The Daily Song She Keeps Me Warm Mary Lambert @marylambertsing

Music is an important part of my life and I use my Daily Song posts to highlight fabulous songs that I think deserve a listen. I think that Mary Lambert is a completely underrated artist.  Although I love her collaboration with Macklemore and Lewis, her charm and humanness in this stand-alone video makes me warm.  It also definately makes me nostalgic for my 20s. She tells a damn good story in this video.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

She says I smell like safety and home
I named both of her eyes forever and please don’t go
I could be a morning sunrise all the time, all the time yeah
This could be good, this could be good
And I can’t change, even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change, even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm, she keeps me warm
What’s your middle name?
Do you hate your job?
Do you fall in love too easily?
What’s your favorite word?
You like kissing girls?
Can I call you baby?
Yeah, yeah
She says that people stare ’cause we look so good together
Yeah, yeah, yeah
And I can’t change, even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change, even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm, she keeps me warm
She keeps me warm, she keeps me warm
I’m not crying on Sundays, (Love is patient, love is kind)
I’m not crying on Sundays, (Love is patient, love is kind)
I’m not crying on Sundays, (Love is patient, love is kind)
No, (Love is patient, love is kind)
(Love is patient, love is kind)
(Love is patient, love is kind)
(Love is patient, love is kind)
(Love is patient, love is kind)
My love, my love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm, she keeps me warm

You

Photo Credit: Peter Szto

Short playlist at the end


Your eyes are sometimes

All I can think of

When I lie here alone at night

In the bed we used to share

How you used to

Lie here next to me

Your eyes looking into mine

Giving me a glimpse

Into your fascinating brain

Open and vulnerable

But always a little mystery

Retained, something held back


Your mouth is sometimes

All I can think of

When I wake up in the morning

And your side of the bed

Is still cold and empty

How I used to run my thumb

Across your full bottom lip

Savoring the moment

Before I leaned in

For your warm morning kiss


Your hand is sometimes

All I can think of

When I sit alone on the sofa

Watching the shows

We used to share

The faint scars on your knuckles

From a dust-up on your bicycle

How our fingers used to intertwine

As if they had been made

To nest together


Your skin is sometimes

All I can think of

As I do the wash up

Remembering the lovely

Curve of your neck

Your tattoo peeking out of

Your collar

How I used to come up behind you

And breathe in your scent

Before running my face against

That soft, smooth curve


Your laugh is sometimes

All I can think of

As I walk these city streets

Without you

By my side

The way you would toss

Back your head

Eyes crinkling

Your mirth uncontained

Making me laugh too


Your heart is sometimes

All I can think of

As I learn to live

Without you

It used to be

The place where I lived

Your absence

Is a presence

You are nowhere

And everywhere still

To me

 

Playlist:

 

The Affair

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD

After I took a sledgehammer to our relationship

Only to be surprised that  dust and rubble

Was all that remained

I thought of a conversation we once had

After we found out that a friend had had an affair

I relayed him telling me sheepishly that it “Just Happened”

“Bullshit!” you declared, shocking me

Not by your Yankee frankness

Which I had already lived with for some time

But the vehemence of your response

Was surprising, not like you

You were always the empathetic one

Keenly intuitive about others

 

I remember that you were washing dishes

While I dried

And I worried you would wash the pattern right off the tea cup

“Affairs don’t just happen” you said angrily

“That is a rationalization we use to make ourselves

Feel better when we hurt someone we love.

Affairs happen because we make

A series of small choices to

Ignore the small warning bells in our head.

We ignore the warning bells and have another drink

Or return that phone call

Or answer that text

Or sit a little closer than we know we should

Even though some part of our brain

Knows that we are making a risky choice

A bad choice.

Maybe we’re tired of being grown ups

Maybe we’re lazy

Maybe we just don’t give a damn in the moment

Maybe we lack the insight to predict the consequences

Maybe we just like the danger.

But affairs don’t ‘just happen’

And anyone who tells you that it did

Is lying to you or themselves

Or both.”

 

In the harsh morning light

When I was finally sober

I was surprised  how easily I could see the series

Of small choices I had made the night before

Leading to our unraveling

And how you should feel free to say “I told you so”

And remembered that you’re not like that

You told me once

That there is no joy

In “I told you so”

That there is no comfort in

“I told you so”

There is only sad acceptance

That being right

Doesn’t fix what is broken

Leaving Chapter Two

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD

Leaving and Absence  are interwoven stories that offer parallel perspectives on the unraveling of the same relationship.  Leaving  is told from Rae’s perspective.

This story includes a recommended soundtrack at the bottom of this page


Rae found it disorienting to be back in Philadelphia. She had been here fairly regularly over the last three years both to work with her Fairmount Park duo partner Gavin Arch and to visit friends, both by herself and with Jake, but she couldn’t quite get the rhythm this time. She had been sleeping on Toni and Ivan’s couch as the guest room was now the nursery for her beautiful god-daughter Maya. It was good to see them and helping to take care of nine-month- old Maya was a welcome distraction. She was not unhappy; however, when their friend David called with a lead on an affordable studio apartment in a relatively safe part of University City. She was ready for some privacy, some space.

The apartment was on the top floor of row home owned by one of David’s co-workers and was available immediately. He offered to go with her to see it and introduce her to his co-worker. They met there and she could tell immediately that it was the right choice. It was a decent size, with high ceilings, hardwood floors and plenty of natural light, and was an easy walk to public transportation. She could picture where she would play guitar, where she would write, where the bed should go, under one of the two skylights so she could see the stars at night. There was even a washer and dryer in the basement she could use. She gratefully filled out all the paperwork for the credit check, wrote the owner a check for first and last month’s rent plus security deposit, and asked if moving in on Friday was a possibility.

She kept herself busy for a couple of days drifting somewhat aimlessly through second hand stores looking for the bare essentials for her new apartment. She really just wanted a place to put her head down at night, a place to put a plate down when she was hungry and a place to sit to play her guitar. When Ivan, David and Greg showed up to help her move in they were taken aback by how little she had—the second hand furniture had been delivered earlier in the day and she really didn’t have much else. Most of her things from her life before Jake had been sold, given to her former roommates or put into storage because there were fragile and she had never gotten around to having them shipped to London. Her boxes from her life in London had arrived at Toni and Ivan’s that morning but she hadn’t opened them yet. She probably would have eaten on paper plates and slept on the bare mattress indefinitely if David and Greg hadn’t insisted on taking her to Target to get what they considered to be necessary for her apartment. Ivan passed on the trip but was furiously texting on his iPhone when they headed out.

David and Greg realized quickly she had little interest in choosing things for her new place and finally resorted to asking questions like, “Do you want the red plates or the blue ones?” or “Flowered sheets or stripes?” This continued until they felt like she could make herself a simple meal, sleep comfortably in the bed, shower and dry herself and had enough cleaning supplies to avoid being investigated by the Board of Health. She silently handed the clerk her credit card at the checkout while items she had barely registered were stowed into bags.

