The Whole Truth

I parked the car in the short-term parking lot. I wasn’t going to be staying long. Talia had a suitcase in each hand. One of her suitcases I had seen many times, but the other was only recently bought, a purple oversized monstrosity bought of the need to fit all she could into it. I had my own suitcase, but the suitcase wasn’t mine. It was another of Talia’s recent purchases. Three suitcases filled with her life, all that she needed or wanted.

She wasn’t coming back.

She was there to get on a plane to St. Louis. I was staying in Portland.

We were still technically married.

The plastic wheels dragging on cement were the only words between us.

After check-in, after Talia paid the extra ninety dollars for the overweight, oversized suitcase, we went outside so I could smoke. We were early enough to try and say goodbye.

Out there on the edges, twenty-five feet from the door, we sat on the bench and I smoked. It was May. It was early morning. We sat close and held hands, her wrists finally free of the bandages she had worn for weeks from her last suicide attempt. The bandages that were left in the bathroom for me to throw away when I got home. Her hands were warm and a little sweaty after a while the way they always got. Sweaty paws we called them. My hands were cold and dry. It was supposed to be the perfect combination.

We talked about maybe. Maybe we could spend the summer apart, truly apart. Space, maybe all we needed was space. Not like the last month of weekends staying at friends houses. Sometimes she’d stay in a motel. She said it was because she didn’t have anywhere else to go and couldn’t stay at our apartment by herself. She said it was because she had used up the goodwill of her friends. And this was true, in the way half-truths are. But she was doing heroin again too.

But we weren’t talking about heroin and we weren’t talking about her getting sick and we weren’t talking about her depression and we weren’t talking about her suicide attempts. We were talking about maybe. Maybe we could get better on our own and be the people we fell in love with again because she wasn’t the only one who had changed.

Break up stories are filled with the I of how we were wronged. The husband who worked too much, the cheating spouse, the jealous girlfriend, the boyfriend that never listened, the wife who never wanted to have sex, all of it I was wronged, I was great, I wanted to love them, but they didn’t love me.

But that is another of those half-truths.

Talia had heroin. I had my own self-medication of too many drinks every night of the week. It always started the same, a drink after work to decompress turned into a shot and a beer and one more before I went home. Half-truths. It was always more.

On the bench with our hands intertwined, I cried. In the last month, all the talk of divorce, all the days we spent together after she bought her plane ticket, I didn’t cry. But there on the metal bench, sitting next to the woman I loved, our hands together, our knees touching, I did. There were people and cars and other smokers, but it was me and Talia in our own world on that bench. She was leaving. I was staying. The cigarette in my hand was almost finished and it was almost time to walk with her to security, almost time to say goodbye. We didn’t love each other enough. We couldn’t make each other better.

We were married at a restaurant in downtown Portland. We were happy when we got married. Of course we were happy. We hadn’t been together for a year yet but I had never loved someone so fiercely as Talia. Fierce, encompassing, we could drown in our love. We did. We drowned and drank in our love letting it fill our lungs until we couldn’t fit anymore.

We nibbled on the appetizers set in front of us. My friend Angie had brought champagne and me and Talia drank that in the back corner of the restaurant, our party cramming into the large booth. Most of the wedding party was Angie’s family, my own adopted family. Her mother and aunt and uncle and cousin and grandmother, they’re more family than my own blood.

At dinner we all talked about marriage and love the way you’re supposed to talk about it. Angie’s uncle Eric started talking about love, looking at his wife Brenda with all the love that comes from being married for so long and said something about love the way I thought I was in love with Talia. He told the story about when his wife Brenda was fighting cancer, about how she told him he didn’t need to stay at the hospital all day and all night. She told him at one point after weeks to go home, take a shower, eat something.

“I don’t have any where to go,” he said. “You are my home.”

I thought Talia was my home too.

Over champagne and dinner we signed the papers that were to legally bond us, till death do us part. We didn’t even have rings yet.

Now, neither of us are dead.

But parted. We are parted.

