Sleepwalking

Writing fiction has never been easy for me but I enjoy the continual challenges and gradual growth that comes with it. Hope you enjoy this one. Thank you for reading! – R

 

The sleep that comes these days is tormented. Lonely thrashing that only fuels the constant agitation that has consumed me. Ever since Sam moved out all I’m capable of doing is replaying each and every memory I have. As if mourning the dead.

“I’m almost thirty Elle, I have to figure out what my next step is.” His voice was hollow, his brown eyes dull.

He told me to meet him by a Starbucks that evening. It was July fourth, and a beautiful day. On the walk there I ran into my friend Ari and pretending everything was fine made small talk. I knew what was coming.

“Do you not love me anymore?” I pleaded, my voice breaking, already crying.

“It’s not that I don’t love you, I just need time to plan my next step.”

“What does that even mean?” I was pissed at this point. I needed a better reason for him to leave me after four years together. I at least expected him to apologize for some of what he put me through. I couldn’t look at his face.

“Good idea, taking me here in public to tell me this in order to avoid an emotional outburst. You are selfish. I have nothing to say.” I was steeling myself. My lip quivered, my face hot from the effort of trying to control myself. I felt a fast sweat coming on to my body. Pin pricks of scorching rage.

“I just need this okay. I’m sorry Eleanora. Give me time.” His tone never changed.

“Wait! Just wait. Talk to me. I can forgive this. We can work it out okay?” I begged, no longer trying to control myself. I was afraid of the voice that came out of me. Not me. Or maybe it was me now after the last four years.

“I can’t, bye”

He looked terrible. Dark circles under his eyes, a light scattering of acne on his chin. He was handsome in a way that made you nervous. He wasn’t classically attractive; he was cute with a subtle layer of menace and that was endearing. But that day he looked shitty. His mousy brown hair disheveled. I looked great I thought as I sat there alone. I look fantastic. I’m fantastic, who wouldn’t want me?

I sat for a while trying to convince myself that this was not happening and walked home. Back to the small studio we shared. It looked like it had yesterday, as if nothing changed even though everything just had. I had to do something with myself.

I walked to the liquor store where the two young men who work there harmlessly hit on me. I pick up two bottles of wine though I want something stronger. I stop at a CVS and get the sleep aid you can drink. I listen to music and write down my thoughts in an attempt to put together a letter I will send Sam to try to win him back. I hear the fireworks outside. I drink from the bottle feeling like a cliché mopey girl in a romcom circa 2000 and I hate myself. I drink and wait for sleep. Nothing happens. Sam doesn’t show up pounding on my door saying he changed his mind. Which I know is a good thing. I should stop wanting him not only because of what he had done just a few nights before but for who he has become over the years and for this spineless mess I have turned into.

I hear birds chirping. It’s 5am. I feel scraped out. A vessel of me. A month ago he surprised me with a birthday gift scavenger hunt where I thought at the end he would propose but he didn’t. Maybe next year I thought.

“Did you think I was going to propose to you!?” Sam asked later that night with a chuckle.

“No way!” I say back. He got so drunk that night that after going out with friends and falling asleep I woke up to him pissing standing up by my bed. My birthdays were his favorite days to decide to go off the rails.

“What are you doing?” I yelled. He was sleepwalking.

It takes me a month to move out. I secretly wished he’d change his mind and we can go back to living together though I knew it was a terrible thing to want and that in some way this was for the best. I had to move in with my older sister Cecelia who luckily had a vacant second bedroom ever since her preppy roommate Jaime moved out. Bleach blonde and hyper enthusiastic. Each time I saw her Jaime was always dressed either like a forty year old kindergarten teacher, bright colors and boat shoes, or as if she was on spring break in Vegas, glittery dresses and chunky heels. The first time I met Jaime she said to me “Eleanora, you are too cute!” Already far too comfortable and behaving like we were old pals.  Jaime actually wasn’t all that bad. Her worst offense was that she was too eager to be your best friend. It was unsettling.

“It’s kind of a mess right now but I’m so glad you are here!” Says Cecelia.

