That’s the only thing. Do anything else at all.
But don’t call.
Eat too much peanut butter. Water the plants. Walk the dog in the pouring rain.
Empty the suitcase. Start the laundry. Place the new pottery dish in its place.
Think about him again.
Drive an hour in the pouring rain.
Go to the friend’s party in the pouring rain.
Sit on the screened porch and play Cards Against Humanity in the pouring rain. Play until you tire of anuses and orgasms.
Drive an hour home in the pouring rain.
Eat more. Try to nap. Fail to nap. Think about him again.
Pay two bills. RSVP yes. Donate ten dollars to a stranger whose daughter needs school supplies. Check the calendar. Check the blinking light.
Sign up to give blood. Sign up for Sunday services. Sign up for a tour of a historic home on the Potomac.
Text a friend. Text another friend.
Don’t text him.
Hang the laundry on the drying rack. Tidy the kitchen counter. Stack the notes from the morning’s training in a folder on the desk.
Write a postcard to the boy.
Pet the dog. Take out the trash. Head to the gym.
Check the left hand of the guy on the next treadmill who keeps glancing over.
Leave him be.
Stretch, lift, squat, crunch.
Chat with the lady you’ve seen around but whose name you still don’t know. Ignore the clock. Commiserate over missed fitness classes and neglected walking paths. Learn that her mother died in December. Listen as she describes the inertia. The way nothing interests her these days.
Say to her, Give yourself grace. You’re still inside a big change.
Say to her, Be gentle with yourself.
Dash through the pouring rain.
Wander the house. Tuck socks into themselves. Open the envelope with his name on the return address. Notice the flutter. The parking pass he’s returned. The small tumble back to earth. No note. Remind yourself that you expected none. That it’s better this way.
Hang the sweater. Knock the water off the umbrella. Towel down the dog.
Sit with the confusion. The conviction. The doubt. The resolve.
Sit with the urge. The hunger.
Check social media. Check the flashing light. Scroll through the newsfeed. Look and look and look for what will rivet the gaze.
Regret all the stupid choices. Regret this right now. Feel the mistake even as you are making it. Note the lost hours. The senseless calories. The neglected to-do list. The absence of music. Stare at the wall.
Sort the rest of the mail. Walk the dog again. Show up at the bar where the girlfriend waits by the window with a drink in her hand. Watch together the breakdancers on the plaza two stories below. The breath before the next rain.
Laugh with the girlfriend about anything. Everything. The cute girl in the Mickey Mouse T-shirt and the yellow-soled sneakers popping and locking on a piece of flooring they’ve rolled out on the concrete. Notice the preschoolers vibrating with desire just on the edge of the sacred square. Notice the human ring five bodies deep, how they gravitate always towards movement, towards music, towards the ecstasy of the human form acting out a longing that lives buried in the bones.
Stand with forehead pressed to window. Sense the tiny tingle in the forgotten muscle. Even though the music does not cross this distance. Even though you have no stage. Even though you are two floors and a wall of glass removed from the action.
Something in you thrums.
A microscopic dance. A germination.
Look for him.
In the pairs and families sprawled on the green eating from paper bowls. In the pairs and families tucked under awnings threaded through setting plates of artisanal bread and greens. In the places where you sat, always next to him never across, look for him.
Brace yourself. You will see him. If not today, someday. You will see him with the next one. The one who isn’t you. That open smile for the next one. The crinkling skin around the eyes, the way he ducks ever so much when he laughs.
The next one, laughing the way you have.
The way you certainly will again.
Walk with the girlfriend through the quickening dusk. Cross mid-street in front of idling cars, drivers trapped by throngs of neighbors who stroll and amble and cluster and meander. In this place built to mimic a town square, keep looking-not looking for him. See a young creature striped in primary colors, dress open in the back to lay bare her bright valley of skin. Hair tumbling in a cascade down to her flank. Her youth, hers and all the rest of her kind. Golden sandals. Wrists wrapped in threads of light.
Long for her. Long for yourself.
Sit with your girlfriend on the metal chairs and order noodles, pork, lemongrass. Talk about it all. About boys and lobsters and mothers and witches. About the devil’s bargain. About the copper-curled labradoodle resting at the feet of a woman dining along across the patio.
Talk about him. Talk about what comes after him.
Talk until the servers sag against empty tables to signal closing time.
Hug her good night on the corner by the place where you shared a bowl of fish and avocado with him on a winter night, where you nestled under heat lamps by an open window and leaned against the forever welcome of his body. Hug her goodnight then tell her you love her. Wave and walk away. Holler it out again. “I love you!”
Because you do.
Because this is how you begin again.
By claiming it.
Hear her holler it back.
Climb to the car.
His house in your sight line. A right instead of a left.
Pretend not to remember where he is.
Where he maybe isn’t anyway.
Let the migration alight for a small but frenzied eternity.
He could have flown to Atlanta.
Quit his job.
Sold the house.
Opened the front door to the next one.
Folded back the sheets for the next one.
Found the setting on the ceiling fan that eases in the next one.
He could have.
He could have asked you in.
Clear the eaves. Don’t let them nest.
That’s everything. That’s all. The only action that matters.
Or nothing at all.
Notice the clean mugs in the cabinet waiting for you when you return. Notice that you ran the dishwasher early in the day then stacked everything in its place. That you wiped down the table and set stray shoes on their rack by the door. Notice that the bills are paid and the laundry hung. The bed made. The fridge stocked.
A dear one has done these things for you.
Someone loves you enough to perform these small kindnesses.
The woman that you were yesterday, last week, last year. She didn’t know you yet. Hadn’t even met you. No guarantees that you’d show up to appreciate this.
That you’d use her gifts instead of squander them.
She moved on guesswork. On assumptions.
She figured you might find comfort in knowing yourself held. She offered up this small pocket of tidiness. Of order. Even in her complicated, overfull, and possibly troubled day, she made time to provide you with a peaceful place. With an entryway that invites a sense of home. A kitchen that folds you into its promise of nourishment. She did all this for you on nothing but faith.
What will you do with the gifts your yesterday-self has left for you? Does tomorrow-you enter the equation?
You don’t have to feel like it. You don’t have to care.
Even if you can’t hear the music, go through the motions. Trust that another you waits to pick up where you leave off. That she will one day step out ready to do more than simply plod. Than simply not call.
You will have set a place for her. Laid the smooth wooden floor over concrete. Swept it clean, powered up the speaker, spread the word.
She’ll show up eventually.
You’ll show up eventually.
In your own graphic Tee, in your own sneakers with neon soles. You’ll be ready to slide into a move that at last has nothing to do with him. That forgets to look for him.
That turns left for no other reason than that’s the way home.
A floor waiting.
Your steps alone.
Soon, no directive will be required.
Soon, not calling will give way. Everything else you are planting and tending and unfurling in that place he used to inhabit, it will hear the music.
Give yourself grace
You’re still inside a big change.
Be gentle on yourself.
Don’t call. Just for today.
Give yourself a win.
One tiny, precious, unbearable victory.
Listen instead. For what’s rising.
For the whisper in your brand new skin.
Image: Tiago Bárzana, Dawn Dance
6 thoughts on “Listen Instead”
my heart ached so much as i read this! it is so beautiful & sad & yet a small triumph. i really loved reading it. thank you.
Thank you for reading! Sometimes the junk has got to get out before the next good thing can come
Letting go is hard to do.
You said it!
Very relatable and I am glad to have read it.