Our marriage was so sudden and impetuous, even though I was never a person that was ever going to get married before I met Talia. I always said it’d be years of dating before a woman could drag me to the altar. Drag, as in forced, that’s the word I always used. But Talia with her dark hair past her shoulders. Her eyes that were brown with a touch of green and amber, a swirl of hazel, eyes she hated, but I loved. Talia with her love for books and love for me and the way we could talk.

When we first started dating we’d spend days and nights together. Not going out and doing much, maybe dinner or drinks, a show, but we’d sit and talk.

We could spend days talking.

All the time spent together and all her friends could say is What do you guys spend so much time talking about?

Everything. Philosophy. Books. Sexuality. Writing. Nothing.

Love.

We were in love.

We didn’t mean to fall in love. When you start dating someone there’s always the idea in the back of your mind that you’ll actually start dating and might fall in love and may even get married. There’s always that possibility when you decide to go on that first date. But we didn’t mean to fall in love.

Just like I didn’t think I’d even ask her out that first night I met her. The two of us late to the party that was happening at my house. Both of us coming from work. And there she was in my kitchen, in jeans and a grey t-shirt with a green bottle of gin painted on the front, her knees slightly bent, head tipped back, my roommate holding the bag from the box of red wine half a foot from her mouth, pouring. A line of red in the air between the box and Talia’s mouth. Her throat working away before her hand waved in the air stop, lips and mouth and chin stained red. Laughter.

But I refused to chug the box wine even when Talia tried to smile at me. I was tired and it didn’t matter that this beautiful woman wanted me to drink the wine. She told me later, over drinks at the Bye & Bye, on a wooden bench sitting across from each other on their back patio over drinks and cigarettes, that I looked stuck up when I told her I wasn’t going to drink the box wine. She said I might as well have lifted my nose in the air and said box wine was for peasants. Talia told me I was a judgmental stuck up asshole, but we laughed when she told me.

We didn’t mean to fall in love.

Later, after we were married, when winter and grey skies and Talia’s seasonal depression were around us, in our apartment, we went to Cabo for a real honeymoon, for tequila and fish tacos, for vitamin D. We lounged on beaches and swam in the ocean. We took pictures and laughed and paid twenty five dollars for dinner and all you could drink tequila. We dipped our bodies and feet and hands in the Sea of Cortez. We walked on Lover’s beach, and I swear we never stepped a foot, a toe or even looked at the sand of Divorce Beach.

But sand, that shit gets everywhere. Who knows what wind carried what sand under our feet, into our clothes, into our bags, our lungs, the air drifting and blowing this way and that. There’s no way to say what we took home with us.

Mexico and sun and tequila didn’t make things better.

I have married friends that get in fights in front of me, complaining about how the husband woke up a grumpy asshole today or the wife is always spending too much money or never cleaning up after herself. They’ll say asshole or bitch and walk away. These fights, even though they’re fights and serious, they make me smile in a weird way.

It’s what fights are supposed to look like.

My fights with Talia were never like that. Hours of yelling, screaming. It started small. A co-worker called at a weird time at night. If I didn’t answer, it was because obviously I didn’t want to talk in front of Talia. If I answered, Talia would put her head close to mine and listen to every word. Usually it turned into an accusation. I was fucking her. One time after texting my male co-worker to make sure we didn’t wear matching outfits he texted big papa likes that. A month later, another fight, Talia quoted that text to accuse me of fucking him too.

I wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t jealousy with me. It was things like one time when she asked me what my work schedule was for the second time in two days, and I told her she was like a gold fish because she had done too many fucking drugs and couldn’t remember shit.

One of my exes once said I was the worst person to fight with because when I fought I always said the things that could hurt the most. I attacked the sacred. I aimed for those deep hurts and insecurities.

I told Talia once she didn’t need to worry about finding a job because all she had to do was make a bar manager think they could fuck her like all the other guy friends in her life.

I really could be a fucking asshole.

