The average number of decisions an adult makes in one day is 35,000.
I turn the knob so that it lands somewhere between HOT and VERY HOT. Pants down, shirt up and over. I don’t check the water’s temperature before stepping in.
Mom says that I keep choosing the wrong people. I tell her that she’s not wrong, which is just a less painful way of saying that she is right. I say these people happen to me like bad traffic. I have to get home, which happens to be during rush hour. And you can’t abandon your car like you’ve just rear-ended doomsday. No, she says, but you could’ve thought about taking the back way.
The coffee drips. I wait. I pick at my thumb nail where it’s grown wrong ever since I chopped it instead of a sweet potato, and wonder about how you like your eggs and all of the other typical things. I think I’ll use the mug with the cowgirls on it, the one from the museum in Fort Worth.
You built a habit of saying We are doomed. As though because we are writers we have an inherent, fateful predilection for failed love and pain. I called bullshit. How lucky we are to be human, to be able to choose to put in the work for the things we want. What an insult to our agency, to our big love to be reduced to a lazy trope. Our doom was not decided for us; at the very least we would be cutting the jib of this sinking ship with our own hands.
We will not be Romeo and Juliette. We have communication on our side.
The first time I see you in front of me, I throw my phone, car keys to the ground and walk into your arms. Like crossing through a threshold. Like casting white flags at half mast.
It won’t be the last time.
You had to pee so bad each Porta Potty at construction sites that sat alongside the I-395 corridor outside of Washington D.C. winked at and taunted you with an easy place to piss. I could feel time passing too quickly and my abdomen tighten for your sake. At an eternal red you joked, “I’m not sure this light turns green.”
The stubborn red shine persisted and I cackled my explosive laugh until it wasn’t funny anymore.
If you squint, this park could be New York City.
If you squint, it could be the park in my hometown.
If you squint, that could be you and me.
You started to consider leaving her.
This is me fighting.
What are you fighting for?
He never said which.
A week later you drove four hours to me. We rested on the ugly red pleather couch that was barely big enough to hold the two of us. With your legs laid over mine under an off-white down comforter, you pointed at the small cracks in the ceiling. A journeyman carpenter you explained the whole place had been built wrong.
The cement is going to expand and contract slightly with temperature changes.
I was enthralled with how you could walk into any building and easily see its future. Whether it was made to last, or if it would crumble long before anyone had planned. You tried to explain something about how the plywood wall was built too close to the cement, not giving it enough room to breathe. I can’t remember any of those details now. All I can remember is mindlessly massaging your socked foot with my left hand under the blanket and my right hand resting on the rim of the bowl of your caved in sternum. Chicken chest you called it.
That’s nice, right there.
I laughed to myself thinking, what with your chicken chest and my uneven breasts we made quite the match.
And on the seventh day someone decided that my life should be honorable.
They did not consult me first.
My friend messages me:
YOU ARE TOO GOOD TO BE THE OTHER WOMAN.
I want to respond:
WHO CONSTRUCTED THE PARAMETERS OF GOODNESS?
Instead, I thank her for all her love even when I make less than great choices.
On my back in the dark. I build up a vision of him and make his hands touch my thighs, my hips, my neck. In the morning I will be tired from all of the things I made him do.
I am in love with you…
He says this and I lock it in the box. My best friend hates the box and wishes I would burn it.
I’ve seen this movie before, she says, and for the first time I hear her voice sour.
I know, me too. But look—he’s in love. That’s a bird I’ve never seen.
…but you are not my wife.
The day after you left, sixteen headstones in the cemetery I took you to were destroyed in the night. Beneath President’s Circle in Hollywood Cemetery, former Presidents John Tyler and James Monroe are buried amongst other nameless non-political former people whose final resting-place markers were toppled, crumbled, or split into two while John and James’s remained standing. The Mayor of Richmond scorned the actions calling them “morally wrong.”
Disturbing final resting places is contemptible, criminal and will not be tolerated.
I wanted to think that the ones who caused the destruction were saying,
Long live life — Death to death!
We could talk ourselves silly. The longest conversation lasted nearly six hours, and even then you said you could go longer. One time you told me about the road trip you and your wife took from out west back to the east coast. I told you about how I had done the same drive. We both loved the song Jolene by Ray LaMontagne and Santa Fe and taking our time on the road. It was easy to conclude: we are the same. I laughed when your age showed through your inclination toward paper maps instead of Google Maps.
The last time we spoke it was for seven minutes. You called to tell me that she had found out. She knew everything. That you walked through the door of your home and your wife asked How was Richmond?
Now, my best friend reminds me that there was a time before you. Points out my past without you like pointing to a destination on one of your maps. Somewhere to end up, somewhere to get back to.
Is one’s willingness and readiness to die for someone else a reason to believe?
What about loving someone eternally, unconditionally?
What are the right reasons to believe, to save? To stay?
I told you that my biggest fear was what Nick Flynn wrote of salvation:
My version of hell
is someone ripping open his
shirt & saying,
look what I did for you.
Jesus was a carpenter, too.
He built his own cross they hanged him on in the same way that we made the bed you went down on me in. The thing about Jesus: he was branded as Savior, but really he was the first Super Villain. And even he came back from crucifixion.
An entire faith is built on the notion that one man’s death was meant to save those that love and follow him. The story of Jesus’s resurrection, and the foundation of Christianity, changes under The Swoon Theory. Some historians believe that Jesus of Nazareth did not die that day on the cross, but fell unconscious—swooned—and was removed to his tomb from which he would historically emerge three days later. If Jesus was only playing dead, have all those who believe they have been saved been hoodwinked?
I start asking my divorced friends how long they were married. What the circumstances were, who left whom, why did it end. What I am really asking is:
How did you choose?
What are my odds?
And what of the decisions that I didn’t make, or the ones that were made for me? How many indecisions have I laid to rest, and how many of them have landed me here, again in a place where I re-learn how to lose? Despite all of my yeses, will I always be trying to outrun the nos that refuse to stay buried?
I read on the internet that for every living person there are roughly fifteen dead.
In all of our hunger and sweat and grit and want for life, still, we are outnumbered.