© 2016 City of Broken Dreams
I was never given the moment to experience what it would feel like to fall asleep with her lying next to me. It was never in the cards—it was just never meant to be, I guess. Or maybe it was, and the moment was stolen from me. By whom or what, I’m not really sure. There were the usual suspects, of course: the “other man;” her lack of need or desire to; the dark storm cloud of lovelessness that looms on every horizon; my filthy addictions, my wicked impulses, my devil inside—basically, my sad, lonely, fucked up life. And of course, there was always the night.
The black night: her point of exit, her exit stage night. But not before the same prerequisite sequence of steps, first: She would tell me goodbye. She would kiss me goodnight. She would turn to leave. She would walk away. Until finally, she would:
Step into the night, baby.
She steps into the night. I follow, a half step behind. I stop, I linger—not willing to let go of her just yet. I watch her walk away, I watch her leave. Always in slow-motion disco: short skirt, tight ass, garter-belt peep show, high-heeled shoes echoing on cold hard pavement—a street side catwalk, all to the beat of an imaginary 808 kick thump-thump-thumping inside my head. She keeps walking. She becomes smaller and smaller as she moves further and further away. She makes it to her car. I still watch, I can’t look away. I still smolder, I still burn—from the memory of her lips biting mine as she pulled away from our kiss. Taillights flare. Taillights fade. And off into the dark night she goes.
This is how it always happened. This is how the moment was stolen from me, each and every damn time. In slow-motion. On repeat. Just like that. Until the day the moment came when everything burst into flame from being looped and played back one too many times.
So what was my in lieu of? With so many nights filled with her absence—of her body against mine, of her breath felt on the back of my neck, of her dreams intermingling with my own—what served as my proxy, my substitute, my methadone? Nothing. Nothing could replace her, of course. All I ever had to hold onto after she would leave was her memory. And each and every night I would fall asleep with the thought of her lying next to me.
I slept with ghosts. I kissed shadows. I cleaved to memories that always grew cold.
Even though she wasn’t there, I would always leave a spot for her in the bed. I would needlessly lie closer to the edge of the mattress, just so that her absence would have enough room to lie next to me. I was being foolish, I know. But if I didn’t do it, it would have felt like I was betraying her memory, somehow. And it was from there—from the edge of the bed, where I didn’t even have to be—where I would stare out the bedroom window, into the night. So dark, now; so black. Only hours earlier, we had looked out that same window, together; her head resting across my naked chest. But we didn’t look out into darkness, then—night had yet to fall, the sky had yet to turn black.
We would watch the sun set, even though from our vantage point we could never actually see the sun sink. But we would watch the sky change color; we could track the movement of the sun by what shade of violence the sky revealed to us. I swear, nothing beats a prairie sunset—it’s one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see. But despite its languid, picturesque beauty, I always saw violence in it—and I’m pretty sure she did too.
Who hurts the sky at the end of each day? Who cuts it—bleeding it of all that red, yellow, and orange light—painting the sky with beautiful, brutal crimson tinged violence. Who beats and abuses it—with the fists of a god; pummeling flesh and bone made from air; first purple, then blue, until finally black. Who makes the night come? Who paints the whole sky black? Who do I blame for taking her away from me? For in the end, it really was the black night that stole her from me.
December 24, [REDACTED]. The preamble is exactly the same, as always—just the Christmas Eve Edition. The same breathless goodbye. The same kiss goodnight. The same exit stage night. I watch her leave, I watch her walk away—just like I always do. Even though it’s a cold December, her skirt is just as short, her high heel shoes are just as high. The only difference is that she’s wearing a tiny black parka with a faux fur lined hood. She navigates the slick, icy sidewalk in stiletto heels like every capable Winnipeg woman during the winter months: with the grace of a ballerina, with the hypnotic strut of a stripper, with the swagger of a stone cold fucking killer. And just like always, I watch her walk into the night.
