I don’t miss her as I thought I would. Sure, at night, but what’s night without some loneliness. Even when we were married I would wake up, her on the far side of the bed and me on the other, and I would feel lonely although she was close. My parents slept in separate beds. They said it helped parry feelings of being unwanted. When they kissed in the morning over coffee and eggs, it was a real kiss. Not an afterthought to the seven o’clock alarm. Not a simple recognition of the other’s being. A real kiss.
The separation began when I suggested spending a month in Morocco. I came home from the pool and she was sitting on the couch watching her morning talk shows. “Breakfast on the counter, babe.” The yellow daylight came in from the window and I could hear her voice, but the brightness washed away the features of her face. I filled the missing spaces, her small nose, the wrinkle in her chin. There was a time when all I wanted was for her to make me breakfast. Call me babe. “I want to go to Morocco,” I said. She moved from the brightness and kissed me hard. Her lips pulled away, licking chlorine off my cheek. “How exotic,” she said. I don’t believe she knew where Morocco was, but I let her dream of camels and desert palm trees. I went to the bathroom to ring out my Speedo and hung it over the shower rod. There was a plate of waffles on the kitchen counter, cold but perfectly browned. I took a bite and tasted soot. The bottom side was burned. I continued eating, shoving mouthfuls dripping with syrup. The hunger I built at the pool quickly changed to glut. I stayed in the chair, not wanting to stand and feel the fullness.
The first five years were wonderful. We traveled to Germany, talked about having a beautiful baby boy, and pushed one another to do wild things in the name of love. This was a game we played. Without this game I would have been a different man. My first act of love was to jump from a cliff into Abiquiu Lake. “If you love me, you’ll jump,” she said. It was the end of summer and the water was low. I could tell because the rocks had dark stripes at the bottom, which looked like the markings of a child measuring their height as they grow. She pointed to the tallest cliff. “If you love me, you’ll jump.” Without testing the depth below, I climbed to the spot in which she pointed. The bottom of my feet burned on the rocks. My stomach lifted up into my ribs. When I looked out to the water beyond I felt calm, but when I looked down the drop made me afraid. Was she worth it? I wondered, my gut still hovering, hiding out, playing chicken. She was standing on a smaller cliff to my side and when I looked at her, I jumped.
I forked the last bite of waffle into my mouth. My mouth was sick of the taste. “I mean I want to go to Morocco,” I said, my tongue circling the sweet dough. I swallowed. “Alone.” I was convinced the one thing I needed in my life was to travel to Morocco. In my mind, I saw the opportunity as one where I could feel foreign and be uncomfortable. I had lost the fight. Slouched into the comforts of my life and grown bitter from the ease. I was certain, and there was no changing my mind, that Morocco would make me a greater man. I was equally as certain that I would feel more for her and the life we had if I could leave for a while. She would never understand, although I hoped she might. My wanting to go alone meant one thing: I was going with another woman. And my wife was certain, as I was certain, that she knew who it was. The light shifted and covered the front of her body. Not only her face, but the spaces surrounding her were too bright to look at directly. I scratched at the porcelain plate with the prongs of my fork, considering the possibility of what it would be like if she came. I thought about the she, my wife, and then the other woman. If my wife were to come, I would have to be and act like a certain man. The problem is, I was changing. I wanted to grow, evolve, morph, discover that new part of me, and what killed her is she could not be the change. And what killed me is never in our nine years of knowing, six of marriage, did she want to change for herself. Looking back, it is a very significant part of why I loved her. This complete determination to be the same person.
Her final act of love came at the end of our fifth year. We were at the grocery store, I remember the moment, my finger pointing at the lobster with the biggest claws, when she said, “Sleep with her.“ "You’re crazy, I only want you.” “If you love me, you’ll sleep with her.” The point of this act was that no matter what I did, she would love me. Our game had grown from its playful origins into a brash competition of who loved whom the most. “I love you,” I would say. “I love you more,” she always replied. Winning became the soul purpose of our kindness. Being able to say, I do more for you than you do for me, therefore, I care more, therefore, you owe me something. The man behind the seafood counter pulled the big lobster and another from the opposite end of the tank. He handed them to me, still writhing, with bands around their pincers. We moved to the frozen foods aisle. “If you love me, you’ll sleep with her. I promise, I won’t mind.” “I don’t want to be with anyone but you.” “Come on, you don’t have to lie.” “I only want you.” It was a lie. I had thought about this other woman. A few times while my wife and I were in bed, with the lights low and the blinds shaking from the fan. You will hate me for this, but it is the truth. I wanted this other woman so badly that sometimes I cursed ever meeting my wife. “I only want you,” I said. I knew she would push back with all her strength and power to make it happen. To prove she loved me more. “If you love me…” she started.
“Did you ever think I might want to go to Morocco?” No, I hadn’t. I was being selfish. I had everything. That’s the way it looks from the outside, and the way it looks only now, after I lost her. I tried to explain that Morocco was something I needed. “Water, food, sun,” she said, “these are things you need.” No, she did not understand. “Me,” she said, “you need me.” Morocco turned into sleeping with ‘her’ which turned into the grand inequality of our love. Many times we had fought and I rushed to hold her. I could not understand why this action awarded forgiveness. I preferred a remedy by words. But every time, when I held her we would stop fighting. I had not expected to be fighting this morning. My wife hovering above me, telling me I loved her less. My skin was dry from the pool, my throat rough and wanting water to move the flakes of burned breakfast, but if I stood up now she would take it as a sign that the fight meant nothing to me. That her feelings, her love, could be put on hold. “I need this,” I said again. “Please, honey, give me this.” She could not understand because she had never changed and never wanted to. I swallowed my spit, over and over again saying, “I need this. I need this. I need this,” until my mouth ran dry.
I suppose looking back on our relationship that we were in love but not compatible. It could have been worse. We could have been compatible, stayed with one another our whole lives, but never been in love. The day I jumped from the cliff was the day I knew I loved her. It might not have been enough love, never ‘more’, but it was the most I had. I split the cool water with my body and shot through the navy blue. Down, down, the water getting colder, but still no bottom. My body continued propelling away from the surface and I nearly tried to breathe underwater from the panic that seized me. I was terrified knowing there was a life without her. Many lives I could follow, but only one with her. I expanded my arms and legs and swam to the surface. The air was dry and my lungs pulled to take in air. The cliff I had jumped from was above my head, jutting out like a plank. I would jump again if she asked. My whole body filled with a quiet happiness. I would call it love.
I can see all the ways I loved her, and the only thing I can say for sure is that I never thought she would leave.
I realize the genius of my parents sleeping in separate beds. It made their good mornings matter. And more importantly, it kept them prepared for a life where one would leave, die, run off with a lover. When she left me, I felt that change I had hoped for in going to Morocco. Only instead of feeling larger, hungrier for living, it made me realize the pleasure of being full. I am surprised that my new self does not miss her as I thought I would. The first day of our separation I was sure I would die. That day was the closest to hell I have ever gotten. But I miss her at night. My body is aware she is not close, and it aches but also feels light, useless to he point where I believe it will stop breathing and pumping. These nights are another hell, and perhaps I deserve the pain.
On these nights, I end up staying awake, thinking about who I was and am today. Every time I come to the same conclusion, and ever time the answer is more correct. I am the man she loved, but she doesn’t love me anymore.