When I moved home, I got a little studio apartment near her house and never called any of my old friends. I wanted something monastic; I threw the mattress on the floor and hung a string of Christmas lights from the ceiling. A single pot of Cyclamen on the windowsill. In lieu of TV, in lieu of a computer, a CD player sat on the card table in the corner, tuned to NPR. Human voices murmuring under everything; companions for the lonely nights.
I’d drive her across the river twice a week for her volunteer shift. When I dropped her off I’d watch as gradually, over time, her pace to the front door slowed; it became harder to push open the door, to lift her foot for the first step, to lean forward and push her weight against the door, to pull herself around the corner and disappear from view. She went from writing reports, analyzing data, coordinating 5k races for women’s health funds, to folding brochures, to stuffing envelopes, and then even that stopped when her fingers quit working.
From here I still think I can save her from all that; I’ll pick her up in my arms and run from the approaching storm. I see her open that door and before she disappears I’ll go to her and follow her and never let her out of my sight. Fuck you. Pick on somebody else. My vision blurs, anger tilts the world on it side. Don’t you know, it’s stupid to mess with me. You’ll have to kill me, too.
I couldn’t breathe. I needed it to breathe.
Each morning I quit. I’d wake early and listen to the murmuring voices as I stretched. I’d pin the housekey inside my shorts and start running at the green light. Two miles, then three, then five. Around the lakes, skirting geese and baby strollers and speed walkers. My legs grew sturdy and I ran like a machine; you could set your watch by my pace.
How did each morning yield such disappointment? My lungs cleared and I was strong. But each day I’d sit at that card table and think about it and not think about it. Four stores within a block. My breath grew shallow and I held on, held it tight till I broke and gave in. I’d pick a store and walk with shame and sick thrill into the fluorescence and buy one bottle, just one. I’ll stop tomorrow. I will.