It was very late in the night when she texted me: ‘Meet me at Queen Dumpling tomorrow night. Nine.’
It was odd seeing her text that way – proper punctuation, to the point – but then again I hadn’t gotten a text from her in two years. People change and their styles change too. I only wished that she had called. I missed her voice.
I had this voicemail saved on my phone from when we were married. I listened to it on lonely, drunken nights. She’d been drinking and I was out of town, sleeping. The voicemail was mostly thoughtless rambling. She missed me, she said, call her back ASAP, she asked. It was her in her rawest form.
I didn’t know what went wrong, really.
One day she just left. She didn’t take much. In fact most of her stuff still sits in our, my, apartment, taking up space. In the note she left she said she packed a bag but I didn’t notice one missing. Her toothbrush still sat on our bathroom sink. Her shampoo in the corner of the shower, still wet and slimy. She didn’t want me, I could understand that, but why none of her stuff?
I saved the note she wrote. It was short and sad, not something I like to think about much. If anyone ever asks about it I just say it said she was leaving and wasn’t coming back. It’s more or less true.
‘Ok.’ I said in response to her text, after a long time of trying to decide what the right thing to say was. I wondered, why now? I wondered why she wanted to see me. And why did she pick our favorite spot? I hadn’t been there since she left. How could I go there?
I didn’t get any sleep that night. Memories and curiosity made my heart race. I was cold and sweating under the covers; leg in, leg out, leg in, etcetera. I didn’t go to work the next day, either. No one minded. I rarely called in sick. The last time, I think, was that day she left me.
All day I wandered around Brooklyn; stumbled, really. I stared down at the river atop the Brooklyn Promenade. I watched a young boy fly a kite in Sunset Park. He saw me staring and asked if I’d like to fly one too. Out of nowhere he procured another kite which I flew with him for a while. It took to the wind immediately, effortlessly, as if it had been waiting for that moment all its life.
I stopped for coffee in Crown Heights. I wanted something cold. It was chilly out but having walked so far I was sweating through my shirt. The barista smiled and asked me how my day was. I forced a smile and said it had been wonderful. Just wonderful.
I made it home by six in the evening. The sun had started to go down and the air was turning crisp, starting to bite my nose and my cheeks. I had some whiskey while I stared at something I put on the TV. I remember my leg bouncing. I remember refilling my glass more than once.
Before I left I re-read the note she had written when she split. I folded it and put it in my pocket.
I arrived at Queen Dumpling promptly at nine. She wasn’t there yet. I was asked to take a seat at the bar while I waited for my party. Already buzzed from the whiskey and needing to calm my nerves, I decided to continue drinking. I ordered vodka on the rocks with two limes. It was her drink, but I’d always order one with her. I thought it might be nice to meet her with that drink in my hand.
The restaurant was just as I’d remembered it. The lights were very low, dimmed to the point of almost needing to squint to see things properly. Other than the seating at the bar there was only one very long table with a few dozen seats or so. There was no privacy there, something her and I loved about the place. Strangely it felt more intimate that way.
A half an hour passed and I ordered another drink, now past the point of buzzed. My head swam with the liquor, but my leg had stopped bouncing. I didn’t feel nervous anymore, mostly I was just annoyed. She was never on time but I thought she might make an exception since she was the one that had invited me.
There was a man next to me at the bar dressed in a nice cardigan over top of a button up with blue jeans and a pair of brown loafers. He looked to be a little older than myself, though maybe it was just his neatly trimmed beard. He kept looking over at me as if he was scared of me. One of those sideways glances you might give someone walking just behind you on a cold, dark night.
Drunk and bored I decided to confront him.
“Everything okay?” I asked the man.
He winced as if I’d just tried to hit him. I didn’t let it bother me, I only stared at him, waiting for an answer. And then finally he said something, but it was so quiet that I couldn’t make it out.
“What was that?” I said.
“I said she isn’t coming.”
“Who isn’t coming?”
I knew who he was talking about of course, but I couldn’t stand how meek the man was being. And what did he know about who I was coming to see?
Still quietly, the man said, “I texted you from her phone last night. I needed to talk to you.”
I looked him over. I didn’t recognize him. How did he know me? And how did he know her?
“I don’t think I understand.”
“I’m her boyfriend. Well, fiancé I guess.”
For a moment I felt like I might vomit. I suddenly wished that I was sober, clearheaded. Here I was face-to-face with her fiancé. I didn’t even know she had been dating anybody. I stood up to leave but the man grabbed my arm to stop me.
“Please. Please wait.”
