The air in the apartment feels stale, as if something had expired and been left to sit alone on the counter until someone who cared came to clean the mess.
Someone who cared.
If there had been someone who cared, the bathroom wouldn’t be in the state it’s in now. There would be towels on the rack–red, your favorite color. The soap dispenser wouldn’t be empty–you’re so clean, all the time. Why is the dispenser empty? — The plastic tub, its white pan darkened by years of grime that don’t belong to you–the years or the grime; God, you’re so young, clean and bright like the song you didn’t like me to sing–isn’t even off-white anymore. In fact, it’s red and you’re off-white. You traded colors with the tub, and I’m not really sure why.
It’s okay, though. I forgive you. It’s only a nightmare, after all.
(“It’s only a nightmare, my love. Go back to sleep and sweet dreams will find you,” you said.)
There is fear on the wind outside, as though a scream was waiting to be heard by someone who cared. The dirt road next to the ravine welcomes new travelers, even if the travelers don’t want to be there. Shaky, hesitant footprints mar the clay and sand. So what if they’re mine? So are the two round imprints at the side of the ravine, where I kneel and watch you drift away. You’re blue this time, filled with de-oxygenated blood. Blue is a good color for you, it turns out. You’re very handsome now. That should finally make you happy.
It doesn’t. Happiness doesn’t happen in nightmares.
(“Love is the root of all happiness, haven’t I told you that before? You are the source of my happiness,” you said. That is how you first told me you loved me.)
There is disgust on the face of every person who passes the van with the blacked-out windows. Everyone can see the man laying on the mattress inside, but no one cares–no one cares to check on him, on you. But you knew I would, because I always do. That’s why you left the empty bottles in a place where only I would look, behind two birthday cards, five and fifteen, promises broken ten years apart. You even color-coordinated them. White card for white bottle of Ambien. Orange card for orange bottle of fluoxetine. It was kind. You know how much I love color.
It’s unfortunate that this is only a nightmare.
(“Every artist chooses his color palette carefully, so that he can paint exactly what he sees, so that others can see exactly as he does,” you said. You took me to the art museum after that. You told me my paintings would be there someday.)
When I finally wake up, my day will be normal. I’ll brush my teeth and pull my hair back and put on my corporate uniform. I’ll drive to work and solve the problems. I’ll hold court with my employees, listen to their lives and their woes and their joys. When asked about myself, I will smile and change the subject. You taught me how to do that, remember? If you can bottle away your emotions, you can survive anything, remember? It just takes patience, patience and silence. But I feel silent on the inside now, like I’m dead but my brain forgot to tell my heart to stop beating.
(“There is nothing worth crying over, my love.”)
At the end of the day, after solving the problems and listening to the people, I’ll drive. It’s two hours each way to where you are. I hate the smell when I walk through the doors. It’s sharp, like bleach and chlorine, and the soft scent of pastries from the cafeteria only serve to make me nauseous. I will inhale, a breath just as sharp as the smells, and roll my shoulders back, and lift my chin. The elevators will be down a hall to my right and I will take them to the fourth floor. I will walk through the maze of automatic doors and waxed travertine floors without a moment of hesitation.
(“If it makes you cry, you have lost control of your life, and that is the only thing worth grieving.”)
Then I will stop, just outside your door. A nurse in blue scrubs will nod to me if you’re asleep, or shake her head if you’re awake. If you’re asleep, I will go into the room and stand by your bed. I’ll trace the restraints on your wrists lightly with my hands so that I don’t wake you up. I’ll look once at the scars on your wrists–they’re turning pale now–, once at your face–even in your sleep, you look so destroyed, so hollow, as your brows furrow and your mouth hangs open–, and once at the wilting white daisies–the perfect caricature of you in this hell–on the windowsill.
(“Keep your emotions at bay; that’s the only way you’ll survive this world.”)
And then I’ll leave, because you always wanted someone to care about you, but not if that someone was me. You needed someone else, someone better than me, someone who was worth more. You tried so hard to find someone who loved you more than I did because I was never enough for you. My blind adoration, my child-like trust wasn’t enough. You threw me out of the room once, do you remember? You told me that you didn’t need me. To be honest, I don’t know why I still come to see you. You made it clear that I’m disposable, replaceable. That you’d pick death over me.
(“Don’t become jaded if something doesn’t go your way. Become resilient.”)
When can I wake up from this nightmare?
(“Just know that I will always love you more than anything,” you said.)