It is despair that kills a person. In a relationship, it creeps up steadily waiting for you to let your guard down. You understand suddenly that the person you love probably doesn’t want you anymore. It starts to sink in when he’s on his phone far more than with you. You start to worry when he disappears for a few days claiming a need to clear his head. It starts to hurt when he comes back and he doesn’t look the same. The way his eyes dart around when he’s with you at a restaurant, like he is searching for someone else. So, she starts to do little things for him – things that she had probably not paid enough attention to because of her job and her household chores. She rents out to live with him in a different house so that he is closer to work, paints the room when he casually mentions he hates the color, makes his favorite breakfast, washes the clothes, irons them, doesn’t question him and bleeds herself dry. She waits in this dark where she starts to wonder, rehash and reuse what’s left of her memory. Did she do anything to cause this? He says it’s not her fault but that doesn’t stop her from letting doubt sink in. Is it the ex-girlfriend?

In the early hours of the morning, she looks at his wrist splayed out on the mattress. The tattoo of that girl’s name etched across. She realizes, for the first time and with sudden clarity, that it doesn’t matter that he left her. She will always be there, like a shadow, dark and sinister between them. But she tries to shrug it away in the morning light because all he needs is time and love. So, she continues her routine – making adjustments and making a home.

Her eyes still light up when he enters the room. She wants him to stop the chaste kisses on her forehead. She wished he groped her instead of just hugged her. His hugs seemed to scream back at her – please forgive me. The flames are down to dying embers so she decides to wear her new lingerie but he’s just way too tired. He still showers with her but he finds the water hitting his face more orgasmic than her. She swallows her pride and watches him as he goes through each can of beer like his life depends on it and not her. The cig stubs keep accumulating in a glass of water while she waits for some warmth.

She types away at work, forgetting her troubles for a while. A balm to her soul when another man asks her out for coffee. But she politely declines. ‘It’s not a good time right now,’ she says.

She rushes out of office to find him, hoping he cracks one of those terrible jokes he used to but he’s standing there, glum and with that same frown. She asks him what’s wrong. He says he needs time. But she’s lost her patience and her temper. She’s upset that he doesn’t understand what she is going through. She cannot understand why she needs to wait this long for a mood to lift without knowing the reasons why. For the sky to clear. For the have been’s to still be.

Again, he says it’s not her fault. But she has stopped listening. To her, it has started to sound like a tape on rewind. She cries herself to sleep – and mourns the emptiness she feels now and for the abundance she had. For the love he gave that he had now so ruthlessly, taken away. For the laughter, the movies, long walks and sweet text messages. For the surprises, 20 questions, long conversations and concern. For the car drives, meals cooked, optimism and faith in everything good. For the book shopping, smoking cigarettes in the shower and the constant touching that always ended with them making love.

He now has a lock code on his phone. She puts one in too. She watches him step out to take a call when guests are around. When she wakes up suddenly in the mornings and in the midst of her drowsiness, she finds him looking at the phone but she can’t focus and when she’s finally awake, she wonders if she had dreamt it up. In the midst of a conversation, he tells her that his ex’s mother called. She didn’t care to reply but she wonders if the ex girlfriend still had a hold on him.  Does she still call?

She starts to type in his name on Facebook. Posts from two years ago. There’s a black and white picture of that girl’s feet with painted nails and slender toes.

Other posts –

“Sometimes even with the purest intentions, we make things worse when we try our best to make things better. Those are some of the worst wrongs. These are the times we love with nothing more than hope, cry with everything except tears. In the end, that’s all there is – love, sorrow, shame, the truth, and her. None can survive without the other. As is with all men, I cannot survive without Her.”

 “She loved the guy. She did it for him. She would’ve, and still does everything for him. She is like that. Some loves are like that. Your heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your self-respect and your independence. After a while you start throwing people out—your friends, everyone you used to know. And it’s still not enough. The lifeboat is still sinking, and you know it’s going to take you down with it. I’m happy to go down with it. Maybe she’ll wake up and see the change, and the independence will come back.”

 “You are my best friend. I love you.”

 She snaps the laptop shut, guilt coursing through her. This shouldn’t matter. It was two years ago and they had an eight-year long relationship before that. How could she fail so badly in just a year? But then was it really her fault? She had done everything she could. Her phone buzzes and it’s him calling up. She recalled that she hadn’t made any attempt at conversation that morning. She picks up his call.

“You sound distant,” he enquired, sounding worried. But she finds it hard to care. She goes home and makes dinner for herself. She starts to work for herself. She keeps her wallet and her credit cards with her. She registers herself on a dating website and he frowns, wondering why he can’t log into her phone anymore. She doesn’t come home straight away after work. She goes out on that coffee date. And one day, when he doesn’t come back all night, she packs his things in the morning and leaves them outside the house.

She has her own distractions now.