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December 05, 2022

Life Less Love

By Peter Driscoll

Epilogue: Drowning

The first thing he thinks about after she closes the door is this song. This song that goes: "Broken hearts hurt, but they make you strong." And he's thinking about how the songwriter pluralized hearts. As if people have more than one.

She seems to believe that your heart can be broken more than once. Over and over again she imagines. And it just sutures itself back up and waits to break again.

But he thinks that's impossible. Your heart can only break once. You can break other people's hearts ad nauseam, but yours is one and done. And once it's broken it can't ever be fixed. So you just walk around with it like this always worried and fretting and afraid someone will break it again. Only they can't, 'cause it's already cracked.

So his heart breaks when she closes that door. For the first and last time.

Don't Ever Leave Here...

I

Outside the apartment window, the last fragments of New England's two-week spring seemed to be dying off. Summer was ushering it out just as it was finally beginning. Jaylin's eyes shifted from the television as wind rustled the sole tree in their view. He suddenly thought about how much he longed for summer. Something that was technically still more than a month away. He longed for the emotions of last summer. Less than a year ago, yet, he was so much younger back then.

Marissa came out of the bedroom and sat on the arm of the couch. She leaned over him and kissed him upside down, her wet hair dangling in his face, interrupting him from his peaceful thoughts. For some reason, every time she took a shower, she felt the need to somehow drape him in her hair. Every time. In a form of non-violent resistance, he didn't kiss her back.

"Right, sorry to bother you," she said getting up from the couch. She walked across the small apartment to the dining room table in a huff and began sorting through the mail.

Jaylin turned up the volume on the television.

He could feel her getting angry behind him, the tension flowing out of her body and into his. He smiled and set the remote down on the arm where Marissa had just been sitting. He sat up and adjusted his position, then sank into the cushions of the couch. Marissa crossed back towards him and grabbed the remote. He looked up at her as she pulled her arm back the best she could and threw the remote across the room. It shattered against the wall behind the TV and the battery clip broke off, spilling one AA battery to the ground while the other remained lodged in the device. Going down with the ship.

"Jesus Christ," he said while going back and forth between her and the wall. He laughed to himself. "Good thing you throw like a girl, you could have broken the TV."

"Screw you, Jaylin," Marissa screamed with a flushed face. She turned around so he couldn't see her eyes. She took a few breaths and composed herself, then turned back to him. "I can't take this anymore."

He stared at her. The words precipitating in the air. He remembered a theory he used to tell people to make himself look smart. About words. He knew he told Marissa about it at least once before. He wondered if she had actually taken the theory to heart. If it was the reason behind her sentence.

"What does that mean?"

She walked over to the couch and sat down next to him. His eyes followed her the whole way.

"It means I'm moving out, Jaylin. I think we moved too fast, we weren't ready to live together." His left cheekbone was raised up, unconsciously making the eye squint. A sign that he was angry. Despite the warning, she continued. "We should take a little break. See each other only once a week to start, then see how it goes, maybe? I don't want to end our relationship, just our living situation."

She paused after each sentence, waiting for him to interject. "I can still leave some stuff here if you want. As a reason to come over. And I'll help you find someone to sublet if you don't want to pay the rent by yourself. For God's sake, Jaylin, say something."

He got up from the couch and looked out the window, his back to Marissa. He stared with watery eyes at the tree, and saw how it looked different now. He couldn't get it to look the way it did before, when it looked like summer. And then he knew he would never be able to see it like that ever again. He blinked the water away and turned.

"Fuck you. I don't want any relationship with you. Move out all your stuff. I don't want to ever see you again, you fucking bitch! Whore."

"God, you're such a child. I don't know what the hell I ever saw in you, you're such a miserable person. You're going to die pathetic and alone. You don't know how much I wish I'd never said I love you!"

