October 16th, 2019
For some reason I actually thought I would leave this town with nothing to show for it. I didn’t think anybody would come to see me off or to try to persuade me to stay. I thought that by this time everybody I cared about had already written me off. That by this time, all my friends were enemies; that I would head off to Grand Rapids without so much as a goodbye. I didn’t want to talk to my parents, anyway, and Andrew and I were still pretty bitter at each other. It just seemed like the right thing to just go quietly; to not make any noise.
Hell, I didn’t even bother to pack up anything but a suitcase with a few changes of clothes and a laptop; just what I would bring with me on a week-long vacation. The only real difference was that I threw away all my perishables. There was no way that any of them would last until I got back, but that was the other thing. It didn’t feel like I would ever come back. This chapter in my life is closed; I’m in the second act of my life and if I wanted to, I probably could have lit a match and burned everything inside. The thing that stopped my hand wasn’t that it was wrong or stupid, but because I didn’t care about any of it. I hadn’t even bothered to put anything away before setting my bag by the front door and waiting for the cab to come and take me to the airport.
I think that’s why Renee was so surprised that I was leaving when she got there.
I hadn’t expected to see her. When I opened the door, I thought I was just going to see the cab driver—Hell, I even breathed in deep for the next step in my journey—but instead of a working-class man, I saw my ex-girlfriend staring at me. I didn’t know what to do at first; I just looked her over and saw what I had done to her. Here I thought that she had already gotten over me—already dating other guys and being happy—but I could see that she was still very much unhappy. She hadn’t been crying and she didn’t have red rims around her eyes or tear tracks smudging her makeup; she just seemed tired and defeated. I could see that she wasn’t angry, either, which is why I think I invited her in.
I didn’t see the harm in it.
“Why are you doing this, Ray?” is the first thing she said to me. She was standing in the kitchen again—I guess that’s where she wanted to have these conversations with me—and I stood in the doorframe and tried to hold myself up. When she turned back to face me, I could see that she was fighting back all kinds of emotions. “You’re hurting yourself.”
“Yeah, I know,” I muttered, avoiding eye contact as best I could. It’s not like I could deny that. I knew she wouldn’t leave right at the start, so I sat down at my kitchen table and clasped my hands together. It was hard to look at her as she turned from me and went over to the fridge to get… I don’t know… something. When she found it bare, she stood up and looked at me over the door.
“Do you just not buy groceries anymore?” she asked, her tone subdued. It almost seemed like she was joking, but she walked back over to the kitchen table and sat in the seat opposite me. When I finally made eye contact, I could tell that she was actually concerned about me. Concerned about a loser who broke her heart and chose a number over her.
“Nah, not really, but I just threw everything away yesterday,” I responded, and I could see her slump a little in the chair.
“It went rotten, huh,” she said, and I tilted my head and laughed. It had all rotted; it had all decayed away and left me a dried-up husk. The only thing that mattered now was the truth and my own state of affairs; my body was a distant priority. Still, she had to know and I couldn’t be flippant about it. I looked back at her and tried to make sure I wouldn’t cry.
“It was going to rot. I’m not going to be here for a while,” I said, and I saw the fear flash across her face. She was about to protest, but I put out a hand and shook my head. “I’m going on a trip is all. Maybe permanent, maybe not, but it feels… I don’t think I’m coming back here.”
“I see,” she muttered, looked down and crossed her arms. I thought at first that she was being defiant, but I could see how she hugged her arms closer to her body; she was trying not to hurt. “Where are you going?”
“I can’t tell you,” I said, honestly believing it, but it still didn’t change how it felt when she looked back at me as if I had stuck a knife in her. “It’s just not safe. You don’t need to be part of this.”
“Ray, if it’s dangerous, you shouldn’t be doing it at all,” she said, and I could see her shoulders tremble a bit. I don’t know what I did to deserve her in my life, but here she was sitting at my kitchen table at the end of it all. Even a breakup wouldn’t cause her to abandon me completely, and it didn’t matter how much I had hurt her.
“There’s nothing else for me, Renee,” I said, and I could see her already starting to form her arguments. Heading her off, I looked at my window and tried to be stubborn. “I have to know what it’s all about; I have to know what my part in it really is. You can say all you want, hon, but I am going. I don’t have a choice in the matter.”
“I’m sure it feels that way,” Renee said softly, and I turned back to see her looking at the same window I had just been focusing on. When she noticed my attention, she raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “What, you think I don’t see it? You wouldn’t be so stubborn or determined unless it actually mattered.”
“Well, matters to you,” she said, and I could taste the bitterness in her words. “I don’t see the importance, Ray, and I never really will. You and I had something good, something comfortable; something to keep both of us going. We supported each other. On the bad days—whenever we needed it—we were there for each other. I just… can’t support you anymore. Not with this.”
“But that doesn’t stop how I feel about you, or what I know about you, Ray,” she added quickly, cutting me off before I could even start to protest. She looked back down at the table and sighed; this time she was the one avoiding eye contact. “I know this feels real to you, feels like something incredible and earth-shattering. And I know you want to mean something. We all do. Now I know just how far you’re willing to go to… make sure you do.”
“Renee. I know I can’t explain it to you,” I said, but she looked back in me time to shut me up completely.
“You don’t have to. At this point, you really don’t owe me anything. I can see that it’s hurting you, too, which is why it’s so goddamn confusing, and that’s what I care about at this point. I don’t want you to get hurt, Ray, no matter what happens to us. That’s why I want you to seriously consider what you’re doing and where you’re going. These people you’ve found… if it is real… I’m not sure they care what happens to you,” she said, and I had to bite my lip just to hold back the avalanche of confessions about to burst out of my mouth. She didn’t have to know—shouldn’t know—what I was about to do.
