When my partner of seven years begins to see another woman, he will buy me a small, calico cat.
It’s a Saturday in November, and we’re out together when I see the cat in a cage in a PetCo. He immediately offers to buy her for me, and I won’t think that there’s anything unusual in this. Instead, I’m fixated on how shy she is—dashing beneath the bed and remaining there for weeks—and I worry I’ll have a new cat in this small family of ours who is scared of most people and by extension, the world.
But the cat will come out at the same time he does: “I’ve decided I don’t love you anymore,” he’ll say.
And, I will think it’s me.
We had just discovered we were pregnant, and I’d lost my adjunct teaching position for the spring (budget concerns, I was told), to which he said: “I can’t spend my life waiting for you to amount to something.”
So, I’ll think of drowning myself in the dark Truckee river downtown at ten o’clock on a Tuesday night in late December when it hits me that he’s really gone; our life is gone and it is because I’m not enough. But then I will remember I am an elite triathlete, and I swim too well for drowning. And so, I wander home under flickering street lamps to our—I mean, my—loft where I push my nose into the living room carpet to muffle my sobbing.
When I return to sanity, I realize all of this has nothing to do with me not being enough. Instead, I think it has something to do with honesty, with newness and the disguises we wear around the people we don’t know, and the ones we forget to wear when we think we do.
There’s a mural in downtown Reno that depicts a sky filled with clouds at either dusk or sunrise. There’s no horizon line and no depth, really, just the figure of clouds colored with the faintest trace of growing or fading light on a pale blue background. There have been days when I’ve walked along the Truckee River and looked up at the stone building, and I found myself thinking that the mural serves as some sort of camouflage.
It’s one of those Sundays in January after my ceiling collapsed, when it hadn’t snowed in quite a while, and it’s too cold, that I decide to go downtown. And I know I’m completely alone in the world. The ice skating rink is filled with young families, and the hip bars are filled with jersey-wearing twenty-somethings rooting for their favorite team in the playoffs. I don’t follow football (I used to, when I lived with a man who cared about the game), so I walk past the hip bars and the ice rink and wander into a dive next to the mural.
I call the cat Sanchia. This was name of the third daughter of a not-so-wealthy 13th century Baron in Provence, France, who married a man who didn’t love her, who left her for a campaign in Germany after their only child died. She died alone of the flu. He remarried shortly thereafter.
She has abandonment issues, the woman from the shelter tells me on the phone when she calls weeks later to make sure I still want the cat. She’ll reach out with her paw and hold you there and grab you with her mouth, like she’s biting.
She’ll do this with me. Fall into rapturous purring and then a swipe when I pull my hand away. But only briefly—a week or two—until she discovers I’m not going anywhere.
He’s the only figure in the dive bar, a short sixty-something Caucasian man with wire-rim glasses and hair that’s more gray than blonde. He’s got a half-finished glass of Chardonnay in front of him, and he doesn’t notice me, at first, sitting as far away from him as possible next to the brick wall.
I can tell he’s been there a while by the way he slouch-sits and the way the word “fucking” seems to make it into every sentence as he chats with the bartender. But I know what I’m there for—to not be alone in my loft—so I tell myself again and again that it’s OK to be in a bar; it’s OK to have a glass of wine; it’s OK to pretend to watch the game as the clouds mimic the mural, outside.
But then the sixty-year-old, glasses-wearing man asks me what I do. And I don’t want to talk about myself—about my unemployment status, the hole in my ceiling, how I became alone. So I say the only thing that comes to mind: I’m a writer.
He moves a few stools closer and says: I’m an artist. You want to see my work?
Fuck yeah, you do, he says and reaches into what looks like a laptop bag (without a laptop) and pulls out snapshots of the mural. He points and says: I did that.
I don’t believe him, at first.
He says: I stood on a fucking crane and pissed on that fucking wall and said: fuck you, Reno, and painted a mural. I laugh at this (pissing on something you’ve painted seems funny to me, somehow. Or, it approximates how I feel about certain things in my life. The wreckage of the past few months, for instance.)
Later that night when the muralist sits on the stool next to me:
Green to Blue? That’s fucking brilliant!
He’d just asked me what the name of the song was playing in the bar, and I knew it was Miles Davis, and it was from the album Some Kind of Blue, but the words mixed themselves up and I’d said: It’s Green to Blue.
You know why that’s so great, darlin’? He doesn’t wait for me to respond. Because that’s fucking impossible!
Because blue’s a primary color?
Because you can’t turn Green to Blue, darlin’. That’s fucking brilliant.
When things fall apart it’s hard not to call it a tragedy. The cracks and fissures reveal the empty spaces in what had once been a life. My partner was in my life for seven years, and the size of the hole that much absence leaves is vast and dark, much bigger than the hole in my ceiling when it gave way on New Year’s Eve, the 80-year old plaster crushing my office chair where I had been sitting minutes before, writing.