"So will you! And I'm glad I cheated on you. Now get the fuck out!" He went to the television and picked up the half-broken remote. He threw it across the apartment towards the bedroom and screamed, the fearless AA battery finally dislodging from its bunker.

"Asshole, asshole, asshole!" She grabbed her coat and headed for the door. "I'll send my sister by for my things. I never want to see your ugly face again."

The door slammed and Jaylin collapsed.

II

"Oh my God, this traffic is killing me."

"Well, if we'd left when I wanted to we could have avoided it. Now we're probably going to miss the first inning."

"So, who cares? Nothing happens in the first inning anyway," Kimberly said while working on a cat's cradle in the back seat.

"You wanted to leave at six for a seven o'clock game!" Marissa stared from the passenger seat, her blonde hair still drying.

"Because of this! Jesus, you never listen to me. It's all right to leave for a game an hour early, especially with Boston traffic. It's much better than getting there an hour late. Why do you need to get all dressed up anyway, do you want other guys to look at you?"

"Just the players. I'm hoping I can leave you for one of them, Jaylin. Be a trophy wife."

She smiled and nudged his shoulder, a few strands of her wet hair splashing against his neck. Kimberly laughed from the back seat.

"Yeah, you totally should. We all know Jaylin will never be rich."

"Fuck you," he said to the windshield. He turned back to Kimberly. "You too."

"Hey, don't swear at my sister, Jaylin. We were just joking. God, lighten up."

"Ugh, it's the traffic, I hate traffic."

"It's okay, you didn't mean it did you? You'd never swear at sweet, little Kimberly. Here, want to use my string?"

"We all hate traffic, Jaylin. But at least we're moving a little now. There, I see our exit up ahead. We might make the first inning after all."

"We still have to find parking and then find our seats. We're definitely missing the first inning. That means we're staying the whole game no matter what. I don't care if it's nineteen to one, we're staying 'til the last out."

"Nooo," Kimberly groaned from the back seat, the string still outstretched in her hand and dangling for Jaylin.

"I have to work tomorrow, I don't want to be out late. I can't stay past ten. Some of us have jobs to wake up to you know."

"Oh nice one, Marissa, what the fuck is that supposed to mean? I have a real job. Just because I don't have to wake up at the crack of dawn doesn't mean it's not a job. What the hell?"

"That's not what I meant, you know -- "

"Just shut up."

"Oh come on, don't get grumpy. You have a real job, okay?"

"Just shut up, I don't want to hear you talk until we get to the game." He put on his right blinker and edged towards the exit ramp. He turned back towards Kimberly. "Both of you."

III

Marissa had given up an hour ago. She had lived enough relationships to be beyond worried. Beyond angry. She just was.

She heard his key slide into the lock. Heard it impotently twist. She pictured the confused look on his face and heard the key try again. Now she pictured realization on it as he turned the knob with no resistance.

He paused at the bedroom door and she looked over her book.

"Working late?"

"Yeah, but no, too, I grabbed a couple beers at Tres. I didn't realize it was so late. Sorry, honey."

"You don't have to apologize. You can do what you want."

"Why are you mad? I wouldn't care if you got drinks with your girl friends."

"I'm not mad," she looked at him as emotionlessly as she could. Knowing it would only intensify his suspicion.

"Yes you are, you always do this when you're mad. You pretend you're not."

"Jay, you just want me to be mad. And now I'm starting to really get that way. You know I don't care. You called me and told me you'd be late. You didn't mention the bar, but you did call."

"See! I knew you were mad, what the hell? I can't get a drink after work? Matt just broke up with his girlfriend."

"With Molly?"

"No, he broke up with Molly, like, two months ago I think. This was Sara. She worked with him. You never met her. I never met her either. He was pretty upset though."

"That's going to be weird at work, huh?"

"Yeah, that would suck I think," he took his coat off and laid it on his side of the bed. "Listen, I'm pretty hungry, if I order a pizza would you eat some?"

"There's some leftovers in the fridge."

