I was sure when we met that he was the one. He stirred something in me I’d not felt, well, since I met the last one. Still, I was convinced this time was different. I thought about him constantly, I told everyone about him, I cleared my calendar so that I could spend as much time with him as possible.
I plunged in headfirst, as I often do. But there were warning signs, even from the beginning. Like, he had the best voice—he spoke like someone from another time, another place—but there was something a little affected about it. And not just his voice, but everything about him. I began to suspect he wasn’t very honest. And yet I ignored those fears. What he said always sounded good; who cares if maybe sometimes it didn’t technically make any sense?
And his place was so cool—full of mysterious trinkets that reminded me of my youth. But every time I suggested we go out and do something, he said, “Let’s stay in and talk some more. I want to hear everything about you. Everything!” My friends asked me where this was going but every time I brought up the subject, he was all, “Babe, who cares about all that? Let’s just live in the moment.”
At a certain point, I realized he’d never introduced me to any friends or family members. For months, it was just me and him hanging out, talking in pretty words about ugly things. His place started to feel cluttered; his words, exhausting. What once seemed cool was really just a big mess.
I started to fantasize about others.
And then I started cheating on him.
And then I left him altogether.
I put him into a box marked “unfinished” and put the box into the corner of my office with all the other novels that never panned out. I put them inside pretty boxes, I told them we could still be friends, I told myself that they’d be there for me when I needed them. There are seven boxes in all, boxes I assembled myself when I decided to rescue all my old loves from a dusty plastic bin, and inside the boxes are many others, just like him, along with all kinds of one-night stands and crushes, luridly recounted in gel ink in my beloved Muji notebooks. Sometimes I open the boxes and run my fingers over the pages, read those words I once loved, and tell myself friendship is enough.
But, let’s be honest, the friendships are strained. Every time I start something new, they sit there, accusingly. “You’ll never finish. You’ll never finish anything.” And it’s not just them; it’s me. I’ve been a terrible tease, abandoning new novels to try and rekindle things that didn’t work the first time. But it never seems to work. I’ve changed, they’ve changed, or so it seems. What’s certain is that we don’t speak the same language anymore. And so I put them back into the box and return to some new affair I began in a fever a week before. But the new guy just shakes his pages at me. “You never even gave me a chance.” And so into the box he goes.
Last night, I began dismantling the shelf where the boxes sit and I moved the boxes into the kitchen. On Saturday, I’ll take them to my storage space. It’s not that far away, but it’s far enough. We need closure, a true break. There’s a saying to put novels that need work “into a drawer.” But a drawer isn’t enough. A box isn’t enough.
You need to ask them for your keys back.
Before I lock that wonderfully heavy and cool lock and leave the big orange box where we keep all our unnecessary things, I’ll thank them for all they taught me. “I’m better because of you,” I’ll say. “You don’t realize it, but there are pieces of you in everything I’ll ever write.”
If they’re feeling nasty, they might ask me what’s so great about the new guy. “What does he have that we don’t?”
“Plot,” I’ll say. “I didn’t know what plot was until I met him!” I’ll lower my voice and say. “I didn’t feel I even deserved it. And now that I know what plot feels like, what it promises, I just can’t go back to all those super cool apartments where nothing happens.”
“Your first novel didn’t have a plot,” they’ll say, “and you published her.”
“Shhhh,” I’ll hiss. “Someone will hear you. And for what it’s worth, you can get away with that with first novels. You could in 2009, anyway. But I’m getting too old for that now. I’m sick of all your voices.” I’ll cough for effect.
If they’re feeling charitable, they might tell me that’s it’s okay. That they know I’m doing what’s best for all of us. They’ll tell me to quit being so dramatic. They’ll be fine.
“It’s really not that big a deal,” they’ll say. “You’re always trying to tell the same damn story. This time, do it right.”
I’ll shut the door behind me but not before I hear one more voice.
“Besides, what makes you think you were the only one we were seeing?”