2001: The Morning After

John Haber
in New York City

Wednesday, September 19

She slipped out at six for a rented truck. By the time she returned I had coffee on the stove, and we began disassembling the last of her possessions. I could not believe what lay there waiting for us—until the end, when I knew at last what little remained.

She had built shelves so that a second computer could take over a closet. Using a faster model made her feel a second-class citizen because it was different, because it was not hers. I tried to take it apart screw by screw without spewing more of the particle board in fragments.

Lost in a blur

I had came home three days before from a week's work to find her carrying boxes upstairs. She had rented a truck. Now, she would be gone, along with her cats and all the trappings of a life.

Three hired men and a young girlfriend of hers trickled in after the promised hour. That made five able bodies once we got going, and I rented a hand truck for her down the block. As she stayed downstairs to watch the truck, I helped move while watching upstairs to see that it all got out in a reasonable order. It was way too easy.

About halfway through, another friend of hers got in all the way from Florida. She had taken the train overnight, nineteen hours, so that they could ride back together, with a cell phone for safety. I asked for the number. This is irrational, she said. Perhaps, and yet so orderly and so final. She said goodbye at one almost exactly with a hug and more tears. I had none left of my own.

I spent the next three hours scrubbing. I gathered up particle board, cat litter, and dust bunnies from behind furniture now vanished, as if to put to rest the stirred-up scraps of something within. I faced shards of a pad that supported my bedroom rug and now lay exposed like the ruins of one. The gaping holes from what had been shelves and expansion bolts parodied the gaps and gashes in my head. The bad metaphors kept coming at me, as if to laugh at my pretensions as a writer. How dare I imagine writing again about art and life, when I had no control over either one, when I had time now only for shopping, no more skill than the pathetic little I could do with tile, paint, or spackle, no way even to write it down but kneeling on bare floor.

I wanted to call someone to break the news, but she had taken the phone. I wanted to give up and sleep, but she had left with the sheets. I wanted to calm down and rent a movie, but the VCR lay in its box, without a TV to bring it to life or a stand to hold them. I had bought it two days before to begin the process of rebuilding.

I opened the drawers one by one, climbed up to stare into closets, and took inventory. I counted the loss in everything that measures out a life, down to the glass measuring cup and coffee spoon. Would people look in the empty cupboards and laugh, knowing just what men are like? But no, I was not like that. Twenty-five years of memories and accumulation had gone, including things going back in the family two generations.

On her last visit to New York before moving in, we walked it through all. We tried to agree on what she could replace with something finer and what those close to me would accept, and I had given it all away. And then she arrived, and it was all forgotten. She threw out my belongings, for hers were always superior. They were her home.

New York had been so full of people and places she loved, and yet it could never quite be that home. Nothing, above all a human relationship, can ever replicate a life, and she had no stomach for change. And now she had taken only what was hers, and less—in nothing more or less than fairness. And now I sat and took it in.

I had the couch facing an empty wall. The place looked huge, bright, and foreign, like the sun pouring in the long, open, living-room windows, as if I had yet to move into an apartment that I had never yet seen.

I left for an emergency call from a pay phone. My mother and stepfather promised sheets that very evening if I forgot it all, came up, and joined them for dinner. Meanwhile, I went to the gym for a shower, for I no longer had a shower curtain of my own. When I got back, I checked e-mail, my one lifeline to the world.

When my best friend could not reach me, he came over, got caught up in screaming, and could not stop. Why was I not angrier? How could someone take not just a curtain but even the hooks on which to hang a new one? A remarkable devastation for a six-week partnership.

I much preferred his company to family, especially since he drinks, and I had a place in mind for it that definitely beat eating off the floor. So I called uptown to apologize. I was running so far behind. Could they drop by after dinner? Surely they would rather see this for themselves? And they did, carrying sheets plus an answering machine, but I was too exhausted to sort out the wires from what had been a telephone and two computers, a setup that lay so far entangled that I could not know the machine was busted anyway. The open space, they said, at least attested to a lovely large apartment, and in a moment I had it alone.

I peeked my head into a bar to find a cell phone and called my other family, my father's, to break the news. I slept, and here I am my first day alone, bitter, anxious, and overwhelmed. I spent $65 over lunch hour without coming close to getting started on kitchenware and furniture, and I knew that meant thousands. Take it as one more lousy metaphor or the end of them—perhaps a thousand a week, like a failed attempt to tally up the weeks in a strangely drawn-out, strangely instantaneous affair.

I shall see in time now what I can recover before it hits me that I am not experiencing the fall or my narrow two days a week in the arts. I still cannot imagine a room in which to hide myself alone—or to write.

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