But with Talia, there was never any logic in her fights. We’d spend hours talking before yelling where she’d then pull out some evidence that she believed proved it all. Once it was an old phone number that she had found in the huge Caribbean rum mug I kept on top of one of the bookshelves. Talia’s face red, yelling, putting it in my face because she believed I had kept the number as a trophy of one of the times I cheated on her.

Another was a receipt from the breakfast place down the road she had found in my wallet. I was taking women out to brunch and fucking them while she was at work. If I didn’t text her for a couple hours while she was at work she always called asking me where I was, saying our neighbor had stopped by and I wasn’t home.

I hadn’t left the house other than for coffee when I woke up in the morning.

She lied to me to see what I would say.

All these different fights, all the yelling and accusations, the anger invaded my body. I carried it inside me. Toward the end, I’d throw glasses, books and any object close to me. I’d beat my chest with my fist to feel a physical pain to match the emotion in me. I smashed a chair in our bedroom against the floor. All of it out of frustration, anger, a way to affect something because I could never affect or change Talia.

The night I broke the chair, Talia was threatening to kill herself again. It was summer time with the windows open, the breeze coming in and our voices carrying out. My neighbors, they heard sounds of a struggle, they told the police I was strangling her.

I was pulling the kitchen knife she held to her wrist out of her hands.

I answered the door in my boxers thinking it was our neighbors in our apartment complex that we shared a wall with coming to tell us to be quiet. It was three cops. They wore blue latex gloves.

Me and her drunk, the apartment a downright fucking mess, clothes everywhere, the broken chair, the knives in the kitchen scattered because every time I took one out of her hand she’d find another. Talia was in bed. One cop pulled me aside, pulling me out into the living room while the other two talked to Talia in the bedroom. He kept asking me questions, me still in my boxers having while they kept asking her every way sideways to admit I had hit her, choked her, anything.

Anything. They kept saying. Did he do anything?

The cop kept asking me, did you hit her?

Were you fighting?

What have you been doing tonight?

Our house looked like a fucking crime scene.

How did the chair break?

Was it during a struggle?

Did you grab her?

I couldn’t tell them I was trying to stop her from committing suicide without telling them I had to hold her down to do it. I couldn’t say anything but no officer, no, while I knew the bracelets, handcuffs, were going to come out. I was going to jail. This was going to be them with their blue latex gloves on, pulling my arms back and putting the metal on my wrists being taken to jail in only my boxers.

But Talia said no. Every way they wanted her to say yes, she said no.

I still can’t describe the way I felt right then after she kept saying no and they left. Some clarity had come over her and no matter all the ways she wanted to hurt me, tried to hurt me, all the times she had told me she had fucked people for money or started stripping or did heroin or was at that moment killing herself, all those moments and ways she tried to lash out and hurt me, that night with the police was not one of them.

This story itself is a half truth. When people, friends, loved ones, ask what happened, I try to give them the cliff notes. This story is a way to talk about everything that went on between us, but never being able to really give the whole truth. The whole truth is only for me and Talia.

In the August after our one year marriage anniversary, after three months of fighting everyday, I kissed a woman. One of the women Talia had accused me of fucking. A co-worker.

That night in August a woman I had slept with a couple of years back came to a reading I was doing for a literary journal that had published my work. The woman I had slept with years ago and I were smoking outside, making small talk, when Talia walked up. Talia didn’t stop and say hello, but headed straight to the bathroom before going out the back entrance. When I texted her asking where she was, she told me that I was a piece of shit for inviting that woman and the only reason I invited her was because I wanted to fuck her.

Talia said, fuck you, I’m going to do heroin.

Alcohol, heroin, cocaine, molly, ecstasy, Adderall, mushrooms, acid and cigarettes, the short term solutions to all our problems.

I was supposed to read and the editor had flown out from Kansas to Portland for the event and I couldn’t leave. I kept texting. Called when I could. Asked where she was. Plead, begged for her not to do heroin, to come back to the event. I told her I would pick her up.

She said she had two syringes full.

She said she was going to overdose.

She said they’d find her in the gutter in the morning and it would be all my fault.

That night, I kissed a woman.

