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May 20, 2024

It's the Little Things That Remind Me of Her

By Dan Mulhollen

Two weeks have gone by and it's still difficult for me to believe than Leah and I have broken up. I still dream of her knocking on my door or showing up at an Internet site I've been trying for months to get her to join. I still believe we could have had a good life together. Yes, I know; holding on to illusions only makes the process that much tougher.

Today was a bright day, high of 83. I decided to go to the supermarket, realizing that I was nearly out of everything -- coffee and toilet paper being the most urgent. I passed women there in shorts and halter tops. There was a moment of confusion. Part of me, perhaps the devil on my shoulder, suggests I get caught up in some transitional relationship that would only last long enough for me to forget Leah. Then the angel on the other shoulder reminds me I'm not ready for that. Then with a snicker, it adds that I won't be for a long time. No, Leah meant too much to be that easily forgotten.

Ten years can seem like forever under the right circumstances. I remember hearing about a coffee shop opening a very short walk from my home. Every Friday they would have a poetry night. Anyone could step onto the small platform they called a stage and recite their poetry. Sure, there were the angst-ridden teen sagas decrying a world conspiring to keep them from getting laid. There were the would-be Ogden Nashs who wanted the world to appreciate how clever they were. But there were also several very good poets.

Leah often dressed the part of the stereotypical beat poet; beret and turtleneck, everything in the mandatory black. However there was a depth to her writing that went beyond any stereotypes. One night she complemented my on the "darkness" of the poem I'd read that night. This led to the first of many long late-night conversations, some of them lasting past dawn (the owner was nocturnal and happy to keep the shop open as long as people were still buying coffee).

There was something about Leah that I found off-putting. While we both wrote darker works and were not shy about including edgier material, our themes were entirely different. If I wrote about a moonlit stroll through a grave yard, it would be the mood that mattered most and that the narrator found enlightenment from the experience. If she wrote a poem on that topic, there would invariably be some undead entity rising from its grave, destroying the protagonist. In my poetic landscape, darkness always ended with sunrise, while hers existed in a state of perpetual midnight.

One night she suggested we spend more time together. I made a half-assed excuse as to why that would not be a good idea. The truth was that I was interested in someone else. I saw the sad look on Leah's face when I refused her suggestion, but felt helpless to do anything about it.

Trisha was new to the coffee shop. She recently moved to the area from the East Coast. There was this odd high-strung sophistication to her that I found appealing. Had I looked a little beneath the surface, I would have seen a lot wrong with that picture, but infatuation only allows us to see what we want to see. After a few weeks, she seemed to get angry at me for no reason. What I didn't know about here the many emotional trip-wires she'd set up for protection. I developed a habit of setting those off.

It ended with her going off on a long obscenity-filled rant and the owner having to call the police to remove her from the coffee shop. The last I've heard, she moved out west where she continues to spin into people's lives, like a tornado, leaving a path of devastation behind her.

After that, I spent a long time questioning whether a happy relationship was even possible. I looked around at the people at the coffee shop. There was Gina the waitress, who met her husband there, and was still happily married. And while being a terrible poet, Cheri, the would-be Ogden Nash, was happily married. Besides that, almost everyone else was either divorced or contemplating divorce.

Leah told me a particularly harrowing story of abuse and vindictiveness. "This from a man who said he loved me," she said, her voice expressing both fright and sarcasm.. "If that's what love is about, I''m very happy without it."

We remained friends, but she often seemed more distant than before. I knew she had taken a new and more stressful job, and attributed that to her occasional aloofness. Yet as the trauma of the whole Trisha experience faded, I began to see Leah differently than before. We'd been friends for nearly nine years and there was a richness in our relationship that I was finally able to appreciate.

One night a small group of us were chatting after the poetry readings were over. These conversations meander from one off-beat topic to another. At one point, someone decided to take an impromptu poll as to what sort of underwear everyone was wearing. "Commando," Leah said, giggling. As someone who tends to over-intellectualize everything -- and someone who rarely let anything come between him and his blue jeans -- that remark caught my curiosity.

I did notice the way her breasts seeming to move of their own accord; which I always found easy on the eyes. But I've never seen a lack of underwear as any sort of sexual indicator. To me, it's an act of individualism; living according to ones own ideals and rejecting social dictates. I started wondering if she and I shared similar views.