When they got back to her new apartment Javier, Vivian, Toni and baby Maya had joined Ivan.  Music was playing—not any of Jake’s music, thank god- and they had brought dinner and some castoff housewares from their own homes. It was very cozy with all of them there. Javier and Toni started to dish out dinner while Ivan, Greg and David started to unpack the purchases from Target. She decided she might as well start to unpack the London boxes. She carefully unpacked her belongings one by one. She hadn’t even realized that she was crying until Vivian had taken the framed photo of their- his- country cottage close to Jake’s childhood home out of her hands and replaced it with a box of newly purchased tissues. Vivian had taken the photo during a trip she and Javier had made to England to see them a year ago. Toni declared with an overly cheerful voice that Rae should set up her guitars and writing nook—Rae didn’t even know she had a writing nook– while they took care of the rest.

She knew that her friends were extremely curious and concerned about the circumstances of her return but so far had not pushed when it became clear that she didn’t want to talk about it. She had removed herself so completely from social media that she had no idea what rumors, if any, were spreading. She suspected that Jake and Ivan had been in touch but doubted that Jake would have wanted to go into tremendous detail if she hadn’t. She had always felt very protective of Jake—of his public image, of his privacy and found that even now, despite everything, she didn’t want her friends judging him on his behavior at his lowest low. The Jake she had been living with the last few months was not the man she moved to England to be with and she sincerely hoped for his sake that he could get his shit together.

It was after 1 am when the last of her friends drifted home. It was suddenly so quiet, so still.  She hadn’t lived by herself since she was in her first year of grad school—there had always been roommates or lovers. She surveyed her apartment. Her friends had done their best with what they had to work with, and although under-decorated it was surprisingly cheerful. She said out loud to herself, “So, this is my life now.” She washed up and changed into her pajamas and climbed into the new bed with her iPad. She hesitated for a moment and then opened her email. There was another one. Jake had been emailing her every day since she had left London. She hadn’t opened any of his email but she hadn’t deleted them either. She didn’t know why she was playing this game of chicken with herself. Either she wanted to hear what he had to say or she didn’t.

She knew from James and Simon that Jake was back in London, newly sober and hunkered down at home raw, vulnerable and miserable without her. She felt for him, but knew that a week of sobriety was too new, too fragile for them to even think about whether they could salvage a friendship, let alone anything else. She was still hurt and angry and so damn sad and she was having a really hard time getting the picture of him in bed with Marcy out of her head. Even if his face hadn’t been visible in the pictures Marcy had so charmingly forwarded, she would have known him by his tattoos. She knew his tattoos as well as she knew her own. She had been with him when more than one had been inked on his skin, knew their meanings, knew what order he had gotten them in. She knew that he didn’t care about Marcy—it was clear that it had been drunken, meaningless sex. But even knowing that he had been wasted, knowing that he was deeply regretful, didn’t make it any less of a betrayal of what she thought had been sacred between them.

Even at the time, she and Jake had realized that their first time together had been a big deal. It had never just been sex between them. They had already been deeply in love with each other before a single kiss was exchanged, before an article of clothing had been removed. She had never been so emotionally vulnerable her first time with someone before. It hadn’t just been the way their bodies had fit together, it had been the way their hearts had fit together, the way the edges of their souls had lined up. She could remember with crystal clarity what it had been like to lay facing each other afterwards, how young and vulnerable he had looked, how blue his eyes had been, how much trust he had put in her in opening himself like that. They had made love to a playlist he had spent some time putting together because he knew she would appreciate the gesture—perfect life playlists had been an ongoing conversation between them– and because he had wanted her to know that she had been worth that effort to him. When he had proposed to her he told her that it didn’t matter that they had not been each other’s first loves, it just mattered that they would be each other’s last.

Finally really alone for the first time she left London, Rae pushed her iPad away, not ready for his emails, for his words that might cut her like a knife, and buried her face in a throw pillow that she thought used to be in Vivian and Javier’s living room and finally really let go.  She cried until she felt completely rung out.  Exhausted, she finally fell asleep after 3 am.

Now that she was in her own place, the days started to take more shape.  She still cried alone in her bed every night but she also got up, ran or took a strength training class, showered, ate and worked. She sat at her battered desk every morning and wrote whatever was in her that day. She didn’t plan or judge or try to direct it, she just let the words come. Gavin came over in the afternoon with his guitar and they worked on their music until it was time for him to go have dinner with his wife. She loved that Gavin accepted her return as neutrally as he had accepted her move to London three years ago. They had always found ways to write and record with each other no matter where she was living. They would never have had their big break without Jake’s connections and Gavin was grateful. Jake got their music to the right ears but the hard part had always been up to she and Gavin.

She was a little surprised when Gavin wanted to stop playing early about five weeks after her return to Philadelphia, stating that he wanted to talk. Her first panicked thought was that he wanted to go solo—she wasn’t ready to lose their music on top of everything else. She could tell that he was reluctant to bring up whatever was on his mind. She finally looked up from the guitar she was putting away and said, “Go ahead. Just say whatever it is that you need to say.”

Gavin had the good graces to look embarrassed. “Rae, you know I love you like a sister and that it is so much easier to write and play when you are on the same continent with me. Your body is here, you are working like a madwoman and I appreciate it, but the rest of you is a thousand miles away. Three thousand miles away. Pretending that you don’t miss Ginger Boy like crazy isn’t fooling anyone except for maybe yourself.”

Ouch, she thought to herself.

Gavin held up a hand and continued before she had a chance to interrupt.  “I really have no idea what went down between the two of you before you came back and I don’t need to know, I don’t want to know. What I do know is that he is still under your skin and you are pining for him, baby girl. Are you sure that you are really done with him? Are you sure that this is really over? I have been talking to Charlie and the consensus seems to be that Ginger Boy is every bit as miserable as you are right now. Our industry is too small for you two to avoid each other forever.  Maybe you need to talk to him. Figure this out.”

Rae walked across the room and looked out the window. Was she still pining for Jake?  She wouldn’t have used those exact words but she had always had a blind spot as big as a barn when it came to her feelings about him.

“He writes me every day. I haven’t read a single one of his emails but I can’t make myself delete them. Charlie told me that Jake has written 15 songs about us, about me, since I left, has even posted a few of them on YouTube. I haven’t watched one of them. But I kept the links. Can’t completely let go, can’t completely move forward.”

“Rae, I know that you are afraid that you are as in love with him as you’ve ever been. Only you know if the two of you can ever get past what happened between you. Seems to me that not knowing what he is thinking and feeling is already tormenting you— how much worse can it be to actually know what he is thinking and feeling? Don’t let this be about pride and fear.”

Gavin’s comment about pride and fear stuck with her long after he left. Was it self-preservation or fear of getting hurt again that was driving her?  She had been sure that common sense and self-preservation led her to leave London in the first place but was it pride and fear that was keeping her from reading those mails, from considering his apologies? Intellectually, she understood she had a whole continuum of options. This didn’t need to be all or nothing. She could offer him the peace of accepting his apology without going back to him. Those were separate decisions.

Now that she was thinking about it, she was unable to let it go. She looked James’ number up on her mobile and hit call. She knew it was a little later than was polite to call London.

