them years to admit it.
“He’s going to do really big things,” she says to me now. “I know he’s going to get everywhere he wants to go. And someone’s going to love him. Someone’s going to love him forever.”
“You will too, don’t you think?”
“Bigger than me,” she says, “far bigger.”
She’d always wanted pursue music. She has the talent, and even knows a few names in the industry from past jobs and common acquaintances. He’d always told her she should go for it, but they had bills to pay and she felt guilty pursuing her passion when he was so far from doing the same.
“And he quit his dad’s factory,” she says, “he’s all packed up to move in the next few months.”
He’d always wanted to go back to school and get a degree in environmental science. He wanted to help improve water quality in third world countries. When they first started dating, they theorized they would “heal the world together.” Her with music, him with water. But life caught up to them quick, and it was these forgotten dreams that pulled them apart over time.
“Have you been writing at all?” I ask when I see the cover of her piano raised.
She sits up and shrugs. “A little. But it’s all sad, pathetic songs.” She laughs lightly.
I smile. “Well you can’t hold that against yourself. You have a right to be sad.”
She brushes this off with another shrug. “But I want it to be more than that. I feel more than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m sad,” she says sternly, as if to makes this abundantly clear, “but it’s a different kind of sad. It’s not heartbroken…anymore…it’s more…grief, but matured grief, does that make sense? It’s like when you lose a grandparent and at first you’re sad, sadder than you could ever imagine, but then after a while, it becomes this dull ache, and you find a way to focus on all the good times you had with them growing up.”
“You become more thankful than sad,” I suggest.
“Well,” I say with a shrug, “maybe you should start by saying thank you?”
“Thank you,” she mutters under her breath. Her eyes focus again on the moon and then they drift over to the picture on her fireplace. “Thank you,” she says again, even quieter this time, “thank you for everything.”
Lisen to the song here