First, let her introduce you to her parents. Do not introduce her to yours, even if they still live close by. Make up excuses. Whenever she visits tell her that they’re out of town, vacationing, or that your mother is sick, or that your father isn’t in the mood for company. Tell her your father is rarely in the mood for anything. Appear solemn.
When she misses you, think of ways to cheer her up. Call her and say you miss her too. Tell her you think about her all day. Tell her you ordered her a batch of flowers, a dozen roses. When she tells you she never got them, explain that they must have been delivered to the wrong address, that the person you spoke to when making the order sounded new. Expect she’ll say it’s okay. Expect she’ll say not to worry, that it’s the thought that counts. When she does say these things, hear her disappointment, like a secret she’s trying to keep. Ask her if she’s disappointed; confirm what you already know. When she answers, don’t believe her.
Never tell her you never ordered the flowers in the first place.
Ask yourself why she ever needed them—the flowers—or wanted them, or liked the idea of having them. Ask yourself why you aren’t enough for her as is. Think about how you enjoy it when she sends you mail, small surprise packages that are always the same: homemade cookies. Realize you’re satisfied receiving something you’re loath to give. Wonder if you’re contradicting yourself. Tell yourself you’re not. Tell yourself people are nothing but walking contradictions anyway. Try to think of examples. Give up before too long. Convince yourself that there are too many instances to count, too many to actually measure. Repeat this line of reasoning until it becomes real, something you can follow, until you believe it.
Insist that you are in the right. You are always in the right, even when it’s not a matter of right or wrong.
Take her out to dinner at the restaurant where you first met. Recall that you are sitting close to the table you sat at then: in the corner, in back. Recall that the lighting is similar, that not much on the menu has changed. They still have her favorite dessert: mousse, chocolate. When she excuses herself and gets up to use the bathroom, put your fork down on your plate. Watch the waitress walk past your table and signal to her that you would like more water, a refill. Notice that the waitress’s hair is the color of sand. Speculate that if she let it down you could run your hands through it, let it slip through your fingers. Consider asking her to stay and talk. Consider asking her to sit. Wonder if she would. When she finishes pouring you water, tell her thank you. Nod. Watch as she leaves. Look across the table. Reach for your water and take a sip. Pick up your napkin. Press your mouth into it and look at the ceiling. Still holding your glass, slide your first finger around its rim and, with a clenched jaw, keep looking.
Carefully, make a list of all of her suggestions: books you might like, movies you should watch, ways you could treat her better. Write the list out by hand. Use the pen she gave you when you told her you wanted to try your hand at writing. (Never consider telling her you were joking.) Keep the list at home, in your apartment; tape it to the door of your refrigerator, below her picture, the one she gave you early on.
When she visits, hide the list. Don’t let her know you’re keeping track of what she has to offer. When she asks if you’ve been listening to her say: “Yes, of course.” When she asks if you’ve read the book she lent you last tell her you’re getting around to it. Tell her you’ve been busy.
When she visits next, hide the picture instead. Stow it away in a drawer or up in a cabinet. Stand in the middle of your kitchen and face the refrigerator and notice how it looks without her on it. Invite her over for dinner. When she comes, make sure she detects the door’s emptiness. Make her worry. Make her think about what it all might mean.
When she asks to see you, ask her why. When she says she wants to go on a date, don’t answer right away. Finally, tell her “sure.” Ask her, “Why not?” Let her decide where you’re going. Don’t scoff or smirk when she says she’s feeling old-fashioned, that she’s feeling goofy. Act enthused when she says she wants to go to the aquarium. Admit that when you were small you wanted to be a marine biologist. All of your friends wanted to be marine biologists. Tell her that in sixth grade your teacher suggested you read a book about whales. The book said that when whales die they fall to the bottom of the ocean, just like that. Say, “It’s called a whale drop.” Later in the conversation, correct yourself. Say, “I remembered wrong” or “Sorry, I told you the wrong thing.” Say, “Actually, it’s called a whale fall.” Hold her hand. Think of all that life swimming around in the ocean and the biggest thing there sinking down, all by itself, bringing nothing with it, as if it all had to be that way, as if there was no other choice. Hold her hand tighter. Make her think you’re there to stay. Ask her if she ever wanted to be a marine biologist.
Stop calling her on the phone. Instead, let her call you. When she tells you that you have to work on your communication tell her you don’t understand what she’s trying to say. Listen to her sigh. Tell yourself you’re funny. Tell yourself she needs to find her sense of humor. Turn away from the receiver in your hand and smile. Forget that she can’t see you. She can’t, after all. She can’t see you through the phone. Act like you’re hiding from her. Later, spend time thinking about how you’ll tell her you’re ready for something new, but don’t spend too much. When you finally do tell her, repeat that it wasn’t her fault; nothing was her fault. She’ll ask, “Are you kidding?” “Are you serious?” “What did I do wrong?” Tell her you’re not kidding. Tell her you’re as serious as the dead. Remind her that you were never good at pulling practical jokes. Tell her it wasn’t her fault. “Oh, really, then who’s fault was it?” she’ll ask. Say nothing. Think: faults aren’t for guys like me or women like you. Faults are for earthquakes.
At night, as you’re falling asleep, decide that if you are like a house then she is the old, green sofa in the living room. Decide you no longer like the color green. Decide you want more space. Conclude that you are, somehow, more when you are on your own. Not more independent, or more self-sufficient, just more. Wake up in the early morning and wonder where you went wrong. Remind yourself that you never did; you never went wrong; you were always right. Half-awake, lie in your bed and listen to the world outside. Briefly, confuse the sound of leaves rustling with running water. Think for a moment that she has come to use your shower. Wonder why she has come all this way to use your soap and towels before remembering she was the one who gave you the soap in the first place, as a gift. Her soap or your soap. Deliberate over what to call it now. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter. Tell yourself it never did.
All rights reserved to David Controne.