"I am going to hide in the closet now," I inform Amber. "And possibly cry. I haven't decided."
Retreating to rooms, momentarily pretending to prevent the other's entry, had been our game since yesterday. She would step outside without shoes, I would bolt the door until she tried the knob. She would dart into the bedroom and sit in front of the door to prevent entrance. It was a childish metaphor in action, a physical statement of "never forget, I am capable of shutting you out... but I don't want to."
I don't know why it is the closet I retreat to of all places, except why not the closet? It is dark and confined, a part of our apartment yet not one of its rooms. There is a reason that children assume monsters dwell in closets and the pubescent literati know it is the gateway to magic lands. I write in our closet sometimes, sequestered from distractions of the living room (overfull of screens), the bedroom (with dozens of sets of prying plastic eyes and the dual seduction of the bed), or the bathroom (which has a toilet and is therefore not where one should craft much).
She pushes her way in as I know she will, as I want her to even if I won't say it. This is a last stand of sorts and she will not have her role go to the understudy water heater.
"Why are you going to cry?" she asks, shutting the door behind her. I flop onto the floor and she sits more carefully across from me.
"I don't know. And I do. We both do." Things have been off between us for days. It is nothing that would have been perceptible to an outside observer. We have not fully treated the other person with the full extent of our loving kindness, which is one of the core aspects of our relationship. It has partly to do with a negative feedback loop, her hormones echoing against my stress. Partly, it is growing pains of living together.
We talk as we have not been doing.
"There is such an inner compatibility," I say, meshing my fingers together invisibly for the dark, "that we can operate on automatic most of the time. A little joke here and there instead of addressing one another as we actually are. Then we are so far away and we've missed out on the experience of being together. It gets superficial and that is the last thing we should be. I got so irritable yesterday, I think, because we spent hours trying and failing to beat that level on Left 4 Dead. This unseasonably beautiful day with the woman I love and I felt like we weren't even in the same building."
"You can tell me you don't want to play," she reminds me gently.
"I know that. I do. I am telling you now, too late to rescue the day but still. It's just a symptom anyway," I say. There is a silence broken only by my sniffling. After a minute, I rally my thoughts and continue, "I feel like I forget your depths."
I can't see beyond a faint outline of her face, but I hear her voice thicken and deepen with tears I hazard to kiss away, though I am not positive I deserve the honor. "I do too," she says. "I'm really good at hiding them under a laugh."
"I know that feeling," I reply. "God, do I know it. For the longest time, I was the actor playing the role of me in my life, but nothing was real. I wasn't me, I wasn't letting myself live because I would have had to change so many things in my life to... to live authentically. Emily's leaving helped kick that into gear... You know, I always get left. Part of me is still ready to come home to you packing your bags."
"I always get left too. I won't leave you, not ever. Living with you is such a good thing."
I joke, "You mean not living at home?"
"I mean living with you. Not living with my mom, that too, but this is the step I needed. A step with you."
"It is a step for me, too. It's been so long since I lived with someone... and I get so paranoid that you are going to become annoyed with me because I leave you with so many dishes when I go to work, that you end up doing a lot of the work around the apartment while I am somewhere else. Then I come home and I just want to be with you and let it slip from my mind that I should vacuum. I donít want the inequity in housework to be an issue between us."
I think she shakes her head at me, but it is difficult to be certain. "You work. You are the one who earns us money so we can even have a closet to be talking in. Itís okay, I donít mind cleaning. And I probably donít do it as much as you think I do. This wonít ever be a problem."
On a roll, I discuss my fears, my insecurities. "I think sometimes that... that you will leave if I don't want children. Because I don't right now and I can't promise I will. I think my disinclination to have children was a factor in Emily's leaving me. Far from the top of the list, but it was there. Even getting into this relationship, I knew we had this fundamental disagreement. You want babies."
"We could have hedgehogs," she offers.
"Don't joke," I admonish, but crack a smile. "I don't want you to resent me because I am holding you back from eventual motherhood."
"You aren't. I won't resent you. I love you."
"And I love you," I say, feeling it more keenly than I have in days, "but I need to say these things. For days, you have been repeatedly asking if I am breaking up with you. I know all those times were ostensibly jokes, but I heard what you were saying beneath the words. I'm not. Not ever, if I can help it."
"We can help it."
We turn on the light and it is so bright after so long staring into the darkness that I feel for a moment blind, aching in a literal sense for the comfort of the dark.
Soon in Xenology: NonCon. Howe Caverns.