Your things are still under my bed.

I can’t look at them. I tried once, five months after I lost you. I thought I could conquer the memories while in the presence of another man — an inferior, safe man who inspired inferior, frustrated feelings. He was not a fearless leader like you. He could not proffer wise advice or tie a knot or fix my pipes, or even make my coffee.

He was the furthest from you that I could find: the opposite of you. He was the opposite of passion and the opposite of distrust.

It was a mistake to drag out the dusty bag with him beside me. My breath hitched and my lungs shivered, as though I’d unearthed a sarcophagus, still pungent after all this time. I cried, and then cried harder from the shock of my tears until I was doubled over and sobbing.

I saw your shaving kit and your plastic cards that detailed the hundreds of knots a boyscout may need for survival. I desperately thumbed through the cards, wet tears sluicing off the plastic, as though searching for a knot we could have tied to save us — with your belt or your ropes or your colorful scarves, wrinkled and battered in the bag like cold linens left unfolded.

I shoved everything back into the bag, kicked it under my bed and asked your replacement to leave and to never come back. I wasn’t ready for your opposite. I didn’t want anyone to touch me while I still reeked of you, unless it was your hands rising from the ashes of the bed we made together.

I’ve imagined you dead, with no trace of you except for the few things that sleep beneath me and steal my dreams. They are the only reminders of you save for the occasional small things that haunt survivors: a cup that touched your lips, a phrase that you once said, and a bite of news you’d chew on.

It is easier to imagine you dead than to accept this willing absence.

Were it not for seeing you recently — guiding your partner of 33 years through a crowd like you once guided me, with her coat slung over your arm, your hand on the small of her back — I could still believe that you didn’t choose to vanish, that death stole you, not just from me but from everyone else. If I hadn’t seen the two of you, I could still believe the campaign of lies you sold me — that you were never married, that the romance ended a decade ago, that you were parents only.

If you had died, I could still believe that I was the only one.

I could still imagine us sitting in my bathroom while passing a joint and pondering the intricacies of parenthood. Your hand would choose my knee; your lips would choose my neck; your hips would woo my hips with their undulations.

If you had died, I’d still have the dream you sold me, that you would want me until I was 98. I could still believe that time ran out for you, that it was you and me against time, and time won.

But your death is my unique experience.

A foreshadowing of what’s to come in the next decades, I am the first to experience the anger. I am the first to question, “Why? Why now?” and bargain for one more day, one more hour.

I am the first to mourn you and, after being second for the three years we were together, it offers a small measure of comfort.

I keep all of your things under my bed. They have stayed there during my remodel; they are there when I clean every Saturday. They hear my tears and my laughter, and watch my feet dancing on tiptoes. They witness my life the way you said you would.

Your things pay homage to the bed of promises we made and the nest of lies you used to comfort me.

If you were dead, I could let myself feel you curling around me like a cat, claiming me with your legs flung over mine and your breath on my hair, your hands warm between my legs.

If you were dead, I could sleep and let your things lie.

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  • Melinda Yates says:

    I don’t know how many times I’ve read this. I can’t count how many times it’s broken my heart. I don’t know how to tell you how proud I am of your honesty and how much I want to make you laugh, my beautiful, sexy, honest funny girl. I don’t know how to make you laugh

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