I’m many things. Flexible, pragmatic, and forgiving are a few of them. Those attributes are woven into who I am, and always have been. I know this is true because I’m unable to turn them off, and I bring them with me when I love. For me, this means that I tend to look for the good–reach for it, even. When that fails, I stretch for it. After that, I behave the same way that many overextended things do: I snap.
I think I would’ve fared better if the rest of the world wasn’t mimicking the dynamic of my relationship at the time. Unfortunately, it was. Outside, people were forcing themselves to the other side of a collectively traumatizing experience by pretending that things could go back to normal quickly simply because they wanted it that way. Slowly, the news started its predictable shift away from the ongoing protests in the streets. Businesses and restaurants reopened in some states despite reports that cases in most regions hadn’t quite tapered off. All around me, I watched fire turn to smoke and was curious to find that many had forgotten that smoke inhalation that kills too. Anyway, that was the world outside my window, and the one depicted as a series of newsworthy nuggets on my smartphone screen.
Inside my home, the turmoil felt eerily similar. We’d weathered something disruptive, and I felt strongly that we’d come out the other side of it largely unscathed. But, the knowing changed things. Everything that had been exposed remained exposed no matter how we tried to recapture our rhythm. Small infractions that were easily ignored before were now triggers because they were reminders of what he had done. And though we operated well for awhile, I felt the same way about our brief recovery as I did watching people throw parties on my street in the midst of a pandemic.
They all looked happy enough, just as my ex and I did for a bit. But considering all that transpired, they also seemed way too comfortable. Watching them, I knew a second wave was coming. Only, the difference between the world outside my home and inside of it is that I can’t control the circumstances beyond my doorstep. If a second wave hit the outside world, I’d be powerless against being capsized along with everyone else. But I could exert control over the second wave of bullshit brewing right under my nose–right in my fucking face.
So that’s precisely what I did.
There was no grand plan to it. One day, after weeks of uneasiness, my gut chimed in and took over. I felt it with the same intensity as before. Only, lightning can’t strike twice with me, so I was calm about it. My gut screamed ‘checked his location’ so I did. I called. He lied. Then, it was over. And to this day, I’m not really certain of what he did. That part isn’t necessarily important.
Really, I feel that the decision I made was actually a selfless one. He has so much more living to do, so how can I love a person so inexperienced that they haven’t even become who they’re meant to be? The answer is that I can’t.
I burned some things and said some harsh words. Then, my muse flew free and I watched him go with the same energy anyone would have as they watched a terrible yet inevitable thing happen. In short? I was indignant, then nonplussed.
Afterward, I cleaned and saged my house, slept well, and got back to work. Once again, I was left alone with the blinking cursor on the white screen.
My first morning alone, I just stare at it. A silent metronome, I watch it keep time against its white backdrop each moment that I pause for a break. On days when the words don’t come at all, I let that blinking cursor compel me to at least edit each paragraph up to the last point where I left off.
Wired on coffee
And little sleep.
That was my ditty. And I’m sure it’s one that many writers know well.
The days with my son are easier. He moves carelessly through the house with his phone attached to him like an organic appendage. He tactfully avoids asking me questions he already knows the answers to–questions about why there’s one less pair of shoes near the door. One less plate at the table. We watch YouTube on t.v. instead. Mr. Beast, and all his regular favorites. Dark, silly shows like Solar Opposites, too. I glance at his reflection as he passes the 6-foot leaner mirror in the living room. He’s officially taller then me. Feels strange to see a person I once carried on my back so that they could hear my heartbeat and fall asleep as I cooked and cleaned, grow taller than me. Many times, I look at his shoes near the door and remember the cumbersome task of keeping up with all his tiny socks when he was small.
I tell him this and he smirks. It’s his father’s smirk.
When he leaves, I become hyper-aware of the sounds my home makes. The gentle wooshing of the air conditioner. Cars on the street outside. The occaisional rattle from the icemaker.
I sleep and write in shifts, and find I have little need for much else. I read emails faithfully. One speaking engagement changes from in-person to virtual. One rejection letter from an agent. Rinse, repeat. I spray rice water on my hair and twist small sections of it into dense black ropes. It’s the longest its been in years. Rinse repeat. I pray salat. I stream to a growing audience on a platform that has a pretty decent payout if you hit your engagement goal. My first deposit is small, so I push forward with a better lighting setup and more grit. I design a Pinterest-worthy aesthetic wall and discover that I have an untapped source of content: an extensive knowledge of popular anime to talk about with my viewers.
I check my stats. The next deposit is large enough to pay for a Caribbean getaway. Guess I’ve found my niche. Strangely enough, live streaming funnels energy away from me obsessing about my failed union. An added bonus.
