Kat sends me an annoyed text the following Monday morning, she can’t find the keys to her bike and she’s pretty sure she left the spare set in a drawer in my kitchen. “Kitchen” should really be in quotes. It’s not as if it isn’t substantial–it’s more than large enough for my purposes, it’s just–well, I’m a terrible cook. And this is a small apartment.
As I rake through the junk drawer I take it in–textbooks toppling on the bar, sticky notes scribbled and slapped up on the backsplash, the graph paper and jotted formulae and an old graphing calculator on a lonely wooden chopping block. My fingers wrap around the spare bike lock key, gliding around what feels a sea of unsharpened pencils, college key rings, playing cards, bottle caps–am I coming off as an adult, here? Twenty-eight and I can’t remember to buy toilet paper? Or use my kitchen as a kitchen?
Part of me is relieved I find the key, and the majority is mortified. You’d think the grief would come at the dead eyes at dinner, or the formal good-byes. But those had all been expected, and carried out exactly as planned. Kat knew for some time that I wasn’t it. What’s most sickening is dwelling on the moments you thought were totally full, only to find that some percentage was more than empty.
Picking up the spare U-Lock key felt like finding out some half way through the desert that the needle on the gas meter is broken. I hadn’t seen her face in weeks (except in glimpses, cleaning out the photo library on my phone) and now I couldn’t place it, let alone contextualize it with the life I was still living. Somehow, the novelty was still exciting in its own way.
I sent back a picture of the key and a question mark, and Kat responds that she’ll drop by after work to pick it up. I offer to leave it with the barista at her favorite coffee shop around the corner (who she must be fucking now, my jealous mind says) but she turns down the non-confrontational approach.
Does she want to see me, or was that offer just… well, really weird?
This, and other thoughts tromp through my mind all damn day at work. I find my eyes drifting to where the ceiling meets the wall and asking the same cannon of questions I had swirling around up there months ago. Is it actually over, or…? Does she still feel something–did she just get scared?
The second worst thing about grief is realizing you never are actually gifted with the ability to find out when it’s left the room. I thought when I pulled her hairs out of my pillowcase with candid disgust last week that I had for sure completed some kind of healing journey. Now my colleague is asking me for the third time in the span of fifteen seconds if I’m going to get around to reviewing his new feature today.
The answer is probably not, Jonathan.
As I chuck my textbooks in an empty cabinet and check my phone nervously for the 600th time after work, I can feel my coward brain tossing in a few attempts to end the miserable anticipation.
“Spells, just tell her you can’t. Something came up. NO. Wait. Tell her you have a date tonight and that’s why you’re unavailable.”
I shove the graph paper between a crossword puzzle book and some old teenage manga in the bookcase, huffing under my breath in hopes to drown out this impulsive idiocy running the hamster wheel upstairs.
“Well, when she comes to the door, just don’t answer. That’ll show her. She’ll call you. She’ll call you a million times just like you called her. Do it.”
“I didn’t call her a million times.” I find myself saying aloud to the inside of the fridge. Then there’s a knock on the door. Wait, what? No text? I knew she was savage but–jesus! I shove the calculator that’s in my hand into the freezer and pace myself as I walk to the front door. I wait for a second before realizing this isn’t like waiting for the third ring to answer the phone (my apartment is the size of a shoebox) and I turn the handle.
“Hey.” She says diffidently. Her DIY dyed pink hair is kind of faded, and it definitely looks like she hasn’t been sleeping well, but she looks cute in her army surplus combat boots. I can see why I tried so hard in the beginning.
“Hi.” Why do I sound like I haven’t had a glass of water in 45 years? Enough time passes before I realize she’s still standing there waiting for something. Oh.
“Um…” She leans around me to look over my shoulder and sees the key on the counter. She walks past me (why am I still standing here?) and sticks it in the pocket of her very-faux-looking leather jacket. “You cleaned up, I see.”
Come on idiot, move.
“Uh, yeah. I did. Gotta have some space to make cereal in a coffee cup.” I seem to pull off sounding like I’ve chased all my marbles back into the bag. She smiles. To turn and face her, I let go of the handle to the front door, which automatically closes way too hard and fast in general. I forget to catch it and it slaps violently into the frame.
Kat looks as if she’s about to say something… something that isn’t easy for her to say, but the slamming door makes her jump and she seems to lose either the courage or the desire or both. She leans on the counter, and I feel like I see her very clearly for a moment. I feel intensely about her all at once, and then I feel it dissipate, leaving only some weird self-conscious aura behind.
“Yeah… looks good. Anyway, thanks. Sorry to bother you.” She bows her head and strides past me awkwardly, grabbing the handle to the front door before I can move out of the way. She bumps into me and says sorry and she’s gone.