Later that evening, I asked Leah if that she said was the truth. She nodded, saying, "Turtleneck, jeans, boots," then she looked at me and smiled, "and that's all."

Something changed in me that moment. The emotional walls I'd built after the Trisha fiasco crumbled. I looked at Leah and realized that this was someone I could spend the rest of my life with.

Leah seemed to enjoy the attention. I started writing thinly-veiled narrative verse about how I could imagine our life together. She applauded as enthusiastically as the rest of the crowd. A few people commented that while they had always enjoyed my poems, my writing had reached a new level. I thought maybe it was that I had found my Muse.

There were a few rough patches. Leah can be an incredibly private person and sometimes seems to have some degree of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but we've all got our problems. Besides, it seemed that every time we had an argument, the resolution brought us closer together.

Yet there were issues that became too great to overlook. We were still basically just two people who met at a coffee shop. She would not allow anyone there to know we were more than friends. Maybe after years of so many people controlling her -- from her parents to her ex-husband -- she needed to be in total control of her personal life, including relationships.

Sadly, I'm far too insecure for that. I need affirmation; to hear things she was hesitant to say. I had to take her at her word, yet she once confessed that she did not consider honesty terribly important, and that a lie was often a very useful tool.

Nearly three weeks ago, I caught some sort of virus and was unable to visit the coffee house for several days. As I lay there in bed, all my demons came to the surface. I imagined things I did not want to imagine. I wondered how many direct lies she'd told me over the years, and how much she was leaving out when she'd talk about her day.

It wasn't until Monday that we met again. I did not want an argument; being happy just to see her after that long, agonizing weekend. But she was in an acidic mood. Instead of being able to give me the warmth I needed, she seemed to take everything I said the wrong way.

When a relationship goes sour, it does so quickly, neither side having any control over the conversation. A remark about our differing attitudes regarding a couple of coffee house regulars devolved into her justifying her need to be less open than I would like. I then stumbled into a weak, pleading statement of how my feelings towards here have grown over the years.

"You had your chance," she said, bitterly, but you chose Trisha."

Yes, I made a mistake. Maybe the worst mistake I will ever make in my entire life. And even though I'd apologized so many times to her, she'd always bring it up when we argued.

Luckily, I had other business to attend to and left for a couple hours. I hoped that we would be able to return to the conversation, but with cooler heads. When I returned she acted as if the argument had never happened, that there were no issues to be resolution. This was too much. I could not pretend anymore. Silently, I just sat there, looking out into the darkness.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked, softly.

"The future, and how I'm going to need to leave here for a few months. I've fallen for you and need time to get over."

"So everything has to be your way," she said, more sad than angry.

"Even if you can't see it," I said, trying to find the strength not to cry, "everything has been your way all along. I need it to be my way."

"If that's what you want." I looked up and saw her eyes were as damp as mine.

"It isn't," I said, slowly shaking my head. "But what I want doesn't seem to be in the cards."

Then I sat there for a long time, not wanting to leave. It would have been so easy to say something out of anger. I didn't want it to end, let alone end with bitterness. I finally stood up. "Be well," I said, walking towards the door.

"Be well, too" she replied.

Two weeks have passed and I'd like to say I'm feeling better. I'd like to say that, but it would mostly be a lie. I have good days, involving myself with online friends and taking part in their activities. Yet there are very bad days. On occasion Leah and I used to Instant Message one another when she was at work. I chose a yellow rubber duck as my picture. The other day, I rebooted my computer and saw that rubber duck on the screen again. Seeing it brought back too many memories, and I realized that Leah and I are two people who truly care about one another and yet will never be together. I lowered my head and broke down..

It's the little things that remind me of her. Ten years worth of conversations have produced a lot of memories. And that thought of what might have been is something that will haunt me for a very long time.

I suppose I'll eventually return to the coffee shop. Eventually things will begin to drift back to a calmer state. Emotions will be smoother and I'll be able to accept the truths staring me in the face that I'm currently unable to accept. It's a healing process and I've been here before.

Maybe love is a form of insanity. I fall in and experience a brief moment of ecstasy believing this is the time it will happen. Then reality hits and I emerge, bloodied and in pain; recovering slowly, only to eventually jump in again.

Leah's experiences may have left her too rational to allow herself the luxury of that insanity.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-07-09
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