rebuilding - a short story
“Life went on,” Jane’s grandfather said with casual finality. She waited for him to offer up anything else. He didn’t.
Life goes on.
As if it were that easy.
For a moment, she considered it; how easy it would be to look back at this point in her life and recall it just the same way as her grandfather did. To think that there will be a time where she can eat mocha ice cream again without thinking about how it tasted on Her lips. Where late nights listening to Bruno Major were no longer laced with heartache and the memories of pushing furniture away to slow dance together in the middle of the living room. Where she can open the blinds to the large windows of her apartment — now occupied by only one — once more to let sunlight fill in all of the empty space. A fleeting “back in my day” anecdote. To wake up one day and realize that it’s been a while since heartache and self-loathing thoughts made a home in her consciousness. To not associate Her in everything, and all of the spaces in between.
It could all be so simple.
“Do you still think about her?” Jane asked him. He made a quiet grunt in the back of his throat.
“So you do. You still think about her.”
The nonchalance of his brief answers were beginning to frustrate her. Somehow it was as if she was even further back than where she started.
“Just not as much,” he added after a second.
She mulled it over in her head. That’s it? Is that as far as I’ll recover?
“Thank you,” she said simply before standing up. He waited a breath to see if she had anything more to say before giving a curt nod.
Life goes on, she told herself as she left.
Life goes on. She had to believe that it was true.
The next day, Jane called out of work. Thank God it’s Friday. It wasn’t until 4 pm that her stomach won over in the form of a loud grumble that forced her out of bed. She's been awake since 11 am, swallowed up by her gray bedsheets. She can still smell Her in them.
Padding over to her kitchen, she opened her fridge and was met with nothing but a single egg in an otherwise-empty carton, cheese that was just starting to mold, ketchup, and some wine. It isn’t until after she pours herself a full glass that she realizes that she had done so on auto-pilot and before having anything to eat. Oh well.
She suddenly remembers the microwave dinners that she bought earlier that week and opens the other side of her fridge. Oh.
It took her a whole minute, frozen at the sight of the half-empty carton of mocha ice cream, before the fridge’s timer rang out, notifying her that the door had been left open for too long. She shook herself out of it and grabbed the container before shutting the door. The ice cream expired last week.
She let out a small huff through her nose and held it above the trash, staring at it until it started to melt. This is stupid. It’s expired ice cream.
She sighed and finally chucked it into the trash before grabbing the first box of microwave pasta that she could find and taking a hefty sip of wine.
A month has gone by, and Jane still can’t seem to accept that their last interaction was truly The Last Interaction. She tries to convince herself that it isn’t her fault. Sometimes, it works.
It doesn’t seem right, the way they left things. The way that it didn’t feel like an end at all. No “goodbye” or “see you later.” Just a question desperately asked with no answer given. Or perhaps the answer came immediately in the form of a closing door, the rolling sounds of luggage growing fainter and fainter. Perhaps it was her own inability to swing the door open and chase after her. Maybe if she were tougher or more wise like her grandfather, she would be able to acknowledge and accept these as real answers.
It doesn’t feel like a book closing or a new story beginning. It doesn’t even feel like the end of the chapter or the end of a page. It’s more like the author gave up entirely with no indication of how long the story was meant to be. Just up and decided that there were more interesting stories to attend to.
Her grandfather has called to check on her. She ignores his calls. She knows it’s selfish of her, that she used to visit regularly, but despite her guilt, she can’t bring herself to talk to anyone.
Two months have gone by with little progress on her front. Jane still looks at the couch and remembers the nights where they watched movies, cuddled up together until they fell asleep. She looks at their table and remembers cooking and serving “breakfast” for the both of them at 12 pm on the weekends because neither of them were morning people. She takes a little longer than usual during her showers, recalling the times where they innocently and casually washed each other off at the end of an exhausting day. Or the times that they took less-than-innocent showers together at the beginning of new days.
The entire apartment was a reminder of Her, all of the things that She had touched, all of the things that they had touched together, and all of the things that She would never touch again. Jane considered moving out entirely before talking herself out of the impracticality of it. Instead, she got a new couch and put a tablecloth and a vase with flowers over the dining room table.
