There’s a bird in your chest and it wants to get out, but your ribs. Your ribs. The bird is beating and beating its little wings against the cage of your bones.
Simon, a work colleague, and I are at dinner at a pizza restaurant in another town.
I have no idea that, in eight days time, I will tell my husband I’m done, that I will set my wedding rings on the kitchen island and never put them on again.
I think this is just dinner with a colleague while we are both attending a conference. I think we are becoming friends after being mere acquaintances for four years, that we are becoming friends and nothing more.
Over dinner, I learn that Simon has been divorced not once, but three times, and he is recently out of a long-term relationship. He hasn’t dated much since.
“You should download Bumble!” I tell him.
“I hate dating apps,” he tells me.
“Bumble is different,” I promise. “You’ll be surprised. Plus the women message first.”
He smirks, but still goes on to download it and create a profile.
“Which pictures?” he says. He scrolls through his camera roll, showing himself, a professional muscian, playing on stage, in another country wearing a colorful scarf, posing in front of a wall scrawled with graffiti.
I help him select a few, and he writes a short quippy bio.
Our pizza arrives, and we keep chatting while he casually swipes on pretty women.
He shows me the profile of an interesting woman. She’s blond and smiling, in her 40s. She looks like she should model for REI.
“I wish she lived in our area,” he says. “I like outdoorsy women.”
I’m not outdoorsy, I think to myself, but I say, “We’re only five hours away! Plus maybe you could come up here and go kayaking or something with her. Looks like she does it a lot.”
He swipes right on her, and she matches with him. She immediately messages him.
I feel a prickle of jealousy.
What is that? I ask myself. I’m married.
My next thought is, but are you? You filed for divorce three months ago. You don’t know what you’re doing now. You don’t even know why you’re still sharing a home and a bed with a man you don’t even know if you still love.
I get up and walk to the bathroom. My choice is deliberate. I want him to see me walk away. I want him to see me walk back.
When I return, I watch him scan my body as I walk back to the table.
“Look,” he says when I sit down, “I have a date maybe.”
I smile a little, and we return to eating and chatting.
After dinner, we walked back the hotel we are both staying at. We stand quietly before the elevators.
He asks me, “What are you doing later?”
I’m aware of the question behind the question: Do you want to spend time with me again later?
“I’m going to take a bath and go to bed,” I tell him.
When the elevators open to the floor we are both staying on, he asks me again: “You going to do anything later?”
I repeat, firmly, “No, I’m going to take a bath and go to bed.”
I don’t even know that my firmness is a facade. I don’t even know that I have already let him in, that whatever boundaries I may have had in place are crumbling. That I am crumbling.
Alone in my hotel room, I take a bath and start reading the book he‘d told me to purchase when we’d visited a bookstore together earlier.
The book is sensual and romantic. I find myself aware of my own nakedness, of how alone I am in my hotel room, of how lonely I feel. Reading it feels like a sort of intimacy, like Simon chose to share something with me when he told me to purchase it.
When my bath is done, I lotion my legs and dress. I call my husband, but he doesn’t answer. I sit down to do some work for my presentation the next morning.
I keep finding myself wondering if Simon will knock on my door and what I will do if he does.
You didn’t even know birds could weep, but this one in your chest is. It’s shrieking inside you, slapping your heart with its wings, slamming its body against the walls of your chest. That damn bird. Your damn cage of bones.
There’s nothing you can do.
It’s going to die inside you, and some part of yourself with it.
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