His grip was strong. It didn’t fit his nervous voice or the sweat on his forehead. Perhaps his drink was giving him some confidence.
“I’m sorry,” I said, sitting down, “who are you?”
“I’m Eli. Yesterday, I asked her to marry me.”
“And she said yes?”
“And so what do you want with me?”
“It was the way she said it,” Eli whined, “it sounded more like a maybe. One of those soft yesses that you’d give a child asking if they could have ice cream later. It sounded that way, but to me that felt like a no.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. I took a sip of the vodka to try to wash down the lump in my throat.
“She talks about you all the time you know? I’ve known her over a year and I honestly can’t remember one week where you haven’t come up.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I need a favor.” He stopped a moment to finish the drink he had in front of him. I could see his hands shaking as he did so. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “I need you to give us your blessing.” He let out a deep sigh.
“You want my blessing to be married?”
“I don’t even know you.”
“My name is Eli—”
“Yes you said th—”
“I work in accounting. I make five-hundred thousand dollars a year. I own a loft in SoHo—”
“Can you slow down just a—”
“I have a daughter. She’s seven. Her mother died when she was just a baby and I’m the only one she has. She needs a mother. She needs a mother.”
“What will my blessing do for you? What would it change?”
“She won’t marry me without it.”
“But she already said yes, didn’t she?”
“You didn’t hear it!” Eli shouted, becoming hysteric now. I wondered if he was even drunker than I was. Softer now, he said, “if you’d been there you would understand.”
“I couldn’t have been there because I haven’t talked to her in two years. I haven’t seen her, haven’t heard from her. Did you know she sent a lawyer to handle all of the divorce shit? I didn’t even know if she was alive until right this moment.”
“I know. She feels terrible about it. She always wanted to contact you.”
“Why hasn’t she?”
“She’s ashamed. She knows how badly she hurt you and she just can’t bring herself to face you again.”
“So again I ask, what good is my blessing going to do? Will she even believe you if you tell her I gave it to you?”
“No. I don’t think so. I need something that proves it’s really from you.”
“I don’t even know why she left.”
“She never told you?”
“This is all I got from her.” I reached into my pocket and handed Eli the note. He must’ve read it and re-read it a few times over because it took him a long time to finally say anything.
“I see why she can’t face you now. There’s so much more than she said in this.” He handed the note back to me and I took it from him, feeling weak and confused.
“I thought she was going to explain everything tonight. I thought I’d finally know after all this time.”
“She wanted a family,” Eli said. “She felt like she couldn’t have that with you.”
“We never even talked about kids,” I said. I was getting angry, though I knew it wasn’t Eli’s fault. “How was I supposed to know she wanted those things?”
“She said it was little comments you’d make.”
“Things like you’d see a baby crying in a grocery store and say how happy you were that it wasn’t you guys. That you never liked to hold or play with your friend’s kids. That when your brother and his wife had their daughter you couldn’t even bring yourself to visit them in the hospital.”
He was right. I hated the idea of having a family, then. If only I’d just asked her about it maybe she could have convinced me. After all, I have since opened up to the idea.
“She never told me any of this,” I said.
“I think she felt scared that you’d agree to have a family only because she wanted one. That you’d end up despising your children because of it. Maybe her too.”
The bartender came over and asked if I’d like another drink. I nodded a somber yes.
“On me,” Eli said. And I was too upset to tell him no. “She loves my daughter and my daughter loves her. I think we could make a good family. We could even have another child, together.”
“And all you need is my blessing.”
“Only if you feel like it’s something you can give. I understand if you can’t. I know how badly it must have hurt when she left.”
I downed the fresh glass of vodka in one gulp. I forgot to even feel the burn of it on my throat.
“Do you have a pen?” I asked. Eli nodded and handed me one. It was heavy and looked expensive. It had one of those pointy tips you see in lawyers offices and calligraphy sets.
I picked up her note and read it one more time. And then I turned it over and wrote on the blank side. I don’t remember what I wrote. I do remember it was brief, and that Eli cried and thanked me when he read it.
As I walked home that night, my vision blurry from tears and the liquor, I listened to the voicemail on my phone again:
Hi! It’s me. So. I may have been drinking just a little bit. Okay maybe a lotabit. I wish you were here with me, holding my hand, sneaking in a little squeeze of my ass. I miss you. Call me when you get this, immediately, ASAP, call me back. I love you. Did I ever tell you I love you? Oh, right, I married you. I guess that was a dead giveaway.
I stopped at a park nearby and sat on a bench there in the dark. I could see my breath. I listened to the voicemail three or four more times and then, finally, I deleted it.