I was on my way to work when it hit me—the smell of nighttime summer air that sometimes slips unexpectedly into February on the east coast. It smells like hope and nostalgia and tends to make folks feel giddy. It came through the civic windows somewhere on interstate 40 and mixed with my anger to produce a drunken sort of elation. It was the kind of fed-up-with-this-shit feeling you finally reach after a long stretch of uncomfortably swallowing little annoyances. It feels good to be certain about anything in life and there’s something particularly freeing about being fucking done with something…or someone. I was realizing I had options.
In the weeks leading up to this, I had almost consciously kept my focus as narrow as possible to avoid feelings of regret for giving up my cheap one bedroom and moving into a house with two friends and their three dogs. I thought it would be good for me to not be alone, but I had become disgusted by my friend’s laziness and her crazy mood swings. I felt smothered living in a house that wasn’t my own and pretending not to be bothered by her neediness and her self-appointed authority. I had to get out and I was more than willing to burn bridges to do it.
I had moved so I could get away from the man I felt was using me, the ex I couldn’t stay away from. I had been drowning once more in the abyss of his past, his love lost, trying desperately to put together the pieces for him so he could see what I saw, the lies I was certain she had fed him. One night a bit of alcohol passed my lips and opened them up to him. We were in my living room, I had called him over late. I told him what I had found, who I had spoken with, and what they had said about her. I could feel the hot panic sweep through his body, his heart pounding as he sat next to me on the couch. I knew he was feeling that same painful rush of adrenaline and sickness that I felt almost a year before when I had found conversations between the two of them. I felt grateful for the alcohol in my blood and the numbness that allowed me to feel only slight curiosity when he insisted again and again on her purity. But I knew I had shaken him.
Over the next few days, I tried to help him fit the rest of the pieces together, practically handed him the directions. And what was so maddening was that he simply refused to do a thing. For the 19 months we had known each other, he had sworn he would get to the bottom of what she had done. I had searched for her wrongdoings but found instead what should have been better: a door. Behind it lay the answer, without context but plain as day. I handed him the key. He just put it in his pocket and walked away. Told me again how we could never be together because of her and that he couldn’t see himself with anyone for a long time. He expected me to swallow this rejection for the hundredth time, to act as if I didn’t mind and to carry on fucking him while he kept me at arm’s length.
So I moved, and for five weeks I ignored his existence. I told him not to call and I knew he would listen. I knew it was what I had to do but it felt so wrong. I cried every day in my car, between classes, work, the gym, it was my only place to be alone. I tried to feel grateful for any good thing in the day that reminded me how much bigger life should be than this. But not having him around felt like I was suffocating. I told myself that it was okay for it to feel wrong, that I just wasn’t used to being away from him and time would fix things. I told myself it was necessary, that I would come out the other side eventually, but I guess I just couldn’t wait.
That night in February, I got gas and bought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I didn’t go to work, I went to a bar, giddy to choose the beer that would break the camel’s back. I hadn’t had a drink in weeks and I had no reservations about breaking my dry spell in dramatic fashion. There’s something that feels empowering about self-destruction. I was tired of denying myself and being responsible only to have my efforts amount to what felt like a sub-par existence. I was living what I felt was a dull life, the kind that makes you feel kind of okay with dying. I just couldn’t stand it anymore when relief was at my fingertips. How the fuck was I supposed to say no? I drank my beer and texted him to meet me. He was free, as he usually was, and he was on his way. I breathed for the first time in five weeks.
Part of the allure was knowing exactly how things would unfold, I was cocksure and riding high on it. I knew the way he’d look at me, I knew how he’d act, I knew what I could get away with, I knew what we’d do and I knew the feeling I’d have all night. As we sat out on the bar’s patio, I let myself enjoy the power my drunken certainty wielded. With a swaggering grin and a drag on my cigarette, I informed him that the night was to be entirely without rules. He just kind of smiled, shook his head and said: “the night that doesn’t exist”. Yes, that was it exactly.
We talked about this and that, I bemoaned my roommate and enjoyed the relief it brought to admit my mistake in moving. I soaked in the anticipation of us fucking as I watched him across the metal patio table, flicking my ash and letting my desire burn through my eyes and into him. I felt in control when I knew he couldn’t resist me. Buzzing hard on our chemistry and alcohol, I went into the bar’s bathroom and noticed a small baggie sitting on the floor in front of the toilet. Oh, how fun this was all starting to get! I hesitated for a moment and thought maybe I shouldn’t do coke I found on the bathroom floor, but that man was bulletproof, and I felt bulletproof when I was with him. The night didn’t exist and I wasn’t done with it just yet.
We sat at his dining room table while he cut it up. I looked out the window into the backyard and felt myself prematurely reminiscing about the moment I was living in. The feeling was dark and beautiful and somehow familiar, and a longing swelled inside my chest, yearning for what was right in front of me. I did a bump, crawled into his lap and let the dopamine flood my brain with more pleasure than I had felt in months. I knew this wouldn’t happen again, that the world would come to wake me in a few short hours and I would have only the memory. We weren’t really the type of people to do coke at the dining room table, but in a strange way we also were, and in that moment I couldn’t have loved us more.
Riding to my car the next morning in the back of a cab, I secretly watched the video we had made. I blushed as I watched the way he grabbed me by my hair, still feeling a bit devilish but slowly resigning myself to the hangover. I had failed yet another attempt at an alternative life, I had cracked my heart back open. I sat back with my head against the window and felt the familiar hum of the looming pain and the relief of giving up. It was all I knew.