I have sequestered myself from sleeping with my fiancée, under the pretense of backpain and a clinical prescription for more legroom. Now I writhe uncomfortably on a memory foam mattress I’d installed in our cramped home office. This night, on occasion I do manage to sleep. I know this because my shadowy mind envisions Cheryl, at home on her couch in silky pajamas, reading Bachelard, rosy from a shower, shins tucked beneath her thighs, thinking nothing of me.
Noise outside the window startles me awake. My psyche churns, reflecting on the past few weeks, past holidays. Bright young couples who Tabitha and I would visit in Cincinnati—smart, informed, witty, empowered. Newlyweds on their second or third marriage who buy a foreclosed house and invite you over for drinks and animated talk of Walter, the childhood bully from Mount Healthy, about how he killed himself, and eventually we broach the ironic failure of Nixon’s War On Drugs. We pass a joint around until meaningful conversation falls off, and Dave and Amber tell us their plans to refinish the kitchen cabinets.
This was the end-goal? To lay plans for surrendering your life until the reaper comes to wake you with his gun? To get a new countertop composed of the shards from recycled blue vodka bottles, and to put little glass panes in each cabinet above it, which will remain unaltered until the day you both are shipped off to the farm by your children, who have their own burdensome existences to deal with.
My insomnia feels punitive, and it is exacerbated by the voice of a female passerby. I sit up, wrangling the blinds. A shiny young blonde holds hands with a guy in a sweatshirt on the sidewalk. Her face isn’t visible; I see only his goatee. In this instance, I would give up everything to be that guy, give up the prior weekend of sangria and tapas, all the celebratory toasts among Tabitha’s girls and my oldest buddies—the newlyweds and newly-engaged. All for a moment with the faceless blonde girl sailing past my window, chatting merrily at five in the morning. I groan aloud and wish that—in spite of her glimmering hair and straight spine—the girl on the sidewalk is a troglodyte.
Staring at the latticed shadows on my ceiling, I conclude that in the compulsive flash during which I yielded to marriage, I had resigned. Hereby I would cancel my youth, obliterate my freedom, execute my spirit. I was now cursed. I was self-imprisoned, already half-dead. There would be nothing to look forward to. All urgency to write anything down was abolished; everything from now on would be predictable… unless I went on living this second life, in which I would rendezvous with Cheryl at the Nach Bar on a Tuesday night under a full moon, somehow rationalizing my twisted lycanthropy.
Ironically, what I want is pure transparency. I want this life-book to be wide open; I want to apologize for nothing.
But now even music has lost its luster. No more artfully customized playlists, no mixed tapes. No more ambitious inroads into the head and heart and silky pajamas of a living, breathing mystery—a specimen like Cheryl. The lightning rod sensation of shared chords and rhythms, the potency of lyrics, their aphrodisiac potential. This was all gone because I, Nicholas J. Cronen, am getting married in three weeks.
…Yes, cursed. Matrimony is a mundane and prophesied moment in most people’s lives. It was for me a psychic breakdown and violation of all I’d championed for twenty years. What was I thinking coming back from that trip to Middle Earth, strung out as a Brazilian whore after Carnival? I was exhausted, lonely, weepy with gratitude at all Tabitha had ever done for me. But I was deranged, dissolute. Your Honor, can I claim temporary unfitness? Exhibit A is my knee-jerk reaction to I Love You by the Climax Blues Band while flying over the Prime Meridian. You see, I am unfit, Your Honor, because now I have exiled myself from the meat market, castrated all future hopes for the flesh rampage, and yes, I would surely go to waste in the wrong arms…
Yet Tabitha’s aren’t the wrong arms in any way, truth be told. Tabitha’s may be the only arms that would always be open to me, perhaps unconditionally. Tabitha understands me better than any living being in every dimension, including this ceaselessly billowing desire of mine, a desire for the Unknown—for strange—which fuels my compulsion to parade these obscene words across the screen. Tabitha is pure and whole. She is everything practical and solid and giving. Her love is real. And yet, some primordial, delusional urge convinces me that the impossibly magnetic allure of Cheryl is worth my existential undoing.
There would be no more sleeping for me tonight.
After stewing in the itchy swelter of insomnia long enough, twisting your stupid head around with eyes obstinately shut, eventually you must emerge from the aching womb and face the world.
As I walk into Tabitha’s bedroom—our master bedroom—at 6:59 a.m., the bed is pristine, the duvet neatly done up. Her closet is empty. Even the hangers are gone. There is panic in my throat. In the common room, her laptop is not on its docking station, the docking station also absent. The bathroom shower caddy is void of shampoos, body wash, the scent of her hair now crushing. I rush to the front door, braced for the vacancy of her silver Corolla.
I return to sit on the edge of her bed, nauseated. This crossroad is one I am not prepared to traverse. The hardwood floor is dimpled, dusty. And while I am gazing at the floor of the house that we bought together, I realize that Tabitha left her coffeemaker, which begins to sing its familiar song…