It was the beginning of a mild Indiana summer, the kind when your lips are still recovering from being chapped through the inconsistently cool Midwest spring and your skin starts to stick to vinyl when pressed against it for too long. It was a summer of cold-sweat chronic nightmares and letting go. This is when I told you I would be leaving that fall, said I was doing it for myself, said it would be good for you, too. I’m not sure if you believed that. I’m not sure if I did, either.
I spend the morning of the move on the living room floor with all my things strewn out in front of me, figuring out what to leave. I watch the light filter through the blinds, shifting across the floor, trying to guess where it would end up when I finally depart. I clean the bathroom for an hour, trying to leave everything prettier than what I had made it. Don’t worry about it, you said, it will all be a mess later, anyway. When I shut the front door behind me, it sounds different. Absolute. I circle the cul-de-sac three times trying not to cry, watching the trees start to shed their skin. I wonder if you saw me.
We play phone tag for weeks as I try to put off the inevitable. In a stroke of bad luck, the real you answers on a bitter Sunday evening, instead of the recorded message I had heard so much it now sounded like a dirge. I say nothing at first, and then everything I possibly can. I did all I could; I tried to make it up to you, you reply, ambivalent. I agreed even though I hadn’t wanted to.
We took a Polaroid of our hands clasped together the last day we saw each other. I later cut it in half and threw it out with some rotting orange peels. I had wanted to burn it but remembered how I get around fire. I retake the photo somewhere on the west coast with my new boyfriend. I call it a memorial. I finally say goodbye to your red sweater long after I had already done it to you. I wash it five times trying to get you out of it, pressing it into my skin to make it all mine. When it doesn’t work, I throw it out to rot in refuse with the Polaroid and the orange peels. I call it giving up.
I am such an unreliable narrator, how I paint myself tragic victim in every story, and you, culprit. I wonder if I’ll ever let you be the martyr. I think maybe you were the one who suffered, even though I’m told that can’t be true. It’s just Stockholm syndrome, my therapist says about the way I condemn and praise you in the same breath. I still don’t believe her. I think about my grandmother and her mother and my mother and me, and all their bad blood in my body. I tell her victims can be monsters, too.