1. Walk Away
There are three-hundred-sixty-five days in a year. That’s enough time to fall in love, make a mistake, correct it twice, and open your eyes to every impossible possibility. But out of three hundred sixty-five days, eight thousand seven hundred sixty hours, five hundred twenty- five thousand minutes, or an unbelievable accumulation of milliseconds; will there be only one day that you’ll look upon the person who will change those numbers meaning infinitely and immediately. She gave me the highest of hopes, the most exaggerated expectations, and the most profound love; a person has ever endured. But because of her, instead of living happily in the give or take six hundred thirteen thousand hours we get; she gave me that expectation, the greedy need of infinity.
When I first saw her, I never thought anything would come of us. She was straight laced and catty, and I was the typical pompous ass that always seemed to strike a nerve in someone. Holding the velveteen grey box in my hand, I turned it over several times. Something about all of it just hadn’t felt real. I flipped the top open with my thumb, immediately captured by the essence of the inner contents beauty. The sizable crystal gleamed heavenly in the light, coruscating red sparkles from its rubellite prism.
It seemed the more I examined it, the more I felt myself growing impatient in its presence. In the beginning, I had mistook that moment as eagerness. The woman who I would eventually call my wife was in fact not the woman who made the meaning of my calendar year meaningful, but spiteful. I didn’t know it now, but soon enough my life was going to be in shambles and the journey to piece it back together was going to be a long and tortuous one.
Snapping the lid closed, I wedged it deep into my pocket as I pressed a few buttons, starting up the coffee pot for my morning kick start. The kitchen area was small, the way a hotel room kitchen ought to be. It had the basic necessities to brew a cup of coffee and microwave something small. Hotels had never really felt like a home away from home to me; even if most of my everyday life consisted of hotel living.
Staring transfixed at the drizzling coffee, I couldn’t find it in me to get motivated; only wanting to sit around and wait for a miracle to have pushed me along. Rounding the edge of the counter, I sat at the small two person table inhaling the aroma of vanilla and coffee beans, a smell that moved my workaholic insides with a pang of caffeine withdrawal.
Glancing through pages of the morning newspaper, I had restlessly busied my fingers as I had fought the urge to look once more as the box subconsciously weighed heavily against my thigh. Running my hand deep into my pocket, I ran my fingers over the grey material as in that moment it had dawned on me that, that last night had been our last night as an unattached couple; these had been our last moments as frivolous young adults. In less than four hours from then, I’d have been marrying Janine Tucker.
Having turned this thought over in my head a million times before, I was no longer able to contain the jittery feelings that it brought on. But even having felt so content in that moment, I didn’t understand why this wasn’t all the more reason to have been motivated? Wasn’t getting married every reason to be montumentally hyped? Perhaps it was that, for the longest while, I thought they were made up; fairy tales–all make believe.
No one met their soul mate in high school. It’s too much of a strain on the younger generation and way too cliché to matter. But seeing her that day my freshmen year; the moment she looked at me and smiled, I knew there had to be someone there to break that rule and keep that overused cliché alive. The coffee pot began to steam, the sound and rich smell had brought me back to reality.
Pouring the hot energy into a mug I took a few daring deep sips, eventually sitting the mug aside ready to take on the ebullient day, deciding that I had wasted enough time on thought. Digging the ring from my pocket, I had slid the box across the counter, leaving it by the door, needing to ensure it was the last thing I saw before I left for today; ensuring one of the more important pieces was all but forgotten.
Ambling the length of the dim elongated hall I walked into the bright iridescent bathroom, pulling the white vinyl bag from the bathroom closet. The wire hanger dug achingly into my hand. Draping it over the counter, I took a step back before beginning. Breathing slowly, it had been hard to imagine that this had been the real thing–not just a rehearsal or a fancy dinner; this was suppose to be the final step for us into the rest of our lives.
Unzipping the bag carefully, inside was my tux that was flat and freshly perm pressed, making it professional and dapper for the occasion. Stripping out of my night clothes hastily, I slowly dressed in the elegant black suit. Smoothing the wrinkles absently, something about wearing black opposed to the pureness of white seemed odd for this classic occasion.
Wasn’t black considered a color of mourning? Why would it be so natural for the groom to wear black? What was I supposed to be mourning exactly? Maybe the passing of my single life, the ending of the old me perhaps. But I would like to think it was something I was happy to be rid of, happy it was something I got to put behind me.
Zipping myself up, I tucked in the tails of my dress shirt neatly; pulling the vest over my shoulders. Peach. An odd color choice–although, I guess it was meant to represent one of the many pale palettes that come with July. Although, I had never been one to be much into colorfulness; I’m more of a black and grey kinda guy. But its rarity amongst colors made it one to think about–or maybe that’s my problem...I think too much.
