Edmund Sandoval
As to Who We Are

We are friends now. Yes. Sort of. Kind of we are friends. It is like acting. If we were actors. But we are not. Yet, we are performing. It has been just past ten months, eleven months, a year. It has been a day, an hour. It has been an eternity. It is now, it is never. What am I saying. She was cheating and I found out. Everyone always finds out, so why shouldn’t I? But we’re friends now, for the most part. Despite the calamity. We send each other text messages. We get together. We have drinks. We have drinks and laugh and play games and wave when we come and go. We go on hikes. We shake hands and sometimes we hug. We tell the truth and we don’t. We withhold the obvious. There is so much make believe, so much not addressing what is there in front of us, a severed hand, an obscenity without the censor’s blur, the unburnished truth of what has transpired between us. We hold each other and don’t move. Sit on each other’s furniture. Talk and chat. We go to shows. We kissed once or twice. Just little pecks. Like see ya later kisses when we were together and one or the both of us were in a rush. We had sex once too, right after I found out. Just like the movies, right. Amid shambles of strewn clothes and books and broken plastic hangers and bashed picture frames. She cried midway through the act. And so did I. What were we doing? It was horrible. But we did it anyway. Our clothes mainly on. I write about it on occasion. Her and me. Like now. Or I think about it aloud while driving: What the fuck was that, Ed? She lives across the river now. In a giant rental house on a hill that overlooks the waters of the Willamette. Nestled among tall pines rich with their breath mint perfume. I live alone. For the time being. Sometimes it feels as though it’ll be a permanent affair, but I doubt it. I am not ancient. Not yet. Yet I’ve gotten older. Though I do not feel it. Not always.

For the entirety of a week, I did not sleep. Not really. A half hour here, two hours there. It is the human thing, replaying the scenes of her infidelity over and over again, while brewing coffee, while pissing, while everything. I see not my arm but some stranger’s wrapped around her shoulders. I can see what they admire. For she is tall and glamorous and powerful. She has epicanthic eyes. In that they are like almonds, and the eyelids, like a Siberian’s, pursed from the endless sun, the white of the horizon, the glowing white snow. It is a body I’ve known. It is a body she has shared, and I see that too. The weight of bodies. The clutch and terror and cry out – my own voice – and pushing and hitting the bathroom door as though it were him and him and him.

For the entirety of a week, I was no better than the movies. I trashed the place. I tore my hair. Clenched my fists and stomped and wept and what. Pilloried myself in self-abuse and despair. I talked to the dog. Beseeched him. Held onto him as though he were a ring buoy in a turbulent sea. I buried my face in his side. I looked into his eyes and tried to convey to him the gravity of our situation, our shared experience. I ran riot with my emotions and my body.

Just like in books and novels and stories and poems, I empty out her drawers and shove her belongings into garbage bags. Those big jobs used for lawn waste, for grass clippings that smelled both fresh and rank, redolent of summer, of hot sun and of cold beer and shortsleeves. I rip shirts and blouses from their hangers, the plastic hangers snapping like frozen branches in a strong breeze and clattering over the linoleum of the bathroom floor. I haul the bags downstairs and line them up along the wall next to the front door. I listen to the same angry songs over and over again. I pretend all the time no one is home. I reread and reread the emails I’d copied and pasted and sent to my own account. It is a practice emblematic of nothing. A devotee clapping his back with a leather belt in a cave deep in an overgrown forest.

For some reason I cleanse myself of hundreds of my books. I guess it’s the necessity of doing something. Of doing anything. Because I’d stopped going to work. For a little while. A week. Okay. So. I sit in front of one bookshelf and then the next. There was no criteria for what was kept and what was chucked. Ugly cover, hadn’t opened in a year, stupid dust jacket, written in the second person, too many pages, too few pages. The process took hours. I dragged them down to the free stuff stand and dumped them in a pile. In those same heavy lawn bags. And when I tired of that, I dumped them in the trash, in the recycling bin. And then what. I didn’t really drink. There was no need. Not yet. Not sleeping for days and days is its own intoxicant. Disbelief and hard reality too, intoxicants.

I call my parents, my friends, and tell them of her transgressions and they sympathize, they sigh, they say, Fuck, dude, damn. Oh, honey, they say. My son! They say, It’s for the better that you know. Move forward. Don’t look back. Come home, if you need. Come visit. Listen to Mozart. We’re here for you. We never liked her anyway. I post melancholic songs on social media. I take pictures of the cloud covered sky and write, Current mood, as is the lingua of the times. I feel born anew, as vulnerable as a baby panda, and as small. I feel so obvious, transparent. How could I not have known. But I had, of course. It was there like a splinter too small to be grasped by the tweezers and the skin grown over the wound.

