Every time I open the refrigerator and see that loaf of sourdough, I want to punch somebody in the face.
Door open, cold air blasting out I think about our first exchange, your fast reply to my sleepy and half-drunk inquiry of, “What’s good on this fine Saturday night?” I was halfway into a bottle of chard, my first night house-sitting, alone with a fire in the stove, Netflix droning on in the background. Not the kind of company I normally like to keep. The only thing the night really needed was someone like you.
We clicked immediately, back and forth conversation that flowed easy, unforced laughs, a quick migration to WhatsApp so we could share music we made, videos, multimedia mutual interests that attach you to a person in the way that just a few lines-at-a-time cannot. You’re the first person who ever voice messaged me. You had this attractively mesmerizing British accent, deep and slow in its modulation, thoughtful and kind. We talked every day, all day, for two weeks – hundreds of voice messages, photos exchanged. I felt seen by you, which I admitted to you. Twice. The way you could describe me back to myself made me feel like someone who could be known. It made me feel like I mattered. It endeared me to you.
We met three times, squeezing each other into what little space we had, making out like teenagers even if just a stolen moment in lobbies or a corner booth; you brought me coffee twice on consecutive Thursdays, the only two Thursdays we’d ever share, and I wasn’t even upset when you forgot I asked for decaf. I learned about your two girls, and you learned about my insecurities – we even had a fight. A small misunderstanding in the end, resolved with kindness and compassionate honesty – or at least that was my interpretation. It all felt so adult – so natural and easy. Like we already had this whole “open communication” thing down that some couples I know have spent years in therapy trying to just agree on what openness and honesty even looks like.
I’d been away housesitting for friends through all this, you had your kids and so an actual date, even real quality time, had to wait. It didn’t seem like a big deal; I felt I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t think you were, either. We made plans to hang out on that second Sunday night, after your band finished practice. Just two weeks before you’d gone in and told them all about me, so you said. As I imagined you driving there a fortnight later, just this last Sunday, I imagined what an update they’d all be getting…I even let myself imagine you’d trying to cut out early because the prospect of being in the same room with me, without interruption, without anyone else around, without the constraints of time or children or publicness interfering with the possibility of what could become of us was just too much for your spirit to contain. So I went home, cleaned, made a soup. I even bought the most expensive loaf of sourdough bread I could find because, as you’d casually mentioned a few days prior, “Soup with sourdough is the way to my heart.”
I wanted that heart. I felt I already had a piece of it, but I wanted more. I know you had a corner of mine.
We exchanged a message that Sunday night, just as your practice drew to a close. But it seemed a little weird, unsettling, even. Something felt off. I felt suddenly my excitement of seeing you in the flesh, of accessing you – all of you to myself – felt threatened by a sense of distance I hadn’t experienced before. I only noticed it because it was so unfamiliar. A shift. I paused in this, acknowledging that if I was being honest to myself, it wasn’t the first time I’d felt it. Something had started to feel different over the two days prior, a sense informed by a wider temporal distance between our exchanges than normal. The pattern had changed; I’d message, but get no reply til late the next day. I didn’t want to make too much of it, though. I trusted the situation because I trusted me. I trust my life.
An hour goes by, Sunday. it’s 7:20pm. At 6:30pm you said you’d be by in an hour, so I popped the sourdough in the oven. I don’t eat even bread, so I have to read the instructions. The back of the expensive bag says 15-20 minutes, so I time it to make sure it’s warm, but not burnt, upon your arrival.
7:25pm: a message comes through that surprises me but also doesn’t. I’d known it was coming deep in that space where intuition lies. It’s the same gut feeling I wrote off the previous two nights because after all, when you’ve got two kids and it’s the weekend, maybe you’re just not up for messaging late because you’re busy spending quality time. Because you’re busy showing two young girls what it means to be a man, what it means to be treated right. Right?
“I’m really sorry, I do want to see you but I’m shattered and I really need sleep.” And then an intentional Return, and on the following carefully crafted line: “I’m in a mood today, too”. Next to that last bit is a small emoji of a man with white skin, brown hair and a blue long-sleeved shirt slapping himself across the forehead, a stand in for you. You know the one – the one that means, ’Doh’.
