"I’m giving you a shelf life," I said knowing he’d think it was an ultimatum.
"Great, when do I expire, in 2010 with your Pamprin?"
"No, I’m giving you a shelf not an expiration." He told me it was more like a life sentence with his silence. "Or not."
It’s one thing when you leave a toothbrush and a bottle of hair gel at his place. He can claim they’re his if anyone asks. The tampons take things to a girl level he might have a harder time explaining to another female guest. No one believes he’s keeping that shit under the bathroom sink for when his sister visits. It’s called a travel bag; we’re sure she has one. So please. It’s quite another when it’s your clothing, things you’ll want back if it ends. Because with these items come arrangements and explanations to doormen. It’s safe when there’s nothing to leave behind, in case you are.
I have a friend who would only allow her boyfriend a Henri Bendel shopping bag, the small kind you’d get if you purchased a hand cream or scarf. "Whatever you can fit in the bag," she warned, "nothing more. There’s just not enough room." She meant in her life for him, not square footage. She still missed him once it was over, but there was less to carry on without.
I’d make room in the bathroom for his shaving cream and saline solution, sure a toothbrush and Aveda pomade. All of it could have been mine, and if we ended, he could buy new. That was the replaceable in us. Finding space in my armoire would be a battle. With myself. I think the comfort of a living partner comes in waves like pain or excitement.
I had to move out, look for a new smaller apartment I could afford, then pay $8000 to a broker who basically did little more than put a key in a door. Packing tape. Clutter. Paint. Moving is on the top ten list of stress inducers, in part because it involves moving out, leaving a life that seemed to fit for some time. But now it doesn’t.
Once the place was finally mine, I cried; I didn’t know their flavor. I was excited I didn’t need to stock wheels of tuna fish in my cabinets, but I was full of miss, wishing someone were there to use the other half of the bed, the closet, my life. I regretted the times I’d complained about his underwear on the floor. If I could grab the complaints back, maybe it would afford us more time, crawling into bed with him, telling stories of our someday beneath a top sheet. Instead, I would move forward with another relationship. With a someone. Because, more than anything, I wanted another relationship to fill what was missing. Me.
Then that relationship ends because I was repeating all my same behaviors, this time with an opposite of the last guy. He wasn’t the answer. I was. So, bring out the Hefty bags. I needed to trash the items I could, the ones that reminded me, I was an "us." The back of my closet has his photograph, the little notes he left for me around the apartment, the ones with words like "forever." The comfort of having a living partner materialized from what was missing, what felt really right, but really wasn’t.
I began to use the whole bed, falling asleep with a movie, not worried Linus would bite someone in the middle of the night. I was happy in my space. There’s no room in this apartment for anything more. Really, look. But that’s not really the issue. It never is. I might as well have said, "soon."
Soon means "not now." There’s no space for a baby, but soon, when raises come, when the house is sold, once I settle into this new position. I’ll start again on Monday. In the suburbs, once the kids are out of the house. I promise. There’s not enough time right now. For you. For more. But soon. You’ll see. Baby, I promise. Soon.
"Soon" is short for "someday;" it’s a wake for possibility. As long as everything becomes an excuse, someday stays where it is; it’s always soon. We make space in our lives for what matters, now. Not in promises and soons, but on mantels with sterling frames, in shelves we clear to make room for our now. Everything else is talk.
"The shelf is there when you’re ready for it. It just might not expire."
"Great, see you soon."