When I taught creative writing, I used a textbook called In the Palm of Your Hand by Stanley Kunitz. In it, there is an example of a “bad” poem– it’s an example of all the things folks do when they write poetry that they think is “good” or “poetic” and is really not good and/or unpoetic. Things like archaic language (methinks) or cliches (burn like the sun) or forced rhymes.
I can already see your eyes glazing over. I know you want me to get to the point.
So here it is. There was a line in that “bad” poem: “the missing of you hurts.”
When I taught the poem, I would gleefully point out all the examples of “bad” poetry to my students, until one day, my friend and colleague and mentor Marcie (you know Marcie– you met her once when we spent the night at her house after my sister’s wedding. That’s the only time you met her, I’m pretty sure. You never came with me to our glorious food fests. Never once. How I hate you for that. But I’m getting ahead of myself) . . . so Marcie said, “that’s a great line.”
And you know what? She’s right. It’s a great line. It’s really true.
The missing of you hurts.
Yesterday at work one of my colleagues was showing me two restaurants in West Seattle and one of them was a fried chicken place who serves a thing called “The Bowl O Shame”: it’s kimchi mac and cheese with spicy tots and a fried chicken thigh with 4 chili hot sauce and green onions, crispy onions, crispy garlic, and a fried egg.
And the first thing I thought, as my co worker rhapsodized over the crispy tater tots with Korean chili salt served dripping with a kimchi cheese sauce, is how much you would love it, and how much I wanted to tell you that such a place existed. And then go there with you and order too much food because the menu is fucking amazing and then come home and sleep in the bed with our dog . . .
and you now let the dog sleep in the bed? The one thing I always wanted and you would never let me.
And now you let yourself have that luxury you never allowed me. You’re such a fucking asshole.
Anyway, I can’t tell you about it. I can’t go there with you. If you did go, you’d go with your friends and you’d be all lit up and happy and sparkly and funny and making jokes. . . the way you used to be those first few months we were dating– because that part of you always comes out with your friends, and no longer with me.
Or worse, you’d take whomever it is you’re fucking.
I know you’re fucking someone because you told me you had “Dinner Plans” on Thursday night and then you didn’t text me back or call me last Saturday when I wanted to talk about my plan for getting my stuff out of your house. You didn’t call me back until 3pm, which is not typical behavior for you, even post-break up.
So all morning, driving around the city we used to live in together looking for an apartment that I would live in without you . . . living my worst nightmare, which was, after we started dating, is that I would have to live there without you . . .
I kept imagining you making her coffee in the French Press that I bought for us and that you wouldn’t let me take because as you said, “I’m using it.” And we left the really nice French Press we left in Vietnam and you’ll get to use that too. You never even asked me if it was ok to keep it, even though it was a gift from my father. You just packed it away.
God. You’re so selfish.
And meanwhile, you tell me I’m the selfish one.
Or maybe you took her– this girl I know you hooked up with– to breakfast at the place on the water in Olympia and you ordered two dishes and then shared them, sitting in one of those booths overlooking the marina while the sun streamed in and the waitresses refill those enormous mugs of coffee.
Fuck. The missing of you hurts.
And you’re taking her hiking today. The one day I can move my stuff out of your house and you’re taking another woman hiking. And you refused to change your plans even though I’m working more than full-time and you’re not working and . . . you’re getting a tattoo.
You have time for all your things. Never time for mine.
You always said you wanted a relationship where you did things with your partner like hiking. When we first started dating, when you brought me coffee in bed with your broken French Press, the one I replaced, the one I mentioned above that you wouldn’t let me take, you said to me, “I just want to get you outside.” You were looking at my half naked body as you said it, and your gaze was one of pure appreciation. One of those early nights, during our early sex, you said to me, “I just can’t get enough of this body.” You never said it again.
But when I would say, could you arrange something like that, I’d love to do that– you never did. You only took me hiking once– you walked super fast and it was hard for me to keep up and yet I tried and then we found that little place in the rocks over the water and we sat down on the gray stone and then lay down and leaned in to each other and listened to the sounds of water rushing and trees in the wind and . . . the silence.
The kind of silence you love, because, as you told me, you have to work so hard to get to it. I remember what you said: that it was special because not everyone would hike however many miles to even get to that place.
It was a lovely moment and so I told myself it was a lovely day.
And when we were hiking back down, we ran into a couple just starting their hike. We were sitting on a log eating sandwiches we bought from Safeway and the girl was much heavier than me and wearing a pack. And she had hiking pants. I really wanted hiking pants, and you had them, and you always made fun of me for wanting a pair. You made me buy hiking boots, and a pack, and then we never used them.
Anyway, I remember thinking that if she could do it, I could.
The next time we went hiking you chose a really steep climb– a super difficult one– and you invited a friend to come along. It wasn’t the same. I was really hurt that you invited a friend– that you didn’t want to go hiking with just me.
And I wasn’t in good enough shape to do the hike– let alone at the frantic pace you hike at– and I started to cry and we had to abort the hike. We went swimming instead and made the best of it.
About a year later, the day before we got Bird, you told me you wanted me to work out more so I could do that kind of hike. And I said, why don’t I get in shape by hiking? Could we just do some easier hikes more frequently?