"There is? From what?" he eyed her suspiciously.

"I made us dinner tonight."

"What the fuck, Marissa! You always do this crap. You set me up so that I look like the horrible boyfriend and you're the innocent fucking girl. I called you at four to tell you I'd be late. And then you go and make dinner knowing I wouldn't be home to eat it so that I look like an asshole."

"You are an asshole. And you called me at five, after I was already making it. What was I supposed to do? Just stop making it because I knew my jerk boyfriend was going to tell himself he didn't have to be home on time because he made a phone call? When did you get out of work, huh? Six? Six-thirty? You could have been home two hours ago. You could have gone to the bar with Matt and had a drink and still been home two hours ago. I would have waited for you."

"But you didn't, did you? You went ahead and -- "

"Because I knew you wouldn't be home 'til now! You never come home. You think calling me and telling me you'll be late absolves you of everything. You don't see me doing that."

"That's cause you are out of work at three and are bored as fuck. You think I give a shit if you go out? Go out all damn day if you want. You don't even have to call me. I don't care."

"I'm out at three because I'm up at six. Because I have to work normal hours. Because I have a real fucking job, asshole!"

"Fuck you. You know what, fuck you. Maybe I don't have a real job, but at least I never had an abortion!"

It hit her, like a punch, like he would have intended it to, if he had actually thought about what he was saying before he said it. But it did something more. It dislodged a thought in her brain that was meant to always be sealed away. That was never supposed to break and ooze out into her conscious. And he saw it on her face. And she would have seen an equally painful look of self-disappointment on his face if she hadn't been blind with memories. She uncontrollably threw the book across the room at him -- the next morning not understanding how it ended up on the floor, along with some old baseball trophy it knocked off a shelf -- and he silently left the room, hearing the lightest of sobs as the door clicked shut.

IV

Quin walked past Jaylin's desk for the third time in an hour, this time to fill a bottle of water at the cooler. Both aware there was another cooler much closer to her desk. They made eye contact as she came back towards him. He waited until she was just past his cubicle entrance to call out her name. She turned around, smiling.

"Hey, what are you doing after your shift ends?"

She mocked assuredness, her smile turning into a smirk.

"I don't know. Probably going home. Why?"

"Well, it's just that, well, me and my girlfriend are having some trouble and it would be nice to get another woman's perspective. You know? Maybe I could buy you a drink and you could help me out?"

She laughed. To Jaylin, she really wasn't that attractive, and the fact that she thought that she was some kind of beauty queen only made her even less so. He never had much interest or use for her until now.

"Yeah, I could give you some advice. But I think it's going to cost you more than just one drink."

"Yeah, okay, we'll see about that. What time does your shift end?"

"Half hour."

"Shit, well I don't get off for another hour. Mind meeting me at Fatty's then? Just put your first drink on my tab. I'll try to sneak out early if I can."

"Sure thing, cowboy. See you then."

She turned and walked slowly away. Turning at the end of the corridor to catch Jaylin staring at her, but finding only more hallway.

She fumbled with her keys, even though he was sure he was more drunk than she was. She seemed the type of girl who would be overly dramatic about something like opening a door. She held her index finger perpendicular to her grinning lips and stumbled to her bedroom as Jaylin did his best to avoid the apartment's littered obstacles while following her through the door. She closed it behind him and made her way to the bed without turning on the light.

"My roommate doesn't like when I bring boys home," she said from a reclined position.

"You bring a lot of boys home?"

"You're not the first, if that's what you're asking. Have any other clichéd questions for me?" She saw him simper in the dark. "Actually, nevermind. Enough talk, get in bed with me."

At the same time, separately -- in their own entities of time and space and for their own reasons -- each undressed themselves and then met awkwardly somewhere in the middle of her Queen-sized bed.

