We fell into one another on a briskly fading autumn day. This isn’t to say that we fell in love but rather that we fell on to each other in a tangle of limbs thanks to my dog. Her leash had wrapped around your legs, and you laughed. It wouldn’t be long before you stopped finding her cute, and started to wonder if she might be happier living with a “more active” family. Of course that didn’t happen. Peppa stayed; you didn’t. You left me after a handful of autumns and one cold winter.
Why didn’t you love me, in the end?
I ran into your mother at the supermarket on Sunday. She said I looked well. She seemed surprised, like she couldn’t imagine a life for me after you. Like my existence would stop when we stopped. I told her that I was, in fact, well, and that, no, I hadn’t heard from you lately, but that, you being you, I wouldn’t have expected to. She gave me this look like I’d attacked her; I guess I had. But I promise I hadn’t meant to let my bitterness spill out in front of your mother, of all people; she already thought I was a strange woman, poisoning your mind, encouraging you in dangerous, liberal ways. I should have known (you should have warned me) not to bring up Obama, that first dinner together..
She went back to the deli (“for my husband,” she kept saying to the butcher), I to the produce. But then she looked into my cart and asked if I was cooking for two or one. When I said, “just me,” she looked relieved. I wonder if she thought I’d take you back. I wonder if she knows you were the one who left?
Sometimes I walk Peppa past our old apartment and spy on the neighbors, like a ghost haunting our old life. (Am I a ghost?). I didn’t realize we would lose all these people, who I’d thought were my friends, in the breakup. We didn’t socialize much, but we talked over the mailboxes, we held doors for each other– that sort of thing. We would have those monthly poker nights. I liked seeing you away from your computer, engaging with real people who weren’t me.
You were always on your computer, reading articles, leaving comments. Sometimes I would read a comment over your shoulder, and you would get embarrassed and delete it. This was usually for the best; your comments were cruel, not things an educated man should be saying. Had you been baited? Were you so easily baited? That should have been what my mom always called “a warning sign.”
Love makes us blind, I suppose. I tried to ignore most of your faults; you managed to ignore most of mine. Ignorant bliss. Sometimes I wish we’d stayed that way, frozen forever in a static happiness. Wouldn’t that have been perfect for you, Josh?
One of the ex-neighbors calls out to me on my walk, and because I am neither bitter nor a ghost, I acknowledge her. Old Lady McClare, from 34B. “And Pepper too? Where’s Josh?” she asks. She kneels and showers Peppa with affection, which Peppa returns in her own playfully aggressive way. McClare doesn’t mind–never has. She’s an elderly white woman who lives alone. Peppa and I used to come over for tea. We haven’t since the move. Memories of what we shared here only hurt what remains of my heart.
“Peppa misses her park,” I say. It’s a long walk from the new place, but Peppa doesn’t care. She’s getting up there in the years, but she has as much energy as when she was a pup. I’ll miss her when she dies.
“Come and visit when you’re done,” McClare says. “Tell me how Josh is doing. I haven’t seen that boy in ages!”
I don’t have the heart to disappoint her smiling face, so I agree.
When we met I had barely come into myself as a woman. I was still discovering what it meant to have a self. Self-esteem was a foreign concept, a foreign language. I came into myself while we were together, so I have only been myself with you. Now I have to rediscover what it means to be me–without you.