I fell asleep on his chest, but woke up to his back. Everything had been fine an hour before. But now he was as far away from me as he could get, huddled to the farthest outpost of the bed.
All up and down my body, a hundred shallow wells were pooling with that sick sick feeling. I sat up a little, my heart like a block of wood. He used to wake at my slightest stir and pluck me like strings, his touch overflowing onto every square inch of my skin, severe with tenderness. But now he was stiff and closed. His mind was on his phone. Each time it chimed, another distant siren.
When he left for work just before dawn, his eyes were as dark as the windows. I laid awake, following his truck in my mind’s eye. Ten, twenty, now forty miles outside of town. Beside me on the bed, he’d left not one single trace.
What’s wrong? I texted.
Nothing, the screen replied, and I tried not to shudder.
I remembered that night, driving together down the highway, his right hand curled around my two left fingers. He’d held them fast even as he shifted gears. Physical touch was his currency, but words were mine. I would replay and reorder them, pipette their meaning by the ounce and milliliter and feel them to the tenth power. But texted words were a different animal entirely, robotic and yet shape-shifting; blooming one minute and metastasizing the next.
Maybe that’s why the killzone of his message was so massive. It arrived in my phone like a drone, time-stamped at 9:15 AM, full of killer e’ s and r’s – ready and great and friends and relationship. Each one was a corpse stacked on another in a truck bed, a bag of grain dropped from a UN helicopter that couldn’t turn and bail fast enough.
I’m thinking more and more I’m not ready for a relationship. You’re a great person and I’d love for us to be friends
Inside the hemisphere of my body, the radar lit up super cell red, the kind where the core glows purple, exceeding all known wind measurements. It was the kind where you hunker down and pray because the smooth boards of your home are about to split and explode into jagged projectiles. The kind where you come to in the cheery sunlight moments later, walls gone, bleeding out where the picture frame of your loved one has embedded in your thoracic artery.
Men have a way of just turning off their feelings like a switch, I’d fretted to him a few days before.
I’m different…in all ways, he’d assured. Don’t put me in the same category please.
But that was at 2:58 PM, sunny and partly cloudy. At 9:15 the next morning, the purple eye was directly overhead, the white-hot fear howling like a freight train.There was no negotiating with a screen. Screens had no stake, screens made no judgment calls, screens were immune. Screens were there so people didn’t have to be. They were the weapon of choice for goodbye. Maybe that’s all I ever had anyway: a relationship with a screen.
But he’d lain naked on the bed, my lover in repose, my lover in the flesh. I’d taken a sliver of cocoa butter and rubbed it into his dry palm, down deep to his finger bones until the brown crease of his lifeline became glossy and supple. I’d brought the tips to my lips and kissed them as if there was nothing in the world to fear. I didn’t know I was in the land of frowning emoticons. I didn’t know he could simulate an act of god and issue an apology via SMS. I didn’t know his hand was just the periscope of a machine, scrolling quick past his brother’s demise and onto something more fun.