Turning to the mirror, I smiled halfheartedly to myself; my mind racing over complete nonsense. In that moment, I had wanted to tell myself to run, something in the back of my mind nagged me to make a break for it, but deep down; I had just thought it was cold feet. Glancing continuously at my watch, time itself seemed to be moving slow with every glance; although I knew that it was a matter of continuous looking, that time itself actually couldn’t move any faster. I only had two hours to finish up and face the bustle through the California traffic.
Shoving my feet into the glossy Broxton shoes, I had quickly went over the mental checklist in my mind to ensure I hadn’t been forgetting anything. Exhaling heavily, this was where the real fun had began; when time became a race and the edge of it all kicks in and crazes one’s mind.
Grabbing my rental keys I lastly remembered to shut off the coffee maker in the process of running out the door. Down the hall and into the elevator, it had taken three floors and the distance of the massive lobby to get outside and to the edge of the parking lot. Unlocking the car from a distance, I had practically jumped through the window to get in.
The church was about forty five minutes away and in those last few moments, it seemed as if the minute hand had been spinning uncontrollably, unable to be compared to the slowness of what I had felt earlier. Beginning to have slightly panicked, I felt as if I had been running out of time. Was I going to be my own disaster?
Shaving off fifteen minutes of my drive time with excessive speeding, I incautiously pulled into the parking lot, quickly greeted by the valet host, who hastily coaxed me from the Lexus and onto the church stairs. Pacing up the stone steps, I had a sudden epiphany that I hadn’t been much involved in the planning of this wedding, sort of mystified by the stone church; it’s red doors and summer-like decor that rained down upon it quiant and sweet.
Two of my groomsmen standing by the stairs, ushered me up and inside, following closely behind me; I couldn’t possibly be that late–quarter till three. Eh, I was cutting it a little close. Bounding through the double doors, I paced down the hall, the men behind me grabbed the shoulder of my jacket, pulling me into the extra side room to my right. Stumbling uneasily, all the faces had circled me immediately smiling deeply with enthusiasm that was obviously fueled by a few bottles of pre-wedding beers.
“Today’s the day, bro! How’s it feel to already have a ball and chain?” Laughing nervously, they all booed playfully at the cliché joke; although they thought they were being funny, I was already beginning to doubt myself and every existing reason to be here. What if she was doubting herself to?
“I’m excited–I think.” I smiled anxiously. “I mean, I actually can not believe this is happening, ya know. I mean Janine...she is–”
“Wow.” I looked up as David, my younger brother, finished the sentence for me whilst donning a goofy smile and a sarcastic thumbs up. Nodding my head in peculiar agreement, I glanced at my watch in new routine. At this point, I needed to be out there waiting for her and yet, I was still standing here contemplating running. Had we really thought this through? Were we sure this is what we wanted?
Working quickly to convince myself that it was all in my head, I took a deep breath as David began to work handily on pinning my boutonnière to my lapel. The lamb’s ear leaves and tiny pale pink peonie, all worked tastefully with the hint of peach I wore. “There we go; you got your pretty little flower and her ring in your pocket; I think it’s safe to say you’re good and ready to go.”
“Oh my God.” I could feel my face pale under the intense thought. “The ring–”
“What about it?”
“I left the damn thing by the door. It’s back at the hotel.” Suddenly feeling overwhelmed by the huge mistake; although it did seem like a very minor problem, I knew her all too well. If I showed up with no ring–if everything’s not perfect, not exactly right...she was going to die. “What do I do? I don’t have time to go back.” I ran my hand anxiously threw my hair, the overwhelming feeling of trepidation drenching me.
The group of them stumbled around, a few looking around in desperation for answers, nobody having a clue what to do. David left the room briefly as all began pacing the floor, trying to think of a quick fix solution; feeling my anxiety flare within me, it had felt amplified by the surrounding panic.
“Good news, the girls aren’t even back yet. You have a little time to go on, so hurry. If you run out of time, I’ll try stalling for ya.” Nodding impatiently, I patted David swiftly on the shoulder as I ran out the doors and back into the heavy California air. Grabbing the keys from the attendant’s station I slid into the car, starting it up and quickly throwing it in gear, speeding away before anyone had time to object.
Heading back across town, it seemed to take longer the second time around than it did the first time. Having stopped at over three traffic lights, I had been positive that she’d be back before me and I’d have officially been screwed. No amount of apologies or excuses would’ve fix that.
