24. transfixed by the promise of freedom

And what about that almost violent urge to be alone, to have all one’s things about one, and not someone else’s, no one else’s socks on the floor, or clothes draped over chairs, an urge experienced only by those who have stayed too long, or those too long alone. It haunts me still, follows me into my dreams, and again I am sifting through things, finding shirts that do not belong to me and resolutely placing them in a pile with all of the other things that do not belong to me for the purpose of being hauled away. A reminder to maintain vigilance, a warning not to glance backwards and tumble down the slope before I’ve reached the other side.

How hard it is to separate: like prying apart magnets. How two people grow into one another over time, bring about a blurring of boundaries, a force field of shared atomic particles buzzing between them. And despite that, a current of resistance, too, or a river of molten movement churning beneath the surface. And then, one day, you look in a mirror and see a stranger looking back, and all at once you know it’s over.

For months, V. described in exacting detail why he had to leave. He had thought it over with scientific precision. I challenged him, reasoned that he might have lost sight of the person he loved the most. The reasons were legion, he countered, it would take all of Google’s memory to list them. Her lack of interest in people outside the family; lack of interest in politics; lack of interest in sex, lack of interest in traveling, lack of interest and curiosity in film, lack of interest, curiosity, and general knowledge in art or literature or anything, for that matter, that was intellectually challenging. Life with her was like being locked inside a box, he said; he felt coiled as tight as a spring, waiting for an opportunity to escape and afraid it would never come. And then it did, and like an animal locked too long in a cage, he stared at the open door, transfixed by the promise of freedom and unable to make a move until the door to his cage was safely shut and locked again.

I remember standing and staring at a bookshelf for an hour in a compulsive state of imagining it cleared of the things it contained—his things—and replaced by others. I remember my mind fixating on objects: the way a pair of shoes was left sprawled on the floor, recalling the exact gesture of one foot prying a shoe off the other; telephone numbers and other notations scrawled in the margins of papers I wanted to file away telephone-numberless, notationless. Small things that become unbearable: the sound of a wooden cooking ladle against a pot, tap tap tap; a certain phrase repeated incessantly, inappropriately. You, on the other hand, were asked to leave. Can you read this without having to wince at my cruelty, you who never stopped loving her?

  1. Yes, or even many-headed Hydras. But thank God we can’t help ourselves from falling in love again.

  2. Wow. How hard it is to separate hit me right in the solar plexus. I cried. Three years ago he left; I wanted him to desperately and he wanted it as much as I did. It had been on the cards for years. Twelve years together, eleven-and-a-half too many. But there you have it. Reasons to hang in, reasons not to leave. And then one day we just did it. Neither of us regrets it, yet, your How hard it is to separate suddenly made me realise that that alone is something I never want to experience again. I am experienced in it, so need no more practice, thank you very much. I’ve stayed single for other reasons but I just added one to the list.

    ‘Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.’ Before I had my freedom (again) I thought this line was a load of bull. Now looking back at the freedom I had, I see why Anthony Quinn (in La Strada) inspired Kris Kristofferson to come up with the theme. Foresight and hindsight. If only we could all be Januses. :)

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