He sounded a little groggy. “Hey Rae. What’s up?”

“Is he still clean?”

“Yes. I told you that last week.”

“I am trying to decide whether to start reading the email he has been sending me.”

‘Wait, Jake has been emailing you?”

“Every damn day.”

“And you haven’t read any of it?  Not once in five weeks?!”

She sighed. “No James, I haven’t. I know I am a coward but I am equally terrified that his words are going to make me fall in love with him all over again as I am that he just wants to talk about financial or legal crap.”

“Rae, no one writes every day for five weeks because they want discuss the visitation schedule for a house cat or song royalties. He would have been on the first plane to Philadelphia that he could book if he thought you wouldn’t slam the door in his face. You need to read the emails. You need to make me a promise first though.”

“What kind of promise?”

“Don’t reach out to him at all until you’re sure where you stand. He is hanging in there. But false hope from you would be too much for him right now. If you two are a 100% over, for God’s sake, just tell him that. Tell him not to write anymore. Change your email address. I don’t care what. But, if you are willing to give him a second chance, willing to let him back into your life, you need to be all in. Don’t play with him. I know how hurt you are but he is hurting more than you know and I don’t want to lose him again.”

She digested this. “I promise James. All in or all out.”

She fired up her laptop while she made her dinner.  She sat down with her plate, opened her email server and started scrolling down for his first unread email.  She found it, took a deep breath and clicked it open. “Here goes nothing,” she told herself and started to read.

“Dearest Rae. . .”

His emails made her angry, made her defensive, made her laugh, made her cry, made her crazy homesick, for London, for him, for their lives together. After several notes completely comprised of abject apologies, he just started writing about his day, the same way he used to when they had been getting to know each other. She had forgotten how well he could paint a scene with words. How much she loved his sense of humor and wry observations of the world. He started telling her in bits and pieces about the things he missed about her, about their life together. Sometimes his emails included song lyrics, audio files playing new riffs for her to listen to, asking her opinion the way he used to, pictures and videos of Graham. He even scanned in some line drawings he had been working on. As time went on, he started included memes he knew would make her laugh or groan or both.

She took her time answering each one before moving on to the next, never sending her replies, but saving them for later. Just in case, she kept telling herself. At first her replies were just her raw emotion, all over the computer screen, finally telling him everything she had been bottling up while they had been falling apart in London. As she let some of that go, she was able to start telling him more about her new life in Philadelphia. She took cell phone photos of her apartment, of Maya, of her new neighborhood. Her unsent mail folder was starting to fill with her replies. It took her countless hours to respond to all of his emails, to reenter his world, to invite him back into hers. It took her a few days to realize that this is exactly what she would be doing if she ever hit “send”. It would be an invitation.

She had started writing him a song very early in their relationship that she had never finished. She pulled it back out, started polishing it up, adding new verses, and then started seriously considering what she wanted to do with it. After a week she gingerly raised the subject with Gavin. He listened to it thoughtfully.

“I like it. I think you need to decide if it’s a song you want us to record or if it’s the message you want to send Jake. If it’s for Jake, it needs to be just  you and your guitar, intimate and stripped down. He needs to be sure that it’s for him.”

She cautiously approached Vivian, asking if she would help her film the song for uploading onto YouTube. Vivian only asked, “Are you sure?!”  When Rae nodded yes, Vivian switched the discussion to the artistic vision, the look and feel Rae wanted it to have.

It was Toni’s attitude that surprised her the most. When she told her during a long walk with Maya in the stroller what she was contemplating, it was Toni who suggested the tweaks to make the message more clear, more intimate and personal. She pointed to Rae’s necklace and suggested the sign for the end of the video. Toni laughed at Rae’s incredulous look.

“Rae, whatever you think, I don’t hate Jake. I hate how hurt and unhappy you have been. Relationships are tough. Ivan isn’t always perfect. God knows I can be really hard to live with. Ivan and I have made mistakes, we have hurt each other, but what was important was that we both thought that there was still something worth saving. You know that Greg and David went through some hard times a couple of years ago. We didn’t think they were going to make it. They worked through it, though, and they’re glad they did. You need to do what’s right for you. If you can’t live without him in your life, you need to tell him that. If this is what you want, what you choose, then do it and do it in a way that there will be no doubt what you are saying to him.”

So she and Vivian filmed the video in her apartment. She liked how stripped down the space looked. Being barefoot and wearing her favorite jeans were a no brainer as was choosing to go sans make-up, just some lip balm. She went back and forth about her shirt and then thought of what Toni had said to her—wearing his clothes seemed to be about as unsubtle a message as she could send. He loved that tee shirt and button down and would be sure to recognize them. She was glad Viv was filming from a healthy distance away because she still hadn’t washed them, reluctant to lose his scent.

She took a breath, calmed her heartbeat and started to play the intro.  Then she started to sing:

  “The moon wasn’t full the night I met you

The night sky wasn’t sparkling with stars

There was no locking of eyes

Across a crowded dance floor

No clever banter and flirting

Side by side at the bar

It was a rainy night in Philadelphia

When we brushed each other’s paths

 

Six months passed, again our roads converged

Tiny white lights twinkled on a roof desk

The city’s nocturnal noises provided a beat

For our conversation’s give and take

We wrapped each other gently in words

Filling a canvas we painted together

Giving tantalizing glimpses

Of our separate worlds, universes apart

 

Through words written and spoken from afar

Something fragile between us grew

You became the brightness in my life

Dazzling and awaking things long forgotten

I became the roots beneath your feet

Grounding you, offering you shelter

Each blinded from the awareness

That you now belonged to me, and I belonged to you

 

You were the secret my heart was keeping

The secret I kept even from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There were no words for what I was feeling

I just knew I couldn’t live without

The shape of you within my heart

 

I was rattled when you traveled 3,500 miles

To arrive upon my doorstep unexpected

My love was thrown at you

Like a challenge, a dare

Full of anger, mostly full of fear

Your love was a gift cautiously offered

Folding me delicately in its arms

Asking for a leap of faith

 

You were the secret my heart was keeping

The secret I kept even from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There were no words for what I was feeling

I just knew I couldn’t live without

The shape of you within my heart

 

It has taken imagination

And many leaps of faith

To make our worlds fit together

Promises have been made, and the promises broken

Have almost broken us

I know I should let go of you

But your words across the distance

Still have the power to call to me

 

You are still the secret my heart is keeping

The secret I try to hide mostly from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There are no words for what I’m feeling

I just know that I still can’t live without

The shape of you within my heart

 

I lay in an unfamiliar bed at night now

3,500 miles away from your familiar warmth

Letting the siren call of your beautiful

Devastating words wrap back around my heart

I answer each line with words of my own

Hurt words, angry words, sad word, wistful words

I don’t hit send but it doesn’t matter

These words have taken on a life of their own

 

You are still the secret my heart is keeping

The secret I have tried to hide from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There are no words for what I’m feeling

I just know that I still can’t live without

The shape of you within my heart”

 

The last chord died away. Rae put her guitar gently in the guitar stand beside her chair and picked up the sign she had made from the floor. She looked directly at the camera and held it up. The sign contained the symbol for the Deathly Hallows and a single word:

“Always”

She pictured Jake putting her necklace around her neck on their first Valentine’s Day together. He had also given her socks with golden snitches all over them that day. The sign reminded her of all the hours they spent together on the sofa in London watching the Harry Potter movies together. It reminded her of them sitting side by side on the sofa, feet touching, Graham curled up between them as they read. How sick he had been the first time they met and that she had read out loud to him from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because it was all she had with her in her bag. How they both had cried the day they found out that Alan Rickman had died and went to Charring Cross Station together to leave flowers under the sign for Platform 9 ¾.  So much history together.