So I didn’t tell her.
“They don’t care about me, Renee. I’m just working… with them,” I said, and she let out a resigned breath before replying.
“Whatever you’re doing, be careful. I know… I know I don’t mean enough to keep you here anymore,” she said, at which point my heart broke all over again. I was about to tell her that she was wrong—that I loved her just as much as I did before—but when I saw her fighting back the tears, I knew she needed to believe that. It needed to be over, so I just let her keep talking.
“Just don’t… don’t,” she tried to say, but eventually she had to sniff hard and wipe her sleeve across her face. It smeared some of her makeup, but I could see that she was determined to stay strong. “Don’t think that you can’t come back. Not to me; that’s not what I’m saying. Just don’t think that you can only move forward, that you have no way out. You always have a way out as long as you want it.”
“Renee, I…” I started, but the words abandoned me. I knew, somehow, that this would be the last time we spoke. So I tried to make it mean something; I tried to make it an… appropriate farewell. I sat back and looked at her with all the affection I still had in me, all the fondness I had for her, and told her the truth.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I said, and I could see that she believed me, believed that I meant it. She still had to sniff to regain her composure, but when she looked back at me, her eyes were dry.
“I know, Ray, I know you’re trying. I do wish that you would have told me you were leaving,” she said, and another wave of guilt hit me right in the chest, knocking me right out of the farewell I was intending. I tried to stammer out an excuse, but this time it was Renee to put out a hand and take over the conversation. “I know, Ray. You don’t have to tell me again.”
“Renee, there’s—it’s just something I have to do,” I said, and I was about to give her more excuses, unintentionally make it worse for her, but there was a knock at the door and both of us knew who would be standing there. It wouldn’t be Andrew; it wouldn’t be my parents or my boss or anybody else from my life.
Renee was the only one left who cared enough to be here at that moment, and she was the only one who realized that I did not have the choice everyone was saying I did.
“So go do it,” she said, almost under her breath, and I didn’t have a chance to fight her or give another pathetic excuse for a reason. She just stood up and I followed her to the front door, which she opened to reveal the cab driver Catalytics had set up for me.
“Raymond Corvus?” the cabbie asked, and Renee was kind enough to smile at the man and nod at me.
“Take good care of him, all right? There’s people here waiting for him to get back in one piece,” she said as if she was joking, but she was staring at me the whole time and I could hear the subtext. I thought at first to drag her back inside—kiss her even though she probably didn’t want that at all—but she smiled and patted me on the back, offering me my luggage with her other hand. “You have your keys?”
“I—uh, yeah,” I said, since I had already been prepared to leave before she had even come over. Nodding, she motioned at my doorknob and crossed her arms.
“Go ahead and lock the door, then. Don’t want anybody getting in here while you’re away,” she said, as if she was an elementary school teacher combined with a girlfriend, and I know that the cabbie must have thought we were the strangest couple. I know it was just Renee’s way of getting past this last painful ordeal, but I still appreciated it. After locking the door, I turned to her and desperately wanted to hug her. Only my sense of propriety stopped me from abusing that poor woman anymore.
“Thanks,” I said instead of all the goodbyes and wishes I wanted to say, and she nodded and waited for me by the door as the cabbie took my luggage and led me to the car. Just as I was about to crouch and sit down, I turned back to see her biting her lip and fighting back… whatever she was feeling. I was about to apologize and run over to her, but then she gave me a small wave and broke eye contact, instead focusing on the bushes in front of my house.
At that point I knew there was no way that I could abuse her anymore. I couldn’t promise her love—tell her I cared about her—and then run off to Michigan just because of a few numbers. I couldn’t keep yanking back at her and pushing her away in the same moment, no matter how I felt. At a certain point, you have to provide mercy, even if it’s at the cost of your own heartbreak and sanity.
So I sat down in the backseat of the cab and shut the door. I stared ahead for a moment before realizing that I needed to buckle my seatbelt, and I was busy doing that as the cabbie tried to start small talk I didn’t care about. I just wanted to stop hurting, and I definitely wanted to make sure Renee stopped hurting. That’s why I tried not to look at her, that’s why I burned a hole into the head cushion of the passenger seat in front of me.
Yet even with all my determination, I still looked back at the last second as the cab was pulling away. At that point Renee was already heading to her car, but I saw her look back as the cab took me to the next stage of my life. I’ll always remember how she looked after me; I’ll remember it more than any of her smiles or any of her laughs. Even though it was impossible, it felt like we were staring at each other, connected even though it felt like this was the last time I would see her. A very large part of me wanted to dive out of the car, road rash and all, but I knew that I could not change my course now, no matter what Renee believed.
And that’s how I left her, in the driveway of my abandoned house, as I go seeking the truth behind a number associated with the Devil.
And that’s why I’m in the airport bar, writing this all down while sniffling and pounding at the keyboard and looking off in the distance when it gets too emotional. That’s why I’m three beers deep and two shots down, debating on even more. After all that, before I get started on whatever my life’s work really is, I just really need a drink. I just… really need to not be myself—not feel like myself—for just a little bit.
Though maybe I just need to stop being myself at all. I obviously don’t deserve to be here, with the way I treat people these days.
Hooray for self-pity…
END OF ENTRY
Emotional sucker punch to close out Act 1. Once Ray heads up to Grand Rapids, things are definitely going to change...
Next Act starts here.