It was difficult to see the new place. His new place. It probably would have been even more so had I been there in person. But as with all things nowadays, I saw it from afar, on video chat. He wanted to show me, in some way, what I was missing. What I had lost. I knew he had moved on (and in) with someone else. It was the natural way of things, right? “Moving on” was at least eighty percent of the human condition. Or was it eighty percent of human survival? Not the least of which infers emotional preservation tactics. After all, there is no “physical environment” anymore. We’re all locked inside the prison of our own heads. Now more than ever and by design. They don’t want us to pay attention to what’s happening outside, while they pillage what’s left of it. But one supposes that’s an entirely different matter from the breed of sadness that was plaguing me on that day he showed me the new place.
We had arranged a specific time for the call, so that “his girl” wouldn’t be there for the “showing.” We didn’t want to upset her…or me, for that matter. Paul had managed a rare feat: moving into an apartment next door to the one he already had, after being kicked out of the latter. It was a rare stroke of equitable luck, with most people receiving either full-stop good or full-stop bad fortune. But no, Paul had that rare and unique ability to always land on his feet. Like some mangy, mongrel cat. Maybe that was, in part, what drew me to him. He had an ability to thrive in this harsh world in a way that I never could. While he was a soldier battling the day-to-day cruelties of bare minimum existence, I could hardly find it within myself to leave the apartment. Our apartment, once upon a time. Now that space had been ripped away—almost poetically so—practically the moment I chose to leave London. And I didn’t leave solely because all Americans seem to be invariably pulled back to their initial pleasure-pain point of origin, but because something within me simply shouted: “Run! Bolt! Get out while you can!”
This, of course, was right before “the big change” that came with the advent of a certain pandemic. And so, leaving just before all the borders would end up closing entirely proved to lend an additional flourish of finality to the situation. As though any chance of me wanting to renege on my decision was fully decimated by destiny (or whoever). I had chosen to make my new bed and now I had to lie in it. Paul, instead, would lie in bed with another. Could I really blame him? How could I have expected him to go on living alone? Especially when life in a quarantine environment pretty much necessitated a need for a companion. I couldn’t very well tell him to instead invest in a blowup doll (that might actually invoke a more lifelong relationship than whatever was going on with this latest bitch, whose name I learned was Nyla—Nyla, like really?).
So I went along with this little attempt at playing “the supportive ex”—what else could I do? For I did still very much want him to be in my life. I found him a soothing spirit, a celestial tonic to my feeling of constant churning and burning rage. They don’t tell you in books about characters who willfully turn their back on true love. Usually, there’s a set of insurmountable obstacles that force the love to be quashed. Whether by death (murder and/or suicide, in most Shakespearean cases) or another lover vying for affections. But no, in this case, it was all me. All my fault. I ran as far and as fast as I could from Paul. The only person who had ever truly accepted me as I was. Though some cynics might not call that true love, so much as enablement. Perhaps they were just jealous no one could ever love them as they were.
At the moment of our scheduled call, I was wrapping up putting on a touch of maquillage. After all, I wanted him to continue seeing me in a particular way. To think of me sexually. I suppose it’s the curse of being conditioned by a patriarchal society that you must still somehow always pander to the male gaze. It’s a challenging indoctrination to shake. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Especially since we hadn’t actually seen one another in almost five months (though we talked constantly). The pain of that would have been too great for either of us at the outset. But now that enough time had passed—theoretically—we agreed it was “safe.” And he was excited to share this new chapter in his life with me. Far more excited than I was for him to reveal it. But here we were, staring at each other awkwardly for the first few seconds before he picked up the social slack and asked, “So are you ready to see it?”
I nodded, some part of me praying that the place would be a shithole—or at least far less adequate than our own erstwhile “love nest.” I was quickly disappointed to find that it was a vast improvement. The bathroom didn’t look like some kind of gimp cage, there was actually an oven in the kitchen and, now, after so long talking about it, he had purchased a projector to screen our movie collection (seeing as how I had left most of my possessions in his care, thanks to my haste in departing). He told me, as he proudly displayed his latest domestic accoutrement on the phone’s screen to me, that he had already watched the special edition of Donnie Darko we had purchased together at HMV but never quite got around to watching. Mainly because there was no “deluxe viewing setup” to do so. Now there was. And he could watch it with Nyla on repeat, over and over and over again until any remembrance of associating it with being our movie would be stamped out altogether. It was their movie now, their place. I was just some outsider looking in. Being given a brief tour of all that I was going to miss, all that might have been my bourgeois fate had I not turned away from it so abruptly and resolutely.
There was no room for me there anymore. Even if Nyla wasn’t a factor. This was a decided bachelor pad, complete with garish zebra print flourishes that already came with the apartment. He didn’t have a place for me in his life any longer. Didn’t need to have one. And that’s what hit the hardest. I guess, like Radiohead said, “You do it to yourself, you do/And that’s what really hurts.”
At the end of his virtual tour, he looked back at me earnestly and inquired, “So what do you think?”
“It’s great, Paul. It’s a wonderful improvement.” Right at that moment, we could both hear the sound of Nyla tinkering with the lock to open the door.
Flustered and frightened, Paul quickly made some bullshit excuse to leave and barely waited for me to reply with my goodbye before he hung up. I was his dirty little secret in the present, an unbidden part of the past that was receding evermore into a phase of his existence that he would prefer to file away in favor of focusing on the new. The new girl, the new place. And what was I but an ever-fading memory?