And when one person is your life for seven years, you miss out on a lot like adopting rescue cats and pissing on walls and meeting really drunk muralists at a bar in downtown Reno on a Sunday in January. Or, you stop calling the people you loved once, and they end up dying, and you miss their funeral, and you forget how much you miss them now that they are gone.
Now that you are alone.
And the silence, instead.
So, when I reach for my phone these days, who can I call? I can’t call the one person whose number I have memorized. After all, he doesn’t love me.
But there are names saved in my cell phone of friends who’ve passed.
I put my phone on speaker and expect the monotone beep of nonexistence after I dial these numbers that can’t, possibly, exist since it’s been at least eight years since I’ve dialed any of them. Instead, I hang up when the expected silence of a disconnected number turns into a ring.
I wonder, at the other end, about the puzzled faces who read the 775 area code and ask themselves if they know anyone who lives in Reno.
The cat’s name’s Sanchia but I call her Sanchilla.
Sanchilla like Godzilla, stomping across my chest when I’m trying to sleep. Sanchilla with her monotone voice which says: “Get up. Feed me. I’m here.”
But also Sanchilla, soft as a Chinchilla and just about the same size. Gentle and delicate, a creature who, above all, needs me.
She stops hiding under the bed around the time I saddle up to the bar next to a muralist who says “fuck” a lot.
The muralist tucks my hair behind my ear and leans too close, as if to kiss me.
You’re fucking brilliant. His Chardonnay-breath says. You’re a fucking writer.
I try to back pedal but my back’s already against a brick wall. I didn’t ask for this. I wanted a distraction. To feel like I wasn’t alone in the world. Not admiration or attention.
He buys me another glass even though I tell him to stop, and I get up to leave. He grabs my hands, pleads with me to stay in a way that makes me embarrassed.
Come back another night, he says.
So, I give him my number, scribbled on a cocktail napkin. Before I walk out the door, he’ll claim he lost it. I sigh, relief, and silently thank fate or God for watching out for me.
But it happens like I feared it would: the repeated calls, the shrill ring of my phone on another Saturday in January. It’s the muralist, and he’s just gotten out of a meeting with another writer who’s brilliant, and he’s stopped by the Tap House in downtown Reno for a glass of wine. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon.
The fucks haven’t started yet, but I can hear them building in the back of his throat with each audible sip. The bar behind him sounds empty, and I tell him I don’t want to join him because I’m floored with the flu (really), and when he starts slur into something mildly pornographic I’m not calling for your cooch, darlin’ I tell him I have to go.
He calls back: five, seven, eight, eleven, twenty, twenty-two and twenty-nine minutes later. Each time I hear the tingle of my ringtone, I half-hope it’s any other number than the one I’ve come to recognize. My parents, the tax guy, my ex. But no: it’s the muralist, again and again, his calls like the heartbeat of some medieval monster which lives in my loft with me.
He continues calling throughout the night, and I bury my cellphone under a pillow in the couch, and I dream, briefly, of the man who left me. But then I hear the rings from my phone which wake me, muffling into the early morning: 4:38 am, 4:47 am, 5:14 am, 6:45 am.
The messages, the few words of each I listen to before hitting the delete key, begin the same: You’re a brilliant fucking writer. But you know what? You’re pathetic! You need somebody. You don’t fucking need anybody, darlin’. Except for an asshole like me. Yeah, I’d marry you. Let’s get married, and I’ll take that sweet cooch…
I boil water to make tea as the Sanchilla dances around my legs, demanding food.
It is eight o’clock on a Thursday night in February, and after another call from the muralist, I lose myself; all those messages I have no desire to answer weigh against the heavy silence of my new life.
In the darkness, I hold myself in my arms while the headlights from passing cars flicker, casting my body on the wall. I’m alone, and it’s cold, but I force myself to feel an arm I can’t feel and the exhale of a breath that isn’t mine.
Then, I feel the brush of a softness at my ankles, rubbing because of instinct and desire, a feeling beyond the painted walls of propriety I have abandoned. The newness of this silence renders me the most me I’ve been this snowless winter when my ceiling gives me access to the nighttime stars. And as I’m about to withdraw into illusion—into a life that no longer exists—the spell is broken by something small and innocent as the light fades from green to blue.
“Mew,” the Sachilla demands, calling me back into the world, again.
Author Bio: Rebecca A Eckland holds an MFA in Nonfiction writing from Saint Mary’s College. She also has two Master of Arts degrees in both English and French awarded by the University of Nevada, Reno where she has taught in the Core Writing and Core Humanities Departments. Additionally, she freelances for local periodicals as well as for longer ghost writing projects. Her work has appeared in The Barnstormer, Caught in the Carousel, 3/Go Magazine, and The Rudder Magazine; she has forthcoming work in Weber: The Contemporary West, TAYO Literary Magazine and Hotel Amerika. She is the creator and organizer of “Literary Arts & Wine,” a reading series held every third Sunday of the month in Truckee, California. She is also the winner of the 2014 Boise 70.3 Ironman, the 2014 Lake Tahoe Triathlon and plans to compete in the Ironman World Championships in 2016.
Artwork: Rebecca A Eckland