The End of Longing
After my husband left for work this morning, I made another cup of coffee and washed dishes. I wiped soapy hands against jeans before lifting my shirt up to a mirror that we lean against a window ledge in our kitchen. Where glass rests against more glass, I looked into the smaller rectangle and saw fresh evidence of the fact I’ve lost a little weight over the summer. My waist and stomach have shrunken, though my husband hasn’t noticed. While he goes to work in a downtown Chicago office and I work from our apartment, an egg inside my ribs keeps expanding and presses on my diaphragm. Early mornings when I first awaken, I sense the sheen of its unbornness. Falling back asleep, I watch myself give birth not to a baby but to myself again. I tell myself I’ll have another lifetime for everything I’ve always wanted. I tell myself I can afford to do little more in this one than watch life happen.
One Friday evening in Manhattan, where my husband and I were spending a weekend a couple of weeks before this, we had a rare evening of fullness. The evening left us with nothing that either of us still wanted. Two of my closest friends and their spouses met us for dinner in the West Village, where we stayed for hours talking after our food was finished. None of us were in a hurry to leave our wholeness, to begin breaking it into pieces. Near eleven, an actor best known for a television series that ended more than a decade ago walked into our corner of a courtyard. The play he was starring in had finished production. He sat at the table across from us beneath a garland of paper lanterns, and he seemed to be at ease so long as we kept ourselves from staring.
Earlier that evening, before we had met our friends, my husband and I walked past the theater where he was performing. We saw his face and the play’s title, “The End of Longing,” without wanting to buy tickets, without even giving it consideration. Since his television series aired its last season, the actor has become better known for his alcohol and drug addiction. Less attractive in person than I would have expected, he drank water only and sat at the far end of the table from his castmates, who ordered wine, beer, and salads. His smile stayed toothless while they were laughing.
Unlike many of my friends and unlike my husband, I have never wanted to live in New York City. I have never wanted to move somewhere that leads more easily than other places to dreams of living an alternative existence. I have never wanted to pay more money for a smaller apartment, to ride more crowded subways than Chicago has already, to pursue another direction than my life has taken. Yet the morning after our evening of fullness, I could not help wishing some things were different. I could not help wishing my eyes were blue and sparkling rather than dull and brown. My last morning in this city for what I imagine will be a long time to come had started with my husband staring into my face as my eyes blinked open. Gazing at me with concern and revulsion, he told me to look in the mirror, when he watched me face my own reflection and absorb the fact my right eye was bleeding.
An internet search confirmed my symptoms matched those of a subconjunctival hemorrhage. Though frightening to witness, the condition is not a serious one. This form of internal bleeding is normally caused by too hard of sneezing, coughing, or straining from constipation. In the past few days, however, I had done none of these things. Overnight, after the evening of fullness ended, some blood vessels had simply burst at random. New York City is also one that can easily cause blood to break open from arteries. It can easily delude things into breaching their natural boundaries.
After we dressed and walked to Chelsea to buy breakfast, my eye was still weeks away from healing. Already forgetting the strain New York put on my body, my husband said he would never return to the Midwest again if he had his way about things. Temperatures had reached the mid-nineties as we bought bagels and iced coffee, as I continued walking several steps behind him. The air stank of sidewalk garbage, though my husband said he couldn’t smell it. Where I saw pools of urine, he only stretched his neck higher toward the tops of the buildings.
As we wandered closer toward the Village, an apartment complex with a striking art deco entrance caught his attention. He stopped and told me to look at what I knew had been a boutique hotel only a couple of years before this. When he pointed to the beauty of its cornices, I nodded in silence. I let him think he was the first one of us to see this. He would have had no way of knowing I stayed here once before without him, though he would have remembered me leaving him for the weekend had I taken time to remind him. He would have remembered having wanted to go with me when I told him I wanted to spend time with my friends without him. At the time, he seemed to understand this. He also did not ask me where I was staying, because he assumed I was staying with my friend who lives in Harlem.
I never told him that one of the friends I was visiting lived in Chicago, however, not New York City. Almost ten years older than I am, Sara lives only a matter of blocks away from our own apartment building. She has been married for decades to someone I have always found funny and handsome. Still she asked me if I wanted to meet her in Manhattan along with another man she was sleeping with. She asked me if I wanted to watch her live out an alternative existence. Looking back, I can see she must have known what my answer would be even before I did. Otherwise, she would not have risked telling me about the affair she was having. She must have sensed a desire for another life stirring inside me even if she knew nothing about the egg weighing on my diaphragm, pressing as it grows against my sternum. Had she ever really known me, had she ever seen me clearly, she would have understood I am content with waiting, with doing little more than watching.
At the time, I often met her for coffee at a bakery halfway between our two buildings. Sometimes I arrived early to engage in the briefest of interactions with its manager, whom I found attract