It was another mournful evening. Rivulets of rain abused Beckett’s window and aggressive torrents of wind swam through his orchard. He yawned, running a hand through his long, inky-black hair. He had innumerable things to do. Really, he did. But his eyes – verdant, mossy and shaped like horizontal icepicks had begun to bow obediently to the calming rhythm of the downpour. He set aside his drink, Southern Comfort and Pepsi, a holdover from a less-refined youth, and made motions to lift himself from his reclining chair.
Standing above his bed, Beckett remarked on its relieving vacancy. Even two years after the divorce, seeing it always managed to still his heart and leave him pleasantly surprised. The space had been occupied since, now and again, but no one had ever warmed it for long. Beckett liked that; the impermanence of it all. It made him feel like he was in control.
He wondered why his head felt so heavy.
A fall. A whimper. Shattered Swarovski. Beckett was on the floor, gasping. His arms had lost all sensation. His mind, though still lucid, was beset by a thick fog that left him confused – and afraid. Strokes can happen at any age, he struggled to tell himself. Get help or die. He willed himself to rise as fast as his muscles would let him. Beckett lurched forward, aiming for his bed. As he flew, he swung a limp arm in the direction of his phone, hoping to bat it off the nightstand and next to where he planned on landing. The phone crashed into the Empty Space. Beckett crawled over to it, using his chin, chest and knees. He dialed for help with a jab of his nose, and was soon strapped in the back of an ambulance, murmuring answers to questions he could only half understand.
Presyncope: a stress-induced pseudo-seizure or latent epileptic absence seizure. Not a stroke. That’s what the doctor said. Tests would have to be run; an MRI and an EEG at least. But for now, rest. At home.
Discharged. Taxi ride home. Back in bed. Beckett glanced at the Empty Space, uncomfortable with it for the first time. What if it had been a stroke? Who would have saved me? The symbol of his emancipation had morphed into a mecca of loneliness, a ringing alarm that tore into him so intensely he had to slap his hand on his heart to ground himself. Sweaty and fearful, Beckett panted as tears began to take shape in the long-dry corners of his thin, sharp eyes. An unintelligible inner-dialogue began as he begged a higher power, with all the words he could gather from the murky wells of his mind for relief. He was sure he was going to die. This was it. He was sure.
‘Generalised anxiety disorder’, ‘panic disorder’, ‘panic attacks’, ‘anxiety attacks’. Beckett read about them all at length on his smartphone after recovering. His eyes throbbed. I’m just tired, he thought. He shifted onto his side, facing away from the Space, and fell asleep in a puddle of drying sweat.
He dreamed of Tobe, his ex-husband. There he felt him, incorporeal, swaddling him lovingly. The idea of Tobe had taken shape as a collection of emotions and memories, visualised in gunmetal and rose and snapdragon yellow pointillism. It made him feel safe again.
Beckett awoke and instinctively rolled over to greet Tobe for the first time since the divorce. Nothing but air. He turned back around and picked up his phone, resolving to earn back Tobe’s presence in his life.
The message took three days to write. Each morning, after some variation of that same dream, Beckett would revise his draft until, finally, he felt the initial frivolities and half-truths had been chipped away. To best of his ability, he had revealed raw, unadulterated sincerity. It read:
I miss you.
A day passed with no response. Beckett wrote again:
It would mean a lot to have you here, now, with me. I haven’t been well.
His inbox was empty the next day, the next night, the next week. He checked it after his MRI scan; empty. Another presyncopal – or epileptic – spell; still empty.
I wish I never left you.
I still love you.
A phone call made. A phone call ignored. A message left:
I’m sorry, Tobe. Please don’t hate me. I hope you don’t hate me. Tell me I’m good – was good, won’t you? Be there for me. Care for me. I’m losing my mind.
And then, in the middle of the night, Tobe replied:
Beck, I don’t owe you this response, so I hope you appreciate it. I’ll say this, while I did truly love you – once – this is the last time I’ll be contacting you. Ever.
Thanks to my therapist, I’ve come to realise that you are a coercive, manipulative, emotional vampire who completely siphoned away my stamina and lust for life. You forced me to capitulate to every whim, fancy, desire, aesthetic taste and urge you ever had during our time together. In arguments, I compromised by conceding, always, to avoid blistering rage. In conversations, I learned quickly that embracing your interests and suppressing my own would be the only way you’d stay interested. Interested in me. Interested in us. I was diligent, dedicated, even obsessed with you, especially obsessed with keeping you happy. But, like any high-order narcissist, you still threw me away when you got bored.
You will never see me again. You will never speak to me again. You don’t need me, you need someone, anyone, to fill the role of caregiver, entertainer, sex-toy, therapist and punching bag, like I did. Get help before you ruin another life. You are ill. You are an abuser.
Beckett didn’t know how to react. His initial, and most powerful, response was defensive, outraged denial that nearly had him firing back a knee-jerk message leading with HOW DARE YOU. Instead, he steadied himself, let his phone slip through his fingers and allowed himself a moment of thought. He examined his relationships throughout life – romantic, platonic, even familial – looking to confirm his evident normalcy and perceived penchant for compassion.
His parents were difficult to get along with, but that’s common enough. Friends? Temporary, of course. A means to an end. This wasn’t even his decision, it was never anything but mutual – that’s just how society functions. Partners were intended to have staying power in a man’s life, but one couldn’t be expected to hang on to a relationship that had lost its charm, right? Why limit yourself when there could be someone more intelligent, more beautiful, more exciting – just around the corner? It takes maturity to axe a marriage, like he had. That wasn’t indicative of anything other than a healthy sense of self-preservation.
But Tobe? That was something different. A mistake. One that had to be corrected. He needed Tobe, or wanted him – the distinction had never made much sense to Beckett. Regardless, Tobe should be here, that much was clear.
I could go to a therapist, that’d appease him, even give us some common ground, he thought. I could go in, just as a joke, and have the shrink write a letter declaring me unequivocally sane and kind. I could tell Tobe; make him feel ashamed for the things he’s said to me. Make him beg for another chance.
It was a fantastic plan. Beckett congratulated himself over a drink.
The therapist’s office was a more tense environment than he had imagined it would be. Softball questions turned rough. The doctor’s pitching arm began to resemble a rifle. Beckett would leave each session with an unfamiliar emotions frothing inside him, a reflux of feelings long thought to be digested.
With each visit, Beckett felt less and less himself. Inexplicably, that left him unconcerned. Beckett gradually learned to forgive his parents. He learned that friends often last a lifetime, that they weren’t just meant for pulling you up the ladder. Most shockingly, he learned that he may have been a less-than-perfect partner throughout his dating career. Perhaps even more so in his marriage.
One day, Beckett brought up the possibility of making amends to Tobe. The idea was quickly shot down. He had just begun the process of healing and, regardless, Tobe had clearly expressed that he had no desire to speak with him ever again. This was something the therapist believed was important to honour. She claimed that when relationships end, both parties reclaim themselves and their full autonomy. Gone is the collective noun. When an ex-partner demands to be left alone, whether or not they cite abuse – but especially if that’s the case – it’s vital that that wish be respected.
Beckett was at a loss. He could feel himself get healthier with each passing week, but he had no one to brag to, no one to congratulate him for it. The therapist suggested that his newfound potential for humility and empathy was its own reward, and that one day he would come to recognise that as fact. Even his still-unnamed pseudo-stroke attacks had subsided. Maybe one day he would see Tobe again, but not for any purpose. If he did see him, however, he figured he would just wave, and then keep on walking.