In Her Shadow
She was leaving. She needed to discover
herself, she told me. She needed to see who
she was, or could be, without me. She
needed space, so that she could grow. Like I was blocking her sunlight, causing her to wilt. Or like I was taking up too much space and pushing her away from herself. It will be good, she told me.
She heard this story about a couple. They walked the length of the Great Wall of China. He started at one end and she another until they met in the middle. They hugged. And they went their separate ways.
We don’t have the Great Wall of China, we have a bridge that stands over a river. So, she’s standing on the opposite side of the bridge. When we meet in the middle, that’s it. Gone. I’m just supposed to walk away from her. And I’m supposed to be okay with it, because that means that I respect her. She has the audacity to smile at me as she begins walking towards me. She waves her hands in front of her to signal that I need to walk, too. To come to her, to walk towards our separation. She doesn’t care that walking away from her is like walking away from my leg. I can live without it, but it would be difficult and uncomfortable and for months, years, I would look over expecting it to be there, and it wouldn’t. And sometimes I swear to God, I would swear I could feel it, but it was just a phantom. Elusive. Not really there. The way that I know I will wake up, expecting her to be there and she won’t. The way that I will smell her perfume when I haven’t seen her in weeks. I’m just supposed to just walk away, respect her wishes. She told me not to fight it. Not to look for her. Not to call her. Not to go out everyday and stare at every woman that walks past, hoping that one will be her.
She’s walking so quickly. So quickly, like she can’t wait until I’m gone. It’s like a clock. Each step I take is another second gone. I can’t stop it. Even if I stop walking, she would keep going.
“Isn’t it romantic?” she’d asked me, when she first heard the story, she’d smiled at me as though she was imagining it happening, wishing for a life full of more meaning.
“I guess. I mean...,” I’d never finished my sentence. How could they have ever loved each other if they could just walk away? That’s what I’d wanted to say, but she was so excited. Her eyes lit up every time she talked about it and I knew, I just knew, that she wanted to end this before it had the chance to end on its own. Everything vanished when she told me. Any idea of a future date, of making it work, of even the slightest chance that I could love her the way I knew I was capable of if she would give me the chance. I could love her the way that none of the guys she was going to meet could. None of the guys at the bars, at the grocery store staring at her while their wives attend to their children, while they’re frozen mid reach for a bag of baby carrots, or even that fucking creep that used to babysit her, the one who still causes her eyes to tear up when she thinks about it. But it doesn’t matter if she didn’t want my love.
Five more steps. I could see her eyes. Green. They reminded me of my childhood. Curtains that had hung in our kitchen for years. I was five. They reminded me of flour floating around the kitchen as Mom cooked pancakes, of sitting across from the curtains, staring at them as my father popped open another can of beer after dinner, of him smiling as he watched her. Of my mother, when she loved our family. Before she left. Home.
She reaches out her hands to me, asks me to hold them. If I do, then it would close the distance and she would hug me and then leave. She licks her lips, like she’s nervous, afraid that I won’t do this for her.
I grab her hands. Hold on to them like I can hold her here. How can I not kiss her? How can I ever say that I love her if I don’t fight for her, kiss her like I will never see her again?
But that isn’t what she wants. And as she walks away I stand behind her growing smaller with each step she takes.