On the Death of an Old Lover

I didn't know he'd died until I read about it in the paper.  Not that it was entirely unexpected; I'd found myself waiting, more days than not these past several months, for his name to show up in the obituaries.  I don't know why.  I hadn't given him more than a passing thought in years.  Then, around last Christmastime, I caught a glimpse of him one day across a crowded department store.  I was shopping.  He looked old.  It surprised me, how old he looked.  Of course, I hadn't seen him in years, and time alters.  The paper said he was seventy-two when he died.  A ripe enough age.  Passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family.  That meant an expected death, which likely meant a preceding period of decline, mitigated quite possibly by pain-relieving drugs (hence peaceful).  All of which probably meant cancer.

Traveled extensively . . . followed by a list of countries he'd been to, quite a few.  That must have been how he spent his retirement years – traveling.  Well, lucky him!

No, I wasn't jealous really.  Perhaps a little envious.  Like the man who doesn't want to take the time to write but wishes he had written, I would like to have traveled.  Preceded in death by . . . his parents, a brother, an ex-wife.  Survivors include . . .  Another ex-wife.  Many nieces and nephews.  A sister.

Huh.  I folded the paper and tossed it aside.  I didn't even think, And me.  That's how little it meant.  It wasn't until a few days later that I discovered old memories must have been churned up because bits and pieces of them were starting to surface in my mind.  At various odd moments during the day they would live in me again.  Flashes, a few seconds of time dredged up from the past, a few words, images, left behind.  Bedrooms featured heavily in these.  Late night visits to his office.  A living room floor.  The shower.  The backporch swing.  But also snatches of conversations, in cars, in restaurants, bedrooms . . .  Fights, eventually.  Of course.  There was a growing sense of dissatisfaction.  On both sides.  I made of him much more than he was, probably.  Taller, more broad-minded, kinder.  I was quite young when we met.  Of age, yes; but still – very young.  And I never could figure out if he didn't want me to grow up – because then I would no longer be his protégé – or if he did want me to, and was just waiting patiently for it to happen.  We'd be together a few years, and then I'd outgrow him.  Perhaps that's what he'd expected.  Perhaps that's what he'd wanted . . .

I had left him, after three years.  He made me angry.  He made me feel boxed-in and somehow wrong all the time.  But –  But –  The way he'd touched my breasts.  The way he was so good at oral sex.  What else did I remember?  His look, his particular way of holding himself, his shuffling round the kitchen and down the hall in his socks, the feel of his back under my hands.  These memories flashed through my mind; evaporated – for good, in a certain sense:  How could they come back the same way now?  I was walking down the street today when I felt a sudden sense of dislocation, brought about by the knowledge that what I could see, everything I could see, he no longer could.  These buildings, these cars, these people, these trees – he could have stood beside me and witnessed them himself just a few days ago.  Now he could not.  Now he was (presumably) someplace else, experiencing some other reality.  Which meant that my reality, this reality, was only one of several, at least.  And to this reality – and to me – he was in all likelihood oblivious, as oblivious to this existence as I was to his.

I was his oblivion.  Walking down the street today, looking all around me, staring at the buildings, the people, the sidewalk, the trees, I understood that all of this was his oblivion.  Me, and everything around me, his oblivion.  We did not matter.  For him we might as well not even exist.  For he was here no more.  For him, nothing was here.  No past.  Nothing shared.  Nothing connecting us.  This did not make me feel sad, however.  It only made me feel strange.

The street I walked lay as if in a gulf stretching between us, and oblivion was all around.  It was in the sidewalk, the road, the cars, the people, the birds, the sky.  Everywhere I looked I discovered our mutual oblivion.  And it made everything suddenly look so wonderfully, horribly, strange . . .

~ END ~