Alcohol, anger, loneliness, impudence, and sentiment converged on the bed built for two. Sometime in the early morning he dressed and left her apartment, leaving her to awake with ambivalence, and headed home. He took the longest way possible, giving himself a fifteen-minute cushion before entering his building, sighing with relief as he entered the apartment to find Marissa had already left for work.

V

"What the hell do you mean you got accepted? Accepted to what? Where?"

"Into school. For my Ph.D."

"What the hell do you need a Ph.D. for? You already have a Master's. How much schooling do you need?"

"A lot if I want to be an administrator. Jaylin, I'm sorry, this is something I need to do. As much as I like teaching, it isn't what I want to do for the rest of my life."

"This school is in D.C.!" he said looking over the letter. "You're going to just leave me and move there? You're just going to leave everything behind?"

"No, you can come with me. I want you to come with me."

"And do what? How am I going to find a job? What about everything here? Am I supposed to just leave all my friends and family behind? You can't just drop this on me. You can't expect me to just turn my life around."

"I'm sorry. I know we've talked about this before, or I've at least mentioned it. I applied before we really got serious. I didn't even think I'd really get in anywhere. It was all a shot in the dark. Listen, we have five months before we have to move. That will give you plenty of time to find a job. Or to at least set some things up. I want to visit the school beforehand anyway and meet my professors and things like that. We could go in May. You could try to set some things up then. It will all work out."

Jaylin sat down on the couch, his back to Marissa. She stood at the kitchen counter, forms and pamphlets clutched in her hand. A mixture of excitement and regret coursing through her veins.

"I just don't get why you would apply to some place so far away. We were at least seeing each other when you applied, right? You did at least like me, back then? Maybe had a hope for us? Why didn't you apply to somewhere around here? Just in case maybe it turned out you did like me."

"Jaylin, I love you. You know that. And I did apply to schools in this area, six, in fact. None of them accepted me. I applied to ten schools in all. And, actually, I made my list of schools before I met you. But I only got into this one. And I have to go there. This is something I need to do. D.C. isn't that far away. We'll be able to visit on holidays and during the summer. Plus, it's only two years. We can come back to this area afterwards. It'll be like we never left at all."

"Yeah right. I know how this goes. We'll move down there. I'll struggle to find a job and have to settle for something beneath me that I hate. Then you'll fall in love with a professor or fellow student who is a hundred times smarter than me and you'll leave me. And I'll have to crawl back here and move in with my parents cause I'll have no job or money and I'll be a poor bachelor who still lives at home."

"God, you can be so freaking dramatic sometimes. I just fucking said I love you. Why the hell would I ever leave you? I mean, Jesus, if I haven't done it yet why would I do it in the future? I'm asking you to come with me. I'm asking you to spend your life with me. This is a huge opportunity for us to better both our lives and it is something I've been dreaming about since I was in college. I'm sorry, but I can't pass it up. I am going to this school whether you come with me or not. I really hope you join me, but I am not going to stand here and let you hold me back, no matter how much I love you."

Jaylin stared blankly at the hibernating television set. After a minute without a response, Marissa scoffed loudly and went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. When she came out, an hour later, Jaylin was still sitting on the couch, staring out the window at the single bleak tree that lightly swayed in the sullen March wind. She made dinner for both of them, as he sat unmoving, and ate by herself. She cleaned up the kitchen and then disappeared into the bedroom again.

When she returned for the second time, two hours later, Jaylin was gone. She opened the refrigerator and saw the fresh remnants of a baked frozen pizza, all her leftovers unfettered. With a deep, audible sigh -- to prove to herself that she really was upset about all of this -- she closed the door and returned to bed, leaving the bedroom door ajar to let Jaylin know she wanted to resolve things. She woke the next morning to a bed too large and saw the door still cracked. She hugged herself against the predawn cold and crept into the next room, finding Jaylin huddled in a ball, asleep on the couch.

To be continued ...

Article © Peter Driscoll. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-03-22
Image(s) © R.Voza/S.Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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