I do not keep a journal. I go for walks. I go for drives. I start looking for a new apartment and eventually move into it. I let the dog sleep in the bed with me. We find a kind of rhythm. He holds his wee 10 hours a day while I’m at work and never gives me the grump cold shoulder when I come slugging in like a corpse begrudgingly reanimated.

I do not suddenly come out of it. I do not move forward. I do not get over it. I do not wake in the morning healed and bright as though freed from the grasp of some cold and insistent nightmare. Rather, I am starting to make trips down to the cooperative grocer to buy packs of tofu and the cheapest wine they have on their refrigerator shelves, the tall sixers of cans of Old German lager that go for five dollars and change. I press the water out of the tofu over the kitchen sink and eat it plain, following it with glugs from the bottle. I feed the dog. We do what we can. Sit, stare, keen, wobble. We navigate without benefit of compass or stars.

Because of this slow transition into a sullen, insomniatic quasi-drunkard, I call the almost-free therapy center at the local big city university. On the phone, I try my best to be calm, to make cognizant speech, but blubber so much it is like making words with soft stones.

The soft voice in my ear had questions. It had to ask why I was calling. Why I thought I needed to come in. I would start to talk and then, just like breathing, would start sobbing. The soft voice in my ear was sweet and gentle, a glimmer of light in what was then my unlit cavern of a universe-obliterating ache and pain and dark.

There are better times, better seasons for things like this to happen. Better regionalities. Better years. It is earliest winter. The skies are dark in the afternoon. In the morning. The air is thick with rain, the clouds like bludgeons overhead, and endless. The light is electric-made. My skin pales and pales. My black hair exclamatory against the new white pall. The world is a cavern. There are echoes everywhere.

We are not friends now. We are just barely hanging on. All my friends, my family, said, Nuts to that, nuts to pal-ing around with her. You nuts, man? You’re asking for it. Watch it! They scolded, they looked at me side-eyed, they shook their heads side to side and sighed. But I didn’t. I didn’t watch it. She was my life forever. What felt like forever. But we are not friends now. Not really. Things change fast. The world is old and our present is young, young, young.

After I kick her out of our apartment, she moves into the attic of her cousin’s home, whose basement we lived in when we drove out here without jobs or prospects two and a half years ago. We paid him fifty bucks a week and he laughed. Down there were giant house spiders the circumference of Eisenhower silver dollars. A shower stall with translucent yellow paneling. Exposed floor beams and a painted poured cement floor. We felt as college kids down there. With our mini fridge and folding lawn chairs and bottles of wine purchased from the convenience store.

She was out of the house when I put 2 & 2 together. She was going cross country skiing. I was with the dog. The air was frigid. There was snow everywhere in the mountains. She didn’t own skis; the people she was going with would lend them to her. She was hours away when I found out. Two hours by car. The roads deep black with melted snow. I called her after I found out. Called her over and over and over and left frantic voicemails. I sent text messages. Until she answered. And when she did: ARE YOU CHEATING ON ME! She continued to lie. Yes. Of course. There is no bravery in times like these. Said, What? What! What are you talking about! C’MON, I said. JUST TELL THE TRUTH. TELL THE TRUTH. TELL THE GODDAMN FUCKING FUCKING MOTHERFUCKING TRUTH. And then I came with the names of the men. Spat them out like puke. And she was all: Okay. Okay. You win. Ha! Hilarity. What victory. WHERE ARE YOU, I said. YOU HAVE TO COME HOME, I said. NOW. YOU HAVE TO COME HOME NOW. (What home! Christ. Oh, holy.) I DON’T CARE IF YOU ARE COLD. She was standing, she said, in the snow. The people she was with had gone ahead. WHAT PEOPLE. YOU DON’T GET TO BE COLD, I said. GO SOMEWHERE AND WAIT AND I WILL COME AND GET YOU. WHERE ARE YOU? ARE YOU EVEN WHERE YOU SAID YOU’D BE? She said, Okay. Finally. Okay. I will go to this parking lot and wait. This is where I am. I looked it up on the map, halfway up Mt Hood, and then proceeded to pace around the apartment. I put my coat on and grabbed my keys. And then I did not come and get her. It was an impossibility. It would have been dangerous. A horror show of abuse and screaming and demands of a logic that would never exist. I couldn’t fathom experiencing the bad things that would happen should I drive two hours in the middle of winter and out of the city and into the mountains just so I could have the pleasure of what, of scolding her for being bad and breaking the rules? I’d probably have driven us off a cliff or crashed into a stone wall or thrown myself out of the car and let her deal with the listing steering wheel.

