From Ryan. He actually sent me an email. He pressed send on one of them.
• • •
I’m not going to take Thumper. I think it’s best he stay there.
Before I can take a breath, hit the reply button, and type “Fine,” I think better of it. I type “OK.” I hit send.
So that’s it, then. The training wheels are off. I have no firm plans to see my husband again. I probably won’t see him for almost a year.
I stand up. I get into the shower. I get dressed. I feed Thumper. I go to work. I go through the motions of my day. When I get home, before I feed Thumper or take my shoes off, I sign in to his e-mail again.
There’s a new draft I haven’t read before.
• • •
I’ve met someone.
The sound that comes out of my mouth, it’s not a cry or a sob.
It’s not a scream, either.
It’s a whimper.
I print it out. I go into the hallway closet. I get the step stool. I go to the bedroom closet. I grab the shoebox. I open it and put the letter in.
I let the paper sit there in the box of memories. It sits on top of the ticket stub from when we took the train to San Diego and spent the weekend lying on the beach. It sits on top of the photo of us at the Crab Shack in Long Beach, where we went with my family for his twenty-third birthday. It sits on top of Thumper’s first collar, the bright pink one we bought him on the way home because Ryan said he refused to “cater to gender norms for dogs, and this one is on sale.” It sits on top of the dried flower petals from my wedding bouquet.
It sits on top of all of that. Because I can’t pretend this isn’t happening anymore. I can’t pretend this isn’t part of our story.
I take off my wedding ring and put it in the box. It is, for now, better kept with the other mementos.
After that, Ryan stops writing to me altogether.
For a week or two, I check his drafts folder every day, hoping to see something. But he never writes.
Halloween comes, and I buy a big variety pack of candy for trick-or-treaters, but when I get home, I find myself wondering if Ryan and his mystery girl are dressing up together, doing a couple’s costume. I distract myself by turning my front light out and eating the candy myself. I give the nonchocolate ones to Thumper.
After a few weeks of sulking, I resolve to just check his e-mail every once in a while. I take up hobbies to distract me. Thumper and I start going for hikes in Runyon Canyon. We walk up the mountain until we can barely move, until we think we can’t go one more step, and then we keep going. We never let the mountain win.
After a while, Rachel starts coming with us. She also encourages me to start running. So I do. I run every other day. As the weeks go by, the temperature starts to get cold in Los Angeles, so I buy a tight-fitting fleece. My shins start to hurt, so I buy proper shoes. I push myself farther and farther down the street. I run longer. I run faster. I run until one day, my face looks thinner and my stomach feels tighter. And then I keep running. It quiets the voices in my head. It calms my nerves. It forces me to think of no one, nothing, but the sound of my breath, the banging of my heart inside my chest, and the fact that I must keep going.
Eventually, I don’t check Ryan’s e-mail at all.
THAT’S THE WAY LOVE GOES
It’s a Sunday morning in late November, and even though it was only sixty degrees yesterday, it is eighty-five today.
“This weather makes no sense to me,” Mila says. “Not that I’m complaining. I’m just saying that it makes no sense to me.”
Christina is watching the kids. Mila’s only request for the morning was, “I don’t care where we go. Just get me away from children and moms.” So I figured the Rose Bowl flea market would be fun. She seemed to be in a pretty bad mood when I picked her up, but she perked up once we got on the road. Now that we’re here, she seems much more like herself. The only issue is that neither of us is really shopping for anything in particular, so we are just aimlessly wandering through the aisles.
A booth of dream catchers draws Mila in, and she starts looking. “What do dream catchers even do?” she asks.
“I’m going to avoid the obvious answer of ‘catch dreams,’” I say.
“Yeah, but what does that actually mean? Catch dreams?”
“No idea,” I say. I don’t want to talk loudly enough that the booth owner hears us and insists on giving us a ten-minute lesson. I made this mistake once with a guy selling antique chamber pots. As I see the owner coming over, I aim to change the subject by saying, “Let’s change the subject.”
Mila walks away from the dream catchers and heads further in. “OK,” she says. “How about we discuss me setting you up on a blind date?” She turns to me and makes an overly excited face, as if her abundance of excitement about this idea might sway me at all.
“That’s a no. That’s actually an ‘absolutely not,’” I say.
“Oh, stop,” she says. “You need to meet somebody! Have a good time!”
Do I think it would be nice to meet somebody? Sure, yeah. Sometimes I do. But a blind date? No. “It’s just not my style.”
“What is your style? Meeting people in study hall?”
I open my mouth wide to indicate that I am insulted. “It was the dining hall, for your information.”
“Look, you haven’t been in the dating world for a long time, so I think it’s important that you understand that people don’t meet people standing in line at the pharmacy or when they go to reach for the same magazine at the bookstore.”
“Then how do they meet them?”
“Blind dates!” she says. “Well, also online, but you’re not ready for that. It’s all about blind dates.”
That’s absurd. Obviously, people meet people other ways. Although the truth is, I don’t really know how anybody meets anybody outside of college. And I don’t know that I want to find out just yet. “I’m just not sure if I’m ready,” I say. I head toward a booth selling silver jewelry and start trying on rings.
“Suit yourself,” she says. “Christina says he’s cute, though.”
“You have someone in mind already? What, do the two of you sit at home snuggled up in your matching pajamas talking about my sad life?”
Mila joins me at the ring booth. “First of all, we have never worn matching pajamas. We’re lesbians, not twins,” she says. “And second of all, no, we do not snuggle and talk about your sad life. We do, however, sometimes get bored and try to meddle where we don’t belong. I see it as a public service.”
“A public service?”
“You think you’re the first person I set up on a blind date? My sister and her husband? Me. Christina’s boss and her boyfriend? Me.”
“Didn’t you also set up Samuel in admissions with Samantha in the housing office?”
Mila waves it off. “That one was a mistake. I thought the Sam/Sam thing was adorable, and it clouded my vision. But Christina says this guy is really cute. He’s recently divorced. Mid-thirties. Eighth-grade social studies teacher, so you know he’s probably a sweetheart.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “It sounds complicated. I’m not looking for anything serious. I don’t know. I just . . . I don’t think so.”
“OK,” she says, falsely resigned. “I’ll just have Christina tell him it’s a no go.”
I put down the ring I was looking at. “She already talked to him?”
“Yeah,” Mila says, shrugging. “It’s a shame, too, because he was excited about it. She showed him your picture, and he said you were beautiful.”
I look up at her, skeptical. “You’re not making this up?”
She puts her hand up as if swearing an oath. “Hand to God.”
I smile at her, despite myself.
Mila smiles back at me. She got further than she thought she would.
I walk past her to the booth next to us. It’s a man selling hats. Half of them are Dodgers caps. It’s enough to make me wonder where my husband is at this very moment. He stopped writing me long ago. I have no idea what his life is like. He could be in bed with a blond woman. He could be making her breakfast. He could be in love. He could be having sex with her this very minute. That man who stood on the steps of Vernal Fall and told me he couldn’t live without me . . . I wonder what he’s doing right now, living without me.