Turning daringly and hastily into the hotel parking lot, everyone must have thought I had gone mad; rushing from the car without the time to properly shut the door or even really take the key out of the ignition, I figured it’d cut some time on getting back.
Running up three flights of stairs and down a hallway and a half, I could feel my phone vibrating uncontrollably in my pocket; choosing to ignore it for now, I just continued to run.
Sliding my card in the door, I stormed into the hotel room immediately scanning the counter tops for the ring that I had so carelessly left behind. Looking around the kitchen, the box seemed to have vanished as the last place I remember it being was not the place it was. Rummaging through drawers and my satchel, I couldn’t find it for the life of me.
Deciding that it was a possibility that I had carried it with me into the bedroom in a moment of blind nerves, I paced quickly down the hall, scanning the room feverishly. Stopping in the doorway, I sighed heavily upon seeing the tiny box in the ripples of last nights blankets; but that is not what had stopped me.
There resting sweetly beside it was a second delicate box and a folded piece of fancy ivory paper. Stepping forward hesitantly, I plucked the cream colored note from the bed as it appeared to be a wedding invitation–to my own wedding. Turning it over gently in my hand, I opened it up to reveal beautiful script handwriting–the same handwriting that had written me so many love notes in our youth, the same handwriting that was to have elegantly etched her vows with equal eloquent passion. Dropping down onto the bed, I mustered the courage to read it silently to myself:
′Alexander, I love you. I really do. But I’m leaving this to tell you–we’re doing the wrong thing. I have come to realize I am not the right person for you; I possibly never was. You are so successful and good at what you do, and I realize that I am just another obstacle in the way. I’m sorry. I warned you of this after we sent out the invitations; but try and understand, try and be happy. I am giving you what you wanted, and I’m getting what I wanted. Richard makes me happy, and although it’s hard...just be happy for me. I’m so very sorry.You deserved better–Janine ♥′
Reading it over once more in my head, I had been unsure if what I was reading was really there. I had felt overwhelmed with dread, my eyes dry with disbelief. Was she serious? Was this a sick joke on her part? But I knew, sure enough, she had to been serious; it wasn’t like Janine to be humorous, not in a dry kind of way. Looking beside me, I grabbed the second grey container as I pressed hardly with my thumb snapping the top open.
Tucked gently inside, the gold band was sleek and beautiful, thin and elegant, yet equally masculine. Garnet stones wrapped the textured gold band in tasteful intervals, matching the edgy look of her identical ring, one that was just a bit more feminine.
Laying back onto the bed heavily, it had made everything seem easier staring at the ceiling; at least I wouldn’t have had to stand with the world beating down on my shoulders or the room swirling sickeningly around me. The noises around me seemed to have intensified as everything around me was loud; I could hear the blood rushing in my ears, the way my breath came out staggered, the footsteps came rushing down the hall–my brother walked quickly into the room.
“What are you doing?” He yanked at my shoulder, “She’s waiting–” I shoved away from him blindly. I didn’t want to be touched or moved or drug back to that god forsaken place. I just wanted everything to be silent and still, was that too much to ask?
“She left...” My voice was intended to come out deep and angry; maybe even fierce. But I hadn’t been able to pull off anything more than defeated. What had she done? Why? She didn’t say anything last night about this all being a mistake, she never made me feel that there was any reason to second guess this arrangement; and I couldn’t deny that I, too, had began second guessing us. She was–had been the love of my life; what was I supposed to do now? I couldn’t fathom the thoughts of what was to come in dealing with this, having to forget about her eventually or even subsequently moving on. Was any of that even possible? Would it ever be?
“What do you mean she left? I saw her.” He scoffed, looking at me unbelieving. Handing him the delicate invitation, I looked away quickly as he flipped it over in his hands. Sitting down beside me, he quietly read it to himself,“For Richard? Nova? The ex?”
“That’s the one.” Covering my face with my sweaty hands, everything she had once said rushed back into my mind painfully. She had warned me to not invite him, to not help rekindle a burnt out flame. But to my own surprise, I had still allowed it. I had pitied him. The love of his life had walked out on him for me so many years ago, and I don’t know...maybe I was expecting this to help him. To give him closure, but instead I gave him much more. This was all me. This was my fault. I pushed my bride-to-be into the arms of an old flame. And now I’m alone; now I was going to pay for it.
“I’m sorry, man.” Shrugging sullenly, I stood removing the tie from around my neck mechanically, tossing it onto the dresser. Slowly sinking to the floor, I hadn’t been able to bare to stand any longer. I was a twenty four year old grown man and all this cluelessness and frustration only pinned me down even more. I should’ve been stronger, more durable, but instead I had been what she made me–weak.
