My hand trembled as I turned the key to our apartment. I stepped over the threshold cautiously, my breath caught in my chest. My mother’s feet tapped behind me, and I heard her click the door behind us. The sound only intensified the sensation of being zipped in a time capsule, deprived of oxygen.
My coffee mug was still sitting on the island that separated the kitchen from our living room. It was white, with playful gold lettering that spelled “grateful”. That mug once brought me a sense of peace, but seeing it now only brought knots to my stomach. It was still filled to the brim with murky brown liquid. I’d barely taken a sip from it when I got the phone call. It would be cold now. That was several weeks ago.
After I got the call, I crumpled onto the cold tile floor and bawled until my mother came to save me. She came bursting into the room on a mission. She wrapped me in her arms and rocked me like I was a child. She smoothed her hands over my hair and told me that things would be alright. She was lying, of course. But that’s what you say when someone is hurting.
We didn’t pack any of my things. She said we would “make do”. And we did, for several weeks. I slept in the spare room of my parent’s house, and they bought me a new wardrobe from the clearance rack to last until I could return.
I couldn’t bear to be in the place that was once my home. Until of course, I had no choice. I couldn’t afford this apartment on my own, and since I no longer had anyone to share it with, it was time to go through our things and remove them so the next inhabitant could take over.
Would they have any idea of the things that happened within the walls of their new home? The love that was shared? The memories made? The loss? Of course, they wouldn’t. They would carry in boxes and unpack them to fill the spaces and gaps that were once my life.
I passed the expired coffee and proceeded to the bedroom. My mother lingered in the living area, tidying up what she could without having to ask questions, trying her best to stay out of my way.
On his nightstand was a piece of cardstock. It was folded in a tent, free from the creases or fingerprints that might indicate it had been viewed by anyone other than the one who’d left it there. I took it in my hands and felt the mattress sink below me as I started to read my own handwriting.
I am terribly sorry for everything I said last night. They say you shouldn’t go to bed angry at the ones you love. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn last night and followed that tried-and-true advice. I barely slept. I’m writing this letter because I woke again when I heard you leaving, and I can’t bear to sleep knowing that we aren’t alright.
I woke up riddled with guilt. I should never have said I hated you. I didn’t mean it. You’re my entire earth. Anger is no excuse for telling such a lie, but I was blinded by anger, and I was stubborn. I don’t hate you. I love and adore you. I think you’re the most perfect man there is. I think that loving you so much is what had me so frustrated.
I do want to marry you. However, my own insecurities made me think that I needed to marry you. I should have never threatened you with an ultimatum. Everything came tumbling down after that. I am perfectly happy with our life together. I love our tiny apartment, ordering takeout when we’re too lazy to cook (I love how you never have to ask me what I want, because our routine is set in stone), I love that when we’re not feeling so lazy, we’ve traveled such beautiful places together. I want to keep doing those things with you, and I don’t need a silly ring to feel comfortable. I’ve realized that I just want you. I know some things we can’t take back, and I’m not excusing my behavior in the heat of the moment. I only hope that we can move past this and continue how we were. No pressure, just love.
I love you always,
The once pristine sheet was now blotted with tear stains. They blotched the ink, spreading it like webs. My mind trailed to the morning when I’d left it there.
Bishop crept from the apartment in the early hours of the morning. There was a warm glow outside our window to indicate the sun was itching to rise. My eyelids were heavy from a night of tossing and turning, but I laid there restlessly considering the ceiling, considering how he hadn’t kissed me on the forehead this morning, like he had every morning for the last 7 years. That’s when I rolled from our bed and pulled a pad from the desk.
The words poured effortlessly from me after dancing in my head for hours with nowhere to go. The ink flowed like it was meant to be there. I was proud of the note I left on his side of the bed. The tension in my chest had subsided once I’d finished the task, and I was able to drift into a brief sleep.
I’d decided a handwritten apology was more genuine than a text message, so I didn’t bother reaching out to him that way. I would let him find the note once he got home, and then we would make amends. I popped a pod of coffee into the brewer while I thought of other ways that I could make it up to him. A nice dinner followed by my best set of lingerie came to mind. I perched on a stool at the island that separated our apartment and took a sip of my coffee when my phone started vibrating. It was a number I didn’t recognize, but I didn’t have much else to be bothered by at that moment, so I answered.
A man on the other line asked if I was Jocelyn Tran. I’d said yes, polite but hesitant. He’d introduced himself as a law enforcement officer. I can’t remember the name. All I remember was how my heart sank, down, down, past my stomach, past my toes. How the hand that clutched my mug went to my chest to search for it. The man hadn’t even said it, but I knew before the words escaped his lips. My body reacted, and my heart shattered, before he told me that Bishop had fallen.
Bishop was the hardest working man I’d ever known. He worked for a company called Master Labor, scaling the tallest scaffolds in the city. He left me every morning before the sun rose, not to return until that evening. He’d barely missed a day of work since I’d known him. Even when he’d been pale with the flu, he hacked and sneezed his way out the door. When he’d needed surgery on his hand, he refused to miss the recommended healing time, cutting it in half and ignoring my pleas. When we’d said the unthinkable and laid awake through the night, he got up to his alarms and left once more, without kissing me goodbye. It would be the last time he would show this kind of dedication to his career. He would fall to his death, his skull meeting the pavement. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
My mother hung in the doorway of what was once our bedroom. She didn’t ask if I was okay because she knew the answer. I crumpled the letter in one fist. When I’d finished writing the words and folded it neatly atop his nightstand, I felt hope. Feeling the jagged edges of the paper in my fist, I know now that it was only a precursor for what was worse to come.