April 24 was the day I left my marriage. April 22 was the day I told my husband I would leave him, but I stayed to pack a bag and attend one final counseling session to hash out the nuts and bolts of a separation. That’s what I called it a separation. Not because I thought I might ever come back, but to soften the blow a little, to ease him into it. As an intended kindness, I suppose, though maybe it would have been better to let the wave hit all at once.

April 24 was the last day of the most painful period of my life thus far, and the first day of my scrabble back to myself. It’s the day I remembered what it felt like to be my own person, and nearly the day I started to forget again. Within a few months of leaving, I tried to tangle myself up inside another person, began changing my plans to give them what they need, making the same concessions that had caused me so much grief in my marriage. I decided to give myself a year to be single before I entered into another relationship; a year on my own. And so I marked a year in my calendar. On April 24, 2013, I’d be ready to be with someone again: Game on.

It was arbitrary, sure, and it didn’t exactly work out that way. To be honest, the anniversary might have passed me by as nothing more than a bad patch, if not for the note in my calendar. I might have thought that the bouts of anxiety, mysterious tears, and sadness had to do with the changing seasons, or the travel I’d been doing, or were just a part of me. I might have forgotten about this final milestone, forgotten that I was — am — marking the anniversary of my “before” life going up in flames.

But I’d left myself a reminder, and it’s clear that the symptoms will linger beyond a day. Because it wasn’t just the walking out on April 24; I’d been on fire for a solid month before I admitted that I couldn’t stand any longer and pretend everything was fine. I watched everything turn to ash around me, watched the person I thought I was go white hot around the edges and lose her features.

My body stores memories just as much as my psyche; I feel the tension I carried in my shoulders and across my back. I feel the pressing on my chest, recognize the shallow breathing. I need more sleep, I crave more food, my hands and feet refuse to stay warm. I brace myself to fight at the slightest whisper of confrontation. My muscles remember the motions required to keep my spirit alive.

My body remembers the fire.


Auld Lang Syne

New Year’s Day, I wake up in grey light. Someone has cracked open the curtains. Of the four of us, I am closest to the window; I pull a pillow over my head and press my back into Tommy’s chest. He slides his arm up my side and around my belly. He is tall, and I fit inside his contours with room to spare. His gold cross tangles in my hair, digging into my scalp.

I chose him as soon as we walked into the bar. Partly because he’s tall and easy to pick out of the crowd, yes, but mostly because of that pretty black magic that draws people to each other. He is babyfaced the way I like, and a sweetness floats in the air around him. He was dancing with a group of women when we walked in, but clearly not trolling. We held eye contact as I followed my friend Leigh to the back of the bar; I turned away first. In ten minutes the ball would drop in Times Square, less than a mile away.

Ten, nine, eight. Leigh and I ready our champagne glasses for the toast. She is beautiful and dynamic, and tonight she brought the party girl out to play. Someone has draped an arm around her shoulders, laying a claim. No one has triedĀ  to claim me, and that’s just fine. I want it, and I don’t. I’ve been claimed for the last thirteen new years, first by Jeanette and then by Brad; this year I want to claim myself. The ball drops. Leigh and I share a quick kiss, say we love each other. Her admirer kisses her, dipping her backward, trying to sweep her off her feet. As an afterthought, he leans over and offers me a small, chaste peck. It’s a sweet gesture.

I glance around. Tommy is watching me.

He makes his way over in time to the music, keeping his eyes on me and moving his shoulders, so by the time he reaches me we’re already dancing together. The dance floor is crowded and we are jostled from all sides as we introduce ourselves, but somehow keep from touching each other. I forget his name as soon as he says it. The couple next to us starts making out again and Tommy shrugs and gives me a kiss, for theĀ  New Year, he says; it’s the first contact we make. Leigh comes over, more introductions. Can he buy us a drink?

We are drinking whiskey, neat. Knob Creek for me, Jameson for Leigh. This confuses him. Bourbon and what? Just bourbon. Just pour. He is mixing vodka and Sprite. He does seem a little young to appreciate liquor on its own. My lipstick rubs off on my glass. As I reapply, Tommy leans down, offering pouted lips for me to color in. I get greedy, smooth more color onto my own lips and lean in, telling him I have a special technique. (Greedy AND cheesy, I should say.) He pulls back before I can make contact. The cycle repeats. Clearly he doesn’t want me to kiss him; I shrug and continue dancing, thick with lipstick.

Then Joey shows up.

Tommy had mentioned he was out with his best friend. That’s Joey. Joey is a twenty three year-old Jersey Shore stereotype. Short, heavily muscled, extremely forward. Goodfellas accent. Joey seems to think that he has claimed me for the evening without having asked for my input. He tells me over and over to touch his abs, and insisting that if I just take him home he will fuck me like crazy all night long. This makes up about 85% of our conversation (the other 15% is about his ex, with whom he is not on good terms).

I think Joey doesn’t know much about women.

I tell him that we are not going home together; he sticks around. Fine. Somewhere between Joey spinning me around the dance floor and providing an unsolicited lap dance, Tommy disappears. Despite having my hands full, I notice. As Joey buys me another drink, I ask him about Tommy, why he’d pulled away and disappeared seeming interested. “Tommy?” Joey asks. “Tommy’s gay.”

Ah. It’s no wonder I liked him, then. He is my people. Leigh squeals at the information and runs off to find Tommy and squeal again with him. Before the bartender comes back with our drinks, Tommy shows up again. I lean across Joey’s back and tell Tommy that Joey had mentioned he was gay, that I’d been surprised he’d turned me down earlier but it made sense now.

“I’m not gay.” No anger at his friend’s lie, just a simple statement of fact.

I grab my drink and Tommy’s hand. I don’t look back as I drag him to the other side of the bar. As the night goes on, I do get him to kiss me, and claim me, and this time I like it. Tommy is sweet, gentle. Unlike his friend, he does seem to understand women. He flirts with both Leigh and I, leaving no one out. When she buys me another round of bourbon (neat), he takes it from me with a small plea. “Don’t drink that, please don’t. If you drink that you won’t remember.” I don’t drink it. I want to remember.

Still, as the night winds down I tell him the same thing I told Joey — he’s not coming home with me, either. Not because I don’t want him to, but because I’m sharing a hotel room and I don’t want to do put Leigh in an awkward position. We start considering our options, wondering about the odds of finding an open hotel room this time of night. Not good, we think, but we’ll try. We’ll try.

Leigh finds a boy of her own; things change. We can go back to my hotel, and we do. This story’s already too long, so I’m going to leave off, but whatever you think happens next? Does.