It amazes me how the same woman who had given me so much happiness, so much inspiration, was also the same woman who was able to break me as well; and as living proof, here I am, completely shattered under her hand.
My flight back to New York had ended around ten thirty the next night, the noisy city and crowded streets a bittersweet welcoming. Grabbing my bags from the pool of luggage I unhooked the handle and began to roll my way toward the automatic doors sullenly. It had still felt as if all time had frozen, nothing seemed to have move forward from that very moment. Every day, I’d wake up and it’d still be three fifteen, Saturday. Every night, I’d wake up and it’d would still feel the same. The wound always fresh, always open. It didn’t feel like with any amount of sleep, that it was healing, not even slightly. Maybe it was because I was just ignoring it, sleeping it away was just the same as turning a blind eye to all of it.
Stalking toward the exit I admired my surroundings, this was airport the same I’d been in so many times before; mostly on business trips. The brightly lit airport was spacious, it’s architecture very modern and crowded. The glass front made it all the more fascinating with its contemporary view inside and out. I was a man of many interests; business, architecture, fine wines, and literature; it’s all I lived for.
Stepping outside into the chilly air, it was thick and opaque with a light fog, the heavy compression pushed upon my chest. The smog of New York, how could I’ve forgetten it? Nobody, but a New Yorker would get it.
It had felt nice to be back in the big city, although the appeal of the buildings and sidewalks all held too many memories that weren’t worth anything now. Walking down the strip, it was hard to find an empty space on the curb to flag down the passing cabs; something else typical for New York.
The skies frosty pinks and purples were gone, having clashed into the starry black. Giving up on catching a taxi the old fashioned way, I leaned over and whistled for the next free taxi to come my way. One pulled in front of me in a matter of seconds as I leaned down, pulling on the slick handle. In New York, someone would practically kill you for an empty taxi, so I better take my chances.
“Thank you so much,” I spoke through the plexi-glass as he smiled, getting out of the car. Shutting my door, he grabbed my luggage from beside the trunk loading it in as I was buckling up. Removing my leather gloves, I placed them in a hide-a-way pocket on the inside of my lapel. New York summer was nice, but when the end of the blissfully warm season was coming to its end, it seemed almost immediate that the bitter autumn was there and it was harsh; only here to help prepare for the devastation that was a northern winter to follow.
The cabby climbed in behind the wheel, blowing in his hands for an extra bit of warmth. Peering up at me through the mirror, he waited silently for a destination,“520 Park Avenue, 34th Street.” Blinking at me for a moment, he waited for more concise instructions,“Fifteen Central Park West.” Nodding again, he pulled from the curb into the almost nonexistent night traffic.
Heading down the street, we had driven into the heart of the city in no time, yet after hitting red light after red light, I began to think I’d never get home. I had wondered if I paid extra if he’d start breaking the rules? Pulling my Blackberry out of my lapel, I scrolled through my calendar for any upcoming meetings or conferences.
The row of red boxes reminded me that I was still scheduled a week off from now, having thought I’d be spending that time in the beautiful wake of the Caribbean in Puerto Rico. Now that the time wasn’t useful to me, I had decided to clear my calendar of all vacation days. Planning to head back into work straightaway. The sooner I jumped back into life, the better I thought I’d be.
“So what do you do?” He asked, his eyes barely glimpsing at me through the rear-view mirror. Nodding slightly to myself, for me, that was the most common question in a cab.
“I’m in business. I work with higher power in one of the accounting buildings.” I smiled, the wide stretch on my face having only been a facade.
“Gotta be something special.” He nodded. “I hear Fifteen CPW is pretty pricey. I hear a room there is a couple thousand.” I shrugged nonchalantly. Try a few too many thousands.
Eventually the lights began to turn in our favor and we were pulling up to the curb of Fifteen in a matter of minutes. I had wasted no time getting out of the car, my apartment never having sounded so good to me than right that moment. Removing my bags for me, safely placing them on the sidewalk; he shut the trunk hardly, turning to shake my hand. Slipping him a fifty and an extra ten for all the labor, he smiled generously. Tipping his flat cap in appreciation as he climbed back into the taxi.
Taking a deep breath, I turned wearily to face the apartments, feeling eager to be inside tucked into that warm bed that I’d been missing for a week. Gathering my things from the sidewalk, I had felt that with each lonely step that something deep down had felt off as if there was some type of new retrospect that demanded to be felt.
Trudging my way into the lobby of the grand apartments; the extravagant room was spacious, everything was made up of modern glass and sandstone. The building itself was exquisite in taste and the class of its beauty was almost stunning.
