*Inspired by “Bluer than Midnight” by The The. One of my favorite songs, and titles, of all time!
The first three lines of the song spilled from the headphones into his ear canals at about the same pace as his labored breathing. The cold had undone most of the gains of the past few weeks of training, and he found himself wheezing his way through even the easiest of workouts. He had created a new playlist, chosing slower songs for the aerobic sections, no longer able to keep up with his old pace on the treadmill, and avoiding those that reminded him of her.
Finishing the shortened walk-run routine, he stepped off towards the direction of the weight room. Being at the gym so early on a Saturday meant that for once he had it to himself. He chuckled about how the reason he used to be out of breath early on a Saturday morning, when they were together, was a lot more fun than a workout.
He placed his towel and water next to a bench in the middle and walked over to the racks to pick out the dumbells. He started the repetitions, counting them out in his head, restarting with each change in exercise. The last one he did was a seated forearm curl, and as he adjusted himself on the bench, he looked at the mirrored wall in front of him.
He was startled at the sight of himself! Gaunt, haunted looking, with only the tan from the outdoor running he was finally able to start again after spring had arrived keeping him from looking ghostly.
The loss of appetite since she had left was having an impact beyond what him forcing himself to eat could manage to overcome. He had to eat more. But he was struggling to put anything into his mouth beyond the endless cups of coffee that kept him from crawiling back to sleep. It had become his weird escape, sleep. While he normally would sleep no more than six hours a night-a life-long fear of missing out keeping him out of bed until exhaustion demanded rest-he found himself in bed before ten each night, with naps at the end of each workday, that sometimes turned into an evening of not getting out of bed.
Weights at the ready, he started his workout again, now looking down, rather than the version of himself that was left. It seemed that he now knew how much happiness weighed, about the same as what he had lost in the weeks since he had lost her.
“Lost!” It didn’t seem to quite capture it. The French phrase “Tu me manques,” which translates to “you are missing from me,” as if a part of oneself is gone, seemed better. She had told him that years ago, during one of his business trips away from home, to express how deeply she missed him. Oh, how he wished that this separation were that temporary, that short, as that trip.
He knew it wouldn’t be. Despite the certainty, and the permanent feeling of it all, he knew that part of him still lived with hope. Beyond reason, beyond rationality, beyond sanity. Maybe it was because he dared not face the abyss that lay beyond. From what he had heard from single friends, the landscape for dating was now more difficult, weirder, and more soul-crushing than anything he might have experienced the last time he was single, years ago. Or maybe it was because he had not been able to accept that the woman he was in love with, the one he had dreamt of since he was a boy, the woman that was the answer to all those boyhood dreams was gone.
A second and third set of exercises brought the familiar rubbery feeling in his arms. It was his signal to stop. Gathering his things, he caught from the corner of his eye a woman enter the room, looking for a corner to work out. She was beautiful, and out of his mind as quickly as his glance in her direction was done. He had done the drown yourself in stranger bedfellows thing, and it had done nothing to make her absence any easier.
Entering the locker room, he sat on the bench in front of his locker, letting his heart rate go down, elevated as it was, as much from the sadness, as the workout. He kept his headphones on to isolate himself from friendly chatter with the others in the room. He walked over to the scale and saw the number, a new low, come up on the digital window.
“Have to eat more,” he thought, as if the looseness of his clothes had not already indicated that. As if the sunken cheeks and hollow eyes were not already advertising to the world that he was sick. Sick from grief, from worrying, from missing a part of himself.
Racing through the past few weeks, he thought of all the mistakes he had made, agreeing with her, and maybe pushing them apart, when he had wanted nothing more than to hold her until the fear that had gotten in between them was squeezed out. How she had shown him just a hint of how afraid she was of losing him and of her own demons. How he had not done enough to assuage them. How she had given into them.
Now, out of the house, he could not hug her when the tears came, nor was she there to dry his. No more would they lay in their bed, their happy place, talking, laughing, making love. No more would they hold hands while he drove, as if they were teenagers falling in love for the first time. Her resolve was steely now, telling him in their last sterile text exchange that it was over, for good. Via text!
He dialed the combination on his lock, and too tired to bother showering, simply grabbed his street clothes and threw them into his gym bag and walked out of the locker room, past the treadmills, and outside towards his car.
Unlocking the trunk, he threw the bag inside, and closed the lid. The sun was just starting to rise to the east, rose and gold light reflecting off the few clouds, but in the west, a deep blue still covered the sky. He remembered the first morning he had awakened next to her, with a similar sky, and wished that the memory of the last time had burned itself as clearly into his memory. Not sure why. One more memory hardly seemed like it would have any good impact on either his feelings, or their likelihood of reconciliation.
As he unlocked the doors, the song was ending. He thought of the last line, “Why can’t love ever touch my heart life fear does,” and wished he had taught her the song. He wished that he had taught her to listen to what he was really saying, so that she would have known that from the brightest morning, to the bluest midnight, he would always be there. That he had shown her earlier and more the depth of his love, and not just his sorrow.
He got into the car, took the headphones off, started the engine. The phone now switched to Bluetooth, the same song played again over the car’s speakers.
Save me. From myself.”
He began to drive south, his left side bathed in the infinite possibilities of the light of a new day, his right side obscured by the darkness of the fading night. He was going to try, one last time.
To save them both from being apart.