I knelt down to help him up, and I told him softly, “I loved The Giver.”
He smiled and groaned as he got up. “I knew it,” he said, unfazed. “you want to know a secret though?”
“I would have adjusted the policy for you.” then he kissed me on the cheek and let me help him out to the car.
We have packed up most of his things by the afternoon, saving the bedroom and closet for last. We grab the rest of the boxes and head in there.
I throw the boxes onto the bed and look at the room. I can do this. I can do this. If I can’t, susan will. so at least it will get done.
“Come on!” she says. “let’s go.” she opens a dresser and starts throwing clothes into boxes. I watch as striped shirts and dirty jeans are pulled out of their rightful home. I start taking clothes out of the closet with their hangers. you don’t realize how dead clothes look on their hangers until the person who owned them is . . . anyway, I don’t even bother to take them off the hangers. I simply throw them in the box with the rest of his clothes. I have made my way through the closet and through his nightstand before susan is done with the dresser. she has a look on her face like she’s fine, but I spot her smelling a shirt before she puts it in the box. she sees me catch her.
“I’ve just been trying to see if anything still smells like him, you know? It’s hard to remember anymore, what he smelled like.”
“Oh,” I say. “sorry, I think I smelled all the smell off that stuff.”
“Oh.” she laughs. “that explains it then.”
I think about whether I have it in me to share what I have left of Ben. I know that I do. “Hold on,” I say.
I grab his pillow in the trash bag. I untie the top of the bag and hand it to her.
“Smell it,” I say, and she looks at me somewhat hesitantly, but then she lowers her face into it, her nose grazing the pillow itself. “that’s it,” she says. “oh God. that’s him.” Her eyes close, and I can see the tears falling down her cheeks. For the first time since the hospital, I see what happens when she lets herself lose it.
We spent the day at the doctor’s office, sitting in cramped chairs with a room full of people with contagious diseases. Ben reminded me multiple times that we did not need to be there. But once we saw the doctor, he seemed very concerned that Ben take it easy. We left with a prescription for vicodin.
We got home and Ben called to order Chinese. He ordered us the usual, and I overheard him tell the man on the phone that he wanted both white rice and brown rice. I remembered how he told me on our first date that ordering both would be a sign that the romance was gone, but I couldn’t help but feel warmed by his doing it now. Ben and I were a team. We knew each other’s wants. We knew each other’s needs. We knew when to split up and compromise. We weren’t each putting our best foot forward. We weren’t waiting to see if this was right for us. We dove headfirst into this and here we were, one of those couples that doesn’t put up with the other person’s stupid shit. I liked brown, he liked white. We ordered both. nothing fancy anymore. the novelty was gone for us and what we were left with was . . . awesome.
We got into bed that night, and even though we had not unpacked the bedroom, Ben was dead set on finding one thing. Concerned that he not bend or twist, I insisted upon looking for it myself. He directed me through boxes, and eventually, I made my way to a box so light that felt like it was packed with air. I brought it to him, and he opened the box with joy. It was a dirty pillow.
“What is that?” I asked, horrified that that thing was entering my bed. It was covered in drool spots and orange puddles of . . . something.
“It’s my favorite pillow!” he said, putting it down on top of one of my pillows, pillows that I thought were now “ours,” but in comparison to his ugly, dirty pillow felt decidedly “mine.”
“Please get that thing off my bed,” I said.
“Our bed, baby,” he said to me. “this our bed. and our bed should have our pillows. and this is our pillow now.”
“No,” I said with a laugh. “I don’t want that to be our pillow. I want that to be a pillow you used to have when you lived on your own.”
“Well, it can’t be that. I can’t sleep without this pillow.”
“You’ve been sleeping here for months without that pillow!”
“Yeah, but this is my own house now! I pay rent here! I need this pillow in a place where I pay rent.”
“ugh,” I relented.“Just put a damn pillowcase on it, would you?”
“Sure.” He walked to the linen closet and came back proud as a peacock. He then rolled himself delicately into bed.
“Did you take the vicodin? It will take the edge off,” I said.
“What do I look like? a man that can’t handle a little pain?” he asked as he moved toward me slowly and put his head on his pillow. “you wanna try it out? It’s really comfortable.”
I shook my head. “no, thank you.”
“Oh, come on.you can lie on it for five seconds. It’s a part of us now,” he said, teasing me.
“Fine! Fine!” I moved my head to lie on it. “oh my God, that thing smells awful.”
“What? no, it doesn’t!”
“I can’t believe you thought my books smelled bad. that pillow is terrible!” I laughed.
“No! It smells fine.” He smelled it to make sure. “you just have to get used to it, is all.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. I turned out the light. He fell asleep within minutes, and I lay there feeling like the luckiest girl in the world that this weirdo next to me was mine; that he lived here; that he had the right to demand his stinky pillow stay in my bed. I smelled it once more as I fell asleep, and I couldn’t imagine ever getting used to it, but before long, that was exactly what I had done.
The boxes are mostly packed. Ben’s things are almost entirely out of sight. I can see only brown cardboard for miles. I kept his usC sweatshirt and a few of his t-shirts. I left his favorite cup in the cupboard. susan put some books and photos in her car to take with her. she added a random notebook he’d written in and a few other things that are meaningless to anyone else but mean everything to a mom. now that it’s all in boxes, there isn’t much reason for susan
To stay here.
“Well,” she says with a sigh. “I guess that’s the last of it.” “I guess so,” I say. I feel surprisingly stable.
“All right,” she says, nodding. It’s the kind of nod that says
She doesn’t know what to say next; she doesn’t know what she’s thinking. she gasps for air.
“I guess I’ll . . . head home,” she says. “It’s, uh, this is hard. I don’t want to leave but I . . . I mean, it’s not like I’m leaving him, you know? I think it’s more just . . . I had this to look forward to, if that makes any sense? I’m not making any sense. I’m going to go.”
I hug her. “It makes all the sense in the world to me.”
“Okay,” she says. she breathes out. she breathes with focus. she gathers herself. “okay, I’ll give you a call next weekend.”
She opens the door and walks out. I turn to see my apartment.
His things are in boxes, but I do not feel that I have lost him. It’s a subtle feeling, but it’s real. I am now just a little bit ready to realize the beauty of progress, of moving on. I decide to seize the moment. I grab three boxes of clothes and load them in the car. When I’m done with those, I grab two more. I don’t go back in for more because I’m afraid I’ll lose my nerve. I tell myself this is for the best. this is good!
I pull up in front in of Goodwill and park my car. I take the boxes out and walk inside. a large man comes to greet me.
“What do we have here?”
“Some men’s clothes,” I say. I can’t look at him. I’m staring at the boxes. “all good condition.”
“Wonderful!” he says, as he takes the boxes from me. “Would you like a receipt?”