Vivian focused the camera on her holding the sign for a solid minute and then said, “cut.” They recorded the song three more times but agreed that this first take was their favorite. It was definitely the most heartfelt and natural.

After Vivian left, Rae watched the video a few more times and did a brutally honest inventory of her feelings—was this really what she wanted to do? Was ready to do? Once she hit upload and texted Jake there would be no going back. He could tell her “thanks, but no thanks” she supposed, but the fact that he had emailed her today like clockwork made her think that was unlikely. She sent Charlie and James the video file and followed up with phone calls. Charlie had produced Fairmount Park’s other videos and this was more of a courtesy. James needed to know that she was all in.

“I liked the video Rae. If you’re sure, I’m good.”

She found that she was sure. It wasn’t that she was sure that everything would be smooth, or perfect or that it even could go back to the way it had been before. She had no illusions about fairy take endings. She had never been Cinderella, Jake had never been Prince Charming. She was sure; however, that he was sincerely trying to stay clean, that he was deeply sorry for everything that had happened between them, that he needed and wanted her support, that she still loved him, and that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life wondering “what if?”

So Rae took another in a long series of leaps of faith and hit send one by one on all the email replies that had been sitting in her Drafts folder, she hit upload on the video she and Viv had made and then she unblocked Jake’s mobile number and texted him for the first time in seven weeks. “U always say I don’t let U hear my songs. Here U go. CYE”

Now it was her turn to wait. . .


Absence Chapter Two

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD
Special thanks to Molly Booth for helping another Mount Holyoke alum in need

Absence and Leaving are interwoven stories that offer parallel perspectives on the unraveling of the same relationship.  Absence  is told from Jake’s perspective.

This story includes a recommended soundtrack at the bottom of this page


It was how quietly and absolutely that Rae had left that still haunted him.  There had not been the violent arguments and screaming matches that there had been when his previous relationships had unraveled.  She had given him worried looks, asked gentle questions, started with “I am concerned” when she had tried to talk to him about the distance between them, about his increasingly heavy drinking, about the hours he spent out with his mates.

He should have been paying more attention, he should have been more attuned to her silence. She had told him when they first met that she was only quiet when she was getting sick or really troubled about something. She was not one to engage him while he was drunk. She would simply fold her arms across her chest defensively and remove herself physically or emotionally from whatever argument he wanted to belligerently engage in. Sometimes there were unacknowledged tears that would trail down her face, tears that he found easy to ignore when he was drunk or high but that filled him with shame in the harsh morning light. But she never mentioned them.

Always the therapist, she would wait until he was sober, until they were both calm, to try to carefully discuss the changes happening between them. He had dismissed her concerns, told her she was making something out of nothing, accused her of just not liking his mates. He was just having a bit of fun before the wedding he insisted. She didn’t argue with him. She just became more quiet, her expression troubled, her eyes searching his face for whatever truth he was hiding from her, or perhaps hiding from himself.

She had found out three nights before he got home from the last leg of his tour that he had been unfaithful one night while blind drunk. He had no real memory of this transgression. He might not have believed it himself if he hadn’t been stupid enough to agree to drinks with an ex who happened to be in the same city one night. She had been more than happy to take pictures of the two of them in bed together in his hotel room, label them with cheeky captions and send them via text message to him, to Rae, to their mutual friends, his manager, even his brother. Marcy had been unable to resist the temptation to gloat, to humiliate, to hurt him, to hurt Rae, who she thought of as a “stuck-up, smarty-pants Yankee bitch.” Marcy hadn’t cared that he couldn’t even remember sleeping with her, she hadn’t cared that he had been horrified to find her in his shower when he came to the next morning. She had laughed when he threw her out of his hotel room, hung-over and disgusted with her, even more disgusted with himself.

Other lovers would have yelled, sobbed, screamed, thrown things at him, cut up his clothes if he had been unfaithful, something that hadn’t happened since he was very young and very immature. There had been no scene between he and Rae. She had ignored his phone calls, ignored his increasingly frantic texts, finally texting back, “Give me SPACE! Hurt & Angry & Tired. Can’t do this with you over the phone.”

Apparently she hadn’t thought they could “do this” at all, because somewhere between that text and his arrival home she had moved out. Maybe she had already planned to leave. He didn’t know. She hadn’t communicated a word to him since she left. He knew that he had cocked up royally, knew that they were in serious trouble, knew that it was going to be bloody difficult to make up for what he had done, but it honestly had never crossed his mind that she would just pack up and leave the country, without giving him a chance to try to apologize, to atone, to try to make it up to her.

Ironically, he had been stone-cold sober since waking up in that German hotel room with Marcy singing loudly in his bathroom. The intensity of the DTs had scared him. He was in worse shape than he had realized. Simon, his manager, had helped him through the worst of the detox until he was well enough to fly home to London and try to pick up the pieces.

It took everything in him not to start drinking again the minute he found her gone. Much to his own surprise, he had called his brother James that night and asked him to help him dump all the booze in the house down the drain and to get rid of the weed. James came, handed him Rae’s house keys without explanation, rolled up his sleeves and helped Jake pour out the liquid temptation, made sure he ate something and stayed with him that first, rough night, watching the telly together into the early hours .

When Jake tentatively asked about Rae the next morning, James raised an eyebrow and said, “Do you really want to know how she was doing after seeing your naked arse in bed with another woman?!  Do you really want to know how long she cried before I drove her to the airport?!” Jake mutely shook his head ‘no’ and dropped the subject.

A few times over the next few days, after James went back to his own house, Jake considered walking to the pub to buy a drink but he couldn’t even find the motivation. He’d have to shower and change his clothes and it just felt like too much work.

He had started to write emails to her the day after he got home. Email seemed the only way he had left to engage even in a one-sided dialogue with her. He had no idea if she read these emails, she certainly didn’t respond, but they didn’t bounce back either. He started each email off with “Dearest Rae” and always ended with some variation of how sorry he was, how he wished she was home with him and would sign off “Always, Jake.” He wrote her updates about Graham, what had come in the post that day, about how he had run into Mrs. Bradley at the supermarket and that she had asked after Rae. He wrote to her about his music and their friends and the weather in London as if she still cared.

He kept a growing list of the things he missed about her, missed about their lives together. They had spent time apart before when one or the other of them had been on the road, but they had always tried to limit it to no more than five nights in a row before one of them hopped on a plane. Collectively, they had an impressive amount of frequent flyer miles. When he was home and she was on the road, they had skyped every night and her belongings had been scattered around the house, reassuring and solid. This was something else entirely.

