Karen Rivers


Karen Rivers

Your ex husband moved to a new city in a different country several months back.   When he left, he packed a bag that contained his clothes.   There seemed to be nothing else to take.   He left his few pieces of furniture and the empty cases which once held hundreds of CDs.  The things he took fit into two suitcases.    

All around the house, that is now yours for all intents and purposes, are the shadows that he used to make on the walls when the sun shone in through the glass at the top of the front door.   There are cigarette butts in the garden and his winter shoes, flat and cracked from age, as though those four months have turned them into museum relics, as though they gave up as soon as the plane took off, and collapsed into decrepitude.

You are OK.  Sometimes.  Sometimes you are not.  

It comes and goes.  

Sometimes you are surprised by the times you poke the bruise and it doesn't hurt -- as you stand at the kitchen sink or play music on the stereo or simply sit on the front steps, watching -- that even though this thing happened, this thing you imagined would destroy you, here you are, breathing the air and keeping on and sometimes laughing and sometimes crying but also moving forward and existing and doing things and not doing things and really just being.   Continuing to be.   

It has taken some time, but you are beginning to forget how you felt so resentful and hurt by the way the front door creaked open hours after you were expecting it.   You no longer know his email passwords or the name of his latest crush.  There is an emptiness that he's left behind that is not a hollow memory, some photographs, a mental film reel shown through dusty lights, as you'd imagined it would be.   It is not that simple, the emptiness.   It is an emptiness with a weight and texture, movement and sharp edges.   But not always.

It is a shape-shifting emptiness. 

This afternoon you had a CAT scan, to see what it is that is pressing against your throat on the inside, waking you up at night gasping suddenly for air.   Your doctor is concerned that it is a tumor, you know he is by the speed with which you got the test, by the way the technician was kind to you after the fact.   You want to assure them that you are fine.   Really.   It is simply the emptiness, and it right now just happens to be gathered in the back of your throat, occasionally interfering with your ability to inhale. 

The emptiness grows and shrinks depending on what you are remembering.   It becomes cancerous and immoveable when you think of him, for example, with the 23 year old former-bikini-model-turned-software-tester, with her pealing giggle and uncomplicated past.   It becomes softer and larger, like a bubble blown on a lawn on a summer day, when you think of the kids and how he carried them on his shoulders through forests and fairs.  It hurts the most when you think about the lake, how you dove into the black depths of it after midnight, exposed flesh ravaged by mosquitoes, and hung there, shivering.  Treading water.  Until the cold became unbearable and you knew that in spite of the discomfort of it, it was already a perfect memory.   It becomes dark and inky and viscous when you think of your sadnesses which turned out to be too heavy for him, and the way you handed them over like bowling balls you could toss but he couldn't carry.   And the way they spilled out of his arms, smashing the hardwood floors that were the reason why you chose the house to begin with, those beautiful floors. 

You hate your own metaphors.   You slip into "not OK".   Back and forth.   The tide of forgetting, remembering, hurting, surviving.

He lives in an apartment now.   White rooms, which make you think of one of his favourite poems.   Her mind lives in a quiet room, a narrow room, and tall.  He asks you for advice about furnishings.  You think back to the last apartment you bought.   At the time that you bought the apartment, you had narrowed it to two choices.   One was modern, tiny, in a "hot" location, with a good view.   The other was decrepit with a strange curving ladder to a sleeping "loft" carpeted in strange purple shag, with a deck that teetered off an ancient roof.   One of these apartments was ideal for you, the place where you belonged.  The other was a place for someone who you never would be.   Naturally, you chose that one and furnished it for that person who you were not.   Now, years later, when you can't sleep, you mentally redecorate the apartment you didn't choose, the one that would so obviously have been your perfect place, the place where you belonged, not the place where you would have to pretend to not be a person who could live with purple shag and preferred a sagging deck to a concrete slab.

You wonder if he is pretending now, or if he was pretending before, when he was here, in your house.   The floors still unscarred.

You think about the way it must be so still in those new rooms -- paused and waiting to see how and with whom he will fill them -- that the air must feel like water, filling his lungs.   You send him to Ikea for light furniture that will help keep the rooms afloat and he instead buys antiques, to anchor them.   You can see both sides, how both could work in this empty space you've never seen that is not yours in any way.

You think about your house with the dented floors, which are still beautiful, and the way the children fill it with their moods and tantrums, and their laughs like creaky gates, and their fears.   Each of their moods forms a balloon around the emptiness.  There are so many balloons some days that you almost wonder if the house will simply lift off the ground and be carried away such that when your ex comes back to town for a weekend visit with the kids, the house will be gone and you all with it, into the sky, buoyed by all that you lost or never had to begin with, the 'could-have-beens' of everything that happened.