I remember the end with a daunting visual and emotional clarity that is sometimes even accompanied by a distinctly palpable nausea. We were lying in bed one overcast afternoon, the bed we’d shared for years, the bed that had actually lived against a different wall when we first met, the bed with the creaky mattress that necessitated a trip to Sleepy’s, whereas there was no store where we could purchase a salve for our dying relationship. Annihilated by that particular form of fatigue that results from an exhausted argument for which there is no solution, we drowsed in and out of sleep. At one point I felt that very bed lift, as if suspended by an unseen platform, and to my left I could see a coursing, churning brook, and to my right, a dried up riverbed. As I caught myself falling to that side I jolted awake, felt him sleeping next to me, and tried to insinuate myself beneath his heavy arm. He too awoke with a start, and then rolled over to turn away from me. All the glassy looks, the distant conversations and the poison tongued exchanges suddenly seemed inconsequential compared to this very concrete action, proof that it was indeed over.
You see, I have a simple theory, a gauge by which one might measure the solidarity (or lack thereof) of one’s relationship status: When he stops putting his arm around you at night, things have run their course. Though such an observation may seem deceptively facile, this seemingly minute intimacy speaks leaps and bounds. I’m not referring to the normal patterns that a couple falls into once sleep has taken its natural course.
For many years, late at night, he would clutch me under his arm, like a small boy holding his cherished teddy bear. (And when I look back, trim away the excess fat of tenderness, I wonder if I hadn’t always existed as a sort of comforting possession to him within the confines of that relationship.) Even after the fighting and the tears and the cold realization that our interactions were dangerously toeing an edge from which we would both fall away from one another, he would still reach out for me in the night, and it was the little solace I could literally cling to during those dark last evenings. Sometime after his affair, those embraces ended, and post-breakup, during a brief reunion, his grasps returned, but with a desperation that reeked of fantasy and nostalgia, and not that of earnest affection. Eventually, he would turn away yet again, and that time, it was forever.
Again, this may apply as a different type of metaphor for the less needy couple. Perhaps it’s another intimate gesture, such as a freshly prepared cup of coffee in the morning, or a clockwork kiss on the forehead. But when words have ceased to express the end of an affair, these physical intimidations speak the words we cannot bear to say. Do you know what I mean?