you should learn when to go.

Two hours later, I’m in the same spot.
Sitting still is not one of my talents. I’m uncomfortable, to say the least. I refuse to let myself move, despite the pain in my tailbone. Any sudden movement on my part could turn into a frenzy of privacy invasion.

Sure, my foot is filled with pins and needles, but even the slightest shake could propel me over toward Ryan’s desk. And then–quite suddenly–the drawer will fly open, forcing me to search for notes from strange willing women.

I am not a snoop.

I am not a crazy ex-girlfriend.

Of course it’s freezing in here. Well, it is November, after all. Chicago landlords like to wait until December to turn fire up the furnace. I’m afraid to use a blanket. Most likely my refolding skills will not be up to Ryan’s level; an angry phone call will ensue wherein he will argue his latest thesis, “Amanda’s Inability to Properly Handle a Duvet is Indicative of All of Her Other Deeper Faults.”

He’s probably somewhere toasty and fun. His new girlfriend probably has really cozy bedding.

My mouth is a desert and my head is throbbing. I’m already hungover. I walk over to the sink and take a long sip from the faucet. I am a terrible dishwasher. No need to dirty a glass and then be forced to obscure the evidence.

Fuck. This is ridiculous. It’s Friday night. I should be out with my friends, throwing back enough drinks to make myself feel attractive and invincible. Instead I’m waiting in my ex-boyfriend’s apartment. Alone. Trespassing. I can’t even remember what propelled me out here.

I should go.

I sit down to write a note.

“Ryan–
Yeah, yeah…I know I shouldn’t have been here without you, but I wasn’t sure what to do. Everyone is worried about you.
Call me and tell me you are okay. Or, just call our friends. Say that you are great…you’ve never been better.

–A.

P.S. I am leaving my key here. I’ll drop it in the mail slot after I lock the door. “

I stretch my legs, staring absently at the stacks of shoe boxes on his bookshelves. Each box holds something different. Bills. Pictures from college. Ticket stubs. A secret code related to the brands and style names. Of course, it’s all based on Ryan’s convoluted logic. Some are obvious: All of my letters and postcards (we don’t allow living only a few miles apart to deprive us of the joy of the USPS) are in an Adidas box, because I was wearing a pair of blue shell-toes the first night he met me.

And then it occurs to me: his stash is in one of these boxes.

When we were partners in self-destruction, he kept it in a New Balance box. I’m certain he has moved it since then. An attempt at throwing me off. If I opened it now, I would find something ridiculous, like perfume strips from magazines or dozens of plastic army men. Pen caps. Plastic Easter grass. Hundreds of empty matchbooks.

I survey the shelves. If I could guess just one, what would I pick? I decide that I can open one box. That’s it. If I choose incorrectly, oh well. I will grab my bag and leave forever. No second chance. I don’t need to find phone numbers written in girlish hand. Or naked pictures of strangers. Secret messages about me, listing each of my faults in excruciating detail.

I decide on a Puma California box. It’s from a pair of shoes I bought in New York last spring. Ocean blue. Men’s size 7.5. It’s on the bottom shelf, in the far corner. Out of obvious eyesight. And he is betting that I would assume that it contains pictures of me or souvenirs from our adventures.

I pull it out carefully. I don’t want to compromise the alignment of its compatriots.

I close my eyes and pull off the lid.

It’s filled with tapes.

I guess I don’t know him as well as I think I do.

Wait. I’m skeptical. I memorize the order of the first layer before I remove them. The second to the last cassette case on the bottom row has a tiny piece of plastic bag poking out of the corner.

Aha! I am as smart as him. I unroll the bag. Blue tablets emblazoned with “OC.” At least 30. Maybe more. I can’t even imagine the street value here. A rich relative must have recently died, leaving his estate to Ryan. The will specified “Spend it only on things that will destroy you.”

I stuff one in my pocket.
And then a second.
The third dose decides to just jump into my mouth.
My eyes pop out of my head as I swallow.

Fuck. Okay. I need to get out of here now.

I roll up the bag, carefully returning it to it’s home. The tapes return to the box. The box resumes its position on the shelf. I line up the edges of its neighbors.

I grab my bag and run for the door, tripping over the coffee table and sending his Mickey Mouse phone flying.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I repair the damage. Turn off the lights. Straighten the rug by the door.

That’s it.

As promised, I drop the key through the mail slot.

He’s going to kill me.

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