Love is, by far, one of the most enduring tales in the history of the world. The love story is still one of the most popular stories of all time. It is a popular story because so many wish to be in love, wish to feel love, wish to be loved. In this lonely world of ours, love is the light in the darkness for many of us. It becomes the thing we yearn for, that drives us to do whatever it takes to keep love going.
Whether we love our children, our friends, our careers, or our music, love drives us to make decisions. We often work to make the lives of those we love better, and it is said that he who loves can never know what it is to be lonely.
But love can also blind us. Love is the death of reason, the enemy of rationale. Being apart from the one we love can feel like a piece of us is missing. When one we love leaves, it feels like the world has collapsed.
Love has the power to make us see the world differently, and can somehow be the one thing that keeps us going or be the one thing that makes us not want to carry on living.
Yet despite the fact that love takes up so much of our lives, the sad truth is that love does not always last. Even if we find ourselves so in love with someone that we swear we would tear the world apart to be with them, we can still find ourselves hopelessly lost in what to do when the fire of love fizzles out.
This is a story about love, about the ending of love, about what love means at the end, and what it’s like to have everything around us end.
* * *
I watched her as she pulled her shirt over her head. “Her” shirt, because really, she borrowed it from me and never gave it back.
Next she pulled her underwear up her legs and around her waste. Doing a little wobble to get them secure, it was a little dance of hers, one that she always did without fail.
There were two things I knew for sure by this point: she always wore that exact pair of underwear — with a all-too-noticeable pink lace — when she was in the mood, and she always dressed herself the same way after we spent the night together. She was a stickler for routine, even if she wasn’t conscious of it. But I didn’t really care. It was something that only someone intimate with her would notice, and I liked the idea of knowing something about her that she didn’t know about herself.
Whenever we meet on nights like last night, she only has to move her hips in a certain way and I would know what she wanted. I would catch a glimpse of that pink lace around her waist, either as she flung her arms around me as we met or as she “accidentally” dropped her purse. It was a routine of hers.
There was a time when it was exciting to me, seeing her every day, when the way she put her arms around me would make my heart beat faster than it did after a long run. When a movement of her hips or the way she pressed her cleavage up to me was all I needed to get turned on. When a smile from her lips as she thanked the waiter would make me remember how beautiful the world could be because she was in it. There was a time where seeing that smile would ignite a fire in me, one that made me feel wild and lost and alive. She would make me feel alive. It was a routine of hers.
But lately, that routine had become too routine. Each night went the way it was supposed to and every morning ended the same way: with that shirt, with that underwear, with that dance.
That routine of dressing would betray the passion of the night before. The passion I felt when her hair was trapped in my grip, her neck elongating as her face pointed upwards, her eyes closed in ecstasy and her cheeks turning rosy from a mixture of pleasure and pain. Now all that was left of the moment after I slipped those pink things off and bit her thigh were the pleasure marks and bruises along her legs. Marks that were hidden during the day by clothing. Simple marks, and nothing more.
Now those moments of lust were all we had left. The routine had taken over in all other areas. The only time we felt connected, even pure, was during those moments. It was the only spark of a fire that had fizzled out long ago. What we have now is no longer passion during the day, but a charade we put on. We had stopped talking, we had stopped listening, and the only thing that remained was the pleasure at night. Our conversations were awkwardly abrupt, our inner feelings towards each other unknown, and our affections were empty.
The love had gone from our lives. We shared nothing of ourselves with each other skin and sweat and fun and pain.
I should end it, but I don’t. When we get together, I can’t tell her what I feel inside me because I don’t know how to tell her. I don’t know how to say what’s in my head. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, all I know is that I’m afraid to say it.
* * *
He was wearing his familiar sweat pants as he lay on the bed, his eyes on me. He didn’t always realize he was staring, and it could be nerve-racking when he did. I used to love it when he stared at me, but recently I stopped loving it, so today it just felt kind of strange.