This list started off in his head, then was scrawled in a notebook. He eventually started typing his new discoveries into his daily emails to her. He wrote that he missed her laugh, the faint small of lavender that always surrounded her, he missed that way she liked to go to sleep curled up in a fetal position on her side, with her hand on his shoulder, Graham in between them. He missed that she went to bed with her socks on from October until May because her feet were always cold. He missed the sound of the blender making those green smoothies of hers and the smell of the coffee she drank.

He wrote about how he missed the way she could fall down a rabbit hole and lose an entire afternoon with him in a bookshop, or watching Harry Potter movies on the sofa, with his head in her lap, her fingers tangled in his hair. He wrote about how he missed the sound of her singing and her guitar down the hall, the way she would talk to herself when she was working. He missed how absorbed she would get when something interested her and how, no matter how long and how well he thought he knew her, he never could predict exactly what might come out of her mouth.

He admitted that he even missed how he would lose track of her every time they went to a social or music industry event, only to discover her curled up in a corner with her shoes off, deeply engaged in conversation with the most unlikely people. He couldn’t decide if she was an introverted extrovert, or an extroverted introvert, all he knew was that people were always drawn to her and that she carried other people’s secrets with her the way some blokes carried change in their pockets. He remembered, he wrote, her telling him that she just had that “social work” face and that he had always had the vague notion that he had originally just been one in the string of relative strangers who had unexpectedly confided in her over the years. That he was always amazed that even though she hadn’t worked as a social worker in some time, random strangers still wanted to tell her their life stories.

As the weeks went on, he wrote about how much he missed kissing her. How much he missed the feel of her skin against his, how she had always made him feel completed welcomed and accepted in her arms when they made love. He reminded her that she had been the last person he spoke to before going to sleep every night since long before they became a couple. No matter where in the world they were, no matter what time zones they were in, together or separately.

He wrote that he hadn’t understood until they started spending their nights together that she lived with chronic insomnia and that allowing him to wake her up at all hours of the night often meant that she couldn’t go back to sleep at all. He felt terribly about this. He wrote her about how it had felt to wake up to find her side of the bed empty because she had gone down the hall to work at 3 am, trying not to wake him. He remembered all the nights he padded through the house naked looking for her, luring her back to their bed, warming her chilly body with his much warmer one. Wishing it were all so simple now.

He admitted that not being able to call her, text her, Skype her or lay down next to her to tell her about his day was the hardest part. He knew that she had always had his back, always kept him grounded, always offered him unconditional love and acceptance, even when his drinking became a problem. His complete lack of access to her felt like having a limb cut off– she had blocked his number, blocked him on Skype, deactivated her Facebook and Twitter accounts.  He wrote her that their bed had become the loneliest place he had ever been. He admitted that he had taken to falling asleep on the couch in front of the telly, in joggers that he had probably been wearing a few too many days, Graham curled up on his chest. She would be exasperated with the piles of abandoned takeaway containers and half-drunken cups of cold tea growing on the coffee table.

He wrote her late at night that her absence was like a tooth ache that didn’t go away, even after seeing the dentist. Even after pulling the tooth out himself with his bare hands. He had spent hours, days really, replaying the last couple of months over in his mind. He reassured her that his proposal to her had been carefully planned, had been completely sincere, that he had been hopeful, had been certain when he put that ring on her finger.

If he was honest with himself, it had been observing the marriages of his secondary school mates that had planted the seeds of doubt after the engagement was announced. He had been amazed how quickly congratulations had turned into his married mates pulling him aside and telling him things he hadn’t known about their marriages, about growing bitterness, boredom, lack of sex, lack of love, infidelity. Some had gone as far as to tell him directly to run before he made the same mistakes that they had.

He shared with her that he had started looking for signs of trouble in other people’s marriages, wondering if anyone around them was really happy or whether they were all hiding their disappointments. He was relatively confident that his own parents had a good marriage, not perfect, but a happy marriage, but what if he and Rae didn’t turn out like his parents? He really didn’t know if it was this anxiety that started him drinking so much, smoking so much weed, escaping, withdrawing from her. Was turning out like his mates what had he been so afraid of?  Maybe it was simpler than that—maybe getting married meant growing up in a way that he wasn’t ready for. The possibility of them not working scared him but the reality of living without her was harder than he ever could have imagined.

He tried to picture her in Philadelphia, in a bed he had never seen before, never lain in with her, reading the emails he wrote her on her iPad when she was sleepless. He really didn’t want her to be as lonely and miserable as he was, but he did hope that she was alone in that bed, missing him, at least a bit.

He thought that the longing to hear her voice would get better but he found that as the days, and then weeks passed, it remained a longing that physically hurt.  He knew that his brother was in regular touch with Rae but James absolutely refused to be put in the middle. Their London friends were reluctant to talk about the situation, quickly changing the subject to ask “All right?” or to talk about the weather or the latest gossip about mutual acquaintances.

Their American friends were more blunt: “Sorry man. Must suck that Rae is back in Philly, holed up writing. Have you tried calling Toni or Vivian?” He knew better than to try to contact either of her best friends—Toni and Vivian had been skeptical enough when Rae had moved to London to be with him in the first place. He knew them well enough to know that they would have zero sympathy for him and that their instinct would be to close ranks to protect her. He admired that actually, they were true, loyal friends– he just never thought that he would be the one that they needed to protect Rae from.

He felt uneasy hearing that she was holed up writing. He was known for processing his relationships in his music and their mutual friend Taylor was infamous for it, writing thinly veiled, scathing lyrics about her famous exes. Rae had told him more than once how odd and unsettling it was that she could not escape listening to songs that he had written about other women, both the bitter break up songs and the love songs that had paid for their London house and the country cottage. Even when she liked his songs– and she genuinely liked many of them– she told him it was like living constantly with the ghosts of all his previous lovers.

He had been monitoring social media and Google pretty heavily, hoping to catch a recent photo of her on Instagram, hoping to get some news about her from mutual friends on Facebook, but she was keeping a very low profile. He realized that he had been too. He was trying to avoid situations where the temptation to drink would be strong. When he couldn’t avoid an event, he begged James or Simon to come with him.

He had been home and clean for seven weeks when he was scrolling through the texts he had slept through and he did a double take when he passed by Rae’s name and number. He sat up on the sofa and scrolled carefully backwards. He was not imaging it. She had texted him at what would have been midnight her time.

“U always say I don’t let U hear my songs. Here U go. CYE” The text included a YouTube link. He quickly went into his inbox and saw 48 new emails from Rae and realized that she must have responded to each and every email he had sent her since she left. He was stunned. And hopeful for the first time in seven very long weeks. Of course, it was possible that she had simply typed “Bugger off” 48 times.

