by Kenji Jasper
It was almost 15 years ago when I walked into my apartment and found the empty spaces she’d left behind. Her rolling bag that usually sat next to the living room hearth was no longer there. The bottom drawer where she kept her things for overnights had been pulled out and emptied.
This was no surprise, as I’d done the same thing at her place a day or two before. But there was a letter on the mantle, with my name written on the envelope in her handwriting that was signed and sealed with the outward neatness she was infamous for.
I opened it and ran my eyes along the carefully hand-scripted words. I sat the letter down and just left it there. I’d had enough. And I knew that I’d had enough. And I wasn’t going back.
Just a few days before, I had watched Anna Paquin’s get sucked out of the Blackbird in X2: XMen United. CGI depicted her lithe body flailing jet against the clear blue skies as she plunged through the rippling air towards her death. Then Allan Cumming’s as Nightcrawler teleported her back into the safety of the plane just in time for a crash-landing.
I was not alone in this particular Jersey City cineplex inside a mall with PATH train access. She sitting next to me. We’d been dating for over two years. So I knew what I’d gotten into. But I didn’t know how to get out.
As I watching this climatic end of second act scene in the film, I couldnt find pleasure in the way she continued to squeeze my hand in the theater. It was almost as if two hours and 14 minutes I needed to get my fanboy fix on were too much to ask for in the face of her agenda. I didn’t have a lot of clinical information about all the different forms of depression, but I did know that she wasn’t manic, which meant that she should have been able to give me this one thing, this one break. One part of me was restraining the other. The Zen Monk knew that my inner Bruce Banner was about to burst out of his shoes and turn green.
I wasn't annoyed. I wasn’t emotionally unavailable. I had to build that courtroom in mind and try this current case. I was not a victim. I was not a beta individual. I was only looking ahead. It was then, in that inconveniently anxious moment, that I had a vision, one that came to me as clear as day.
I was sitting at a dinner table with two children. She was standing over us all, venting and complaining in the irritating way that was all too familiar. The children, my children, looked at me with disdain, as if to say “Daddy, why did you do this to us?”
I had already seen the movie two days before. I was pretending to see it for the first time because she was adamant that it was something we should do together. Now, to the right of me, was enough huffing, puffing and hand-squeezing coming from her to blow our house down.
We weren’t out of the movie for five minutes, a film I had been waiting to see all year, before she once again asked me to cancel my plans for her, an increasing pattern that had only gotten worse since my career as author was on the rise. What built up in me was bio-electric charge made of parts anger, parts fear and parts sympathy. I was ready to blow. I wanted her to have what she wanted. But she was killing me.
I said those fateful words and walked away from her in the middle of a shopping mall, found my way back to her place (before her), secured my laptop and other precious cargo and headed
back to my place across the river, resolved to never see her again. No letter could undo what my intuition was certain about. But the world around me had a way of planting seeds of doubt.
I was 27 years old and everything said that I was supposed to get married. Two of my closest friends had just tied the knot. I was doing well as a writer and, with my first book being optioned to be made into a film, the sky seemed to be the limit. And she was beautiful, one of the most attractive girls I’d ever dated. She had six-pack abs and cuts in her shoulders, a respectable sex drive, and wanted us to build something together. It all sounded great on paper. But something was keeping me up at night.
She loved the way I made the coffee in the morning, my reliability and consistency. I was there to listen to all of her problems and concerns. But, she, in the same way, never seemed to hear or understand mine.
“People talk about how their wife is their best friend,” my father said to me more than once. “But that’s never been my experience. You’ll never understand women. But you can find someone that you can live with.”
I wanted to believe Pop. I wanted to duplicate the life he had with a younger second wife and two beautiful daughters, living in the suburbs far away from the city streets that taught me about manhood. I wanted to be able to pay my bills, but also make new contacts and network to further my career. An aspiring writer, she was completely against the late nights and social obligations that came with my career. She was rude to my female friends and associates and often blew off events and outings where I needed her on my arm.
But I was still dedicated and monogamous and looked at 30 like a barrier that would cause my head to explode if I didn’t have a Michelle to my Barack on the schedule that I wanted. She had to be close enough, despite the lies that I’d chosen to ignore. She was disappointed when I chose not to engage the violent homeless man easily (easily avoided) in hand-to-hand combat on the PATH train. It would turn out that the day I met her was the day after her boyfriend of a number of years had walked out on her. And she had no remorse about starting something new and serious at the speed of light. And she had wanted a key to my place barely three months into the relationship. And there were a complicated set of family issues that were also part of the deal.
Still, I gave her what she wanted, believing in how things looked, as opposed to how they really were. I disregarded her brazen grabbing of my hips and holding me inside of her hoping to force a pregnancy (when it turned out that she wasn’t on her period after all). I thought that walking away from something bad for you was a sin in the eyes of a commitment because my father had left my mother, and that she, afterwards, had never been the same.
So I compromised and I compromised, feeling as if that were the only way to get through things, stifling the man I was underneath, a man who was sure of himself, a man who didn’t
take no for an answer in business, and who needed a woman that would be his partner-in-crime and not a clone of the womb he came out of.
I crossed 30 single and spent the next decade neither marrying nor fathering kids. I cared for my grandparents and my father, during their illnesses, staying by their side until their lights faded. I continued to be uncertain about the door in relationships that didn’t work. I blamed the struggles in my career. I was worried that I was fabricated reasons to avoid commitment, that I was a sex addict in the making who needed to be collared and quelled in the presence of a woman who could simply control ( and not completely satisfy) me.
Then I sat down in front of a woman who wasn’t anything like the author of the letter. She wasn’t aesthetically flawless. Maybe she wasn’t Michelle Obama, or Beyoncé’ or Niecy Nash. But it wasn’t a struggle for us to talk. She didn’t judge me for my sips on whiskey or my sparking of a jay. To her, my criminal record was full of nothing but misdemeanors, mostly cries for help to simply be heard and understood. And I felt the same about what she’d told me of her history.
And then I came across that old letter, sandwiched in a folder of more positive family and friend writings from women who had no trouble expressing their feelings toward me without the aftertaste of ulterior motives. When I read the letter word for word it was the ramblings of a little girl grabbing at straws, a suspect in the back of a squad car rambling about why she didn’t deserve to be in cuffs. For me those years with her were light years behind me.
Said woman did marry. And she did have two kids. And she got that big piece of property outside of the hood where we semi-cohabitated way back then. But I wasn’t wrong when I said goodbye. I wasn’t wrong casting that letter to the side. There was a better love out in the world for me. I just had to be willing to wait for it.