He was also wearing sweat pants. Again. Even if he had promised not to, at some point during the night he would get up and put on his sweat pants and then return to bed. It was a regular habit. He could never wake up naked, which meant that whenever I woke up naked all I would need to do is feel the fabric of his pants and suddenly realize just how natural I was. It was weird, and it always made me ache to get my clothes back on.
As I was looking for my bra, no doubt flung across the room in the commotion, I wondered if he felt the same way I did. He always looked at me with those lazy green eyes in the morning, as if he was lost in thought. Thinking about something that he probably wouldn’t tell me about. It was a habit with him, doing things without really explaining why he did so. Every now and then he’d smile and giggle, as if he remembered something funny, yet I wouldn’t hear of it. Sometimes I wondered if he even knew he was doing it.
There was a time when I could see the way he giggled out of the blue and I would start to giggle with him, not knowing what I was giggling about. It would end with both of us giggling, not sure of why but always giggling together. A warm summer day on cobblestone streets, when our laughter about nothing at all made the folks walking by give us strange looks. Then we’d look at each other and I would kiss him, and I liked to think he couldn’t remember what was so funny anymore.
But things had changed. Now it seemed that these nights we spent together always left something to be desired. I could feel it in my bones. There was a time when our days were full of laughter and quiet understanding. There were days spent going to markets, visiting family, or just lying around doing nothing at all, watching Netflix and having fun together. There were also nights where we would just talk about whatever, about nothing at all, about everything, and it was fun and carefree and happy.
Now we don’t talk. He’s always off in his thoughts, not really telling me what he’s thinking even when I ask him. What used to be time spent giggling is now time spent fucking. Sweaty nights spent in so much confusion. The way I chewed his ear, or the way he’d stick his dick in me. I couldn’t help but sink my nails into his back as he thrust into me. Him on top. Me on top. Him behind me. Some weird position where we were kind of both parallel to each other or something. Those were the only times when my blood felt hot, with his body close to mine, it was the only time I giggled anymore.
And when he passed out, I would hold his head against my chest, scratching his hair while I caught my breath. These were the tenderest moments. These were the moments where I still felt like we could be together and carefree and happy.
But in the morning, it was all gone. Whether it was the sweat pants or something else, I can’t explain But in the morning he would be a stranger. A stranger in a strange bed. It made me wish things hadn’t gone so pear-shaped. It made me wish we could find a way back to what we used to be, a way back to whatever that was. Love maybe? Being with him now didn’t feel like love, and I can’t understand why it used to be so much fun, now it’s just so foreign.
Something had gone out between us, and the only thing that remained were the nights we spent lost under the sheets together.
* * *
Finally the moment came. It was time to say what they both needed to say.
“Nev,” he said softly, half hoping that she didn’t hear him, and he wouldn’t have to start this conversation.
“Are you happy?” His throat tightened, and it felt dry all of a sudden.
“Am I happy right now? I suppose so. I have to get to the bank soon or I’ll be stuck in line for hours, which means I won’t get back to my place on time and I need to get my mail before my landlord gets back or he’ll pitch a fit…” she was starting to ramble. She could sense the tension in his voice, and he hadn’t asked her a question like that in longer than she could remember.
Nev stopped fiddling with her jean button, leaving it open with the fly done up. She probably would have laughed at the sight of her half-nakedness if it weren’t for what she knew was coming next.
She crossed over to the bed and sat down next to him. He propped himself up a bit so his head was off the pillow, but the rest of his body was still lying down.
“We haven’t talked in ages,” said Nev, her eyes facing down towards the floor. She didn’t want to look at him. “We’re basically a level below friends with benefits at this point. Another few weeks and I won’t even know what to call us anymore.”
“Yeah…” said Jeremy. It was hard to find the words. “Do you think it’s working?”
After a pause, Nev said, “I like to think it’s working, but I wouldn’t call whatever it is we’re doing a relationship. It’s more like what teenagers do to get back at their parents.”