After Talia did heroin. After she met up her friends. After she was so fucked up her eyes couldn’t look directly at anyone she was talking to, she went searching for me and found me on a street corner in my car kissing my co-worker.

I didn’t plan to kiss her. But we had spent the evening drinking to get drunk and she had a beautiful smile and we were walking to my car to say goodbye and she got in my car and I kissed her.

It was a moment of weakness.

Talia hit me in the face that night. She hit me in front of a bar, the bartenders the witness to our drama. Talia went home and destroyed all the pictures and keepsakes I had from any woman ever in my life. Photos. Glasses. A camera. But none of that mattered in the end.

What mattered was she could never forgive me for that moment of weakness. That’s what it came back to in the end. Forgiveness. No matter how many times I forgave her for lying to me, for doing drugs, for kissing women after I told her it made me upset, for the nights she yelled and screamed at me because she thought I was fucking our neighbor, something in her brain could never forgive me.

Months and months and months and days and hours and weeks the way it all starts to feel the same when it’s always fighting, and every fight always turned into her yelling about me kissing that woman about how I had fucked every other woman that I had ever met.

I shouldn’t have kissed that woman. It was such a shitty thing to do. With all of her issues, with all of her paranoia and jealousy, there I was proving her right.

I manifested her monsters.

Mistakes. I made mistakes.

I’m sorry.

Forgive me.

She had a therapist she was seeing and calling multiple times a week. She was supposed to be on Paxil and Lithium and taking Xanax for anxiety.

She was trying. I was trying. You have to believe we were trying.

Even with therapy, even with medication, it didn’t always work. Her depression would break through or something would set her off. For months, almost every night, the two hours before I went to work, the closing shift at a bar, she’d threaten to kill herself. Before I’d leave for work, she’d tell me I was going to come home at night and find her dead because that’s what would make me happy.

I always took the knives and scissors and wine bottle opener with me those nights.

Then I started taking my extra belts.

Then I started taking my ties.

Sounds callous that I’d go to work at a bar late at night after my wife told me she was going to kill herself. Truth is, in the beginning, I let my life be ruled. Leaving work, leaving friends, coming home as quick as I could to save her. I was always trying to save her.

It happened so many times. And it was always my fault.

She always told me if she died I would be happy.

I kept trying to save her.

But it wasn’t about me saving her and after months coming home from work early, not staying out with friends, always trying to be a savior, I could deal with things like her telling me she was going to kill herself while I was at work.

Yet another half-truth. I never really dealt with the pain and grief inside me besides having another cigarette, another drink. So many nights I faked a smile and served the masses beer and liquor while I hoped tonight wasn’t going to be the night she would actually kill herself.

We planned for the future when we were happy. When we first started fighting, I cherished those moments we could be the way we were. Cherished the moments when we could still drown in our love. We went for a walk down to Laurelhurst park and watched the ducks floating back and forth. Watched all the people playing Frisbee or throwing a football, smoking weed and playing acoustic guitars. We planned a future together in New York, trips to Europe, what we’d name our children and dogs and how we could get them dual citizenship. The children, not the dogs.

We could spend days talking.

But a switch in her brain, a night I was too busy at work to text, anything could flip that switch, if I stayed for two drinks after we closed instead of one, if I didn’t get her text messages when I was out with my writer friends, anything could trigger the anxiety, going in circles, circles, until she’d walk to my work to check on me, expecting to see me having sex with someone, or kissing someone, the anxiety and the circles doing its work before it became a reality in her head, in her body, coming out, again and again.

And then those moments of happiness, the walks in the park or dinner or drinks, those moments when I should be happy and in love, I wasn’t. I spent those moments waiting. Arming myself. Protecting myself for the next fight, the next anxiety circle. I couldn’t be happy. That’s when I knew it was over. I knew we could never get back.

I didn’t mean to fall out of love.

But that’s one of those half-truths too.

I still love her.

