“We didn’t start the fire…” the Billy Joel song faded out as I regained my focus on the door. I knew Simon would be here soon and I was going to hold my ground. We didn’t need to argue anymore. It had been five years, he still blamed me, and he was not getting Sammie.
I was over this, and I wanted it to be finished. He told me he didn’t love me after one year of marriage. Actually, he said he didn’t love me as much as he thought he did. Either way, it wrecked every part of me. He said it was because I changed.
It was true. I did. Once we got married, I stopped showing up at his job for midnight trips to Denny’s for coffee and English muffins. The bookstore he worked out closed at 11 p.m. and after closing we would meet for a midnight snack because that was the only time we could arrange to see each other. College schedules, work schedules, and life would simply keep us apart. After we got married, I simply let my time with Simon be at home. However, we would go days without actually seeing each other, because I had class in the mornings, his classes were in the afternoons, and then we both worked odd hours at night. Plus, I had rehearsals for shows that I was in, so our lives barely intersected after we got married. I convinced myself that the distance would make our marriage stronger and that he would be so proud of me when he saw me onstage. That never happened. He only came to one show and our friends said he sat with his arms crossed the entire time. He told me later that night that I embarrassed him, especially when I walked around the stage in my slip for one scene. Before the next show, the director asked how Simon liked it. She had assured me that not only would he love the show, but he would love me in it. He didn’t. He was angry I invited our friends to see the farce, and he vocally hated on the show. It took me over an hour the next night to put on my makeup because my tears kept ruining my mascara.
I also didn’t get to read his work as much after we got married. We met in a creative writing class, and I loved reading his stories. It was clear Simon was on his way to being the next Kerouac. However, he stopped asking me to read after we got married and I mistakenly didn’t ask to read anything. I thought he would give me a story to read if he felt it was good.
His work was so poignant and relevant. He was able to channel Hemingway’s simplicity, Cumming’s ingenuity, and Hughes’s realism in works that would stay with you. His poems and stories would linger in my mind hours beyond the read. Something in his words haunted my brain and keep it running. I truly missed being the first one who got to see the productions of his mind. He was right. I did change and he left.
I looked down at my phone and saw it was nearing 7 p.m. Simon was coming to pick up another item from my house that was “his.” It started out basic enough. A year after we got divorced, there was a CD he needed. Then there was a poster I had in storage. Then he needed dishes for his apartment. Year after year, he found a way to gain entrance back into my house and take one more piece away. We argued every time he visited. He always said it was my fault we divorced, and I finally conceded every time.
There was a knock at the door and my dog Sammie jumped from the couch to head for the door. Sammie was our dog, technically, but Sammie chose me after Simon chose to leave. On his last day at the apartment, Simon headed for his silver-grey Hyundai loaded with his clothes, guitar, and computer and called back for Sammie. Sammie wouldn’t budge. She stayed at my feet and even when he tried the leash, she wouldn’t move.
Sammie was my best Christmas gift ever. Simon drove me to a Humane Society to adopt my first dog and Sammie chose me. She was a rescue from an abusive home and was cowering in a corner. I was warned that she wouldn’t approach anyone. I felt so sorry for her that I just squatted down by her cage and whispered that I was sorry. Sammie slowly made her way to me and as I put my hand through the fencing, she placed her head into my hand. We took her home very shortly after.
“Hey,” Simon said as I opened the door.
“Hi,” I said in reply.
“Can I come in?” Simon asked awkwardly.
“No,” I said and closed the door so we could stand on the porch.
“What’s wrong?” He asked innocently enough.
“This is what’s wrong,” I replied and motioned between us.
“What do you mean?”
“For five years, you have been making these yearly visits to reclaim something. Then we argue about we are not together, you blame me, and then you leave until the next year or the next text you haphazardly send.”
There was silence as he looked away from me and down at Sammie. He reached for Sammie’s head and after a few pets, she walked around him and came back to lay beside my leg.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Simon finally said.
“What wasn’t my fault?” I asked.
“Our divorce,” Simon said and caught my gaze.
“What?” I said louder than I meant to.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Simon continued, “There was another girl.”
I could feel heat rushing to my face. I knew there had been a girl standing at his book counter the last few times I visited the bookstore, but I didn’t think too much about it. I also knew I had been Simon’s first real relationship and that had worried me.
“She worked at the bookstore,” Simon confirmed.
Again, I could feel my cheeks flush.
“Was it the same girl I threw out of our apartment?”
Right before Simon declared his departure from my life, I came home unexpectedly, because my class got canceled, and this girl was in our apartment petting Sammie while Simon was in the shower. She got flustered, ran into the bathroom, and I followed in a rage. I yelled for her to leave my house and she bowed her head and left. I followed her and Simon appeared in his towel just as I was slamming the door. Sammie was on the couch laying on her stomach watching us both intently. We all spent the rest of that night in silence.
“She was admitted to Jameson Psychiatric Institute about a year after we got divorced,” he said quietly, “She had some real issues that came into play once you were no longer there. She hurt herself a lot, smoked everything, and never had a job long.”
“And I was jealous of you,” Simon added softly.
“What?” I felt like that was all I could say tonight.
“Yeah. You were a writer, dancer, and an actress. You never did anything that failed. Your jobs loved you and you always seemed to be looking forward to the next show or class. I didn’t think I could keep up and I got tired of trying.”
“You stopped writing,” I realized out loud.
“Yeah,” Simon said as he sighed gently.
“You didn’t ask me to read anymore, because you didn’t have anything to read.”
“Yeah,” Simon said and sighed again. He walked past me and sat down on one of the two lawn chairs on the porch of my duplex.
“Why did you blame me then?” I asked as I sat down on the other chair.
There were a few moments of contemplative silence and then Simon answered.
“It was my way of feeling better about getting away. I think I honestly started to believe that it was your fault, but that was a lie. It was my fault. I didn’t need to keep up with you. I needed to support and be happy for you. We had a life together and you made it interesting. I felt sorry for myself and gave into the chance to feel like the exciting one when another girl showed interest.”
“It was my fault too,” I offered, “I never thought it was my fault, but to ignore my part would also be a lie. I should have made more time to support you and not just expect everything to work out without us talking about it. We were young…”
I trailed off. I wasn’t sure where I was going with that thought as true as it finally was.
The stars in the sky were in full glow now and Sammie was sitting between us as I petted her back. Simon was rubbing her head.
“I did love you,” Simon said after a long breath.
“I never stopped,” I said and folded my arms across my chest.
I turned slightly and a few tears ran down my cheek. This was not the way I thought the night would go. I thought I wanted Simon out of my life and that was no longer true.
As if he could sense my thoughts, like he used to, he stood and reached his hand out to me. I took his hand, and he wrapped his arms around me as I rose. I could smell patchouli and the cotton of his shirt felt soft on my face.