I reach out to a few men I was once pretty fond of and explain to them, in very few words, that there’s no harm in me communicating with them again. They bite. One comes and cooks me dinner. Pepper steak with halal meat he bought from the butcher. He’s tall. Masculine. Beautiful. I briefly consider a tee shirt that reflects my newfound bravery. Something with topical humor, like “Sangle and Ready to Entangle.” (That tee doesn’t exist…yet.)
But I decide that for all the beauty in the world, it still isn’t worth it. So I end up rejecting tall guy’s advances. After his communication tapers off, I do the same thing to the others. One is particilarly perturbed by this and tells me just that. But I won’t allow anyone to touch me. I decide that I need to fast for a bit longer. Dick is abundant. It can wait.
After my feeble attempt to return to the world of romance, I decide that the better idea is to return to my laptop. The blinking cursor is–of course–still the same uppity bitch I remember. But I mash the keys defiantly. I move the fucking plot forward.
There, I scoff at each finished page. No one’s more of an uppity bitch than me.
A few pages in, I realize that the cursor is indifferent as always. She’s survived college, break-ups, and my ongoing obsession with pole fitness. So it’s fine. At this point, I’m used to her. If anything, she’s the most cruel yet reliable friend I’ve got.
Twenty pounds fall away. Relationship weight, I suppose. Each time I venture to the market, I’m confronted with the dent my ex left in my car door. I trade it in for a black truck. More space for me and the tall teen. Between the weight loss and the new ride, I feel mildly good. I slide the straps of the dresses I ordered in February (ones I presumed would be for a cruise) over my shrinking shoulders. I see my collarbones and smile. My teeth look perfect. Money well spent.
Smiles come easier in the next few weeks. I have coffee with my mother. I go to the beach (as early as I possibly can, and in a mask). An old friend reenters my life. I tell him what I told the others about the solitude I plan to keep on enjoying. He says he doesn’t care because he’s “social distancing, anyway” and within two weeks he sends nearly a thousand toward my basic needs. I pay a few bills and buy a ten-pack of ISBN barcodes. Then, I send money to the artist working on my book covers. I order succulents for my bathroom window, and other household items. Pay my landscaper in advance. Order monkfruit sugar in bulk. Funny how the last one is the only thing that made me feel spoiled. (Lakanto MFS is a pricey daily habit, but I think Stevia tastes like concentrated evil itself and I refuse to partake.)
Through it all. I water my plants. I tend to them by repotting and monitoring them daily. I’m anxious when they droop. I mope when my lily sheds its last petal like a tear.
My dad contracts COVID and lives. His symptoms for the illness? Mild. His cancer symptoms? Still not so much. He’s in the hospital again as I type this. A friend of my mom’s–one who was as close as an aunt to me–dies. I make du’a for them both. I make du’a for my ex too, who is a new Muslim. Then, I make du’a for myself.
I buy sticky traps for the gnats fussing around my yuca, then spray the leaves with Neem. Finally, it sprouts new life. The leaves spring up seemingly overnight, fledgling and bright. I am in awe.
Even more so as I recall that, the first month after my ex bought it for me, I housed it in a corner of my living room.
I kept it there because it looked so good as an accent in that room. I kept it there even though I sensed that it wasn’t getting quite enough light. Then, when it began to die, I watered it and followed other advice I found online to nurture it back to health. Stubbornly, it continued to wilt in that dim room until I began to understand: wilting was the only language it knew. It was telling me that it wanted, nay; needed to move. And just when it was at the brink of death, I obliged.
First, I place it in a spot near my kitchen window so that I can watch it from the table as I write. But in a few days, it droops again. Its leaves turn yellowish brown at the tips. After that, I grudgingly move it to another corner where it’s closer to the sun. It’s bathed in golden light now, like an earth-tethered perihelion…as close to the sun as it can ever be. And that’s the full back story of its new bloom.
As for me, my mornings now feel…good. I come down to the pole room. I try to build some semblance of upper body stength. I pray fajr. I carry my coffee to the kitchen table and crack my knuckles. I open several Google Docs tabs and the corresponding cards on Scrivener. Then, I write.
Sometimes, I turn around in my chair and examine my yuca. It still looks content. The sun is its capable babysitter now, so I don’t let it distract me for long. Honestly, I think I look at it so much to remind myself of how selfish it was to keep it in the dark. Some plants just need more sun. Just like, some muses are simply meant to fly free.
Shit happens, and I focus on what I can control.
And for me? That’s the blinking cursor on this screen. I’ll focus on controlling that for as long as I’m able…because I’m ready for my time in the goddamn sun too.
As I said before, I tend to look for the good. Reach for it, even. When that fails, I stretch for it. After that, I behave the same that many overextended things do: I snap. Wither. Fall apart.
Then, I wait for the warmth to return. I wait for the moment when I’m closest to the sun. Part creeping vinca/myrtle/periwinkle, part perihelion.
Then, I bloom.