Your Heart


By February 28, 2016 0

Maybe he’s busy.

Maybe he forgot!

Maybe he’s just dumb- men can be so obtuse.

These are the maybes they tell you over coffee, under slabs of pizza and behind the thin stem of a wine glass, after you confess that you haven’t heard from him in a week.

Your friends inject the possibilities into the conversation with shameful indulgence, guilty smiles playing on their lips, passing around the maybes the way you used to pass around a half empty handle of vodka with the price tag still on it, fifteen years old, taking pulls and making faces: we’re so grown up.

And now, here you are, in a different setting-mildewed basement swapped for a restaurant patio- with a different poison-rubbing alcohol swapped for an older man- and aren’t we all just so grown up?

“Maybe he has something big planned!”

You’ve said it before just like they say it to you now. A conspiratorial lean-in that indicates everyone should do the same, like you’re about to explain something novel: I’ve got it! He’s a Nicholas Sparks character! 

And oh, that ridiculous confidence, like: ta-da! The profound solution to the thousand year cratered gap between the sexes! The maybes are short and succinct, always agreed upon and always followed by a change of subject: “He’s probably swamped at work- shall we get another round of mimosas? I’ll get the waiter’s attention.”

“…Maybe he’s afraid of commitment.”

You smile and agree, then you comment on the weather. No one wants to dwell on a saran-wrapped lie so transparent and thin that a finger might poke through accidentally, causing the air to rush in from the other side.

(Then, the whispered self assurance as you walk home from the brunch that left you wrecked and smiling and just a little bit buzzed):

Maybe I just need to be patient.

The universe is made up of energy. That’s just science. You can’t remember how exactly it works, but you know that it’s all around you, kind of like those dust mites you read about that apparently colonize on your face -gross- and isn’t that what the butterfly effect is all about?

Maybe when he left your place last week-a quick kiss, one of his arms already in his winter coat, the other on the small of your back- maybe something went wrong, and instead of the chaotic dispersal of energy into both separating bodies, you took all of it, and he left with none. You might cause actual matter to shift if you keep the energy focused in one direction. (Too crazy to think out loud, but no crazier than dogs who sense earthquakes, or those stories about mothers who lift cars for their babies.) It’s like the more socially acceptable step-sibling to telepathy: maybe if you think hard enough as you brush your teeth later tonight, it might lead to the illumination of an LED screen in the dark tonight, right before you fall asleep: I missed you.”

(Waiting for the pedestrian signal to light up, your hand wrapped around your phone in your coat pocket):

Maybe it’s complicated.

Men are from Mars, etc, and you might have misunderstood him when he said he’d call you, assuming this meant a desire to keep in contact when in reality you missed the last few words behind the slam of your door that drowned out his train of thought: “I’ll call you when hell freezes over.”

Maybe you possess a rare, undiagnosed affliction of the ear that absorbs “I never want to see you again” and translates it as “I think I could spend the rest of my life with you” at some point before it hits your eardrum. Or maybe he said “Make sure to call me, because my phone only accepts incoming calls, and if I dial out it will explode,” and you heard, “I’ll call you.” Maybe you have an ear infection, and that’s what accounts for all of this miscommunication!

(Jiggling your keys in your building door, for Christ’s sake are they ever going to fix that lock or are you going to have to do it yourself because this is bullshit, you’re practically locked out half of the time):

Or maybe it’s entirely un-complicated: 

You’re being dramatic, you’re panicking, and meanwhile he’s eating a stale croissant in his office kitchen and sipping coffee and thinking vaguely about what he’ll get you for your birthday. He’s so sure of Your Future Together that he feels infinity cupped in his hands, and when you feel like that, there’s no need for constant contact.

That’s it, that could be it. He’s so damn sure of you that he knows the next words to fall out of his mouth will be those three important ones, and he wants to wait to say it in person.

Maybe he loves you, and that’s why he’s not responding!

(An hour later, as you power clean your kitchen with concentrated bleach and fury, your white knuckles stinging:)

Maybe I made the whole thing up.  

You have a tendency to embellish. You used to scream “Fire!” in department stores when you were five, a gleeful toothy grin at the chaos you could cause, the power you could wield, with one small word. That’s what you’re doing now. You’re dialing 911 for a relationship that didn’t exist, and soon you will hang up with bashful eyes, explaining to your friends it was a prank call that made them sprint towards you with buckets of water.

You made the whole thing up. It never meant that much, and you just wanted to see what it would look like if the world was lit on fire.

This maybe is very appealing to you. You would far rather find out that you’re batshit, electro-shock therapy crazy than the alternative: he doesn’t love you.

(Then there are the fantastical ones that prowl at night, the furry little beastly maybes that purr and weave around your legs as you get ready for bed:)

Maybe he’s a serial killer.

And not an amateur one, but an American-Psycho looking, Silence-of-the-Lambs monologuing, Zodiac-killer riddling serial killer. (God knows he’s confused you more than those plot lines did.)

He’s the cream of the crop, and his calling card-because every great killer needs a calling card- is playing cat and mouse with women. It’s all part of the game. He will ignore you-dead stop radio silence- and when he comes back, because they always come back, you will collapse into his arms so quickly and gratefully that you won’t be able to see the cloth in his hand as it travels towards your mouth.

The plan is in motion, and oh, he’s certainly playing his part. But as a professional serial killer he has duties he must maintain to keep up a good practice. There are other bodies to embalm during the static freeze-out, and he’s not in a rush. Serial killing is all about patience. He doesn’t need a new lampshade, and he fed his python only yesterday, so what immediate use are you? He’s got time to kill, and he’s too busy dipping the skin suit of his last girlfriend into a vat of formaldehyde to see his phone light up with your name.

