After My Breakup, My Apartment Is What Haunted Me The Most
Tonight, I'm sitting outside my house across the street from Golden Gate Park. I'm smoking a cigarette, catching up on my "saved" articles on Facebook and listening to music. One of those songs just came on.
These days, when a song comes on that's just the right dose of you, the tectonic plates of my heart shift a little and I can feel the cracks all over again.
I'm moving out of this house next week. This house is the definition of filthy. There's mold on my ceiling and in every crevice of the bathroom. I don't know (or interact with) any of the five other people who live here. None of them do their dishes and I don't even want to know what's living in the stain ridden carpet in my 8x7 room.
I've lived here for 15 months, the longest I've lived in one place since my family moved out of my childhood home in 2008 (my senior year of high school). This is also the last place you know me to exist in.
I moved in on Halloween, just a little more than a month before that Saturday afternoon in early December. I started coming to sit out here, call you and smoke cigarettes just a little more than a month before you called to say you didn't love me anymore.
This is where I used to sit when you'd call from college in Vermont -- you, usually burning your midnight oil in the architecture studio, me, three hours behind you in California.
With this being your home state, my decision to move here from Pennsylvania had more to do with you than I will ever care to admit.
I'd put it at 40/60. About 40 percent was because of you and our future together, and 60 percent the fact that being bipolar through another east coast winter would have been playing with fire, or maybe, more appropriately, black ice.
My answer to the annoyingly frequent “What brought you to California?” is never a lie, though. "The sun,” I always say.
The song continues its tune, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you, so please don't take my sunshine away."
Through this front door, and up the dust covered stairs, is the last place we ever opened a bottle of champagne together. We ate a DiGiorno's pizza and knew, for the last time, we would see each other the next day. It was the last time we would wake up next to each other.
You had already booked a ticket to visit me. You broke my heart over the phone from 3,000 miles away just one week before your flight. When I asked you, through my tears, what you were going to do, you said you'd stay with your friend across the bay. "Maybe we could get coffee, or dinner or something."
"Fuck that,” I had replied. “You're coming here and we're getting shit-faced. We're going back to my place and making a pizza. We're having breakup sex and crying and drinking and in the morning I will go to work and that will be it."
You sent me a smiley emoji and told me you'd hoped that was what I was going to say. In retrospect, now knowing that you lied when I asked you why this conversation couldn't have waited a week, the fact that this somehow appeased me makes me want to barf.
The mattress in that room upstairs, a Craigslist hand-me-down, is the last place you ever held me, the last place I ever ran my fingers down your back and the last place we ever made love.
I'm getting a new mattress for my new bed next week.
Next week I'm going to pack up all of the crap I've stacked in piles on the limited floor space in my room. I'll pull out things that have been in my closet since before you broke me, and things I later hid with my broken heart.
I'm going to pack up the bear you won me in a claw machine right at the very beginning. It's the same bear that has since been across the country a couple of times. First, to my summer house in Canada where I will always regret never bringing you, and then to Peru. That bear climbed Huayna Picchu on my back.
I'm going to pull out what was meant to be your Christmas present, though you ceased its production before Christmas came around. I picked it back up a few months later and finally finished it in May. I was planning to send it as a silent gesture for your graduation.
Six months after you broke my heart on this stoop, I had all but addressed the envelope when I ended up out here again, crying on the phone with you until 5 am.
You called because I ignored your texts about wanting to tell me something that I might not want to hear. Who in their right mind answers a text like that? It's like having someone tell you how awful something smells before telling you to smell it.
When you called that time I immediately told you that if whatever you had to tell me had to do with to your love life, I didn't want to hear it.
All of a sudden, you didn't have anything to tell me. Well, that is until you just had to mention that you were going to be in San Francisco the following week to visit "someone.” I'll pull out that present I made, still in its padded mailing envelope, and put it in a moving box.
I'm going to pull out the last birthday presents you and your mom ever bought me. I'm sure I'll find other bits of us that I'm not prepared to deal with, and they'll all go right in those boxes, alongside all of my other things.
I'll put those boxes in my new roommate's car and unpack them in my new room. I'll find another spot, hidden out of sight, to stow away those pieces of us.
When I went home for Christmas this year, I was having my usual emotional purge visit with “my person,” my childhood babysitter turned best friend, confidant and mentor.
She, and her husband, always loved you. You loved them too. I wish you could see how cute their oldest daughter is now, and I can see the exact reaction you would have to the second daughter you probably don't even know they had.
The times that I can really remember your facial expressions, and see them clearly in my head, are the most painful, though they're growing fewer and farther between.
While I was catching my friend up on my heart, I told her what I said to another friend a few days before:
“Everyone keeps telling me that I'll meet someone new eventually, I'll fall in love again, I'll move on. I don't want to fall in love with someone else. I don't want to give more pieces of my heart away, I want to love me again. I want all my pieces back before I give them away again.”
"Oh, Terry," she turned to me from the stove with a spatula in one hand and a look of sincere sympathy on her face. "That's not how love works, T. You're never getting those pieces back. You gave them to him, and he has them now."
I felt my chest tighten.
"I'm sorry, T,” she said, simultaneous pity and compassion oozing out of every syllable. I barely, but successfully, pushed the tears back down my throat.
I'm leaving this house next week, and with it, I'm leaving the last realm of my memories with you.
I remember exactly what I said to you as our last conversation was finally dwindling down at 5 am, the last phone call I had with you from this stoop. I didn't want to say goodbye because I didn't know when the next time I would talk to you would be.
“We'll just say goodnight then.” Though the California sun was beginning to peak through the trees in the park across the street, it sure did feel a lot like a sunset.
These memories have taken me 13 months to wrangle, stow and zip tie to a dark, back corner of my conscience. I don't dare touch them; they're not as secure as they may look. The most simple reminder of you, like that song that just came on, threatens to cut them loose.
However, I will carefully sort, pack and tape up those boxes, littered with the physical reminders I still have. Next week, on my new hardwood bedroom floor, I'll take a knife to the taped up cardboard seams and find a new place to keep the pieces of you that you'll never get back either.