By Hannah Lee.
I felt it with the slamming of the door. I was floating in that strange limbo between sleep and consciousness when my heart seized up at the sound. I felt this cruel, acidic bile crawl up from my heart to the base of my throat, this awful wash of panic flooding my lungs, and I thought,
“This is it. This is the end.”
All of those terrible life choices – smoking, fish-like drinking, and one too many miscellaneous meat skewers and roller coaster rides were finally taking their toll. Dear God, don’t let this be the end. I pictured my landlady screaming her fat jowls off upon finding my stiff cold body, naked as the day I was born, my face frozen in agony. I pictured a weak turnout for my funeral. And as the heartburn slowly, painfully spread across my chest, I prayed for my soul as an atheist. And then, I think I fell asleep again.
When I woke up the next morning, drugged by a restless sleep, I found her things gone. It sounds dramatic, but considering she only kept her toothbrush and a hair dryer at my place, it was a pretty minor change. And yet, I felt like she’d cleared the place. I felt really empty about it. It was as though someone had taken something vital from me but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Like, someone had stolen my kidney without leaving a scar.
To the people in my immediate surroundings, my breakup and its emotional aftermath were as obvious as me wearing a gigantic sombrero made of lead – heavy, pitiful, and awkward. No one really knew what to do about it, and most people simply avoided pointing it out. I sensed my coworkers being sensitive to my silences. My unfocused staring at nothing in particular became a regular occurrence, and I was generally treated like an emotional ticking time bomb. I know I even looked like a sack of self-pity because a). strangers stared at me with concern, and b). if you only eat half-warm soup and sleep two hours, days at a time, you just naturally look awful. But here’s the thing – even though Michelle had walked out on me, both literally and figuratively, that’s not what I was sad about. I wasn’t angry or bitter or self-conscious. I wasn’t craving attention or condolences. The truth is I felt nothing. It was almost like I couldn’t decide what I felt. And that’s what got me down.
This went on for a month or so. And then I lost it.
There was this ring Michelle had given me as a birthday present a year into our relationship, and it fit so well on my finger, most of the time I forgot I even had it on.
Now on one fucking fateful night, I took it off to write. I’m a failing novelist see, so you’ll find me chained to my computer most days burning time with a fool’s dance on the keyboard. My desk at the time was cluttered with notes, wispy sheets of paper held down by the ramblings of a madman desperate for a good idea. Throughout the night I freely scrunched up notes, threw piles of them into the waste basket, took out my garbage when I needed a stretch, and added more notes to the rubble when I was struck with temporary genius. Coffee, after coffee, bathroom breaks one, two, three – the nights are never ending for the poor writer, both penniless and nowhere near ‘satisfactory’.
At three in the morning, when I’d given up on my writing, I turned to put the ring back on, and what do you know – it’s not there. I lifted a few pieces of paper nonchalantly, expecting it to be underneath. Nothing. I lifted piles of paper at a time. Nothing. And that’s when the panic set in.
I picked up every object on my desk and then I turned on my room. I searched with the meticulousness of a forensic team at a murder scene. I bent into impressive yoga positions so that I could squint into the darkest nooks, even though I knew perfectly well it couldn’t be there. Then I would return to places I’d searched earlier with the frenzied energy of a coke addict and the absent-mindedness of an amnesia patient.
As I searched, I cursed the ring. I blamed it for running away, for getting away from me. I then grew frustrated at myself for being careless with my belongings until it formed into the ugly, latent self-hatred I’ve had since pre-Kindergarten. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, calmed myself, and took deep breaths, before plunging headfirst into the garbage bin on my street, digging frantically through old food and papers.
Then a single question entered my mind and it put my sanity up for interrogation.
Did I even have the ring tonight?
I didn’t have a straight answer. I started doubting myself. Mental snapshots of me taking off my ring began to flood my mind and I couldn’t pinpoint the exact time or place when I had neglected it. In fact, I even started imagining scenarios where I’d taken off the ring, but I couldn’t be sure if they had actually happened or not. The shadow of doubt grew bigger and bigger, and more frightening in the walls of my mind.
At a time like this, everything else in the world feels secondary to what you’re feeling. So I cried. It was all so futile and stupid. I cried like a bitch.
I never did find that ring. It took me a few days to get over it, but once I gave up looking for the ring, I started looking for Michelle.
I revisited places we used to hang out together. I returned to arguments and the times we’d bury our verbal hatchets and forgive each other. Or at least, I thought we’d forgiven each other. I covered every inch of our relationship before it occurred to me that that strange elusive moment in time when I lost her had escaped me.
There had to be a time when something clicked in Michelle’s mind and convinced her we were no longer working. At least I wanted to believe that there was, because I thought, if I figured out when that moment was, I could retrace my steps and get her back. Just like the ring. For a long time, I thought it was when we had that argument about visiting her hometown, because she got so upset she cried. But maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe she had felt something amiss long before that, and I just never noticed. There were too many possibilities, too many moments, and nothing certain.
I was leaving my apartment one day, and the door automatically slammed behind me with the same theatrical finality that she had given me in her last goodbye. My chest flinched in its vague memory of the chest pain, the heart attack, or more accurately, the most unpleasant of all heart problems, heartbreak.
I’m sure you know what it feels like to lose something you’re emotionally attached to. You feel regret for being neglectful, you despise time and fate and chance and bad luck. You can try and make yourself feel better by getting a replacement, and for some people that works. Some people wallow in their sorrow, and some people never stop searching, but fools like me, we wait. We wait in the vain hope that what’s lost will reappear naturally – that it will come back to you when you least expect it, or hopefully, when you need it the most.