The Separation Series

by Janelle Cordero

I’m lining up the hair on the back of your neck with a razor—we’re in the garage with the door open because of the lighting, bright but not harsh. I touch you for the first time in weeks, putting my left hand on the crown of your head and pushing forward, using my right hand to cut the straight edge, shave down the fine hairs. You’re shirtless in blue jeans, your body so familiar to me: your thick shoulders, the whorl of each ear, the cheekbones that jut out farther now that you’re smoking again, barely eating. My eyes blur with tears, but I finish the job without crying. You look in the mirror afterwards. Thanks, you say, and pull your t-shirt back over your head. You leave soon after—I wave as you back your red Toyota pickup out of the driveway. And we go on like this, loving each other from a distance and never knowing, really, when the last moment of tenderness will come, will go. 

Everything just is, Buddhists say. My neighbor, the construction worker, leaves his house for the jobsite at 6 AM. And here I am, watching his taillights disappear into the cold blue morning, the sun not yet up, my own mind still muddy from sleep. Everything just is, I think as I walk the dog down the block towards the park with all the pine trees, the wooden gazebo at the center. I exist, and someday I won’t. Hold me, I say to no one. Make me forget.

We’re supposed to be on a date. Early October, late afternoon with the sun setting behind the restaurants along the river, everyone else on the sidewalk hand-in-hand, it seems, and happy. But you’re sitting on the tailgate of your truck saying you better get going before the pharmacy closes to pick up your Adderall, and I know it’s my fault for bringing up money, so my eyes water. I bite my lip to keep the tears from falling and ask if you want dinner, but you’re not hungry. What about this short skirt I’m wearing, or the black lace thong underneath? What about my shaved legs, my winged eyeliner, the perfume on my wrists and neck? What about my need to be touched, to be handled like some cherished thing? I can’t say any of this out loud. So instead I walk across the street towards my car, and by the time I look back, you’ve pulled away, you’re gone.

I need to teach you how to program the sprinkler system, you say. We’re outside sweeping pine needles from the curb—late September, cold enough for a sweatshirt but too warm for a coat. I don’t want to, I say, both as a joke and because there are so many things I thought you would always do: change the oil in our cars, fix leaky pipes or faulty light switches, kill the injured birds the cat brings in so I don’t have to. I know, you say, but it’s easy. It practically runs itself. Okay, I say, and then I bite my bottom lip hard so I won’t beg you to stay, beg you to keep living the life you don’t want anymore. 

Won’t you miss the dog, I say, when what I really mean is, won’t you miss me? Of course, you say, but flights are cheap. I’ll come back for weekend visits. And I hope this means you’ll come back for me. Wait, wait, I say in my head. What if we’re making the biggest mistake of our lives? You pulled my hair in the kitchen the other day, and I liked it. Please, don’t stop loving me. Please, the one thing I actually say out loud, don’t forget.

When you’re backing out of the driveway and I’m waving to you from the window, all I’m thinking is: please don’t leave. Please come back. Burst through the front door like someone on a sitcom, put both hands on my shoulders and look me in the eye, wild and desperate, and say you’ll never stop loving me. Tell me you take it all back. Tell me you want me forever. Then hold me hard and tight, like you’ll never let go, and don’t. Don’t let go. 

The pumpkin patch north of my hometown has been the same for decades: a full acre of orange and white gourds, a half circle of haystacks used as a backdrop for family pictures, a self-service scale, and a locked metal box with a slit in the lid where we shove crumpled dollar bills and coins. Pumpkins are thirty cents a pound. It’s warm enough today for shorts and a t-shirt, and still I sweat as I walk the rows, searching for something perfectly round. I’m sorry to hear about the separation, my mom’s boyfriend says. It’s hard for two artists to be together; one of them will always have to compromise. I wave him off, not wanting to cry while I crouch down and turn a pumpkin this way and that, brush dirt from its skin with my hands and think yes, this one will do. 

I’m the skinniest I’ve ever been as an adult, you say. You’re skinny because you’re not eating, I say. No, you say, pointing to the front pocket of your sweatshirt, stuffed with chocolate Halloween candy I bought from the store last week. Candy doesn’t count, I say. And here we are again, me worrying about your body more than you do, wanting you to treat it with care, with the kind of attention you give to nothing else, save art, maybe, or when you’re building something. Listen, I say, your body, your heart and mind, these are valuable things. Take care of them. You shrug, say thanks for the coffee, and walk out of my life. 

Ask me a question I can answer. Not who are you, but what are you made of? Not where did you come from, but where is your heart buried, and what’s growing from its muscle? I don’t need to find myself, because I’ve always been the same. Here, sweet girl, I say, follow the breadcrumbs home, the same path through the cedar grove that will lead you away from him.