She is being humble of course. The condo she bought a few years back is immaculate, homey and at least three times more rent than I can afford but luckily she isn’t charging me and is only requesting I pay my half of utilities. Cecelia is shorter than I am by an inch or two and ever so slightly pudgy. The extra weight works for her somehow. She has flawless olive skin and shiny black wavy hair and is incredibly confident and successful. Cecelia is a biotech engineer. I’m not sure exactly what she does but I know that she is the smartest person I know and can afford a lovely condo in South Boston and exotic vacations. Ceci is my only sibling and we have always gotten along.

“Elle, come stay with me. As long as you want. I know you can take care of yourself but you don’t always have to!” She begged me to move in as soon as I told her Sam left.

I turned up at her place a wreck. My lips red, bleeding the wine from the night before. I sobbed loudly in her arms and she said nothing. I had not cried in front of her since we were little when she explained to me how the ozone layer works and I was convinced the sun would cook my entire family to death.

She invited me out and since I needed to do something, anything, I joined her.  A group of six of her colleagues met us at a pub in Davis Square. I knew some of them that had attended college with Cecelia. They were all friendly and easy to talk to. A coworker named Brian bought me drinks all night and was behaving as if he knew I was recently single. Too shy to act on his obvious interest in me he simply kept buying be rounds and asking “You having a good time?” Dominique, who I had met just that night in an attempt to get away from Brian’s dry conversation, was a tall athletic girl with a warm personality and sarcastic humor who had a younger brother in the publishing industry.

“I should get you two connected. I hear you were working for an online magazine or something?” Her voice was tiny and didn’t match her height and I liked that about her.

“That’s so nice of you! I’ll have Ceci send you my info.” I sincerely appreciated the gesture but I was simultaneously embarrassed. I had just left my job after Sam moved out. I could no longer stand editing clickbait type articles for Listique. The industrial office was grey and always freezing and all my coworkers wanted to do after 12 hour days was spend the little money we made at hip cocktail bars. After three years there feeling completely uninspired and as if any creative energy I had left in me had calcified in that grey office, I had to quit.

I sat down with my boss Alan and told him “Although I have enjoyed my time at Listique, I feel ready to pursue other opportunities in publication and writing.”

He was far too sad I thought and reacted as if my leaving was a personal insult. “Eleanora, are you sure? We can give you some time maybe to think it over?” He tilted his head and pouted like a toddler who has been told “no”. Alan was not a terrible boss, but he just wasn’t a good one. He was often unorganized and had personal relationships with half the team and that made him have his favorites. Somehow I had become one of them.

“I appreciate it Alan, I really do. I just have to move on.” Alan straightened up and sighed dramatically.

“Okay, honey do what you gotta do but if you ever miss us let me know.” I got up to hug him on my way out of his office. “I better see you at Liz’s bachelorette party thing. I need someone there who isn’t a total drama queen. Only room for one queen and that’s me!” We both laughed. Despite feeling terrible about the current state of my life, when I walked out of the office building I felt a calm sense of relief.

Dominique saw something behind me just then and grabbed my arm.

“Um, let’s go over here.” She said in a lowered voice. “I saw Brian heading toward you again and I figure you’d rather not have to deal with him for the rest of the night!” She said with a laugh.

I smiled. “You saved me! Phew!”

It was surprising to me how people still liked me even though Sam no longer did.

“Would it be okay if I move in next week?” I asked Cecelia the next day. Almost ashamed. Six years my senior. A large enough gap that keeps us from being competitive and small enough that we can still relate to each other.

“Let me know which day and I can book you a moving truck.” Ceci was at her best when she was working to accomplish something. Her new project was getting my life in order and she was happy to help.

The biggest issue with us was always Sam’s jealousy and instability, which led to the eventual incineration of my confidence. Early on, after many drinks; we were talking about wild experiences that were funny. I told him about the time I did coke and had a threesome with a stranger and one of my friends. I laughed after I said it thinking how crazy, how dumb and awkward. Sam did not think it was funny. But we were not technically dating at the time so we kept on the conversation. I told him about the time I tried ecstasy and he told me about the time he took too much Adderall before a college exam. I was open-minded, playful and confident. I didn’t care what he thought of me and my poor decisions.

