Apartment Story

You lay in bed, thoughts skittering along the interior of your skull. You worry, you sleep poorly, you wake. She lays on your left. Reach out to touch her and think better of it. Walk to the store alone, come home with groceries. She’s packed a few bags into the center of the room and she stands in silence, groping for words that never come. They never come, it seems. Sit on the floor, stunned. After she goes, you call the doctor — you’ve been meaning to try some anti-depressants, and today’s as good as any to start. The day disappears. Find yourself in a darkened theater, staring into Harrison Ford’s craggy, squinting face, your friends, “The Couple” laughing beside you. They are beautiful and squeeze hands and kiss on the mouth, kiss like they mean it. Kiss like in the movies. “How did I get here?” you ask. Say goodnight. Their eyes offer sympathy. Take the Blue Line to Western Avenue and then walk the rest of the way home. Her name is on the mailbox.

This is how you spend your first night alone: Lay in bed and talk on the phone like a high school girl. Fiddle with internet social networks. Go back to the “important” thing you were writing, as if the day’s events have shown you the truth, that your lives are veering apart, two cars on a highway speeding away from a single point. Fall into a restless, too short sleep. Gasp awake, eyes squeezed shut against light like knives. It stabs through the blinds, burning away last night’s dreams. Knees crack. Pet hair and dander clinging to bare feet as you cross the hardwood floor. Brush your teeth, shave. You’ll do things today. Accomplish something. Keep moving, keep breathing. Your world is falling apart. Buy a phone to replace the one you dropped yesterday. It slipped from your hands into the sink with a splash, and you just stared. She might call, though. You need a phone. Keep moving. Sharks die if they stop moving. Maintain forward momentum before you fall over.

Outside, the temperature has dropped — what? Twenty, thirty degrees? It was gorgeous yesterday, fan-fucking-tastic outside, and you strolled the sun-washed pavement thinking that about the chocolate-trimmed white bikini hanging in her closet, the one that makes you feel half your age when she wears it, a lithe girl with hair the color of stained cherry. A perfect day for the beach, regardless that it was too cold to step into Lake Michigan. You’d mix vodka and lemonade in a thermos and sneak hits off a joint, giggling like school kids. She’s got little fingers, graceful, good for rolling joints and cigarettes… and for slipping inside your clumsy, awkward hands. They break everything they touch. Shake the thoughts away like change from a child’s piggy bank. Zip your sweatshirt, hug your arms close. Lament Chicago’s unpredictable weather and make a mental note that you will never be dressed appropriately. Taxis cruise the street, each one of them full. Succumb to the cold. It’s amazing that you can feel anything at all.

At the store, buy a phone and debate changing your number. Have you changed your number after every failed relationship? You think you have. Are you that big a coward? Swallow and hope that you’re wrong. Besides, what if she calls you? What if she changes her mind? Listen to voicemail. Nothing. How unfair that your life has disintegrated and no one’s even bothered to call.

Go to work. Maybe she left because of your shitty job. You should grow up, wear a tie, dress your age. Rock T-shirts are for kids, and you’re thirty-two. Feel an eight-hour day coast by like a car in neutral. The drugs make you lightheaded and weak. The doctor warned you not to take them on an empty stomach. “It’s like being drunk,” he said, “but without the slurring.” Take your time. There’s no rush to go home. She’s not waiting with wine-stained lips, legs up on the armrest. She’s not in bed, hair splashed across the sheets. She only wore underwear to sleep, always changing into a fresh pair before she got under the covers, save for when she wanted sex — then she’d sleep naked, working her hips against you, nestling tight. Stop thinking about it. Watch the streets dip and dive with each turn of your woozy head. Flag down a passing cab. Fight to stay awake. Stay awake. The driver eyes you in the mirror — just what he needs, another burnout fare passing out in the backseat. The headlights and neon signs streak by like falling stars. Home. Toss him a few dollars on the way out. Down the street, children’s laughter. Firecrackers snap in the frosty dark.

The lights aren’t on. What were you expecting?

Into the hall, up the stairs. A year and half, you’ve taped a page from an album liner to the door, two chairs on a hill at twilight, but now it’s fallen to the welcome mat. Hold your breath. Slide the key in slow; each click of the tumblers is a gunshot. You are a man jumping from an airplane. The door creaks open, and the cats blink in the spill of the hallway light. They meow at your feet and you shoo them inside. She’s not here, stop thinking that. Strip down, shoes in the hallway, jeans on the floor, huddle beneath the covers, shiver and shake. The bed stretches out like a foreign continent. Orange bottles of pills on the table, a twenty ounce Pepsi, cigarettes. There’s a joint around here somewhere, something to calm you down. Anything. The clock taunts you, minutes marching across its face. Look at you, it says. You can’t even sleep right. Lungs shudder to a rest.

Close your eyes. Think of the girl on the horizon, a silhouette against the streaming red sky.