But this time, she doesn’t stop. This time, I don’t see her parked car on the side of the street like every other time before. She has no reason to stop, and she doesn’t—she just keeps walking down the shadow-filled sidewalk. The streetlight sentries cast their spotlight glow: one moment she is hidden by the night, the next, she steps into the light.
I call out to her. I shout her name. The sound of my voice travels and echoes down the empty street, bouncing off the tall buildings that surround me like giants made of stone. If she hears me, she pretends not to. She doesn’t stop, she doesn’t turn around. She just keeps on walking—becoming smaller and smaller and smaller as she goes.
The night is eerily quiet and so very still. It has begun to snow, now: big fat fluffy flakes floating down from an oblivion black sky. And I swear I can actually hear it—the snow falling from the sky. The snow is falling so gently, so peacefully, and it’s like I’m standing inside the middle of a slow-motion snow globe. The sound of snowflakes falling gently to the ground—the only sound that accompanies this fragile, frigid moment in time.
She continues to walk into the night. She continues to walk until there is almost nothing left of her. Until she disintegrates into the black. Until she disappears, completely. Until all that remains of her is nothing but the black night that has just devoured her whole.
I never saw or heard from her again.
Time moved on—like time always moves on: Without consideration. Without empathy. Without apology.
The nature of our relationship had taught me how to live with the notion of her absence. The only difference now was that her absence was longer, more protracted, infinite (∞). But I resurrected her from the dark void that she disappeared into; I channeled my inner Victor Frankenstein and constructed an ephemeral simulacrum made in her image, cut from the fabric of my own memory—one part remembrance, one part fever dream.
At night, I still slept at the edge of the bed. Before, it was to ensure that her absence would have enough room to lie beside me. But now, I also had to leave room for her memory, too. For her memory was all I had left. And so, each and every night, I still fell asleep with the thought of her lying next to me.
I continued to sleep with ghosts. I continued to kiss shadows. I continued to cleave to memories—that grew even colder.
For the longest time I allowed myself to live the life of a haunted man. I embraced it. I wallowed in it. I became intimate with it.
Some nights, upon returning home, I would walk through the front door and would frequently still be able to smell her spectral scent wafting on the stale air around me. It was as if she had just been in the room before me, as if I had just missed her presence by only a few mere moments. And so the ghost dance would begin: as I entered a room, she would always just exit it—leaving through some nonexistent doorway, slipping into another room. I would give chase, always following that same phantom trail of French vanilla, elusively floating on the air. But every time I caught up to it, it would slip away just as quickly. And so we would dance—and around and around and around we would go.
Sometimes I would forget if I had left a light on in a room or not. But my forgetfulness was never an indication of my failing memory. My melancholy madness always had a way of transforming my cognitive deficit into the thoughtful, romantic gesture of an invisible, intangible woman. Thus, the solitary lamp left on in an empty room became a clandestine signal: a message from her to me; telling me that she was still there, waiting for me to come home—to her. And even though I didn’t really have much reason to anymore, I always did come home at the end of each day. Because if I didn’t, it would have been like I was abandoning her—just like she had abandoned me.
Physical remnants of her remained behind: clothing left hanging in a closet, a pair of red stiletto heels still standing by the front door, a half bottle of perfume hidden in the back of the medicine cabinet. But I didn’t view these refugee items as objects of the estranged—to be purged, to be expunged, to be forgotten. Rather, the flotsam and jetsam of our fugitive life together transmogrified into holy relics, transubstantively taking on the essence of the woman that they once belonged to. I never had it in me to get rid of them; the items may have been abandoned, but they would never be destined for the trash. Instead, I left them where I had found them; and there, they remained, in storage and on display—to be surreptitiously venerated and revered on the altar of her memory. I clearly still needed something to hold on to, and these inanimate pieces of her provided me with something tangible that I could still touch, that I could still grasp.
I just needed something to hold on to.
I just needed someone to hold on to.