We Died a Little, You and I

By Aasiya F. Mirza Glover

I died for ten years. Do you remember? Or do you only remember the anger that brought us here? When you died, you only died for two years—just a break, you said, just a little break.  You needed someone and something to stop, stop needing you.  

Tell the kids I’ll be back soon, you said. And you were. You kept your promise.

You never regretted it, spending your death on a mental break like that. You said it’s what makes the most sense—because any longer and people’s lives start growing back around the absence. Not exactly filling in the hole you left, but grass growing over the mud bug’s home, covering the hole, making it invisible.

I said good god why. You could go to a real mental retreat, one where someone takes care of you, treats you, helps you recover. You could spend your death on something important, when nothing else works.

You said it wasn’t that kind of problem. You didn’t need treatment. You needed the now to be over. To not live in it. The pain was too acute.

But the kids will miss you, I said.  

I’m not safe around them, you said. Haven’t been for years.

They’re too young, I said.

That’s why I need this, you said.

This isn’t a recovery, I said, leaning back in my chair. You don’t come back fixed. You just come back at a different point in time.

Sure, you said, I know. It’s like I’m in the Navy, you said. I’m just going on a submarine. You can’t see me for a couple years, and then I’m back. The kids will understand; they’re old enough.

And young enough, I said.

You knew what I meant. It was hard for both of us; the pressure had never let up. They were just starting to come into their own, into opinions and self-control sufficient to limit the damage they did to books and dishes and walls, and themselves. The near-constant strain of checking on everything in our peripheral vision was fading. The younger was just over five.

That’s what you wanted, to get to seven.

I told you if you left, if you left now, I’d never forgive you. You said, if I don’t leave, if I don’t leave now, I’ll do something unforgiveable. Something I can’t take back. Something I can’t return from. And so you left. 

After you left, I doubted you. I hadn’t doubted your urgency, your belief, your sanctimoniousness when you were explaining your thoughts to me. But when you were gone, I began to see you had been playing me; I thought back to all the times I’d wondered at the slight tilt in your gaze, the soft ending to your sentences, when I’d had a hint that maybe you were hiding something. Maybe you were not telling me the whole truth. I began to understand your leaving as a pattern of smaller leavings, and hated myself for my part in letting you.

I grew angrier as the months passed, but I also felt territorial and possessive. I began to feel proud of myself and my mothering. I told our friends, I knew now that I could survive without you, so this was all worth it (maybe, I caught myself wanting to caveat, maybe), because I’d gained something, even if it wasn’t my choice. Even if I would be angry with you for the rest of our lives, at least I’d know that I was strong, powerful, capable, that I had perspective; I knew what was important, because I’d been forced to prioritize in the most extreme way.

And then, as I actually did grow more used to it, as the kids grew older still, I resented you less; I suppose I forgave you. I was secure—that’s what it is, isn’t it? The peace and security of knowing that I, ultimately, was in control. I made the decisions; I did not have to live within your indecision. There was no one else’s rhythm I was marching to—no one else’s rush, push, expectation. It was me, and me alone.

Of course, the kids had a hard time. They were too young, and not just because five was still getting into the raspberries at the grocery store and seven started to point out strangers and comment loudly on the shapes and absences of their bodies. This one has no hair; that one has no arm; the other has no teeth. Seven marked your absence in the missing body parts of passers-by.

And then you came back.

I told you, then, when you were standing in the doorway (a doorway that used to be ours, but would ever more belong only to one of us alone)—I told you to go back. I told you that seven—now nine—was in therapy, and you’d be responsible for getting him to it now. You’d be responsible for five—now seven’s—piano lessons and soccer practice. You’d be the one shuttling the kids from activity to activity, hoping you could afford summer camp on just your salary, asking yourself how you’d manage if you couldn’t.

I told you I needed a break now. Now that I’d gotten them through the hard part, now that I’d gotten them safely into the fun years, I’d take my turn.

But I’d go for ten years.

But you’ll miss them, you said.

That’s not how it works, I said.

You’ll miss what you missed, you said. I know I do.

How could you possibly know? I said.  

And then—I’m going now, I said, so I don’t miss the really great stuff later on. The graduations and the break-ups and the marriages and the grandkids.

You won’t have a right to any of that, if you do it now, you said. They won’t let you in. This is abandonment, you said.

I considered this.  You’re not wrong, I said, and then I shut the door softly behind me as I left.

About the author

Aasiya F. Mirza Glover has previously published stories in Catapult, Headland, and Damazine. She is of mixed Pakistani American heritage and originally from Tennessee, and explores issues related to post-colonialism and intersectional relationships in both realistic and speculative fiction. She is a practicing attorney and lives in New Rochelle, NY with her family and cats.

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