The waiting room of the almost-free therapy center is like any waiting room anywhere. There are chairs of cheap wood. With industrial upholstery. There are drop ceilings. And water fountains. Potted fichus and peace lilies and philodendron. There are pamphlets. Group talk. Individual empowerment. How to make conversation with strangers. Lining the walls here and there are white noise machines. They look like oversized smoke detectors. The air is laden with their sound. A blend of box fan blades spinning and hornets and idling car engines. I see this same couple over and over again. The man’s fingernails are always black and stained and I imagine him under a car, spattered with oil and transmission fluid; I imagine him in their bedroom, half-dressed and hunched over and sullen. The therapy sessions are recorded. The therapy rooms have big two-way mirrors. I look at myself in the mirror once I’m settled. My therapist wears leather boots and big earrings and looks an extra from a film shot in the seventies. I mainly cry throughout our first session. I rock a lot in my seat. I shake and drink water from a plastic cup. I am all SOS and help and flailing about in a muddy churning sea.

I didn’t want to be friends again. No. I wanted nothing to do with her. Anger and hurt and rage are great motivators. I even wrote it on the wall: Sing Muse, the Rage of Achilles, etc. But one day she calls me. Help, she says. Her voice small, as though it had fallen into the brief abyss of an abandoned mine shaft. I need help, she says. She’s crying, crying. I’m sorry, she says. I’m not well. I’m dying. This and that. Blah blah. I’m sorry. Leave me alone, I say. Something like that. She says, I think, Please, and I tap the button graphic to disconnect the call. Cell phones take the piss out of slamming a receiver down into the cradle of the corded phones of yon. I think of throwing my phone across the street but then don’t.

I didn’t want to be friends again because of what I knew. Of what I learned. There is much to know in a lifetime. The pain you can tolerate and the pain you cannot but do so regardless because there’s no other choice, no viable alternative. Truths and not. Myths and legends and everything else. A vast field of horse apples feeding the soil underneath. For example: That during a trip I took to Seattle to reunite with old friends, she arranges to meet with one of these men. In Seattle. While I am there drinking beer with my old friends. While exchanging text messages with me. Saying, like, I hope you are having fun. Saying, like, You should come and see me, you should ditch your pals. Writing those things to me while walking the city streets with this man. An enormously tall man. With red hair and an unfortunate face. Who is a professor at one of my home state’s esteemed universities, who is a translator of stories not his own, who is as unscrupulous as anyone else. These are the things that I know. These are the things that I learned. So the hell with her.

But still: I cannot stop but think of her and worry. I think of her and worry. Because I loved her. Because I am alone and barren and thirsty for everything. I could write her an email. Send her a text. Like, Hey, you, remember when you had that endless migraine and what it was was not a migraine but a lesion on your brain that might could turn into cancer and I held your hand through the entire scare? Call her up and say, Hey, you, let’s let bygones be bygones and start all over. You and me and the dog and our endless baggage nipping hungry at our backsides. Bring your quarters for the juke. Wear that cardigan I always liked, the one I gave you off my back. That one.

It is winter and the skies are gauzed with gray and white clouds and the air is chill and I stand out in the parking lot and put my phone in my pocket and go back inside to pretend to work for the rest of the day.

It is spring and the ground chimes with falling rain.

It is summer and the mountains shed their wooly coats of snow and stand dull and gray against the sky. It is summer and the grass wilts and the air breathes hot on everybody. There is no air conditioning. Everybody talks about floating in the sunken rivers or popsicles or going to the cheap theater to watch movies, the moldy conditioned air bathing all surfaces with its chill metallic perfume. Everybody talks about autumn.

It is autumn. So.

With therapy, you don’t have to be honest and open. You can make yourself to be whomever you’d like. You can gloss over your faults and make yourself the victim of injustice, of someone else’s malice. You can take your agency, your volition, and set flame to it. You needn’t make bare your own inventory of wrongs and deficiencies and angers and arrogances and inefficiencies. Nope. You can simply elide all that you’d like. Your therapist does not know you and though she may have her misgivings, she’ll take most of what you say as whole cloth and advise as such. Which, of course, is a waste of time. And money. So I lay it all out. I cop to my anger and distance and melancholy and mistrust while I was with her. I tell how we’d lost track of each other. That we’d lived more as roommates than as partners for a long time. Et cetera, etc. My therapist sits. She listens. She kind of raises her hand to interject: But that doesn’t give her – or anyone – the right to cheat. You get that, right? You don’t need to make excuses. It’s natural to. But you don’t gotta. She kind of smiles and shrugs like, Duh, okay.

For months or years she was depressed. A kind of depression. A sadness. A melancholy.

