The air is dead: stiff and unmoving. All of the lights are off and the door creaks as I twist the key in the lock. Two yellow eyes look up at me and I smile. I let myself in, drop some cat food into the dish, and take a look around. They are only gone for one week, but it feels as if no family has lived here for much longer. With each step into the almost forgotten home, a different life presents itself to me. Maybe in another life I could have filled the corners with freshly cut flowers and painted the walls a respectable shade of blue. We would smile annoyingly at each other and laugh every day. It is possible, though, that I too would have been sucked down the same dark hole of depression with too few consequences and not enough motivation. Or maybe we could have had a perfectly normal life. I would wake up in the bedroom upstairs every day for years before I realized I was living someone else’s dream. Maybe things could have been different.
The purring starts to rumble under my feet and, like any good house cat, gives me a trip as I walk up the stairs. I know what I am looking for – a blue denim dress I had forgotten in the back of his car in August. What I find is heaps of belongings still in bins. They are memories that were never unpacked in a room that does not appear to be lived in. Every unfolded t-shirt seems to be a laying there in a symbolic mockery of all of the things that I could not fix, that I could not change or help.
Why do I do it, this emotional cutting? Feeding my ex-boyfriend’s cat while he and his family are away on vacation. The artifacts of our relationship just sit here in front of me, not actively wanted but simultaneously unable to be discarded. It feels cheerless and clandestine the same way seeing humanity’s masterpieces stowed away in the back rooms of the Louvre must feel. I cannot bring myself to speak the words out loud, that I am ready to step out of this life, his life, and all of the would-be lives, forever. It could easily be blamed on the fear of the unknown, the abyss of single-dom, but then I pull open the drawer of the bed stand and see our place cards from his sisters wedding and the note I left on his car after our first date. Before the screaming arguments and the public crying, there was real happiness. More than I thought I would, I had wanted it to work, bad.
I walk back down the stairs and take a seat at the kitchen table. The cat jumps into my lap and I scratch his head. Forcing the could-have-been’s out of my head; I open my laptop and get some work done in the quietness of someone else’s life.