When Everything Falls Apart

By Taylor Semple

She packed quietly and reverently as she listened to her own pulse in her ears. She took her time to feel the softness of his shirts between her fingertips, the thin fabric that always felt so cold began feeling more and more like water sliding through her gentle grasp. She clutched onto the shirt, tightening her eyes, she was almost certain she could tell the color of the fabric just by feeling it. She pressed the worn, heather gray shirt to her nose and mouth. She inhaled deeply, savoring the memory, almost tasting the scent she had become so acquainted with over the last five years. The hardwood floors beneath her became shaky, or maybe it was her knees.

His strong footsteps came up the stairs in a steady beat that made her heart sink into the bottoms of her feet to keep her from floating away from the pain. This was their decision, but it wasn’t a choice at all. He stood in the door way of their bedroom. He looked so much more solid than he ever had before, he was so much more real as he picked up another brown cardboard box. Had she ever hated a worthless box so much before?

The packing was taking longer than expected but after five years, you can accumulate so many things. It reminded her of a poem she had heard once. She had loved that poem and he had hated it. She had adored it for the honesty it presented about emotional baggage; he had loathed it for the same reason. She was making her own poem now; a mental inventory of the baggage both tangible and otherwise that they had amassed over the long years. They had two dogs, one eclectic set of dishes that she had hand painted, one set of dishes to use when their parents visited (which wasn’t often). They had a large corduroy couch that reminded her of an eggplant, a smaller brown love seat, his grandfather’s (ugly) yellow, velvet chair, and a small coffee table she had bought at a garage sale for five dollars. She had an intense case of daddy issues and his mother never loved him. They had four holes in the walls from nights when the fighting had gotten out of hand (she had thrown a picture frame at the wall in the kitchen, he had punched two holes in the walls of the upstairs hallway, and she had thrown open their bedroom door chasing him around the house).

Her inventory was interrupted by his footsteps and she realized she was still holding the same shirt. It had been folded and lying in her lap. Her fingers had been tracing the rough texture around the collar. The pads of her fingers felt raw from the repetitive motion. Her whole body felt raw. She felt like an exposed nerve that had grown accustomed to the wind that grazed it. The pain had dulled to a steady throb with sudden bursts of intensity to keep her on edge. She put the t-shirt into the box beside her as he walked in through the doorway again. She watched him bend down to pick up a box of his books. His shirt exposed a small part of his back as he bent over and she had the strongest urge to go and caress the unprotected flesh. To trace her long nails along the gooseflesh, like she had done just the other day. When he turned around to exit the room again she noticed how watery his eyes looked. He didn’t understand why they were doing this either but in the silence they both understood that they didn’t have a choice anymore. Breaking the silence, speaking over the shuffling of sliding boxes on the hardwood floors would cause a break in their will power. They both knew that one word would stop this ridiculous packing, this unnecessary act and the love and apologies would flow wordlessly from their mouths and end in the large, unmade bed that they longed for so much. They could save each other and destroy each other with one word, and with a sweeping action he could have picked her up from the floor and carried her to the safest place in the world; their own bed. But he didn’t pick her up this time, he reached for another box to stack on top of the one that carried so many beautiful words.

She waited for him to leave the room again before she stopped folding another shirt, this one bright red and textured by small squares. She grabbed her knees and drew them close to her chest. She inhaled raggedly her own breath didn’t want to be a part of her anymore. She held the air in her lungs for as long as she could. This breath, this air kept deep within her chest was the air she had been sharing with him. This air would soon run out and what would she do then? She savored her air, it was precious. She swallowed harder. Each breath she took brought her closer to tears. She watched the first one of many to fall from her cheek onto the floor as she heard the screen door slam, she would soon hear that faithful bass, a remorseful climb up the creaky stairs. She could picture his heavy boots leaving their muddy marks on the stair steps. Tomorrow the footprints, bright gray and shiny now, would be a dull powder and he would be gone.

She took the bright red waffle-patterned shirt with her. Her bare feet made a slapping noise as she trotted to the bathroom they had shared for so long. She pushed the small button to lock the door and climbed into the empty bath tub, clasping the shirt to her chest. The hard plastic of the tub chilled her skin. Staring at the ceiling caused the tears to reappear and the warmth that ran down passed her temples landed in her long dark hair. She wiggled her toes on the ugly blue tile on the wall above the tub so that she could focus on something other than the unpleasant feeling of her tears tangling her hair and making her face sticky. Her thin forearm rested across her forehead as she tried to calm herself.

She jerked violently at the sound of his knock. The agony and weakness in her body, in the depths of her being, caused her to shake like a frightened animal. He knocked more quietly this time, his knuckles barely grazed the door and the sound was more of a swiping noise than a deliberate blow. She walked over to the door and stared at its white chipping paint in terror and longing. The metal handle mocked her. It stared at her defiantly, daring her to let him in. She first pressed her body to the door, hoping to hear his heart beating on the other side of the dense wood. She humbly contemplated the words that had brought them here. They had been calm and decisive but were they correct? Just because you say something quietly and meaningfully, does that give the letters, the sounds and phrases meaning? Her hand slid slowly towards the door knob; she prepared to throw herself into his arms but she’d have to mean it, more than words.