Or maybe he’s married with children.

(An even more dangerous maybe to run with than serial killing, truly.)

He’s driving home to them right now. His wife-she’s beautiful, but not in an obvious way- is making curry in lint-free yoga pants that have never been used for exercise. But she used too much chili pepper, so their whole massive, sprawling ranch house reeks of Indian spices that will make his eyes water when he opens the door, squinting and smiling at what a firecracker he married. They got married when they were kids-a chance pregnancy, let’s go for it, our love will guide us through the obstacles life throws at us!- and it’s hard sometimes, sure, but everything in life that’s worth something is hard.

His kids aren’t home yet, they’ll be dropped off by the carpool any minute, three of them in matching outfits, because his firecracker wife has a Von Trapp fetish. He’s wondering how little Tommy’s science project went, and hoping he doesn’t have to walk the dog as soon as he gets back, and damn, this traffic, and that road work, and all he can think about now is how good that curry is going to taste when he gets home, so it’s only natural that he would miss the quick, vibrating cough-the calm desperation of your waving hello- inside his coat pocket.

…Or maybe he’s dead.

That’s it. He’s dead.

(Why do you feel relieved? Make a note to re-watch those serial killer films with a notebook later.)

He left your apartment, and it was so late, and he was so tired- you told him to stay, this really couldn’t be less your fault, if he wasn’t so damn persistent about his work deadlines then maybe he wouldn’t be dead himself, the damn idiot- and it was only for a moment that his eyes closed and his hands loosened their grip on the wheel.

The squeaking crunch of steel folding into itself against a guard rail. (Naturally, there was no time to reach for his phone as it rattled in the cup holder.) It happened so fast, he didn’t feel a thing, or at least that’s what they’ll say at the funeral. All that he remembered in his last milliseconds on earth was a blinding moment of clarity-nothing religious, but you might call it spiritual-and a single thought before everything went dark: I missed you.

Yes, that’s it. He’s dead, otherwise of course- of course– he would have contacted you by now.

You’re not crazy, he’s just dead!

You can have fun with these ones for days, making them dance before you with responsive stringed limbs that dip and sway as you command.

He’s a dead serial killing father of three, and that’s why he disappeared, and you let the warmth fill you to your fingertips until you fall asleep.

(Another week passes. Your friends have surrendered one by one, with the final maybe resting unspoken on their tongues: “Maybe he’s just not that into you.”)

You hear what they don’t say, and you file it away in your cabinet of things you’re not quite ready to deal with.

(Then, eventually, the scary one. The one that makes you pause over simmering pots on the stove, wooden ladle held loose in your hand, dinner sauce burning as the thought mixes with the steam:)

Maybe it’s a matter of timing, and you didn’t-you will never-have it.

The night he left, he thought of you as he walked down the narrow carpeted stairway of your apartment building, and as he drove home with eyes wide open, he reminded himself to tell you the next day that he missed you.

But something came up-that deadline- and he forgot. The next day, he thought of you again, three times, but he was on a plane, and then stuck on the tarmac, and then in such a rotten mood by the time he pulled out his phone in the airport that he had nothing nice to say, so he said nothing at all.

And so the days carried, moments filled with you, bursting with your memory. But the words never seemed quite right-he didn’t know what to say, how to say- and slowly his thoughts waned until the first day that he didn’t think of you at all.

Then another day, and another, and you never wanted to reach out to him either- because that’s embarrassing, it’s inappropriate, lame, tacky-so by the time he finally held his phone in his hand and pressed your name, he saw the timestamp, and he calculated all of the energy that may have shifted in the moments of his indecision. So he thought-but didn’t say- as he put his phone away, “I missed you.”

And that’s it. The ultimate anti-climax, the definition of the word itself. Something that may have been, but didn’t, wasn’t, isn’t. Maybe one day the New Yorker will be riddled with his name and your maybes, but that’s the best you can hope for.

(The last one you don’t allow yourself to acknowledge fully, so you write it down, cramped hand casting the demons out of you:)

Maybe thirty years from now, he will wake up in the middle of the night, his wife lying still next to him, and something about the air in the room-some shifting matter in the particles that he breathes but can’t quite name- will make him sit up, hand to his chest, and wonder briefly if he’s having a heart attack.

Nothing in the room will give him the clue he needs. Eventually, he will think about his breathing, forcing his heart rate to slow, and he will lie back down. He will close his eyes and count.

He will wake up in the morning with a vague recollection of bruising, but he will mistake it for sleeping too long on one side. As he gets dressed, he will be hit with a gnawing sensation of having lost some infinite thing, but he will mistake it for being hungry. He will check the oven before he leaves, ask his wife during the day if they left the coffee maker on. His wife will blink away his questions and make a note to look up Alzheimer’s.

He will fall asleep that night wondering what it was that he had forgotten that day, and then right before sleep takes him, the memory will seize him.

Maybe this will be the last thought on his mind, just for this one night: I missed you.

(This one backward glance will hurt more than all the thousands of pangs that you tapered into willful dormancy, over three decades of effort. Having exhausted all of the maybes- the ones you kept thinking internally, long after you recognized the annoyance in your friends’ faces- you eventually stopped wondering.)

And as the thought strikes him with a blinding clarity that fades as quickly as sleep comes, you might roll over in your bed in a different time zone, husband lying still beside you, kids sleeping quietly down the hall, dog snoring at the foot of the bed. Your brain will not quite make the pilgrimage from the murky waters of sleep to lap at the shores of consciousness. As a result, the thought will only partially manifest itself, an image with no words, too weak to connote memory but strong enough to impart a ringing deja vu that almost, almost makes you open your eyes.

You’ll turn over, and if you wait long enough with eyes closed, maybe sleep will take you too.