The day isn’t done with you yet. It’s almost 6pm but there’s an uneasiness in the air, a ringing in your ears and a tightness in your chest. Your eyes are stinging and your stomach is twisting just enough for you to wonder if you’re going to be sick. It’s been months since you’ve taken off your shoes here. This place that isn’t yours anymore, at least everywhere but on paper. The kitchen drawers are slightly unfamiliar, you have to search for a few of the light switches, and the stairs aren’t quite as steep as you remembered, though you’re avoiding going up them anymore than you have to. Upstairs is your old room, the same way you left it. She did the sheets and vacuumed while you’ve been gone. She probably found all the bottles you hid, but you don’t have the guts to go looking for them in case she didn’t. It’d be too easy to slip into bad habits tonight.
Being alone in this place is intensely claustrophobic. Anywhere else the space between the walls, even in a small studio, has had more air to breathe than this apartment. You know she’s been sleeping on the couch. It makes sense. This is where you’d eat dinner each night, the only time you’d see one another. This is where you’d watch movies if you felt like you could handle being in the same room. This was where you said goodbye, so warmly that she mistook the breakup for hope and didn’t even hear the words. This ten by ten square of couches and end tables was the last place you were “us”. You’ve been sitting or laying here for the last six hours, uncomfortable and restless, trying to enjoy the luxury of the home you built, the one she moved into, that she now stays in though you don’t know if she calls it her own. You could sit somewhere else…if only you could get up. A morbid acceptance of discomfort and dischord, your presence due to some hardwired pattern.
It used to smell in here. You would notice it when coming back from work trips. It was somewhere between stale and rotting, though no one ever mentioned it. Your room had the smell of sweat, vomit and body odor. Perhaps you used to carry that smell too. She’s done something to get rid of it. It smelled like a home when you came in this afternoon, something recently baked, someone recently showered, and dried lavender from the new wreath adorning that otherwise blank wall, the only hanging decoration in the entire room.
And although the smell is gone, the memories hang in the air. In movies they use silhouettes of actors to represent the past, them watching their younger selves move in and out of their daily schedule, the fights, the dances, the kids when they were young, and the black apparel and casserole dishes when someone died. It’s cliche and melodramatic but you’ve been seeing them tonight as you walk room to room. The shell of a man you were, the hatred you carried in your shoulders and jaw, the resentment that hung heavy in your head, always looking at the ground. This place was never compromise, only surrender. The walls should be painted red with the blood of who you left behind. Your friend told you how funny it was that you’re letting her stay here after the elation you shared with him the day you bought it a few years ago, how it was your “new start” from her, and it was going to be yours. It isn’t funny at all. It’s really, really sad. This place is a tomb. Though while she’s currently dying in it, you’ve already gone.