Months later when things become serious Sam exposed a part of him that was bigger than the rest of him. We went out to celebrate my 23rd birthday. At the time I was bar tending and temping and incredibly frustrated with myself. I felt like a failure because I had worked so hard through college and even landed a competitive internship in the city’s most prestigious ad agency, but still I had nothing to show for it. I needed that night to forget about the way I had been feeling as of late. A group of friends met us to celebrate at a swanky tequila bar on the waterfront. Everything seemed fine until on the walk home Sam’s mood turned.

“What’s wrong? You okay? I asked

Silence. He looks at me; he reeks of booze and sour rage. He smirks and shakes his head. I don’t understand what I’m seeing in him.

“You like wearing your little dress and heels and partying with your friends?” He laughs. I’m confused, is he being sarcastic?

“I had fun!” I say

“Yea I bet. Sorry I didn’t wrangle another person for a three way or buy some pills for you to pop. I know how much you like that”

I say nothing. This is the first time he is not only rude but angry with me. I was in love and I thought he was great, my family had met him and my friends thought he was perfect for me. I thought he wouldn’t judge me for having experimented with drugs and sex when I was younger. I told him everything and apparently he started to hate me for it.

“What’s your problem.”  I ask. Annoyed that he is ruining a fun night.

“I’m dating a slut, that’s what!” He says and walks fast.  Away from me.

He later shows up at my apartment to apologize. He is crying telling me he’s sorry and “I just get jealous because I love you so much.” his eyes sincere and red.

I hold his head in my lap and let him spend the night. I was confused. Maybe I drank too much and did something to make him angry. I stay up thinking “is he right about the nasty things he said?”

Fights like this become a habit of ours for the next several years until one day he goes out with friends, gets high and tells me the next morning that he had a three-way in order to get back at my former self. He hadn’t stopped obsessing about my adventurous past. Sam could not accept that I was ever anything more than his. I argue with him and for once he says nothing in his defense and suggests we talk by that Starbucks the next evening.

He used to say “I wish I had met you when you were a virgin.”

Things like this should have warned me. The man saw me mostly as a possession. A thing to protect and keep away. At the end Sam would tell me if the outfits I was wearing were too inappropriate for his liking, and I would change in order to avoid a fight. I did a lot of things to avoid fights. I alienated friends he didn’t like. I let my hair grow long because he liked it long. I sent him sexy photos of myself. When I did his laundry I had to fold his shirts a certain way or he would get frustrated with me. I did this all because if we didn’t fight and Sam was in a good mood everything was great.

We would go on lovely trips, and romantic dates. We would have fun together and laugh. We would stay up late talking about things we never told other people before. We would talk about our future together. He would say that he loved me so much that he “lived” me. As in, his life was the love I gave him.

But I often lived in fear and anxiety. My days depended on his moods and whether or not he’d be triggered to go off on me. I no longer felt confident. I needed his approval for my existence. I knew it was wrong and I had to leave but I was so accustomed to this relationship I didn’t want to. I became a feather of a person. I lacked ambition. All I wanted was to make him happy and for him to love me.

So inevitably he had to be the one to leave. And he did several times over. He came and went for a while until I forced myself to move on and start anew.

On the day I packed up the studio I noticed Sam didn’t get back to finish collecting the rest of his stuff even though I had sent him a very mature email regarding the movers. I was proud of myself for not mentioning our relationship at all. I didn’t add, “love you”.

Among boxes I sit on the hardwood floor making myself commit the image to my memory so that I may be smarter and more careful in who I decide to get involved with. As if I caused this relationship. Manifested it by my mediocre existence. Those were lies I told myself that I knew I had to learn to stop retelling.

I sat there exhausted for some time in the stifling August heat hearing the noise of the street and the hum of the empty refrigerator. I lay down and stare up at the wood beamed ceiling wondering how many generations of relationships have come together and broken under it.

 

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