He smiled even though he was sad. She knew how to make him laugh. She was funny, always had been, even when she was serious. More and more, he kept feeling like this was the wrong thing to do.
“We used to be a couple. A real couple. Less Dick Tracy and more Tracy O’Connell” Nev remarked.
She lifted her eyes up and looked into his. “What happened to us?”
“I wish I knew,” said Jeremy. “So what do we do?”
There was a pause, the kind of pause that could have lasted years. Many thoughts ran through Nev’s head, and she imagined saying each sentence that came to mind. Finally she picked the one that seemed to be worded best.
“I think we need to break up.”
There was another pause, a pause that seemed to darken the room. Jeremy lowered his head. He got up and walked to the other side of the room, putting his hands around his neck, head pressed against the wall. So this was it. This was how the world ended.
Nev crossed over to him, took both her arms, and wrapped them around his waist, resting her head on his back. She knew he would take it this way, he was more emotional than she was. They stood there for what seemed like an eternity. The whole universe could have collapsed around them and neither would have noticed. They even ignored the noise coming from the street outside, noise filled with gunshots and sirens that would have made most people at least stop what they were doing and look out the window. But not them. Nothing else mattered but the way they stood there, together. For now there was just them, in this moment, neither saying a word, neither wanting to say a word. This was it, this was how it ended, and both knew it.
Nev didn’t want to think too hard about what it all meant, knowing it would make her tear up. Finally Jeremy turned around. His eyes were watery, but he was doing his best not to get emotional. He stroked the hair around her eyes, trying to think of anything to keep him from losing control of himself. After a few seconds, he came up with something. Something that hit him all of a sudden, not realizing how crazy it sounded, he said, “What if we had a last date?”
This caught her by surprise. He hadn’t suggested any kind of date for a long time. With him lately it was never a “date,” but “a couple of drinks,” or “you should come to my apartment if you’re craving meat.” Which was fine, as she wasn’t really a romantic, but she liked that he was. She smiled.
“That sounds perfect. What would we do?”
“Well,” said Jeremy, starting to get excited, “we could have dinner at the restaurant I first took you to. Then we could go walking around the river. I could take you to that part of the bank, you remember the one, and we could stay there awhile. There’s also a market in town tonight, we could wander through there for awhile until we get tired. Once we get back here, we could settle in with a movie.”
As long as it’s not
This went on for awhile. If there were two things they argued about frequently, it was Wes Anderson movies and Switzerland’s stance on neutrality. Finally, they returned to the topic of movies, of which there was similar arguing. He suggested romantic movies, she suggested funny movies. After much arguing they finally came to a conclusion.
“Shaun of the Dead?” asked Jeremy.
“Shaun of the Dead.” concluded Nev.
“It’s a date.” Said Nev, her smile brightening. Her smile could light up the room, and it immediately felt like the room brightened for both of them.
Over the next few minutes, Nev finished dressing while Jeremy walked out to the kitchen and made himself a couple of scrambled eggs before sitting down at the table.
After Nev finished getting dressed, she picked up her purse and walked over to him at the breakfast table, she was smiling the whole time. As she kissed his lips she said,
“I’ll see you at around 6, is that okay?”
“It’s perfect.” Jeremy was smiling too.
As she walked out of his apartment door she was lost in thought, not bothering to notice the couple that almost ran into her as they were frantically running down the hall with their luggage.
She boarded the elevator, still smiling. Yet as the elevator went down, her smile started to fade. As she pondered the morning, it hit her. This was it for her and Jeremy. This man that she once loved, a man she was even considering having kids with, would be a stranger to her tomorrow. Five years later and this is what their relationship had come to. As much as she didn’t want it to affect her, she knew it would, and she had to stop herself from tearing up as she left the elevator and walked through the eerily sparse parking lot to get to her car.
Tonight would be their last night together, and tomorrow the world would be a completely different place.