When you realize you’re ready to leave him, don’t. Make yourself a cup of coffee instead. Add a little milk and put it in your favorite mug, the one your best friend got you that makes you feel like you’re never really alone, even when you’re lonely. Sit on the couch opposite the bookshelves while you sip it. Stare at the books and ask yourself if you’re ready to pack all of them up again; the fiction, the poetry, the stack of theory you acquired in grad school and can still barely make sense of. Realize you’re not. Dump the rest of the coffee in the sink. Go for a run instead.

When he gets home and you look at him and realize you still can’t speak, head back to the couch. Stare at the books. Turn on your computer. Load up Netflix and start a new show. Keep watching at midnight, even after he comes to the door of the living room and tells you he’s going to bed; keep watching at 2am when you’re so tired you’re not following a single story line anymore; keep watching at 6am, when you hear him getting up for work.

Fall asleep on the couch when he’s gone and the house is quiet. Wake up. Sip your coffee while you consider the books again. Go to work. Sit on the couch. Finish the show. Start a new one.

A week or so later, when you think you remember how to talk again, or at least that you miss it, start with something small. Ask him how his day was. Tell him about the show you’re watching. Keep it simple. Keep it impersonal. Notice the relief in his eyes. You won’t feel anything, but save that look somewhere in the back of your mind. You’re going to need it later. Stay on the couch that night. Watch Netflix. Sleep when he’s gone. Go to work.

When the next show is over and you’re into repeats of something you’ve already seen and you’ve said, “how was your day,” and “what would you like for dinner,” and “could you please grab pepper when you’re at the store,” ask something else. Ask him to go to a movie. Sit in the dark theater and don’t say a word. Consider the way his arm feels next to yours and the way he’s still so handsome and kind and always holds the door. Remember the way he asked for the candy that you like without prompting. Go home. Get into bed beside him. Don’t say a word.

Stop considering the books. Keep running. Keep climbing into bed. Add a sentence. Add a touch that breaks your heart open again. Cry. Say something nice. Make a dinner you know he likes. Go out with friends. Remember how much you love his laugh. Start telling him about your day instead of just asking about his. Tell him the truth. Remember the relief you saw in his eyes. Remember it again.

The next time you want to leave, don’t. Consider the bookshelf. Go for a run instead.

Writer, Editor, Researcher, in roughly that order. www.ivehadworseideas.com

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