Our story began on a sunny New York afternoon; two hopeful business graduates in a city of lights, lustre and love. July 2007, the peak of the American summer; a young, inexperienced couple confident of the days to come. At the time, it was what we considered ourselves: unchangeable, unstoppable, unbreakable. Our dreams were bright; our lives almost infinite.
Then, the crash. Fortunes collapsing overnight in an unprecedented global crisis, dooming families and homes to fates no one could ever have imagined. Stock prices plummeted to an all-time low and along with them, so did everything else. We had spoken our wedding vows in my father’s old Alabama townhouse, and soon, that became all that my family had to its name. Your eccentric aunt and uncle had presented both of us with lavish, expensive gifts; two years after that, there was barely a trace of wealth in their lifestyle. Such was the effect it had on everyone: as the income decreased, so the burdens increased.
Even walking to work after sunrise was not the same. The rays of the sun would hit the pavement just as it had before, but the people there to see it do so would be different. Those living under subway roofs and off charity soup kitchens; those not having the time to reach the comfort home could provide them. Gone were the pervading smiles and gone were the clean sideways we used to see them on. September 2008 had flown away with the breeze of time and paved the way for the tears that fell from the cheeks of bedraggled countrymen lining the street corners each day.
September 2008 had also taken with it the tomorrow we had been so certain we deserved. Our hours became longer and longer still, to a point that even thinking about home and family would be an unwelcome distraction. We worked in the same financial district, and yet, the only time we would glance at each other would be at night or just before dawn when we would set off for another day. Our entire existence started and finished in front of declining graphs and disinclined documents. It was the only life we lived.
Eventually, it became clearer that even our Ivy League certificates would not shield us from being asked to leave. We worked twice as hard once that realisation hit home, and saw each other half as less as before. You had been my companion through six years of university and my husband for two years after, but in the frenzy I found myself in, I realised that a lot of that had faded into nothingness. Very little mattered to me anymore. Very little ever would after that, other than my future and my job.
The weeks bled together and the weeks bled on. Soon enough, even the minimal time we still spent together became sharp enough to dent the bond we had created all those years ago. I became so engrossed in saving my career that I forgot entirely to save our relationship.
It was a mistake that bit me in my back not much later. June 2009; recovery period. It was a series of brunches and dinners where people reaffirmed their own status and flaunted the amount of money their bank account showed even after the hurricane. I held both of us together, the thousand pieces our marriage was breaking into attached firmly to each other. I smiled as was expected of me; I complimented and commended as was expected of me. I stayed true to our image of the perfect couple.
In the end, though, that was all it was: an image. And I never tried to make it a living one.
“Why?” You asked, when we met at the courthouse to finalise our divorce. In the form, we had cited ‘irreconcilable differences’, and I repeated the same to you, but I knew you deserved more than that for our nine full years of kinship. So I thought and thought and thought, until the painful answer made itself evident.
The guilt that had settled unknowingly at the bottom of my heart sprung up so suddenly that it overwhelmed me. I had been in a phase of denial for far too long, but before that – before leaving you – I had been in a state of upheaval; weighing truths against lies and odds against each other. I would look at you and then at my own reflection, asking myself daily what I valued more. I was keeping you afloat while the water closed in on me, threatening to drown me. As much as it pains me to say, the choice was not a difficult one; even if it is one I wish I had made under different circumstances.
Dear former husband, I confess. I was a selfish, unconcerned woman, not caring for anyone other than myself.
I held both of us together in the memory of what we had once been and for the sake of what we could have been, but soon enough the smoke and the mirrors disappeared. I was keeping us intact at the cost of myself, which was something that could never sit well with me. There was nothing I cared about, even then, more than myself. As long as I could have my peace of mind, I would be fine. And ever since, then, I have been… but without you.
Our story ended on a stormy New York evening; two ambitious business executives in a city that had only given us sorrow. August 2009, the lightning crowning the sky above Manhattan; a couple that had possibly seen more of the surroundings than they wanted to. At that time, it was what we truly were: changed, stopped, broken. Our dreams together had faded into the ever-imposing backdrop of the city, and our lives had altered forever.