Taking the elevator, I had desperately needed a reason to lose my thoughts along the way. Up twenty two floors, the doors opened up to a long hallway consisting of only two doors. Although they had been just steps away, it felt like an old aged horror movie, the hall extending making everything as far away from my reach. I was determined to make it in, even if I had to ditch all the luggage on the way. Strolling up to the mahogany door, I dropped my bags by my side as I fiddled with the over stuffed key ring in my pocket. I had too many keys for just one person.
Finding the worn gold key in the bulk of my pocket, I placed it into the slivered metal latch; wiggling it a bit, the door opened with that divine click. Immediately the fresh scent of vanilla and Febreze washed over me, the warm scent welcoming. Sighing heavily, my shoulders had felt a tad bit lax in that moment. I was finally home.
Pushing the door open widely I lugged in my bag, leaving it beside the entrance for now. Kicking my shoes off in the living room, I trudged my way to the bedroom, undressing rather quickly. After dressing up in a suit for a large portion of my life, it was sometimes nice to dress down for a while.
Sauntering into the attached bath, I found my night clothes in the mirrored glass drawer; my walk-in closet next to the shower. When does so much space become too much space? Pulling them on slowly I had began to feel extremely jet lagged, suddenly feeling more than completely drained. The silken fabrics clung to my body lightly, another soft comfort I had been craving. For what felt like the first time in forever, I had finally felt somewhat at ease.
Exiting the bedroom, I meandered about the apartment; having been away from home for far too long. I always felt an odd strangeness to being back as if it wasn’t the same in some way. But at this point, I guess because it wasn’t; listening to my internal thoughts, I now cringed at the fact that I now had this moment where I could think. Better now, than later. Sitting down in the small polka dotted blue armchair, I tried to have used this time to let my thoughts finally consume me.
Was this real? Why? Where had it all gone wrong? Hadn’t she been happy–was she ever? Pinching the bridge of my nose, too many thoughts were now coursing through my mind. I didn’t think I could handle this, this had been the biggest affliction to have ever overcame my life; at least the biggest one that I had no choice but to handle. No. I couldn’t do it. Standing, I had been determined to leave the thoughts behind me; but nothing could ever be easy, could it? Thinking on the situation, I had never been overcame with such emotion–was I supposed to be relieved? Sad? Angry?
I didn’t understand how to feel like everything that could be felt anymore was painful. Looking around me, I was now sitting in a home that we had purchased together, furnished together, and had once lived happily in–together. It had been burned into my mind, I mean, my fiancé just left me in front of three hundred people and I didn’t even know what to do about it or what could I do?
Needing to desperately leave the thoughts somewhere else besides my head, I walked to the window for new scenery; outside was the dying summer streets, the sidewalks lined with strategically placed brown and green leaved trees as they began their transition to the gorgeous reds and yellows. The colors of fall were perplexing and soothing, the sudden change in color lovely.
What was I supposed to do with my life? I felt like a failure, unable to keep the only person who ever made me happy, happy in return. How was I supposed to keep any one happy anymore? Another woman? Friends? What about myself? Had I been doing it wrong? Not needing another beat down, I gripped the edge of the table top fighting back the effeminate tears that flooded me.
Closing my eyes briefly, I pulled the ring box from my pocket; something I had been toting around with me as a reminder of it all. Walking slowly I tried to tenderly keepsake this moment; maybe I should’ve done that before. I should’ve cherished every moment as if it’d be the last, because the end comes sooner than anyone could expect. But the devastating part of it had been that I never expected us to have an end.
Removing the ring and all its beauty, I could remember how much time it had taken to pick this one out–two and a half hours at just that store alone; finally having given into its glamorous temptations, I had spent quite a pretty penny on it. Dropping the ring into the toilet, I guess I would say, I was feeling a bit melodramatic–I was going to throw this away, just as she had thrown us away.
Flushing twelve thousand to its final grave, I watched every painstaking moment of it. This was all starting to become too much and way too stressful to deal with all at once. Finding it in every way possible, I walked back into my room climbing into the pillow top bed, too done to deal with anything else.
Inhaling deeply with forced relaxation, I felt all my motions became rheumatic as I immediately stood, fiercely ripping the blanket from the mattress. Grabbing my pillow I shuffled quickly from the room, laying on the couch; settling in, I made me a new bed.
I wanted to forget it; the idea that the old one smelled like her, I smelled like her, it all smelled like her. She had been in every picture, on every wall, in every object that possessed my home. Maybe it was all in my head; something that would take time to heal.
But I knew one thing; tomorrow morning it was going to be just me and the work of days ahead; everything was going to be disinfected, everything was going to be aired out, and all new furnishing were to be applied. I needed a new start; a fresh start.