Time to Settle Accounts
October 29, 2011: The long goodbye.
“Uh…” Justin said as I walked to the door. He looked at me with curiosity. “Are you going camping?”
It was morning, around 10:30, and I was wearing my hiking pack. “Carrie and I are doing our final stuff swap,” I said. It was eight months after I first thought we would break up, five months after we did, three months after we stopped spending day upon day together, two months since we stopped casually hanging out, and three weeks since we’d last seen each other. My pack was filled with two shirts, one of her sleeping bandanas, three books I wanted to give her, an assorted bag of makeup and toiletries, a pillow we brought over when mine were too flat and a blanket we brought over when mine were too thin.
Waiting for me at her house (in two bags in the front room, she’d texted that morning) were a plethora of books, t-shirts, socks, one hoodie, one sweater, one pair of basketball shorts, and several copies of Good Tunes for Two Bucks. Additionally, she said, my keys were hanging in her front hallway keybox.
Carrie was at work. I’d texted her the night before to tell her that I would be coming over on this day to get my stuff and return hers, and our texts were casual and friendly. I took my usual route to her house, bus to train, and then walking. I approached her front gate. For the final time, I pulled her keys out of my pocket and opened the door to her building. I breathed in and exhaled slowly. All through the apartment would be specific signs of Carrie, starting with her front door, where she’d left the key hole, as always, upside down.
I opened the door. Silence. My bags were to the right, as promised. I removed my shoes. I locked the door. I looked in the living room at the red couch, at passion and fights and conversation and tears and naps and cuddles and meals. I sat on the red couch. I carried the backpack into her room. A mess, as usual, though she had not left her wet towel on the bed, one of my pet peeves that endeared me even more to her. I emptied the pack. I placed the clothes in her hamper, set the bag of makeup on the dresser, folded the blanket and placed it on the floor and placed the pillow atop the blanket. I set the books on her nightstand, writing a note in one of them. I sat on her bed.
I took the pack into the front room. I took the bag full of books and CDs and emptied it into my pack. I took the bag full of clothes and squeezed it into my pack, adjusting its shape to fit to the form of the pack. I took my keys from the front hallway’s keybox, and placed her keys in a drawer where I got them so many months ago. I looked in the bathroom and in the dining room and in the kitchen and in the guest bedroom. The microwave still had six seconds on it. Another mark.
I returned to her room. I sat on her bed. On her bed was one of the t-shirts she sleeps in. It was, quite obviously, the one she’d slept in last night. I held it to my face. I picked a Kleenex from the box next to her bed and blew my nose. I wiped my eyes on my sleeve. I surveyed the room. It was time to go.
I heard the lock on the front door turning. I walked to the hallway in time to see her enter. She was carrying flowers. “You know,” she said, “as I was approaching the house I was wondering if you’d still be here. You said you’d be coming through at 10.”
“I got a late start.”
She smiled. “Then when I got to the door I saw the keyhole was right side up, and I thought, Well, he’s here.”
I shrugged like a game show host. “I’m here.”
She was wearing a new coat and new boots, and she looked great in them. She took off her coat and was wearing a new green sweater. She looked great in that too.
“Want some orange juice?” she asked, and I said yes. “I’m feeling sick today, so I left work early.” She told me that someone had told her that flowers were good for her mood, so she picked some up. “Cheers,” she said to me in the kitchen as we clinked glasses. “Sorry I don’t have more juice.” I told her that was fine. “Let’s take these in the other room,” she said.
We sat on the red couch and drank our juice. Carrie told me about a psychic she’d seen who suggested she move to California and start her own business. “That sounds right,” I said, and it did, and I told her about the Sun-Times and other developments, and she was happy, and I motioned for her to extend her legs so her feet would sit in my lap, and she smiled and did. She suggested we not talk anymore after today, and I agreed, and I said we should de-friend each other, and she agreed, and she said, “but maybe we can call each other for our birthdays,” and that sounded fine too.
After 20 minutes, I had to stop. “I’m gonna go,” I said. I lifted the pack and swung it over my shoulders. I hugged her at the door, gripping her, my fingers in her locks, in a way that she could write off as casual but where she would still know. I pulled back and looked at her, beautiful brown eyes and her smiling cheeks, and, though I’d told myself I wouldn’t, (perhaps simply to get myself to this point), I pressed my lips on hers, not opening them, but soft, with the faintest dew. I walked out of her apartment, and then out of the building, and the door closed behind me, and it was over.
For a few seconds I stood on her front stoop. Then I crossed out of the gate and stood on the sidewalk. I looked at her building. I looked at her window over the red couch. I took my keys in my hand and now there were only two. I stared at the house for a long time. I walked back through the gate. I walked back on the stoop. I wrung her buzzer and she buzzed me in. I walked in and she opened the door. “What’d you forget?” she said.
I walked in and closed the door behind me. I took her in my arms and hugged her, and then pulled back to look at her.
She smiled. “It’s not a goodbye, you know,” she said. “Just a see-you-later.”
“I know,” I said. “But I was standing out there and I just had to come back,” I paused, searching, “because,” and I looked at her again and smiled, and kissed her on the forehead and we said goodbye.
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