He decided to start with the link to see if it gave him a better idea of where her head was and why she had broken the endless silence now. He cautiously selected it, not sure what to expect while he waited for the video to load. It had been filmed in a room he didn’t recognize. White walls, hardwood floor, a beat up chair and just Rae and her guitar. She was barefoot, in her favorite old faded jeans, and intriguingly wearing the one tee shirt and plaid jumper of his that he had not been able to find since her departure. Could this be a subtle message to him? Given how carefully she had cleaned and packed, he doubted that his clothes had ended up in her suitcase by accident. With no introduction or preamble she started to play,

“The moon wasn’t full the night I met you

The night sky wasn’t sparkling with stars

There was no locking of eyes

Across a crowded dance floor

No clever banter and flirting

Side by side at the bar

It was a rainy night in Philadelphia

When we brushed each other’s paths

 

Six months passed, again our roads converged

Tiny white lights twinkled on a roof desk

The city’s nocturnal noises provided a beat

For our conversation’s give and take

We wrapped each other gently in words

Filling a canvas we painted together

Giving tantalizing glimpses

Of our separate worlds, universes apart

 

Through words written and spoken from afar

Something fragile between us grew

You became the brightness in my life

Dazzling and awaking things long forgotten

I became the roots beneath your feet

Grounding you, offering you shelter

Each blinded from the awareness

That you now belonged to me, and I belonged to you

 

You were the secret my heart was keeping

The secret I kept even from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There were no words for what I was feeling

I just knew I couldn’t live without

The shape of you within my heart

 

I was rattled when you traveled 3,500 miles

To arrive upon my doorstep unexpected

My love was thrown at you

Like a challenge, a dare

Full of anger, mostly full of fear

Your love was a gift cautiously offered

Folding me delicately in its arms

Asking for a leap of faith

 

You were the secret my heart was keeping

The secret I kept even from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There were no words for what I was feeling

I just knew I couldn’t live without

The shape of you within my heart

 

It has taken imagination

And many leaps of faith

To make our worlds fit together

Promises have been made, and the promises broken

Have almost broken us

I know I should let go of you

But your words across the distance

Still have to power to call to me

 

You are still the secret my heart is keeping

The secret I try to hide mostly from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There are no words for what I’m feeling

I just know that I still can’t live without

The shape of you within my heart

 

I lay in an unfamiliar bed at night now

3,500 miles away from your familiar warmth

Letting the siren call of your beautiful

Devastating words wrap back around my heart

I answer each line with words of my own

Hurt words, angry words, sad word, wistful words

I don’t hit send but it doesn’t matter

These words have taken on a life of their own

 

You are still the secret my heart is keeping

The secret I have tried to hide from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There are no words for what I’m feeling

I just know that I still can’t live without

The shape of you within my heart”

 

The last chord died away.  Rae put her guitar gently in the guitar stand beside her chair and picked something up from the floor.  Looking directly at the camera she held up a sign. It matched the necklace he had given her for their first Valentine’s Day, a double message tipping his hat at their shared love of the Harry Potter and his love for her.

The sign contained the symbol for the Deathly Hallows and a single word:

“Always”

 


Playlist

Rae’s Song

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD

The moon wasn’t full the night I met you

The night sky wasn’t sparkling with stars

There was no locking of eyes

Across a crowded dance floor

No clever banter and flirting

Side by side at the bar

It was a rainy night in Philadelphia

When we brushed each other’s paths


Six months passed, again our roads converged

Tiny white lights twinkled on a roof desk

The city’s nocturnal noises provided a beat

For our conversation’s give and take

We wrapped each other gently in words

Filling a canvas we painted together

Giving tantalizing glimpses

Of our separate worlds, universes apart


Through words written and spoken from afar

Something fragile between us grew

You became the brightness in my life

Dazzling and awaking things long forgotten

I became the roots beneath your feet

Grounding you, offering you shelter

Each blinded from the awareness

That you  belonged to me and I belonged to you


Chorus:

You were the secret my heart was keeping

The secret I kept even from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There were no words for what I was feeling

I just knew I couldn’t live without

The shape of you within my heart


I was rattled when you traveled 3,500 miles

To arrive upon my doorstep unexpected

My love was thrown at you

Like a challenge, a dare

Full of anger, mostly full of fear

You love was a gift cautiously offered

Folding me delicately in its arms

Asking for a leap of faith


Chorus:

You were the secret my heart was keeping

The secret I kept even from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There were no words for what I was feeling

I just knew I couldn’t live without

The shape of you within my heart


It has taken imagination

And many leaps of faith

To make our worlds fit together

Promises have been made, and the promises broken

Have almost broken us

I know I should let go of you

But your words across the distance

Still have to power to call to me


Chorus:

You are still the secret my heart is keeping

The secret I try to hide mostly from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There are no words for what I’m feeling

I just know that I still can’t live without

The shape of you within my heart


I lay in an unfamiliar bed at night now

3,500 miles away from your familiar warmth

Letting the siren call of your beautiful

Devastating words wrap back around my heart

I answer each line with words of my own

Hurt words, angry words, sad word, wistful words

I don’t hit send but it doesn’t matter

These words have taken on a life of their own


Chorus:

You are still the secret my heart is keeping

The secret I have tried to hide from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There are no words for what I’m feeling

I just know that I still can’t live without

The shape of you within my heart”

Absence Chapter One

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD
Special thanks to Molly Booth for generously helping another Mount Holyoke alum in need

Absence is the companion piece to another piece of short fiction I have been working on called Leaving that was posted on November 26th.  These pieces offer parallel perspectives on the unraveling of the same relationship.  This is told from Jake’s perspective.

This story includes a recommended soundtrack at the bottom of this page


The fact that she had moved out while he was out of town was painful enough.

What had stunned him was how thoroughly she had moved out. She had not only removed all traces that they had lived together for three years, she had erased almost all evidence that she had ever been in his life at all.

He had come home to an echoingly quiet house. The engagement ring he had given her, with his great grandmother’s diamond, was sitting neatly on a crisp white envelope in front of the framed picture of the two of them that she had given him as a present their first Christmas together. Her friend Vivian had taken it. It was a beautiful shot, black and white, un-posed, capturing a private moment between the two of them. Her head was tossed back in laughter and he was looking at her as if she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He had always loved that photo, the contrast between his light hair blowing in the wind and her dark close cropped hair. That photo perfectly capturing how he had been feeling that day, how he still felt about her.

The note in the envelope had been carefully handwritten. Usually she did all of her writing on the computer and either emailed or printed her letters– her handwriting was so bad that she sometimes could not even read it herself. Once he actually thought she had wanted a goat from the supermarket, puzzling as she was a long-time vegetarian. They had laughed about it, never able to successfully decipher the word, assuming that whatever it was that she had wanted, they had clearly lived without it.

She had written him letters before. Passionate love letters when he was on the road, repentant apology letters when they had quarreled, painful disclosure letters when they first become involved where she articulated hard truths about herself that would die in her throat when she tried to say them out loud to him. Her letters were long stream-of-consciousness affairs that would wrap him in the spell of her language. These letters had left him completely unprepared for terseness of her goodbye note.

“Jake-

It is killing me to watch you– to watch us– self-destruct.  I am tired of trying to fight this battle by myself. I can’t help you make peace with your demons if you don’t want me or my support. I’ve gone home.

