And on the days when the missing him is thick; I search the pockets for something new. There is only the bank statement, folded and fading in the right pocket. In the left, the button I always promised to reattach and ticket stubs—two. The last time we sat so close our shoulders barely touched. The last sign. It’s still there: the coat—heavy, thick and brown—hanging limp on the coat rack near the door. It has become as much a part of this place as the steady stream of noise from the hallway.
“Whose coat is this?” I ignore the question as often as it is asked. The answer would take too long. My roommate, who concerns herself with the decoration and upkeep of the apartment, never mentions it. She moves around it; places hats and jackets on either side. Scarves are draped to disguise and protect. But the coat is never moved. Yes, it would make more sense to put it out of the way, perhaps hide it in one of the closets; bury it amongst last seasons outerwear and ill-advised thrift store purchases. But I can not move it. It is the last bit of him that I own. The only thing I have left to sink my face into and inhale.
“Baby, what do you think?
I hated that coat. I wanted to talk him out of it and tell him how it swallowed him. Tell him how it fell onto his shoulders like fog. How he seemed lost and misshapen beneath the heavy and brown. How it was already missing a button and two more were plotting escape. But he’d always wanted a brown cord coat. And he loved this one as soon as he laid eyes on it. I remember how his face lit up, how he held it and shrugged his slopped shoulders into the haggard sleeves. How the smile bouncing back from the mirror seemed to fill the entire room. And I knew then that I loved him too much to tell him the truth.
It’s been here since the morning after. “I think spring’s here,” he said. So much had changed in the week since he stepped off the plane that we hadn’t even noticed the weather. “Maybe I’ll pick it up later?” The hope in his voice was contagious and I wanted to reassure him like I’d done so many times before. I wanted to tell him that he would be back—that we would be back. That we could fix this thing that we created out of voices raised in quarrel. This that had fractured us into these splintered versions of ourselves. But I couldn’t find the words to tell him that I didn’t recognize the person I was or the man that he’d become. I didn’t want to know the person I saw reflected in the glare of his glasses. I never wanted to be responsible for his face; grayed and aged like this. The way his arms hung stiffly at his sides. How his body seemed to fall into an angle.
I remember my voice cracked and shattered. I could only stand there like so many times before; holding the weight of all these broken hearts.
We’ve seen each other once since. This time, in his city, we sat in the chill and wind of awkward silences. Still trying to fashion what was left of us into something less than uncomfortable—something easier than this.
“Did you bring my coat?”
“No it was too big. I’ll bring it—I’ll mail it to you. “
“Fine. Whatever. I don’t need it. It’s almost summer.”
“Yeah. So… How’ve you been?”
“How do you think?”
I could never say enough. He didn’t want to hear it. He only wanted the hurt gone and the promises back. So I tried again.
“I’m so sorry. It’s not you. I think there maybe something wrong with me.”
“There is something wrong with you. I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.”
He wanted to be cruel; to hurt me like he felt I deserved. He wanted to be something hard and angry but I knew him too well. I knew he was something softer and more the color of a beautiful sadness. And there was nothing he could say that I hadn’t already punished myself for. And nothing I could do to make him throb and pang less.
So I owned it all. This thing broken and laying at our feet. The stilted attempts at explanation. The confusion. The questions. The blame. The constant “Did you ever love me?” and the “Can’t you just try to love me again?”
Sitting there next to him, the cool of Chicago bouncing off our uneasy. There was so much that I needed to say. So Much I didn’t fully understand. I remember wanting to explain. Wanting to apologize again. And again. And again. For promising him forever. For being unsure and unclear. For not holding him the way he so desperately needed to be held. For not being strong enough to hold all of him and keep all of me at the same time. Just wanting it to work was no longer working. And staying to protect him was starting to kill me.
Despite all of this, there was one thing I knew for sure: I didn’t want to remember us like this. I wanted to remember us in the beginning before insecurities and selfishness created this chasm between us. That time had passed, yet I couldn’t fight this need to reach out to him one last time. To take his hands. To feel his fingers squeeze mine in reassurance. I wanted that smile. I needed that laughter. I wanted to kiss and forget. And hold and forget. And forget and forget. And just be easy again. It used to all be so easy. But the end is always the end. And I, frozen and confused, just stared at his hands until they blurred and dripped away.
“I’m so sorry.”
I barely remember how the night ended. I remember the way the tree outside the window cast a shadow on the dashboard. I remember the echo of voices as they clung and fell onto the dark city street. I know that there were tears. And more apologies. One swallowed, “I love you.” And another fully flung, “No you don’t.” And I couldn’t bear to look at him. The memories of his face have little shape. There is the thin blue line of a mouth. A tear stained cheek. His eyes: sunflower blue. And his hands. I will always remember his hands. Those fingers, how they curled and uncurled. But I also remember how he, like the brilliant poet he was, managed to shape the words that would hurt me the most.
“You’re breaking my heart.” He said.
Everything after that dissolved what little was left of me.
There were no goodbyes. One moment he was there and the next I was on a plane back to alone. Back to the noise in the hallway. Back to the scarves draped to protect and disguise. Back to the roommate who asked no questions. And back to that coat, still hanging by the door. Still heavy and brown and waiting for someone to move on.