I can only pretend I donít see it for so long. The name on the envelopeómy nameóis written very neatly, very carefully. It all looks very precise, except for the smudge where some sort of liquid has caused the ink to run. I donít have to wonder very hard about what the liquid was.
The house smells different already. As soon as I opened the front door, I knew I would find the envelope. I assumed it would be on the bedónot the kitchen tableóand deep down, I think if Iíd known it would be on the kitchen table, there wouldnít have been a note in the first place.
The place looks the same as when I left for work this morning, but it also looks different. Empty, even though nothingís missing. Empty, because sheís missing.
I open the refrigerator and pull out a beer. I open the freezer and pull out a glass stein. I sit down at the table and contemplate the envelope. I donít dare touch it. I stand up.
I open the liquor cabinet and pull out a bottle of Scotch. I open the kitchen cabinet and pull out a glass. Then I replace it. I sit down and contemplate the envelope.
I touch it, but I donít dare move it.
The tabletop is round, made of oak, varnished tan, and has never seemed to mock me until today. Sheís adamant about keeping the table clearóno junkmail, no briefcase; nothing but food. The lone exception is the napkin trolley. Iíve never understood why itís called a trolley, and itís never mattered. Itís the same color wood as the table, and the base is just as circular as the table. There are two indentions in the base, for the matching salt and pepper shakers. There are two wooden slats rising parallel out of the trolley, rounded at the top. From the side, they look like the silhouette of a camel hump. Paper napkins have been carefully arranged between them.
The envelope is propped up between the napkin holder and the salt and pepper shakers. I find it odd that this is where she placed the envelope, because I generally wouldnít have discovered it until much later. Maybe she didnít want me to find it right away.
I pour the beer into the stein, slowly, deliberately, taking my time. Every second I spend pouring beer is a second I donít have to open the envelope. I watch the head form, watch the tiny bubbles rush to the top to become part of something bigger, watch the bubbles at the top burst and become nothing. I open the bottle of Scotch. The smell is overpowering, and for a moment, I consider replacing the lid for fear that it will erase her scent. I look at the envelope and throw the lid across the room.
I tip the bottle back against my lips, letting the Scotch fill my mouth. I swallow in a quick gulp, fight off a wretch, and take several swallows of beer from the stein. I look at the envelope. I donít need to open it to know what it says.
My Dear, Sweet Jonathon, thatís how it will start out. Any time she wants to be all serious in her notes and letters, thatís how she starts them. Not Hey, Babe, or Whatís up, Sugarbutt? My Dear, Sweet Jonathon.
And then what? Something about the location, I bet. Something about how I expected to find this letter on the bed, but instead, I found it on the table. Something about how maybe if Iíd known a note like this would be on the kitchen table, there wouldnít be a note like this to begin with.
Sheíll mention the smudge, but not yet. Not until the end. First, sheíll try to prove how well she knows me. Probably something about how I more than likely have a beer in front of me, about how she took special care to wash the stein before putting it in the freezer, because she knows Iíll go for a beer before I open the envelope. Iím unsure if sheíll mention the Scotch. If she does, itís because she knows that the envelope will really wreck meóIím not a drinker, so a beer or two will give me a buzz. A drink of Scotch usually sends me to the land of the unconscious.
Then what? Sheíll explain that sheís sorry. Sheíll explain that she has tried, she really has. Sheíll say that she didnít want to leave, but that she had to leave.
She just feels like I donít understand her, that she loves me more than I love her, that this relationship isnít balanced. Thatís what sheíll say, and I donít need to open the envelope to know it. She has never said anything like this, but deep down, I know that itís how she feels. Deep down, I know her better than she will ever know me.
I know that she always looks for the Advil in the medicine cabinet, unless sheís on her period, and then she looks for it on top of the refrigerator for some reason. I donít understand this, but I know when to move the Advil to the top of the refrigerator.
I know that sometimes she gets so mad that she cries, and sometimes she cries, and then pretends to be mad so that she can say that sheís mad instead of confessing that she just needed to cry. I donít understand this, but I know when to say the wrong thing so that sheíll have an excuse.
I know that when she gets nervous, she craves cheesecake. I know that when sheís feeling beautiful, she eats salad, and when sheís depressed she wants popcorn. I donít understand it, but I know when to buy what at the grocery store.
I know that sometimes she wishes she was someone else, and I know that sometimes she wishes I was someone else. I donít understand this, but I know when to pretend.
I take another drink from the bottle, another drink from the stein, and I look at the envelope. She put it here so that I wouldnít find it until after Iíd had a chance to relax.
I was supposed to come home, call out her name, and then assume that she had gone out to run some errands. I was supposed to change out of my work clothes, I was supposed to hit the treadmill, I was supposed to take a shower. I wasnít supposed to discover the note until I grabbed something to eatóprobably a turkey sandwichóand sat down to eat. When I was reaching for a napkin, thatís when I was supposed to see the envelope. I was supposed to open it, maybe with mustard on my fingers, so that my carelessness erased her emotion, a stain of yellow erasing a smudge of a teardrop on fresh ink.
I lift the envelope with a shaking hand, and Iím a little surprised that the booze hasnít sedated me a little more. I feel a slight sense of dissociation, but not enough to keep my heart from beating hard. Not enough to suppress the feeling of dread that rises in my chest as I open the flap.
My Dear, Sweet Jonathon, thatís what the first line says.
Iím sorry you had to find this note at all, but hopefully youíve had a chance to unwind by now. I purposely left it on the table so that you wouldnít immediately find it. I doubt you ever expected to find a letter like this, but Iím guessing that, if pressed, youíd have assumed that it would have been left on the bed.
As trivial as it sounds, thatís actually part of the problem. Right now, youíre sitting there at the table, you have a beer in front of you, maybe to settle yourself a little before opening the envelope. You probably didnít notice, but the stein is freshly washed. I knew, you see. And that, too, is part of the problem.
I know you, my love. Better than you know me, undoubtedly, and more than likely better than you know yourself. Iím sorry that it has to be this way. I wish it didnít. I wish there was another way.
Our balance is off. Does that make any sense to you? I wonder.
Thereís more, but I donít need to read it right now. I know what it says. I let the paper fall from my fingers, let it float down onto the table top. As it lands, I see the words ďsmudgeĒ and ďteardrop.Ē I see the words ďI love you.Ē
Tears blur my vision and I take a drink of Scotch. The beer is gone, so I have another drink of Scotch as a chaser. There are so many bad things swirling around in my mind and in my heart, itís hard to decide whatís the worst. Is it that I knew her so well and was never able to express it? Is it that I knew her so well and she never knew me well enough to figure it out? Is it the spot of emptiness in my chest, that even now seems to be growing, eroding that part that is warmed by a loverís kiss? Is it how dramatic and pseudo-poetic I get when I hit the sauce?
I was never too good at love, anyhow, I think to myself. The room is spinning. It was a learned thing, to love. She said I didnít know her, that I didnít put forth the effort to learn. Sheíll never know how hard I tried. And sheíll never know hard it will be to unlearn her.