The Next(2)

By: Rafe Haze

I recognized the pattern. I did not change the pattern. And on the morning I turned forty, the only person I had in my life on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis was the one person who would walk into my apartment that birthday morning and begin not doing the dishes.

Juicing the last of the Palmolive, Johanna was cleaning the dried green peppers of leftover Thai food crusting on a translucent plastic container from three days ago, a Styrofoam cup that once contained banana pudding, plastic silverware, and an empty Orangina glass bottle. Yes, she was cleaning the recycling, which told me she was merely finding an activity that would allow her not to make eye contact with me.

9:17 a.m. She wanted to make this quick, so she chose a time where she would have an excuse to cut any belabored discussion short by the urgency of rushing off to work. She was wearing a dark blue suit more suitable to a law firm than the sales department of the luxury women’s clothing design company at which she spent sixty hours a week. She revealed no cleavage, messaging with absolute crispness that on this morning she was goal-driven, pointed, clean, and efficient. Nothing goes on the body of a fashion chick without a thorough subjugation of purpose—from the geographic source of the silk, the centimeter of heel height, the luster of gold on the bangle, the direction of the point of the collar, to the goddamn choice of stitch for the inseam.

Ten seconds after I’d learned my brother had committed suicide, and I was actually analyzing inseam stitching.

Fucking Christ.

“Johanna, just recycle the shit and get it over with.”

“It’s not another man.”

“You’re disgusted with me and me alone. I’m feeling better already.”

“I’m stopping this because...of so many reasons.”

She wanted me to let her off the hook rather than force her into the shithole of specifics, but I remained silent and forced her to struggle.

“We talked about them,” she said.

We did, but I shrugged my shoulders anyway and adopted my shell-shocked facial expression just to anger her, leaving her no choice but to retaliate.

“Your not remembering the reasons is one of them.”

“Johanna,” I paused until her averted eyes finally wandered back to mine. “Leave.”

She was too surprised at my own crispness and efficiency to acknowledge it. She instead circumvented the command by focusing on the closed dusty, thick, red curtains.

“How can you write in such a depressing environment?”

I repeated, “Johanna, leave.”

Her reaction was scripted and inorganic, precipitated by a year of lunchtime bitch fests with her well-coiffed colleagues, inordinately high-priced, coffee-clutching therapy sessions, martini fueled Sex-in-the-City girl-power nights out with her bedazzled gal pals, and isolated sweat-slicked thoughts during furious sprints on treadmills at Equinox:

“I give up trying to convince you not to give up.”

To me, the saddest part of her final words was not the appropriateness of the sentiment; it was its unoriginality. Even more pathetic was how unaware she was at how uninspired the notion was. My thoughts immediately circled back to how pathetic I was to focus on originality rather than the fact that Johanna was completely justified in giving me this particular middle finger, no matter how it was phrased.

She shrugged her petite shoulders as her final gesture to me, which, when punctuated with the curt clicking of her heels towards the door, communicated the ultimate disgust she’d felt since the day I stopped bringing in enough income to buy her six dollar soy caramel decaf latte every morning at Starbucks. Since the day I stopped paying a hundred and eighty-two dollars a month for the Equinox gym membership just to take the core boot camp classes with her and the room full of others desperately substituting tone and tightness for fulfillment and personality. Since the day I encouraged her to begin making a clear distinction between who she is at work and who she is away from work, and valuing the latter.

She closed the door behind her.

Thud. As conclusive and as brief as Mr. Palmer’s email. So much thudded away. Thud—those inane but energetic ongoing political and philosophical discussions concisely ended. Thud—the sexual ecstasy that once headlined the front page of our relationship suddenly castrated to a tiny bubble thought in the cartoon section. Thud—the delight of finding that kosher pizza joint and proclaiming it as our secret go-to place on Friday nights deteriorated into a piquantly annoying place to be avoided. Thud—the flirtation with marrying her and having kids curtailed with a dry, irreversible “No thank you. Not with you.” Thud—I no longer deserved her love, nor did I ever to begin with. I could feel that sour pill disintegrating my guts like a mug full of Drano.

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