Photos Standa Merhout
Styling Eryka Clayton
Art direction Tommaso Nicolao
Digital artist Cristian Girotto
Makeup Dana Arcidy
Hair Damian Monzillo
Nails Keri L. Blair-Walden
Model Katya Kulyzhka @Women NYC
We had wanted a home on high, a place where curtains would not be necessary, our only spying neighbors the changes in weather. I can’t remember now if I wanted this, too, or if I am only imagining my voice inside his, agreeing, as it often did, all that was soft and gleaming about me attuned to what was dark and stubborn about him. Our apartment was a spectacle, all its lines in symphony, greens talking to blues, silks talking to teaks, and still it always felt like there was nowhere to sit. He had loved me standing anyway, the bows down my spine tied, the hair around my face pulled back against any extreme expression. Is it strange to leave someone early in the morning, while they sleep? Aren’t the worst parts of our lives supposed to unfold in the evening, the brittle hours of the day finally snapping in the dark? His voice always had a neutralizing effect on me, a way of dismantling my very real unhappiness, and in its absence was the only way I could go.
But even in his sleep there was an aspect of power and charm, and I moved through the space barefoot, breathing as though it were very expensive to do so. My husband had the peculiar tendency of calling out in his sleep, impressions of birds he had perfected in years watching them in forests and on mountains, and these were sounds, even at my angriest, to which I always moved closer. If he hooted like the great horned owl, if he trilled like the yellow cassique, I knew my resolve would diminish like my voice did, in arguments we had, about his tendency to interrupt me in public, about the vacations he took alone and I did not.
Although I had thought of it for years, a life that was only mine, I could not, when the time came, decide what it was I ought to bring. I considered jackets for rain, I considered shoes for running. In the five am dark I crept through our perfect, unhappy home touching who I had been, a woodcut print of a woman washing, a dress he had given me, on my twenty-fifth birthday, that was made of mirrors. I love watching myself in you, he said. A joke I had made then, about a glass suit, about his body being remade in my refracted image, had parted around him like water around a rock. He had only adjusted his watch, tipped the last of his cocktail down his throat.
Standing in our closet, moving hangers from left to right, I heard a shift from the nest of down and linen where he slept. My fingers ossified, my ribs retracted, I thought of how hot his body would be, how one thin sock would have slipped off, the other halfway down his left foot. I could not decide which was more true: that there was not the time to choose the right things to take, or that there were, for the life on the other side of this one, no right things.
I was finally alone, but I was falling through the world without desire or ability.
When the call came it was unlike any I’d heard before, not the rock thrush, not the garden warbler. It did not seem as if the sound, contrapuntal, reaching as high as it did low, could be coming from one place. I pushed the door forward, feeling how the center of my body had changed, my hips magnetized to his. In bed with the just risen sun, my husband had freed himself from all pillows and blankets, and he was splayed, eyes still shut, with his palms up and mouth open. The pour of the light seemed to go both ways, into him and out of him, his body and what illuminated it each as important, each listening as carefully.
The sound, the light—I saw myself move into them, put a hand to his hinged jaw. His sleeping fingers curled around my wrist, and I saw, again, the rest of our lives. A cloud passed, dropping the temperature of the moment, and I tried to pull back. On my nightstand lay my clutch from the night before, slight but rigid, perhaps the only part of myself that had gone unseen, perhaps the only place where my privacy remained. He had not known what I kept inside, and he had not asked. Thinking this I reached for it, thinking this I stood. As I unlocked the glass door, the sound became angrier and louder, the bird that was not a bird, the husband who was no longer my husband.
What can I say of the time that followed, except that it felt like an agreement in which I was not totally complicit? Without the things that had added up to my life, scaffolding that had kept me from the inside of my thinking, I was finally, alone—but I was falling through the world without desire or ability. I would pay for things, juices that promised clarity of skin and mind, postcards I might decorate my home with once I had a home, and leave without them. Life had become the long walk between appointments, gold with beginnings, silvered with doubt, red with the anger of getting nowhere. What people saw in me I don’t know, just that they stared at me as you might at someone who has overdressed. Against the contents of my purse my phone rang and pounded so often that I stopped hearing it, like a disability I had learned to live around.
Months unspooled in this way, my mind waiting for the thing that would change it. Men in seersucker on bridges in the park, men in marled wool in the middle of crosswalks, men in cashmere overcoats hailing taxis—they turned at the sight of me, asking whether there were some directions they could give. Bag in hand, my fingers grown accustomed to the task of keeping it closed, I continued on my way.
I wish I could say I had acted in solitude, that no external forces had a hand in the transformation that finally came. But like it was the weather that had judged me in the home in the sky I shared with my husband, it was the weather too who changed me in the place I had fallen to live without him. On an evening when the air turned over into cold, and the color of the moon became the color of the world, I set down what I had been carrying, the privacy that had become a burden. Laying on the stone wall that separated the park from the street, slim and obsidian, the bag looked like it could have belonged to anybody, like it could hold any number of stiff and necessary secrets.