I love you. I’m sorry.

Rae”

Home, of course, meant America.  3,500 miles away.  He was gobsmacked. Three years of their life dismissed in 49 efficient words.

He walked through his house, their house, with the note in his hand looking for evidence that her words had been a joke, a mistake even, that she was really up in their bed asleep with Graham, their gray and white cat, curled up against her. Instead he found almost every trace of her existence gone. Her clothes no longer hung on the right hand side of the wardrobe. Her underwear, irreverent cotton panties covered in Peanut characters, Star Wars logos and the Grinch, along with her bras, socks and vests, were gone from their dresser. He had always loved her underwear and socks. He had bought quite a few pairs for her himself when he had come across something that reminded him of her.

She had told him once that her quirky underwear and socks had been her rebellion against adulthood. He remembered how self-conscious she had been the first time they made love that she had been wearing a pair of Minion underwear from Target. His previous girlfriend had had an astounding collection of lacy, silky expensive lingerie that he was expected to treat with a reverence he usually reserved only for vintage guitars and his lover’s body. He actually found Rae’s unpretentious undergarments quite delightful, full of geeky charm.  He liked that she didn’t mind them being thrown across the room and she had actually laughed that one time her panties had ended up hanging from the ceiling fan in a moment of overzealous enthusiasm on his part. They had left them up there for a few days until they could not put off laundry any longer.

Graham blinked sleepily at him from the center of the bed, where he had been peacefully napping alone, while Jake mechanically opened and shut each drawer, hoping that something, anything really, had been left behind.

The trainers, flip flops and clogs that she would thoughtlessly leave lying along the bedroom wall instead of inside the closet were gone.  Her uni jumpers, her yoga pants, jeans, her ridiculously oversized sweaters, all gone. The nightstand next to her side of the bed had been stripped bare of the towering pile of books she planned to read, of her iPad, of the notebook and pen she kept there in case inspiration struck.  Not even a tin of her favorite lip balm, which she usually bought in bulk when they visited the States, remained.

He went next into their bathroom.  Her toothbrush was gone along with her shampoo, conditioner, the Doc Bonner’s soap she favored, her comb. There wasn’t even a single item of dirty clothes in the hamper. He found his clean clothes neatly folded in a basket on top of the dryer with the sheets they had been using. She hadn’t even left him an unwashed pillowcase that he could hold to his face for a breath of her scent. The sheets left behind smelled brightly of lemon scented laundry detergent, not Rae.

Her studio/office was simply bleak. All that remained was her empty desk, the desk chair, the armless chair she sat in when she played guitar and the oversized chair in the corner for visitors. He had sat in that chair many times, talking with her, listening to her play. She had never played any of her her original songs for him, she was always too self-conscious, but she would play other artist’s songs that she liked. He was allowed to read her other writing, but not in front of her. She couldn’t bear to be in the room to witness it. This had always puzzled him—he loved her writing, loved her voice as writer, would have enjoyed it even if he hadn’t been in love with her, even if he didn’t know the contexts, the inspirations, the back stories. He thought the room looked unbearably empty without her enormous gray cardigan on the back of her desk chair, without those silly furry bear claw slippers peeking out from underneath the desk.

He continued to walk around the house, room by room, to find the lonely, empty spaces where her things used to live. He could have marked the edges of the silhouettes of her missing items with the type of body tape used in crime dramas. He could picture the outlines of these missing objects as he roamed from room to room.

She had even cleaned the kitchen before she left.  Clean dish towels hung in front of the sink. Every trace of her “rabbit food” was gone. He had teased her frequently about her diet. Now the nutritional yeast, the almond milk, the Earth Balance, the tofu, even the kale was gone from the icebox. The spices that she had bought that he had not cared for were gone. He couldn’t decide if she had been trying to be thoughtful or deliberately cruel.

The house suddenly felt to him like a house in Whoville after the Grinch had stolen their Christmas— it was barren and empty and sad. He hadn’t actually realized until this moment how much she had filled it up, brought color and energy to it. He eventually found himself sitting forlornly on the sofa, gutted, staring at the only photo of them that remained. This was when he finally admitted to himself, “Bloody hell, she’s really left me” and started to cry.


Playlist

 

The Secret of My Heart

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD

You were the secret my heart was keeping

The secret I kept even from myself

Always there below the surface

Always threatening to break out

There were no words for what I was feeling

I just knew I couldn’t live without

The shape of you within my heart

Leaving Chapter One

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD

Leaving is the companion piece to another piece of short fiction I have been working on called Absence.  These pieces offer parallel perspectives on the unraveling of the same relationship.  These are a little longer than my writing sometimes is but I hope that you will stick with them.  These characters have been running around in my head together for some time and different parts of their story keep emerging in my writing.

This story includes a recommended soundtrack at the bottom of this page


She walked slowly through the house, room by room, saying her good byes.  Each room held its own memories. This was the guest room that she and Jake cleared out when she first moved in so she could have her own space to work, to write, to play. They had painted it a beautiful but impractical shade of purple just because it made her happy. She had written hundreds of poems, letters, essays, short bits of fiction and songs in this room with its sloping eaves, windows overlooking the quiet London street and flowered throw rug that they had found in a second hand shop. This room of her own had been always been a treasured gift. Full of unpacked boxes when she had arrived, it had never belonged to anyone but her.

The room was a little drafty—something about England always felt a little drafty to her—and she had kept a big, heavy, oversized cardigan over the back of her desk chair and a pair of fuzzy bear slippers under the desk. Her guitars had never stayed in tune in here but the acoustics were okay. She had always liked the mental picture of herself working in this room in her yoga pants, Mount Holyoke sweatshirt, oversized cardigan, her glasses perched on the top of her head while she wrote, and a large cup of coffee at her side. She would drink tea to be polite when they visited Jake’s family or friends but she still craved the caffeinated thrill of her morning joe. She had imagined herself as J.K. Rowling or even a modern day Jane Austen when she wrote at this desk.

She looked in his music room next from the distance of the doorway. This was his space. She was always welcome—as long as she was quiet– and often curled up in the armchair in the corner to listen to him work. She had spent many content hours in this room being awed by his talent, fascinated with his creative process, sometimes multitasking on her iPad or reading a book while he worked.

There had never been traces of her in here. His guitars sat on stands in a neat row, there was shelving for his many awards and gifts from fans. He didn’t like to clutter the public spaces of the house with these items; he felt that it was ostentatious to put a Grammy or Brit Award in a room where they entertained. He had written a few songs about their relationship in here. She often thought about how thrilling this would have been to her sixteen year old self, to inspire a boy or a girl to write about her, to write about them. At nearly 30, what she loved about these songs was their intimacy and she had been surprisingly ambivalent about him recording them and making them public. Two of them still got a lot of airplay. At first, she had felt warm and like she was carrying a treasured secret when she would suddenly hear one come on while she was in the grocery store or in a taxi but now, like so many other things, they just made her sad.

