“What happened?” his voice pleaded, cracking. “Is there somebody else?”
“God, no!” I cried too soon.
“Then” he choked back sobs, “What is it? Why would you ever leave us?”
I sat alone on the love seat of our attic apartment, cupping my phone in a cage of fingers. His words came out of the speaker, but they fell to the floor. My half-heart hung from the gallows in my head.
Trucks blazed by on Route 695. Their headlights cut the empty room up, illuminating the place before asphyxiating it in darkness. Sputtering engine noises consumed the carnal silence.
“I wanted to marry you, Ashley.”
It was never clearer to me that his love, in all its temperate complexity, was not mine to keep. When we met, I had nothing but negative experiences to compare my conflicted feelings to so I thought that love must be languid like him. His love was gentle, so I allowed myself to climb to a safe summit with him. My love was tepid. The irrepressible volatility in me, the need for control, quickly overthrew him.
Our love story was a broken lullaby that left me slightly restless at night. Decembers gave way to Decembers and, for years, I talked and tossed myself into a light sleep. I took Xanax, and laid stiff with my back boarded against him.
But, every night, he reached for me through cold sheets. His hands were warm, but my body was cold. In all of my listless melancholy, my rigidity softened in the reach of his embrace. He was an angel that I slowly starved.
The erupting truth of us came out of me all at once. It was inescapable in the end and deluged us. It was a gospel that leered at me from the beginning. Taunting me after so much time. My selfishness infuriated me.
“I don’t love you, Gerrod.” I said, “I am so sorry.” I let myself fall into an ocean of fully realized deception.
“What do you mean? You love me,” he cried weakly, “You know you love me.”
“I love you. I do.” Violins played in my voice as I struggled to bury our emaciated relationship.
“But,” I broke, “I am not in love with you.”
This was too much for him. The phone line went dead.
The proceeding silence was electrifying. My emotions revved through me violently. Relief and terror dueled as my brain processed this final, slicing detachment. I was ready.
I lay baby’s breath and white lilies, pallid like our grief, at our gravestone. They were colorless, but beautiful.
Our last words summoned passionate tides that seized us, then released us. There was a sense of dispossession, and of balance. In the end, his jagged, grasping love for me didn’t prove as incisive as my soft detachment.
The rest of the callous world took no notice of our break-up. People were unaware of our tiny corner of love that ruptured, then faded. Life went on without mournful silence or penance for the three years I spent with the softhearted man I never truly loved.
Three years of walking through the snow-covered playgrounds in Maryland.
Three years of frozen yogurt shops, and drugs.
Three years of laughter, and fights.
Three years with this wonderful man before I fell completely and utterly in love with someone else.