The Straw

“How long have you been awake?” He looked at the ceiling as he asked.

“Five minutes, maybe?” I lied. I hadn’t slept well. Twenty-four hours of fighting and making up and talks that circled back to the past and into the future was exhausting. Being trapped on vacation also meant there was no escape, even if we both sought reprieve.  He reached over and touched the side of my face.  I looked at him and smiled, just a little.

“I’m going downstairs to make a phone call and get something to eat.  Do you want anything?”

“Coffee.” I said with an emphatic period.

“Okay, baby,” he said as he tied his shoelaces and refused to make eye contact.

We used to lay together entwined, his long arm used to scoop me into him, against him, flush. It wasn’t even spooning, so much as one fluid unit.  My breathing slowed to match his. He would inhale my hair and never complain. I would smell him on my skin for days, whether real or imagined I never really knew.

A year of absence changed things, altered us. Maybe it wasn’t the absence, but the break that changed things.  Though we tried to make everything the same, we weren’t the same, it wasn’t the us we had remembered and craved and resurrected.  I think we had changed, independent of one another, and these two new people didn’t know how to fit or if they would fit. Neither of us wanted to talk about what was different or if it was different in the right ways.  We’d both already committed… to something.

Maybe we were no longer one thing, but we were something else. He didn’t envelop me the way he had in the past, the way that I dreamt of and cried about.  But, he was still him, this incredible thing that was inescapable and consuming.  Last night, when the seven inches between us felt like an ocean and I couldn’t sleep, wouldn’t sleep, I scooted away, slowly, tiny bit at a time. I laid there, over-thinking, replaying every piece of the argument we’d stretched over 16 hours.

“You can’t always tell me how I’m supposed to feel about things.  You make these assumptions when you don’t fucking know.  Can’t you just let me feel how I’m gonna feel?” He’d yelled, with a lot of hand gestures.

“How would I know what you feel?  Mostly you just disappear and make me guess.” I dug in my heels to the place we had been so many months ago, when I left, and he did not look for me.

“Just because I don’t have to say every single feeling I ever feel doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. Everyone doesn’t over-talk it like you.”  He was right.  I was too verbal, loquacious. I talked to fill silence so I could not think. “Give yourself and other people time to think,” he said, as he read my mind. That was always the same, he knew my thoughts before they were even formed.

He didn’t know it, but he was an avid sleep-mumbler-doer.  He didn’t sleep talk, didn’t have conversations, but murmured in his deeply intoned voice, and automatically defaulted to common actions. In his sleep, he mimed washing dishes, sometimes, but most often, steering the wheel of a car.  His legs would move as if walking, he held an imaginary phone to his ear, texted frequently, as his lips moved silently and his eyelids fluttered.  I kept moving toward the edge of the bed, wondering if I would wake up early enough to come back to the bed before his eyes opened. I contemplated the bathtub, I thought about how he would leave me and how we would never be as whole as we once were.  I rolled over to watch his face as he slept, soft lips and gentle brow. I rolled to my back, my favorite position to over-think in. I closed my eyes, and as I did so, he left hand intertwined into the fingers of my right.  I opened my eyes, expecting him to be awake, but he was asleep.  He didn’t release my hand, even as he started the rotation of his legs to take an in-bed sleep stroll.  We didn’t cling anymore, we grasped. I didn’t let go.

He was distant in the morning though, and I could tell too much talking had taken its toll.  He was exhausted and ready to leave.  I needed reassurance, a sign from the Universe that I had not joyfully stepped back into a mistake. Tense was an understatement.

He came back into the room silently.  I was folding laundry and packing suitcases and over-thinking and trying to decide how to make him happier.

“Here,” he said and handed me the warm cup. I set the coffee on the tiny glass table as he turned his back to me.  “Oh, here,” he said, and turned back toward me, halfway, in profile as he handed me the item.  I blinked.

“What’s this?”  I asked, surprised.

“Uh, it’s a straw.”  A giant tear rolled down my cheek. I always drank all liquids with a straw, always did, I always had, even hot coffee, always with a straw.

“Are you crying?  Why are we crying?”  His eyes narrowed and he was exasperated. I choked on my tear. I shook my head.

“How did you know about the straw?”

“What?  You always drink coffee with a straw.  Why are we crying about this?  Did you need a specific kind of fucking straw?”

“Baby,” I said and his face softened at my voice. “How did you know that? You know, most people wouldn’t have noticed that… or remembered…”  He came back and put his hand in my hair. He kissed my forehead.

“Why not? It’s so easy, you like coffee with a straw. It wasn’t hard to pick up on that shit.”  He shook his head, almost annoyed at invisible others.

“That’s what makes you who you are.  This is why… I love you.”  He looked at me sharply and I realized I hadn’t said it to him yet during the weekend.  We had spent twenty-four hours arguing about love and had failed incredibly at just saying it. “Baby, I do.  I love you.  We’re going to work.”

He kissed me on the mouth and said:

“I’ll always remember the straw, baby.”


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