You’re still there, right where I left you, wrapped up in the yellow wax paper blanket that keeps you warm against the ice-cold breath of the refrigerator. Even now, I still worry about you. In those sudden frantic moments that I cannot immediately locate you, I tear apart my refrigerator, pushing aside the tubs of low-fat yogurt and bottles of diet Snapple, until I find you, my one and only cheeseburger, tucked away in some icy, back corner, breathing in whatever years, days, seconds you have left of your precious, predetermined shelf life.
In fact, today is your birthday. I hesitate to do the math, but I must. You are nine in human years, eighty in burger years. You were supposed to rot over by now, surrender to the bacterial clutches of time. Yet the deathly amount of preservatives running through your system has, like Botox, imbued you with the illusion of youth. You will last forever for all I know. Maybe you will even outlive me. No matter how many times my wife lectures me to make you disappear, I cannot bring myself to say goodbye.
For one, I have no idea how I would get rid of you. A cheeseburger like you belongs somewhere better than in the hollows of my stomach; and the uneaten half that remains of your juicy carnage belongs somewhere much more special than trapped between my molars. You deserve to travel first class—not through the claustrophobic tubes of my intestinal track. Besides, we have gotten to a point where I can no longer eat you, because, once I do, we will both cease to exist.
My wife makes the ludicrous recommendation to simply throw you away. Recommendation is a euphemism; it is closer to a demand. Lately she’s become more adamant about getting rid of you. It’s either me or her, she says in her sharp, jealous voice. I appreciate her consideration in, at the very least, giving you the dignity of a third person singular pronoun. It proves that, at the very least, she knows how special you are to me—perhaps even more special than she is to me.
But I decide it’s time to let you go—I just do not yet know how. To my wife, you are nothing but an unwanted house guest. And the only thing worse than being a fifty-one-year-old man with a nine-year-old cheeseburger in his fridge is being a divorced fifty-one-year-old man with a nine-year-old cheeseburger in his fridge.
I run through my options and decide that there’s only one respectful way to get rid of you.
I must return you to where you came from.
There are many signs that someone is in love with you.
They speak about your future.
They bring you around important people in their life.
But perhaps the most telltale sign is when, midway through devouring a hot, juicy cheeseburger, they have an epiphany. With juice running down their face, and their stomach still growling, something strange happens. Love overcomes their insaitable hunger and they decide to save you a piece. They would not do this for anyone else on this planet, and that is a fact. They wrap up what remains of their half-eaten meal and bring it to you as a greasy token of their affection.
Perhaps that is why I’m so touched when my wife gifts me a brown paper bag full of half-eaten food, gently plopping it on my lap as I lie on the couch watching reruns of Twin Peaks. It does not matter that her mouth has already touched it. Our mouths have already touched many times before.
I save the half-eaten cheeseburger in the fridge for later. Perhaps for later that night or later that week. But soon, later that week has turned into later that month and later that month has turned into later that year. Grief has made it difficult for me to eat. I subsist on mainly ginger ale and microwavable soups until I work my way up to more solid foods and eventually a second wife. Still, I cannot bring myself to eat it. The ragged bite marks that generously stop exaclty halfway through the burger make me believe that their owner is still somewhere alive and breathing. I do not know how I could possibly dispose of it either. There is no thrift shop that accepts food or any sacred, golden garbage can for sentimental objects you can neither keep nor trash.
I resort to leaving it in my fridge. Over time, it becomes you and I do everything in my power to protect you from getting smashed by second wife’s stupid health foods that think they’re oh-so-much better than you. Goody-two-shoes Gala apples obnoxiously wearing their I’m organic! stickers. Jugs of dark green vegetable sludge lined up like stone-faced, disciplined soldiers. You begin to feel inferior and hide your rotting, sodium-fraught body in far-off corners, away from the spotlight of the refrigerator bulb. All I can do is assure you that you are still, and will always be, my one and only.
The fast-food joint is crowded. I should not have come in on a Friday, but second wife has left me no other option.
However, the cashier currently working looks trustworthy enough, and I determine he is someone I can leave you with.
As I wait in line, I look down at you through the clear Ziploc coffin I’ve placed you in. The persistent deep fryer alarms go off around us. The fryers spit hot grease onto the skin of underpaid cooks. I open the bag and lift your sesame seed bun, just to see you one last time. Even as I betray you, you still smile back at me with your mouth made of Heinz. Your half-eaten eyes made of pickles look sadder than usual, but I tell myself it is just the underdeveloped mold colony clouding your vision.
When I get to the front, the cashier calls me champ and asks what he can get for me. Being called something as grand and comically unfitting as champ makes me feel small and stupid, even more so than I already did. Perhaps that is how you feel at this moment as well.
As I struggle for my words, I try to explain to him that I would like to return a purchase. That I do not have a receipt nor a reason for my return. That I simply need to leave my half-eaten cheeseburger somewhere safe, like a baby I can no longer properly care for.
He mechanically apologizes for my dissatisfaction, and I telepathically assure you that I am returning you for no such reason. Do not listen to this guy, I tell you. He does not know what he is talking about. You are not a substandard product or fall short of my expectations, as he puts it.
As an impatient line grows behind me, my palms begin to sweat. I am no champ. Just a middle-aged man with a half-eaten cheeseburger in his shaking hands. In desperation, I go to great lengths to explain my situation to him without having to explain my situation at all. I lie and tell him that, halfway through eating this cheeseburger, an oracle was delivered to me. It was delivered via the image of a calf eating grass on TV. I've since converted to veganism and, for that reason, I must return you.
But he refuses to confiscate you from me and politely declines my return on the basis that you are a biohazard. He offers me a refund and a free non-meat item of my choice from the menu instead, but that is not what I want.
I end up on a bench outside, defeated, with your cold, almost-lifeless body in my hands. I take you home and put you back in my fridge.
However, the next time I check on you, I do not have to frantically search for you. The V8 bottles are gone and so are the pre-portioned meal prep tubs of lean beef and carrots that probably fill second wife’s workplace with the obnoxious stench of preparedness.
Standing alone now in my underwear, I peel back your crinkly packaging to make sure you are okay. The green digits on my microwave say 2:06 in the morning. The refrigerator hums against the stillness, and the refrigerator bulb is the only thing illuminating my dark, empty kitchen.
We have both been left to rot alone, but at least you're still there, right where I left you.