I went back to the apartment. I tried to be light. I tried to become a part of this world again. The concrete was hard beneath my feet. I avoided walking over the cracks.
When I entered the apartment again, Mel was there. The lights were on and the scent of coffee wafted in from the kitchen. Coffee at all hours of the day.
I remembered the first time I saw her. When we met and she and Eve got along so well, from the very beginning. They were kindred spirits of a sort. I was so jealous of her. I was afraid of her. I was certain that she and Eve would run away together. That they would ditch this city and dash off somewhere together. It never happened. Would it have happened if Eve had lived longer? Would Eve have chosen to spend her last days with Mel instead of me? Was it only a matter of happenstance that she spent her last days with me?
I wondered. And I shook the thoughts out of my head because of how ridiculous they were. How could I think of Eve that way? That she was just waiting to pounce on another woman. That she did not love me.
How do we grasp that another person cares for us? How do we learn to trust in someone else’s caring that way? How do we accept that another person is willing to give herself to us, with authenticity?
Did I truly believe it when she told me she loved me? I suppose I did. I had to have believed it to some degree.
Perhaps the bigger question, the one that loomed over my head, terribly, the one that truly made a difference, was of whether I truly loved her.
It had never occurred to me to question myself before. To wonder at my own feelings. To wonder about my own dedication, my own love for her. I was so preoccupied with worrying about her and how she felt, so worried about what she felt for me, that I did not consider myself. I did not consider my own desires, I did not consider my own insides, my own wants. I did not consider my own mind, my own heart.
I thought back to the cafe where I worked when we met. Eve there, bubbling in spirit. I could almost hear the spirit in her. Like the sound of water running downstream over river rocks. I wanted her to want me. Of course, I was surprised when she did. Thinking back to it, I saw her, and wanted her to want me– was that the same as wanting her?
But we had fallen in love. I had fallen in love with her. Of course I had. I traveled across the country to be with her. I had stayed with her through everything. We had built a place together in this city. I was enraptured by the wonder of her. How could I even question whether I loved her? Absurd.
And yet– was it so absurd? When I was always projecting her own wants onto myself, when I was so fixated on what she felt, could it be possible that I had ignored my own feelings for so long? Had I always held back this way, held back all that was inside me? Had I even discovered what was inside me at that point?
The answers to those questions frightened me. The past months of distress, of being trapped in a waking sleep, of being in a realm without consciousness– what were those times, what were those feelings, if they were not the feelings of someone who was devastated at the loss of true love? How could it be anything other than grief? How could it have been because of anything other than real pain? What was my grief over, then, if not her?
She was a light. She was the light. She was my light. I had loved her. I told myself this. I had loved her and that is why I felt such jealousy envelop me when I saw her with Mel.
And now here I was in Mel’s apartment. Mel, whom I was certain could take away my love. That was what I thought then. That was what I imagined I was thinking.
But looking more deeply, I saw something. I saw a truth. That there was something other than jealousy about the one I was with. It was a jealousy tangled up the possibility that of Eve being more desirable to someone I found desirable.
How ugly that is. How insane it is to be that way. How horrible to come to this realization now.
Better that I hadn’t realized this when Eve was alive. Better to not have hurt her. Better that we lived as we did, and we loved as we did. I could not have felt this way if she were still with me. I would not have seen my desire.
Did I want Mel? Had I wanted her all this time?
“You’re back. Where’d you go?”
“Hi. I went for a long walk. Getting to know this place again, I suppose.”
“Ah. Want some coffee? I took the night off.”
“You get to do that now? You never seemed to take a night of in the beginning.”
“Yeah. I hired another manager. Things have been picking up. It got really busy right after you left.” She winked at me with a broad smile on her face. The smile was almost too broad. It was the kind of smile that seemed to beg for reciprocation. The kind of smile that a person gives to someone who might be unwilling to smile otherwise. Of course, I gave in to the smiling.
“Well I tried to stay!” It was happening I felt it happening, and I was frightened. Something became molten inside me. Something was softening. Something was loosening inside my chest. I laughed with Mel. We laughed. Together. We laughed as I had not laughed with anyone in long, long time.
“How are you? Tell me the truth.” Real concern in her eyes. Such a yearning to know about me. There was something there that I hadn’t seen before. That I hadn’t been able to see before.
“I’m alright,” I said honestly. “I’m getting better.” And that was true, too.