I don’t have to tell you I didn’t offer to pay for the Chinese food she ordered.
We sat in the living room, a place I rarely hung around since my roommate, who was also named David, had more or less disappeared.
Laura didn’t want to take the cat that wasn’t mine with her. She said, ―I wish I could but I just don’t have the, like, resources right now.
She’d moved twice since our breakup and told me she was really busy but not what she was busy with.
I asked if she wanted to watch Frasier, but she didn’t, and I asked if she didn’t mind would she sit in the bedroom with me while I watched, but she said she had to get going. I said, ―Why, and she said there was a party she wanted to go to in the neighborhood, and I said, ―A party?
―But it’s like five o’clock.
―That sounds about right.
―I’m not sure I follow.
―Well, I said. ―Who do you know who lives around here besides me? Because we only knew David and Alexander, as far as I remember.
―I know people besides the people who we knew at the same time as, like… Listen, I have a friend who lives nearby, and I thought it would be nice to see the cats. I thought it would be good to see you.
―Can’t you see I’m suffering?
―Actually, up until now I was thinking you seemed pretty good.
―But don’t you just want to sit on my bed and watch an episode of Frasier with me?
She sighed, and for a moment I thought she might give in, and I thought sitting might lead to lying down, my hand falling on her leg, other things. But she said, ―No. She said, ―I don’t think that would really be such a great thing.
And Laura was getting off the ground, where she’d been sitting and holding the cat that was mine and batting around with the cat that wasn’t mine, and doing the dishes.
She was doing the dishes, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cooked. I certainly hadn’t cooked what she was washing off David’s dishes. Or any of the food that had touched David’s dishes in the past several months.
The dishes that had last held food I’d cooked were in a storage unit I’d forgotten to pay for the past two months. Our dishes, I thought.
When she left, I stayed in the living room for a while. I looked at the sun go behind the buildings and I didn’t feel it when my pupils dilated, adjusting to the dark.
I forced myself to read some emails. I made myself make a promise to myself to remember to write a check that I would mail to the storage unit, if not the following morning, sometime before midweek.
I stood close to the mirror and did some punches at the space in front of me. I had punched myself in the face, on more than one occasion, during arguments with Laura. Seeing this had upset her, I remembered. So I punched myself in the face to see what it looked like, but each time, at the very instant I made contact, I was unable to get a good view.
Soon I was very stoned. I closed my laptop. I still hadn’t gotten around to watching Frasier.
Thirteen months earlier, it had been April. I punched myself in the face after a day of volunteering at the animal shelter where we got the cats. We’d volunteered and got the cats for free, and then we volunteered some more.
It was after a particularly bad fight that I suggested the cats. I was thinking about proposing marriage. A different cat had sat on my lap at a party.
Laura stopped going to the shelter. I went three times alone, then got sick of it. Walking home one brisk weeknight, I jumped and touched the limbs of a tree. I punched myself in the face. Then the head and ear, and for a moment I could not see, and then I could see.
There was a hazy moon. There were dim, almost orange clouds. It was late, and the sounds from the park, which ran alongside me on either end of Flatbush Avenue, were dewy and calm. At home, Laura had not started dinner.
A squash, split halfway into two pieces, was still attached at the bottom. Laura looking at her laptop, playing music I was unfamiliar with. The oven was not preheating.
The apartment we lived in had two rooms and was technically large enough for two people and two cats, and I sat in the corner of the couch, clapping disapproval when they dug their claws into its arms.
We stayed up screaming discreetly to avoid waking the newborn next door.
Three months later we were in Rome, and I couldn’t stop looking at the bright black sky. Our indignation, which had been everywhere that spring, died down in the summer. We woke early to get in line outside the Apostolic Palace.
Espressos and cameras, unbearable heat and the silence between us. It takes years to know how to touch someone on that part of her back.
It was just walls of gold, etc. We weaved through tour groups, catching each other’s stupid grins and looking away, skipping over every artifact. There wasn’t an unfilled space, and no bathrooms, and arrows pointing, saying what was next in English and French and Italian and Chinese.
At the end of the tour, before the Sistine Chapel, we realized there’d been an alternate entrance, one that bypassed the long, teeming lines of the palace, and were enveloped by silence. Laura and I separated.
I guess nothing could’ve prepared me. The reproductions of the frescoes had never been especially moving or exciting, and yet, in this cool unlit chamber, it was as though each figure leapt from its immutability. It was something I later tried to describe as animate, but it was something beyond than that. They weren’t just flesh-like, these figures, they were human. More human than I was, and their mythos elevated beyond reality. The flayed skin held in the hands of some large, outrageous saint. The dove and heavy cross, keys dangling, bodies of Christ and St. Peter swelling with impossible muscle. All the stories I’d never bothered to learn presented before me in one continuous and simultaneous array. Creation and death and resurrection. It was as if life had never elected to begin, or ended, here, and I started to wonder if I was going to cry. I wanted to. I was overwhelmed, but could conjure nothing inside me to express it. It was the exact opposite of what I thought I wanted. This room, this great work, was society. And the faint grunts of air and whispers of my fellow man, the obese and alien and reeking crowd of tourists, fingers itching on their phones and assholes, had come to affect me. I felt a part of them, and I knew, that in this room, there was no time, and I knew when I left, all this feeling too, of warmth and trust and fellowship, would fall away from me like it had never been there at all.
So I put off trying to see or feel anything and just stared into the oil on the ceiling and walls. I let my feet slide around. I was waiting for a light touch on the neck or arm. I was waiting for Laura to force me out of this abundant peace, so that I could at least blame her for ever having to leave.
But the touch never came, and I found her weeping in the corner of the room, and though it had been clear, on the train ride to the airport, in the transfers and flights home, the ritual of buying friends candy and thanking Alexander for feeding the cats, and in spending the rest of the summer between the beach and the fluorescent offices we were resigned to, that nothing would ever be quite right after that, we’d waited until fall to end things.
Watching her fork a pile of chow fun onto my plate, I’d suddenly remembered a bottle I lost, one that had slid between the mattress and the wall, behind the bed around Christmas. I’d been staying at Alexander’s while we looked for someone to take over the lease.
I texted him, and he replied, found that shit months ago.