But later you told me that when it came right down to it, you’d rather sit on the couch and watch TV. Or work in the yard. Or do some kind of project on the house.
And I’m leaving out some stuff. Like the hike we went on with your friends and I made it but it was really hard.
And then the hike you went on with them without me. Maybe that’s the day our relationship really ended.
Remember when we were in Koh Tao in 2015 and you bartered/argued with that guy to take us to our cottage on the beach in his truck? We were sitting in the back with our luggage driving on those dirt roads filled with potholes and there were all these young sexy people with us. That place was full of young, sexy people with great bodies wearing hardly any clothes.
And all I could think about was you making love to one of those girls. Your enjoyment at her perfect body as you slowly undressed her. You looking at her the way you used to look at me. Because let’s face it– you weren’t looking at me like that any more, and we had only been together a year.
By the way, this is why I spent all that money training to be a hypnotist. Because I know what it’s like to be a prisoner of your own mind. To be trapped in ugly, repetitive thoughts that most likely aren’t even true.
But I want to get to the real point.
Last night I took myself out for happy hour . . . at 4pm. I had two glasses of champagne that they served in those old fashioned goblet sort of glasses– rather than a flute. “The bartender must like you,” my server said, because the pours were generous– almost to the brim. Just so you know, the bartender was a motherly woman and I think she could feel my sadness, my vulnerability.
I ate a dish of warm olives glistening with oil. In the open kitchen, women kneaded dough and pulled pizzas in and out of the brick oven. There was fresh rosemary and exotic cheeses and expensive meats everywhere. They have a wood fired brunch that looks delicious.
On my drive home, on the way to the happy hour, I removed every picture of you I have ever posted to FB. Or I tried to, anyway. It was my first pass at purging you from my life.
It’s been over a year since we left for our trip– and so this month, last month, FB was reminding me of the things we had done together. The hiking in Northern Vietnam. The rain in Central Vietnam. Places we had been, stayed. My stomach hurts as I write this, remembering. My stomach literally hurts.
Anyway, you already know I was upset that I was the one who always took the pictures. That I took so many pictures of you and you took hardly any of me. And then, when you did, you’d always take them from these weird angles that were extremely unflattering.
Now that I write it, that seems like a metaphor for our relationship.
I made sure to always capture you in the best light. Your most handsome. Your most ideal self.
That was actually one of my goals for the relationship, as I told you. To take good pictures of you. When we first started dating and you were showing me pictures of your trip to India when you traveled with a female friend who was a professional photographer and there is one photo of you– it’s still on FB– there is a look on your face and it is love and lust and peace and calm and contentment. I wanted to take pictures of you like that.
So I did. Except your gaze in those photos wasn’t for me.
Anyway, as I removed picture after picture after picture– I realized how much of my life you haven’t been there for. Like the Easter at my mom and dad’s house because you organized a group of volunteers to knock on doors for the campaign you were running and you didn’t realize it was a holiday and so you didn’t come with me and later, when no one had been home and the day was a bust, you said you wished you had come with me.
I remember standing in your living room, all dressed up to leave, and saying goodbye to the volunteers. And there were two or three girls there, about our age, volunteering. And I remember wondering if they were there for the cause or because they wanted to sleep with you. Because power and authority and agency and position are sexy. And because YOU are sexy when you are lit with fire for a cause. And I think the real reason my mind went there was because I knew, even then, that I wasn’t really your family. And I wondered if one of those girls, the kind of girl who would volunteer her time on a holiday, would be the one you would finally sacrifice for. Do something you didn’t really want to do.
You missed all the camping trips on Blake Island with my chilldhood friends, and usually I didn’t go either because I wanted to stay with you. I went once– that was when you were building the deck– and the whole time I sort of distanced myself from my friends because seeing their families– their partners who loved them and wanted to spend quality time with them– was painful. I felt like an amputated limb.
And you missed my sister’s rehearsal dinner. And all the other family events that preceded the actual wedding. And then at the wedding, you had alcohol for the first time in several years, and then the next day you got really mad at me because after you had the first glass of champagne, I came over with champagne and cake and urged you to have some, because champagne and cake together are one of my favorite things and I was so excited we’d get to share something I never thought we would. “Do you really understand what it means to date an addict?” you asked me the next day. And I guess I didn’t. And I felt horribly guilty and like an unfit partner and. . .
And all the family parties and birthday celebrations and events with my friends. You were hardly ever there. Maybe the first year, but then, with each year that passed . . .
Of course, we saw your friends. They were my friends too. We cooked them dinner and had them over and went to their homes.
The irony, of course, is that after we decided we would break up you told me how much you would miss my family– feeling like part of a family at Easter or Christmas or Thanksgiving. And yet– for the ones you attended, you always criticized my family and made the things they said– like when my mom thanked me profusely for the gift of a bottle of wine– sound like a farce. You said they were fake. You said they were insincere. Over the top. So forced and artificial.
And yet– that wasn’t my sense of my mother’s gratitude. Rather, that we all, for years, relentlessly criticized each other. And now we don’t. We praise each other. We say thank you. We notice things we love about each other and we say them.
My stomach is hurting again.
Anyway, it’s almost time for me to shower and meet my friend and drive down to the house and get some of my things.
Today is going to be a hard day.