You left for a week and I got a small glimpse at what my life might be like without you.
For eight days and eight nights I mulled around the apartment alone. I took baths and drank tea and left my things anywhere I wanted to. I found irony in the fact that I always nag you about picking up your things, and here I am, secretly the messy one.
Before you departed, I joked with my co-workers about finally having the freedom to watch all the silly TV shows that I love and you don’t. And then, on the morning you left I woke up without you next to me and I felt something close to dread.
Earlier in the week, I’d come home from a long day of work and you squeezed me tight and told me that you'd missed me. With a laugh, you joked that we had become co-dependent.
“Co-dependent by choice,” I said to you with a grin.
Then, on that first day without you, anxiety swirling around my stomach, I wonder how deeply my need for you has soaked into my bones.
I used to think of myself as utterly independent. It felt like a badge of honor; to make my way through life without needing to lean on anyone else for support.
Yet, independence and all, on lonely nights I would sit in my bed and feel an overwhelming cloud of loneliness press into me. A loneliness that seemed, at times, so utterly irreversible that I would imagine what it might be like to spend all the rest of my nights like this. Utterly independent.
On those nights, as I pulled the covers up to my chin, I’d let a stream of tears fall down my face, feeling an empty space beside me when all I wanted was an arm that would wrap around me and pull me close. A thought that I would never echo to my friends who were just a floor below me, laughing in our living room. Because that thought seemed to signal something close to weakness.
On the second and third day that you are gone I surround myself with people. I go out with friends, and I teach yoga, and by that Sunday I have thoroughly exhausted myself. I relish in a day spent alone.
I fear I’m not as brave as I think I am.
Because I know you’ll be back. And yet, without you here I feel some of my old anxieties creeping back into my body. As if it was you who has warded them off this whole time.
I begin to notice, perhaps for the first time, just how much easier it is to have you in the apartment. One of us cooks, one of us cleans. We switch off making coffee and taking out the trash. With you gone, I do it all. All of the sudden I find myself on the brink of tears because I imagine what it might be like to have a family to take care of and to be left alone. A reality for so many. I chastise myself for complaining about taking care of only me and I wash the dishes.
By the middle of the week, I’ve gotten into a rhythm of my own. I sit at the table and eat the dinner that I’ve thrown together: soup and rice and a glass of white wine. I eat that dinner three nights in a row.
I look around at our apartment and all I see is us. I want to lean over and tell you how much I love this home that we created together over the course of only a few months. I realize that just now, perhaps for the first time, I feel like it’s really mine, too. Perhaps, all alone in this space, I am able to imprint more deeply into the bones of the rooms.
On the seventh night you’re away, I invite a girlfriend over and we sit on the couch and make a charcuterie board. I snap a picture of it so I can show you how well I’d utilized our cheese board (the one we use as a cutting board). My friend and I talk for hours and when she leaves I realize that no one makes it through this life alone.
There’s been a cold snap in town this week. The world has shifted in one fell swoop from fall to winter. I can see the exhaust from the cars now, and I’ve begun to pull out my winter socks. In the apartment, I turn up the thermostat much higher than it usually is. Each room is toasty warm. I laugh in my head when I think of how much you’d hate the temperature in the apartment. I’m almost sweating, and yet, I don’t turn it down.
On my last night alone, I wonder to myself why you going away has had such a profound impact on me.
And I realize it’s because I have softened.
I’m not as brave as I used to be, because I haven’t needed to be.
I can see now how lovingly you’ve been blanketing my life. Cushioning my hardships and holding space for my worries.
These days, when I have a bad day I walk into our home and I lay it all on you. My mind flashes back to the night when I couldn’t find a parking spot for almost thirty minutes. When I walked through the front door I broke down into sobs. So silly. So irrationally upset. But so very sad. You wrapped your arms around me and let me cry. My tears soaking into the soft material in your sweater.
Those tears just didn’t have anywhere to go before.
And I realize I’ve been mistaken. What I once thought was bravery was really a barrier. A wall put up to barricade myself off from the hurt of the world.
To let you in fully, I had to take that wall down.
For eight days you’ve been gone and I remember now what it was like to live before you. What it might be like to live if there was an after you.
It’s all been colder without you here and I realize that I never noticed how much cooler the apartment is with just one body in it. I find myself feeling grateful that it’s your body that warms our small apartment.
I’m grateful for the pure fact that my paintings are hanging next to your paintings on the wall. And I’m grateful that all the paintings hanging in our apartment are imperfectly spaced despite our best attempts to put them in line.
On the morning you returned, you turned the thermostat back down. You poked fun at me. Wondering how any person could choose to keep the room at that temperature.
“What can I say,” I told you with a grin. “I’m a creature that craves warmth.”