A few months ago, an old college friend broke up with her boyfriend and had a total breakdown. Her friend emailed us tell us what had happened. She told us her family was flocking to her bedside to be with her. She told us she was going to go live on her friend's horse farm for a while. So the other day, when we ended our five-year relationship, I thought: I should have a breakdown. I like horses.
Now that it is over, the metaphors are shuffling themselves into a list. Metaphors that, were I to include them in a story about a relationship ending, I would roll my eyes at the obviousness of it all. Well, roll my eyes and then send it to The New Yorker.
The cat died just weeks ago. A weak heart that the vet diagnosed and that we did nothing about.
"What are they going to do, perform open heart surgery?" you said, and I agreed. I agreed up until the moment the cat was on the basement stairs, panting wildly and peeing out a puddle of blood that I cleaned up with a beach towel after we returned from the vet with her body in a box.
"Feel it," you said. "She's still warm."
And then there was the hole in the wall. The hole that, once we recovered from the fight, you said we would fix together. Get some spackle and bring the paint up from the basement and make it better. What I never told you was that every time I walked by that hole it looked bigger to me. It looked like rage. It Looked like my stepfather and the way he used to clench his jaw so that the corners of his cheeks bulged. Every day it looked deeper. I wondered if the walls were changing, if the very house beneath our feet were crumbling around us.
You said we would fix it together. We never did.
And then there was the basement where I kept all of my clothes, ceding you the small closet in our bedroom. I pretended to be fine with it — "An entire dressing room!" I said the one time you showed concern — but over time the mold moved in. Every time I went to get dressed I'd find another pair of shoes covered in fuzzy spots.
"Do you think that I can wash these?" I asked you, a pair of patent leather pumps in my hand. You shrugged. I threw them in the trash. The next day I washed the things I couldn't live without — underwear, pajama bottoms, a few tops that still fit — and let the rest rot.
Everything tends toward chaos. I know this. Still, it's easier to find meaning in the way the world was crumbling around us than to try to find meaning in all the ways it wasn't. The rotting doorframe. The dead tree in the backyard. The hole in our driveway where the rain washed away the dirt and left behind sinking pavement. The plant you bought me for Valentine's Day that I have somehow, miraculously, kept alive.
I took it into the backyard the other week and tried to replant it in a nicer pot. I bought potting soil. I turned on the hose. I turned the plant over carefully in my hands and tapped on the bottom of the plastic container you had brought it home in. (Shouldn't you have been the one to do this? Shouldn't you have been the one to put it in a ceramic pot, to fill it with water until it was wet and wild with life?) When the plant came out, it came out in chunks, the thick green stems falling too easily into my hand. When I looked closer I saw why. They barely had any roots, just tiny knobs of black where they had been balancing in the dirt.
I should have known then. Instead, I dug deep holes in the new dirt with my bare hands and planted the stems, hoping against hope that, this time, they would hold.