But, you know, so was I. It was not the serious kind of depression. But it was serious enough. Sad and persistent as a summer rash. It was the prolonged blues. A kind of endless sagging of the shoulders. We wanted things and did not know how to go about obtaining them, though we felt they should have been ours.

She was anxious too. As well. Beyond anxious. Had anxiety. Generalized. Times were that she said she could not breathe while breathing, that she was dead while living, that the earth was collapsing while remaining composed, believing all, true and real as anything lived in that moment, and I there, giving her an orange to peel, spraying lavender scented water in the air, sparking a joint and holding it for her, pouring a finger of gin, folding a paper fan and waving it, shaking a pill out of the orange pill bottle, bumbling as best I could, but not well enough, not understanding but comprehending, accepting it, and feeling woe and wanting to find quiet and peace and calm for her restless spirit.

The days slough by. Slow. Interminable days. I go to work. I go home. I don’t eat but a meal a day. I run for miles in the nighttime. The winter days dark by the time I get home. And rain clambering down from the clouds. I wear my black running tights and a long sleeve shirt, my sock hat, and put the music on and run. Four, five, six miles. Up and down Willamette. As fast as I can. I feel like I’m always shivering.

To occupy my time, I watch Magnolia over and over again.
To occupy my time, I paint the rooms of my apartment.
To occupy my time, I walk to the center of the beautiful green bridge that soars like a steel canopy over my apartment, and look down, and consider the time to traverse the distance from where I stand to where my gaze falls below.

Something new that happens is that I stop writing. Stop reading. The capacity to do so, the drive to do so, simply vanishes. Like a fart in the wind. Like yesterday and all the days that have ever passed. Every moment that has ever occurred. Perhaps it is a vengeance, a hex, for having sent so many books, so many words, stories, truths, to the brushpile earlier in the year. It wouldn’t be undeserved. This lasts for months and months and months. When people ask me what I’m working on, I tell them that I’m no longer a writer. It was yet one more item to add to the list of items I’d lost: the love of my life, the dog, my uncle, my sense of place in my limited world.

After being encouraged by friends and coworkers, I force myself to be single for a time. To pry myself from the dark rooms of my apartment and meet people. It is not easy. It is a wry comedy of errors. Seven years is a long time to be with someone. But I try, anyway. Runs with an acquaintance also newly single. It is good, in that it is new. We send texts saying, Hey, that was fun! and then we churn halfheartedly in the water and never quite reach each other and we stop running, stop going for beers, stop sitting next to each other. I try some more. Cocktails and coffee and blandishments and hugs and handshakes. There is softness and light, there is fumbling. It is easy to never see someone again. I take stock and review. It is like performance. Say this next time, don’t say that next time. Don’t follow up a told story with one of your own. Pick up the tab. Smoke a cigarette. Walk slow in the sidewalk. Keep your legs crossed and breathe clean. This is how one void is filled with another. Goodbye, hello. Time moves forward. Time is always unmoored. There is so much pretending. Gab, gab, gab. Everyone is interesting for an hour and then what. Sigh. Buzz a raspberry with your lips. Go for runs. Meets your pals at the spot and drink the cold beer, have a chuckle about that time you tried the dating scene, embrace solitude.

She calls again. Or she emails. Or she texts. She needs help with the dog. She has him. I orphaned him to her. I could not care for him. I worked too much. He was alone all the time. Those 10 hours a day adding up and adding up. He got a bladder infection and watered his peeing spots with bloody urine fetid as the odor of old plague, and I freaked. So she has him. My single biggest regret of the whole deal. My only regret. To hell with her. But – him. My nervous boy. Sixty-pound Labrador mutt. Wound up and scared of everything. Lovely and perfect and kind, all that she is not. She asks can I help. She has this one class that she teaches, all day class, can’t make it home, no one to help with him. To let him out. Figure it out, I want to say. Call your fella in Colorado, why don’t ya. Or whomever you’d had in this town we inhabit. But then, I reconsider. Make sure you aren’t there, I write.

I didn’t lose my uncle. I did not misplace him. He died, of course. After too long a tenure with pancreatic cancer. Too short a tenure, because who wanted to see him go? I saw him not too long before he bid adieu in his Jersey brogue. He was sunken and ashen. He was sentient as a monk. He was weak. He was smiling all the time. Making slow, breathless jokes. I brought him canisters of good Oregon marijuana oil, sent care packages in the mail. I saw him in the summer before he passed. Amid his tour of the states he’d not seen in his prior years. We all of us smoked. His son and he, me, her, even my mother, who giggled sweet and sadly as we walked along the cold Oregon coast, the wind whippin