Other than leaving a dent in her wallet and providing her a reason for self-reprimanding, it unfortunately did very little. She decided against contacting the college kid she had sold the couch to over Facebook Marketplace.
She kept the new couch; it was more comfortable, anyways.
Three months go by without a word exchanged between either of them. And yet, Jane still hopes.
Somehow, she’s even sadder.
I guess this is it, she thinks after a full Saturday spent sulking on the floor. (She thought that, if she could at least get out of bed, she would be able to avoid laying down and wallowing all day. It didn’t work.)
Really, what else was she expecting? It would be foolish of Jane to continue to imagine scenarios where She would come back to their — her apartment, bearing flowers and an apology. Where they would sit at the small dining table for only two and work it out. Maybe they would yell at each other or maybe they would crack small jokes to lighten the mood.
But it never came, and it probably never will.
She holds onto that “probably” like it’s a life-jacket.
She always ends up drowning with the “never will.”
The thing about trying to forget about someone is that it can’t be an active effort. Save for dumping out expired ice cream and spacing out your clothes to make the other half of your closet look less empty, there are no instructions on how to forget about someone. Trying to do so is always in vain, because how could you stop if you’re making an active effort?
She pops into Jane’s head more than she would like to admit.
Sunday isn’t much different.
It’s been four months, and Jane’s communication outside of work has still been very sparse. A couple of brunches. Popping in and out of gatherings as a simple courtesy. She fears what she’ll turn into if she goes out for drinks and overindulges. Every interaction feels hollow.
She hasn’t been brave enough to go on social media; she never brought herself to blocking, muting, or unfollowing Her to ensure that She isn’t the first thing that she sees when she opens an app.
Jane opens her social media apps. She wasn’t the first thing to pop up on any of them. Jane isn’t sure if she’s happy about that or not. Nevertheless, Jane makes the extra effort to search Her username and unfollo— mute? Block?
Is that too petty?
Unfollow, it is.
Jane makes the extra effort to unfollow Her. After a second, she decides to remove Her from her follower list as well. She tries not to read into the fact that She was still following Jane in the first place.
After taking a minute or ten to still her heart, she goes through her own social media and dele—archives? No—deletes all remaining traces of Her. Surprisingly, her profile isn’t as empty as she thought it would be. She archives the rest of her posts anyway.
She visits her grandfather in the morning. He offers little comfort, but it’s nice to be around someone again.
Five months go by. Jane climbs into her new, pale-yellow bedsheets and has a bit of a hard time sleeping. She puts her earphones in and shuffles her "Snooze" playlist.
The first song is Bruno Major.
She disconnects her phone from her headphones and connects it to her speakers instead. The song rings out loud, filling in the spaces of her apartment to make it a little less empty.
She slept well that night.
On the sixth month, Jane trusts herself enough to go out for drinks with friends. She starts reaching out to people first. She apologizes for ghosting them.
She visits her grandfather for companionship rather than comfort. Well, she visits him for comfort, too, but she doesn’t need it as much anymore. They've taken up chess. She sucks at it. But it makes him happy, and that's enough reason for her to keep playing. It's nice to do something for him for once.
At the persistence of some friends, she goes on a date. It doesn’t have to be serious, they said. Just something to get back out there.
She enjoys the date. They follow each other on Instagram. They don’t talk to each other ever again.
By the seventh month, Jane doesn’t realize that the windows have welcomed the sun for weeks now. Bruno Major comes and goes through her playlists without a second thought. Her Instagram has started to fill up again. She invites friends over for movie nights. There are a few decorative changes to the apartment; enough for guests to notice and compliment the new look. She greets the workers with a bright smile when she visits her grandfather at his care home. They greet her back.
She still doesn’t wake up past 11 am on the weekends, but on a rare occasion she’ll take a walk in the park. It’s fall, and the nice weather inspires her.
Today is one of those days. It’s 9 am and she decides not to hit snooze on her alarm. Outside, a couple shares ice cream from the creamery across the street. She chooses not to think about it.
When was the last time she’s thought about it?
She gets changed, eats a croissant, and heads out to take a slow stroll through the park. She breathes it in.
Life goes on.