We hadn’t been dating two months before she was taking a trip back to the east coast to see her family in Vermont before heading to New York to visit friends. At the Portland airport, I dropped her off way too close to boarding time and we kissed on the sidewalk. It was a red eye flight. They had boarded early. Everyone was in their seats, waiting for Talia, but we were going to miss each other and we held each other and we kissed and we didn’t care if she was late. It had only been two months and we were already falling in love.

And I said it, I said, why don’t I fly and meet you in New York.

At JFK airport a week later I had my suitcase and a backpack. I took the air tram and then the A train into Manhattan. Late, it was late, one in the morning before I got to the bar I was supposed to meet her and her friends at. I stood on the corner, waiting, watching New Yorkers pass by, not saying anything aloud, but looking at me with the contempt of seeing someone standing with suitcases on a corner, a fucking tourist.

When I saw her, she didn’t run to me. We waved and I smiled. I smile often for work, but it’s not a true smile, more of a smirk really. It comes from having crooked teeth until I got braces in my mid-twenties. In every family photo one side of my mouth is drawn up, a smirk more than a smile. But when I saw her I smiled, all teeth, like I couldn’t help it.

We hugged and I picked her up. I took in her smell, the same smell that lingered in my sheets and pillows after she left for St. Louis. Lingered until I knew I needed to wash them to stop the stress dreams. Those nights after she left I spent sleeping for two hours, sometimes three and on a good night four, no matter how drunk I got, before waking up and lying in bed.

I always forget all the shit I carry in my body.

Those nights I couldn’t sleep made me feel that grief, that desperation, that loss I carried around with me. Talia’s smell. Talia my own phantom limb, waking me up in the night wondering where she had gone.

She laughed when I picked her up that night in New York. We hadn’t even had the boyfriend-girlfriend-exclusive talk, and I had bought a last minute ticket to New York, meeting her in the East Village at one in the morning. It took us our whole trip in New York to say the words but eventually they came, the two of us too afraid to open ourselves up completely, but saying I think I’m falling in love with you.

The first time we said it was one of those one hundred degree humid days in New York. We had sex on the twin bed we were sleeping on, our bodies dripping sweat, onto each other, into our eyes. At some point her shoulder hit my nose and started bleeding enough to leave spots of blood on her cheek and chest, on my face. Afterward, fucking hot and humid in that tiny New York room, the two of us sweaty messes, we looked at each other, really looked, and we didn’t say anything, but we smiled, and then she said, I think I’m falling in love with you.

And I said it too.

We were falling in love, sweaty, bloody messes that we were.

The morning she left for St. Louis, when we sat outside the Portland airport and talked about maybe, that’s the moment we were both thinking of, I think I’m falling in love with you. That was our idea of maybe. That we could both get onto flights from our cities and fly to New York for a second life.

STL to NYC.

PDX to NYC.

I’d fly into JFK because I always fly into JFK. I’d get on the air tram again and then the A train, that long ass subway ride into Manhattan.

And even though I can’t remember what bar it was we met at that first night in the East Village, that’s where we would meet. I’d get there first, my bags in tow and wait out on the corner. It’d be Fall. There’d be a breeze. And then I would see her for the first time since she left Portland walking toward me.

I’d smile when I saw her half a block away. Of course I’d smile. And the all of the anger and hurt and grief would drain away, go down the sewers where only darkness and rats live.

In those brief moments when I’m strong enough to let myself hope, to dream, when I’m strong enough not to be overcome by the despair, I put myself on that street corner in the East Village and see Talia walking toward me. She’ll be wearing jeans and the same grey t-shirt with a green gin bottle on the front I first met her in, we’ll both be smiling, her walking until she’s close enough for our bodies to crash into each other and we hold on, and her smell will fill my nose, and my arms will pull her body close, into me, and her lips will kiss mine, that flowery pink smell of her lipstick, and no longer will we suffer from our phantom limbs, and our bodies will have changed because we will no longer hold the grief, the pain in our chests next to our hearts, in our bodies, and we won’t need to say the words of I loved you and missed you because our bodies will speak for us, and time will go by quick, too quickly, while people pass us because we don’t want to let each other go now that we found each other again out on a corner in the East Village of the greatest city in the world where our new lives can start again.