What do you do, when he just doesn’t fit?
Boyfriend Moves In
“You’re always nesting,” Boyfriend told me.
He’d just moved his stuff in, and I suspected he was getting ready to propose. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that. What did it mean, to be a couple? What would “us” look like? But he said that’s what he wanted.
“I like your place better,” he’d said, “let’s do this.”
I had fought so hard, so long, to get to “me.” I didn’t have a clue about “us.” And yet I’d just spent half the day getting things ready for him, tidying my apartment, making room for his books and camera equipment.
I looked up, acting surprised. “Why do you say that?”
“It’s the way you arrange things. Look at that.”
He points to the long console table behind our secondhand sofa. I’d sanded it down lovingly, and tried staining it, but the stain wouldn’t take. It appeared someone had glued bits of it together. So I sanded it down again and painted it a very dark blue. I added a coat of high-gloss sealer to really make it shine. That morning I’d covered some shoeboxes with quilting and started packing his slides into them, to keep the dust off. He actually had slides and an antique 1970s projector from his grandpa, classic. I liked that about him.
The quilted paisley fabric was gold and teal. It looked nice against the dark blue table and the golden brown plush sofa. I was pleased with the effect, but I didn’t realize he’d noticed.
“Too much?” I asked, keeping it casual.
“It looks like a picture from one of those magazines you’re always bringing home.”
One of the bonuses in working for a team of architects, I was able to snag the latest, most inspiring (and appallingly expensive) design magazines for free. I was just a receptionist there, but they had seen my sketches and Mr. Hennings actually bought one of the watercolors I sold on the boardwalk last summer. I kept the heavy design magazines in a tan World War II era suitcase under the glass coffee table. They weren’t in anybody’s way. You could just see the polished brass locks peeking out from under the serving tray on the table. It wasn’t the same, looking at pictures online. I needed to be able to pull them out and get inspired by beautifully photographed glossy visions.
Does He Fit, Or Doesn’t He?
Boyfriend waves his hand around the apartment. He has a strange expression on his face.
“Don’t you like it?” I wonder, hoping I don’t sound too defensive. “I mean, nesting is just something people do, when they move into a new place.”
“But you’ve been here for years,” he counters.
“Well, it’s our place now. Your things need a home too.”
Boyfriend doesn’t say anything, just walks over to the window and looks out.
My heart stops beating for just a second or two. I realize I’ve stopped breathing. Did he really matter all that much? Had I softened, let him in when I wasn’t looking?
Maybe it wasn’t too late to back out. ‘My mom’s sick, I just found out I have rabies or cancer, the firm is closing down and moving to Mumbai.’ Any excuse will do, as long as it gets me out that door within the next two minutes.
Suddenly, it matters. If this is casual, I’m gone.
He turns back to me, smiling, “I’ve never had anyone do that for me before. It feels different.”
I don’t say anything, just shrug casually and finish packing the slides.
‘Breathe,’ I tell myself sternly.
He’d brought his stuff over in paper sacks and a few dusty old canvas bags. I’d cleared off one of the two tall bookcases and filled it with his equipment, so everything was close to the big table he used for a desk.
I had a triple row of plain wood cubes separating the dinette from the living room, about 50 inches high. Eighteen of these fifteen-inch cubes. I’d never decided how to finish them, so they were just clear-stained, the color of refined honey. After giving away half of my yarn, there was plenty of room for his boxes of ComicCon regalia.
I knew if things were too fussy it would turn him off. I’d given away my frilly bed ruffle and replaced it with a tailored one. He probably hadn’t even noticed. The pink conch shell collection had gone to an antique shop on consignment. Pink wasn’t my thing anymore. It wasn’t that I wanted the apartment to look uber-masculine, just comfortable, like a guy lived there too, not just me.
I wanted to know what Us would look like. I wanted to believe Me would still be here.
The Summer of My Contentment
It was great, that whole summer. I’d pinch myself, thinking how lucky I was to be with him, as I ran up the stairs from the subway to the street. I couldn’t wait to get back to our cozy apartment. Our place.
I’d throw something in the slow cooker — Boyfriend raved about my amazing curry dishes to his friends. He’d invite a bunch of them over for dinner. They’d bring wine or tequila and we’d sit around for hours, just laughing, so much fun. He often worked late into the night. That was okay. I always had a project going, and it was nice to invite my girlfriends over and have time for them. I’d leave something hot and delicious on the stove for him, whenever he got in. Some nights, he didn’t get back at all. I’d get a text, sometimes, “pulling an all-nighter, deadline on post production moved up.” Sometimes he was just too busy even to text. I’d see him the next evening, looking exhausted.
He’d hold up one hand, pushing me away.
“Gotta shower first, sweetie. I smell like hell.”
I understood. His career was really taking off. I kept the fridge full of tasty snacks, tidied up the apartment and started a new quilt to keep myself busy on those long summer evenings.
We’d have more time together when he finished editing this film. It was a big break for him.
Then, one afternoon in late September, I came home and something was different. Why did the apartment suddenly look spacious? I’d finished the quilt, deep, mysterious golds and purples in a swirling pinwheel design, draped over the golden brown sofa. But the place looked empty somehow. Then I saw it: half the wooden cubes were empty. His boxes were gone. I took a step and realized his enormous desk/table wasn’t there. Of course he’d take that. It was his.
I rushed into the bedroom, opened the closet door. My dresses and pretty blouses hung on one side, swaying in the slight breeze I’d created by opening the door so quickly. The other half of the closet was empty.
There was a note on the bed, scrawled on a yellow legal pad.
“Time to go. Love ya.”
That was it.
Outside, I was startled to hear a low, rumbling sound. Then I realized it was the super, dragging the trash barrels out to the curb. Just in time, as the garbage truck came down the street. I heard the distinctive squeal of their heavy brakes right outside our place.
Our place. Just mine, now. I started crying, crumpled onto the bed, staring at the half-empty closet. I cried for hours and fell asleep.
In the morning, I compartmentalized: “Time to take a shower.”
I wouldn’t let myself think about anything else. Boyfriend was gone, let him go, right? The hot water felt good. I washed my hair, put on a hair masque, wrapped it up in a towel, put on my favorite fluffy robe. He thought it looked stupid, but it was so soft and comfy, like a warm hug on a cold September morning.
Un-nesting In September
I reached way back in the kitchen cupboard and found my pink and white teapot. I was happy I hadn’t given it away. A few minutes later, it gave out that distinctive whistle, low and clear. I’d missed that, all summer.
What now? I resolutely push away thoughts of emptiness and despair. Who am I, without him?
I sip my tea, and snuggle into the sofa. Amazing how relaxed I feel, now that he’s gone. I guess “us” wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe I should be more picky about the next guy. Someday. No need to worry about that right now. I look around the apartment and realize it’s too somber and masculine. Reaching for my big suitcase, I pull out some magazines. I’ll start a new quilt, or maybe some pillows. Fluffy ones, soft and feminine. Something for me.