by Gabrielle McAree
I’m not thinking about the finality of Liam as he shoves the remainder of his belongings into his gym bag. I’m thinking about our German Shepherd, Dex. I can’t walk the pet aisle at the grocery store or visit the dog park. I can’t flirt with the veterinarian or make impulse treat purchases. Liam and I signed a legal document; if something happened between us, he would get custody of Dex per our “amicable separation.” I was steadfast; certain a nuclear war or teleportation, would commence before our break-up. We would grow old and senile together and eat chocolate on a porch swing. We would be the kind of “happy” people rolled their eyes at. I wasn’t wrong. I was just hopeful.
Liam swings his car keys around his index finger. I’m having a hard time looking at him; it’s as if our mutual gaze will rob me of the ability to form a cohesive thought. “Well, I think that’s everything,” he says.
He’s gained weight since our break-up, but so have I. Nothing fits anymore, not even my Thanksgiving jeans. I’ve resorted to an elastic waistband wardrobe. My sister calls it my “Homeless Chic” phase—a rite of passage, she tells me—but she’s never experienced total heartbreak. Her heart remains dainty and intact, perched on the highest shelf, spared of all things awful. It’s never been disintegrated by a toothbrush or suffocated by an imprint left on dirty bedsheets. It’s never been roadkill decaying on a vacant street.
“Okay,” I whisper.
Liam purloined me of my larynx. He stripped it of its signature rasp and authenticity. I can’t speak without melting into a lukewarm puddle of singularity. I can’t laugh without a preamble of submerging my head into a preheated oven. Just when I think I’m finally dehydrated—the Sahara Desert with limbs—a hurricane commences, and I drown without dying.
Liam and I have spent half of our lives together, so it’s difficult to grasp that we’re past tense, a collection of dated photographs and dead ends. I didn’t even know he was unhappy. Like, truly unhappy.
I look for him everywhere—at the park, at the movies, in striped T-shirts, in every silver Buick. The weight of him is always proximal, always imminent. I buy his favorite things; I cook his favorite meals; I leave the lights on because it happens. People change their minds. They come home.
“We could order Chinese,” Liam suggests. “And eat it on the floor like old times.”
I’d commit murder to watch him attempt chow mein with chopsticks.
“I already ate.”
He nods, loosens his tie—the navy one—and walks into the living room. A week ago, it was completely furnished, full of sports memorabilia and futile devices. But Liam packed everything up in a U-Haul while I locked myself in the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and binge-ate a heart-shaped tin full of chocolates. Even the raspberry kind.
“What will you do with the place?” he asks.
He doesn’t acknowledge the stain on the carpet because he doesn’t need to. It’s permanent, reminiscent of a youth that passed us by. It’s how we christened the place ours. We didn’t care that it was a dump with the occasional cockroach or that mold hid in the crawlspaces. We had $5 wine and a mattress and each other. That first night, Liam spilled the entire bottle of red, staining our ivory carpet a musky grape. We covered it up with one of those fake Persian rugs, but he left me nothing behind to band-aid it with.
“Sell it. Refurnish it. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll shave my head and hike the Appalachian Trail or pierce my tongue and join a cult.”
Liam brushes his fingers through his midnight hair. It’s the first thing I noticed about him—his hair. I think it’s why I loved him so painfully and unreservedly; he had the best hair of all the second graders. It’s held up fine, of course. He isn’t balding or anything.
He sighs, stroking his beard—he’s a beard guy now; he grows facial hair for sport—and says, “If you were going to do those things, any one of them, we wouldn’t be breaking up.”
Liam doesn’t love me anymore. I don’t shave my legs or ask about his day. I hide behind repetition and go to bed at 8:30 pm. Not because I’m tired, but because there’s nothing else to say and I’m exhausted of my existence, of sharing space with a stranger who won’t touch me.
A wave of desperation crashes into me and I realize how imperative it is that Liam hurts too. “But maybe I will, Liam. Maybe I’ll become Her just to spite you.”
We’ve fought over this fictitious Her, the third party of our relationship, for years. She doesn’t exist because, irrefutably, she is me—a shadow of me, a ghost me with perky breasts and a sunny disposition, a slight inferiority complex. She advocated for high-tech hand-dryers and bottomless tater tots in the dining halls. She could breathe underwater. Her is my alter ego that neglected to accompany me into adulthood, and Liam resents me for it.
I work in life insurance now. I sit at a desk.
“I hope you find Her.” He stares at me with this idle heaviness, as if he’s imploring Her to resurface and liberate something defunct. I don’t know if he wants to smack me or rip my sweater off or drown in one of those gallon jugs of purified water. “When you do, tell Her Liam says hello.” His cologne burns my skin as he pushes past me. This is the last time I’ll smell him. “Goodbye, Cass.”
I wait for the world to stop, but it doesn’t. Liam drives away, and I go inside to research dogs. I’ve always wanted a French bulldog. I will kiss other people and dance in the rain and shave my head. I will find Her again. Liam doesn’t love me anymore.
Photo by @didsss via Pexels.com