She went next to the tiny bathroom they had shared. Brits did not share American’s love of big, luxurious bathrooms. How many times had they tried to squeeze into this room at the same time? She often thought it was a good thing that they were both so low-maintenance. They were the only couple she knew in the industry who could shower, change and be out the door in less than 30 minutes, 45 if she needed to shave her legs. When they were late to events it was not because she was slow putting make-up on or doing her hair—it was because one of them was working on a song or a piece of writing and just hated to leave it mid-sentence. Or it was because the sight of the other, half dressed across the bedroom had been a little too tempting, a little too distracting, to pass up. She had helped him re-button his shirt many times between slow, lingering kisses after having removed him from the same said shirt not long before when they should have been getting ready to go out.

She took her time saying goodbye to their bedroom. She opened and closed each drawer, carefully checked every corner of the closet, of the nightstand, to make sure that she hadn’t left some piece of herself, some article of clothing, some piece of her heart behind. Somehow forgetting one of her sweatshirts, forgetting a sneaker, would have felt like admitting how hard it felt to leave, like she couldn’t quite gather all the pieces of herself up, put them back together.

It needed to be a clean, surgical removal. Leaving something could possibly tether her to this place, to this man that she loved fiercely but couldn’t stay with. She could not emotionally afford to have him come back to find her curled into a tight ball on their bedroom floor, unable any longer to hold the  grief and the hurt that clawed at her heart, at her gut at bay. He was not her Jake anymore and this was no longer her safe haven, the sanctuary they had created together away from all the crazy, all the fakeness, out there. It had been a long time since they had laid on this bed together, emotionally and physically naked, facing each other, his astonishing blue eyes gazing into hers, hearts open, telling their truths, trusting the other to always be there, to always be loving, to always have the other’s back.

This leaving was not what she wanted. But to watch him drink himself into oblivion, to have to face his infidelity that felt like one more knife wound-the final one perhaps-before she finally bled out on the floor was too much. She always stayed too long when relationships began to fall apart, she knew this about herself. She held on to hope too long, she never wanted to be the bad guy. She always too empathetic, too able to see both sides of the situation. And she hated to acknowledge when a battle was lost. But this battle was lost. He had done nothing but push her away the last few months. He could not have made it any clearer that he didn’t want her, he didn’t want the hand she had steadfastly kept trying to extend to him. He had embraced every demon he had ever had, let his fear, his anxiety, his need for escape nearly obliterate everything they had ever had together. She couldn’t save him. She couldn’t save their relationship while he was drinking and using. All she could do was try to save herself.

Before she walked out the door she found herself running her hand along his clothes, hanging neatly on the left side of the closet. She had already stashed the tee shirt and plaid flannel button down he had been wearing right before he left for last leg of his tour in her suitcase. She knew that these mementos were ridiculous but she could not make herself walk out their front door without something that she could hold to her face late at night that reminded her of him, smelled like him, smelled like home. She would have taken his spare shampoo and deodorant if she could have easily gotten them through airport security.  Tears stung her eyes as headed to the stairwell.

The downstairs was a little easier. She said her goodbyes to the kitchen, the dining room and living room that they only used when they were entertaining. The family room was hard. They were both homebodies at heart, particularly after being away for extended periods of time and they had spent many, many hours curled up in here together binge watching TV series and movies, reading quietly side by side, not infrequently making love under her mother’s quilt, to hell with the upholstery. Jake liked to lie on the couch with his head in her lap. She found his unruly ginger hair irresistible and would always run her fingers through it, massaging his scalp until he purred like Graham, who would always manage to find space to curl up in behind Jake’s knees, or would lay precariously balanced on Jake’s side. It was a long-standing joke that it was really Graham, not Jake’s exes, not his fans, who was the real competition for Jake’s affection. Graham had taken a long, long time to warm up to her. He graciously accepted her physical affection now but for a long time his look suggested that she was an unwanted interloper in his life with Jake. She had made sure that he had plenty of water and food to tide him over until Jake’s return. She scratched him one more time behind his ears.

James was waiting patiently for her in the dining room, working on his tablet.  She had felt terribly involving Jake’s brother in her departure, but he had been the first one to call and check on her after Marcy’s text had gone out who she could actually bear to talk to. He had offered unsolicited to help her in any way she needed. He had been as concerned about Jake’s drinking as she was, but had let her know early on that he understood that she could not save Jake if he didn’t want saving. She was concerned that Jake’s parents would not be nearly as understanding, but they had not been living with the day-to-day reality of their lives. James saw them more frequently, had watched the changed dynamic thoughtfully.

Unbeknownst to her, he had even met Jake a couple of times to try to find out what was running through his brother’s head, to warn him of everything he stood to lose if he kept down this path. But Jake could be stubborn, could be defensive and did not welcome any brotherly advice or implied criticism of his choices. There had been a long history of Jake feeling judged by James and it was still a sore spot between them.

James had helped her with the packing, helped her carefully label boxes for shipping back to the States in care of her friends Toni and Ivan. He even posted them for her. She hadn’t figured out her living situation in the States yet but they had offered to take her in temporarily without question when she called and told them that she was unexpectedly leaving England. Toni resisted asking questions, resisted saying “I told you so,” although Rae assumed that eventually both would come. She knew she was wearing her sadness like second skin and that Toni would pick up on it immediately.

With James silently watching, she held her favorite framed picture of she and Jake together for a long moment, lost in thought. She had given it to him as a gift their first Christmas, right after she had left her job as a therapist to be with him, to pursue her music and writing with his encouragement, and couldn’t afford to spend more on a present. Part of her wanted to stow it in her bag, but it had been a gift and she couldn’t take it back. For all she knew it meant nothing to him anymore. Maybe he would throw it in the trash or hurl it into a wall in a drunken rage until it littered glass all over the floor. It was no longer her concern.

She placed it carefully back on the mantle. She removed the goodbye note she had agonized over for at least an hour from her carry-on and placed it in front of the picture. Finally, she took off her engagement ring. This she looked at for a long moment as well, remembering the day he had gotten down on his knee in New Zealand and presented her with it. She, they, had been happy. The press had commented snarkily on the modest size of the diamond, insinuating that Jake was cheap but she had loved it.  It was his great grandmother’s diamond and he had it reset in a clean, modern setting that he knew she would love. She always had told herself that she wasn’t a woman who needed or wanted an engagement ring but his heartfelt proposal, this entrusting of her with this piece of his family’s history, had really touched her.  It had mattered far more to her than she could have imagined it would. She placed it carefully on top of the envelope, reluctant, suddenly heartbroken in a way she hadn’t allowed herself to feel about leaving until this moment.

James didn’t say a word about her tears, just offered his arms for a hug, which she gratefully accepted. She cried for quite a while on his shoulder before getting herself together and indicating that she was as ready as she was ever going to be to leave. They gathered up her bags and her guitars and headed out. She locked the door and handed James her house keys to return to Jake. Jake had presented them her first night visiting him in London, telling her to hold on to them and to consider staying. She stopped at the end of the sidewalk for a final long look at the house and turned around to stow her remaining things in James’ car and start to the drive to Heathrow.


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