7:26pm: I respond too fast, embarrassingly fast, with a sinking but proud heart: “Sorry to hear you’re not well. At least you told me before I put the sourdough in,” which of course was a lie. As soon as the message came through I promptly removed it from the oven – so technically, from a scientific standpoint maybe it wasn’t a lie since unbaked bread is effectively the same as bread not yet put in the oven. No sense in toasting what won’t be eaten and if you know me, food waste breaks my heart about as much as you were about to do.
7:27pm: I rethink my original message as insensitive, noting it hadn’t yet been read by you. I send a voice memo telling you my truth – that this seems a bit off, that the past two days have seemed a bit off, and perhaps you want to share what’s up?
“Perhaps you met someone you like a little better?”
There’s a lot of pausing. It’s kind, not accusatory. It’s raw, though. It’s just me.
I wake up all night, tossing and turning, I can’t really breathe. I’m hurt, I can feel that. Mostly I feel a sense of disbelief, waiting to wake up from a stress-dream that floods you with gratitude upon the realisation it’s not real. I mean it’s not like we were in a relationship but we were in relation, you know? We were in relation. I told you things. You told me things. You became my person and I, yours. Or so I thought.
The deceit is cutting.
How did I miss it?
The two ticks remain grey into the next morning. My messages haven’t been read or heard. 10am, 11am, I keep checking. Did he die? I worry you’re dead. I do a google search for your name and click the “News” tab but nothing comes up except bullshit stories about a US politician and a New Zealand Immigration Officer with the same name. Around 11am the ticks turn blue. Read. And heard.
I can’t breathe right. My chest hurts. I want to connect. I buy a pink jumper for my 80-year old friend Irene – you know, the lady I’ve been telling you about? It’s the same as the one I have. I went hunting for it because she loved it so much. I went to two stores to find it! I got the last one, in her size, on sale. I want to tell you. Who else is there to tell? But —
A half day passes, I leave another voice memo. This time there are even more pauses, more ‘ums’, a lot of ‘uhhhhs” because I’m trying to find the words. I’m trying to stay open, to stay vulnerable – maybe you died. Maybe one of your daughters died. Maybe something so painful has happened to you that you cannot bring yourself to voice it, type it, to confide in me or reach out. Or maybe it’s something so much more shallow than that – someone skinnier and prettier. Someone with money, a nice car. Long hair. Someone who doesn’t talk about sharting and turtle heads as a means of relating to your stomach woes on their 14th day of being in relation.
This whole situation lays its hairy, sweaty palm on the exposed skin of every insecurity I have about myself, my omnipresent shame about the too-muchness of my not-enoughness. But I keep my cool, I reinforce my concern above the punching bag you’ve made of my ego, of my heart. (Which is which? I don’t know anymore). I even manage to laugh a bit and when I play it back I’m impressed that it sounds so natural, so unangry. So concerned. The laugh you said you loved. With the accent you said you loved. “You can make anything sound appealing.” You found me appealing. Desirable. You told me so. You made me so.
Grey ticks for two days, at which point I commit to erasing all traces of you. I deploy the only weapon of mass destruction I have at my disposal: DELETE.
I delete Tinder and everyone with it.
I delete intimacy. On my phone, on my laptop, just to be sure.
Halfway through a bottle of Shiraz the next night I delete your phone number because I feel the hurt rising in a costume of anger and I don’t trust my fingers, my voice.
It’s like you never happened.
There is a breath missing. I think you took it with you and meant to drop off on Sunday? Maybe in exchange for the pumpkin soup and sourdough that I’m now still eating 4 days later. I finished the soup for lunch today, but half the bread’s still there. I might’ve mentioned I don’t really eat bread? Every time I take it out to slice off a piece I feel the emptiness of disbelief, like my understanding of the world and all that is solid and true slides through the small holes marbled within the firm boundaries of its crust, varying sizes of fermented escape routes that offer an easy out for cowards like you.