“If You Ever Should Leave” by Zoey Miller

“That’s the fucking thing these days; nobody takes marriage seriously anymore.” She lay next to me nude, her pale slender leg propped on my shoulder as I gently stroked her calf. The irony of her statement wasn’t lost on me; she never even took her wedding ring off when we slept together. Not that it bothered me much anymore. I had discarded my guilt after the first few times we had sex. Hurried stolen kisses outside the bar and discreet rendezvous quickly turned into brazen whispers and mischievous grins before openly sauntering back to my place. I had never met her husband and felt no pangs of remorse for wronging a man who existed to me only as a hypothetical.

I chuckled softly and she back-peddled a bit, explaining as she had so frequently before about how she would eventually leave him. How she couldn’t love the man, or bring herself to sexual arousal with him, and on and on about how our tryst was somehow a saintly act when all things were considered. I couldn’t listen to it anymore: it didn’t matter and I didn’t care. I was more than satisfied with the brevity of our tacit relationship; any designs she had for after her marriage didn’t involve me and I knew it. My mind drifted, my consciousness lifted by post-coital reverie, floating somewhere between oblivion and the fleeting thoughts that surface shortly before dreams take you.

Every once in awhile, though, my buzz would halt and crash, weighed and anchored by a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It bubbled at my center and burned like an ulcer, shattering my bliss and casting me back into the drone and rhythm of reality. It pulled at me, not like something recently forgotten and waiting, just on the tip of my tongue, but like something long buried. Carefully pushed aside and concealed under layers of memories but with a string exposed. I knew that if I tugged ever so slightly all those memories would tumble away to reveal a naked truth, an exposed nerve. The thought of it made me anxious but I pulled anyway, yanking away the fallacies and condescension I so carefully used to disguise myself. My ego crashed down into memories of my childhood, into the neglected truths, packed away and shoved into the corners of my mind.

My mother never married my father. They both had too much sense for anything like that. To know who they are is to wonder how they ever got along in the first place. My father was an older boy who lived down the street, so I suppose the convenience of it all must have held some appeal. It was enough, at least, to have me and my younger brother brought into the world before parting ways, agreeably if not exactly amicably. Neither of them have ever talked to me about their relationship together, and I have no living memories of that time. The only evidence of it ever existing was of an old photo handed down to me of my father taking my mother to her prom. They were both smiling broadly, my mother in a gorgeous black dress with long elbow length white gloves and a netted lace veil hanging slightly over her face. They seemed happy and I treasured that photo for the longest time because of it, using it as a bookmark in the journal I kept as a kid. It was the only proof that I had ever come from love, the only proof that I was ever anything more than a disapproving look when I did something to remind my mother that I was my father’s child.

After they had separated, they both moved on, marrying other people and settling down—twice each. My first step-father was a practical man with impractical jehri curls. I remember even then, at the height of the jehri curl phenomenon, being confused and terrified by the glossy, loose curls. They made me anxious, watching them undulate as he walked. I liked him well enough, but their relationship was just as short-lived as my parents. The divorce was hasty and unmessy, despite the fact that it had produced two additional children. Visitation was agreed upon, child support settled, and that was another chapter closed in a book of many.

It was just a few years later that she met her next husband, and though they remain together and married, the whole experience left me with the impression that relationships were impermanent things. Like virtual particles or foreign pop sensations, they were transient and ephemeral, meant to live briefly and die suddenly. Love was dubious to me at best, marriage a well-meaning but laughable joke. It was a mistake reserved for the naive and well-intentioned, but I wanted none of it. At least that’s what I had always told myself, and to an extent that was true, but mostly it was an emotional scapegoat I skated away on whenever I looked too closely at my own anxieties.

I remember a friend of mine once called me up for a drink at the bar and, being the saint that he was, he waited until our second PBR and a shot of cheap bitter whiskey later to lay the heavy on me: he was getting a divorce. He hung his head somberly over his drink and for long moments it was quiet. I gave him the only advice I could offer the man, the first thing that really came to mind—that he should get a tattoo. Maybe buy a motorcycle and take some karate lessons.  We both laughed, so I guess I succeeded in cheering him up some, and I’d like to think that it came from a place of wisdom and altruism but again it was all ego, another front to move the conversation along. Marriage made me uncomfortable, divorce even more so. And I can pin that on social angst, on the fraudulence of monogamy, or on how I could never be one of the mundanes who seem to function without a personality and get married because it’s the next logical step and who fuck terribly, but the truth was more akin to cowardice. I knew, right down to the core of me, that I could never survive a divorce.

The concept absolutely terrified me. That I would have to go through another one of those—again. To have the Earth moved beneath me, to have another promise of stability shattered and broken, leaving the shards to be crushed beneath my heels as I try to keep moving, forced to walk on. To have to convince some poor dumb kid that I did love their mother, that we had just “grown apart.” Or worse, to not talk to them about it at all. Leaving them wondering their whole life about some Polaroid in the back of a photo album, of me and their mother smiling broadly, boldly, dumbly in love.

I was afraid and that fear made me weak, but even worse than that, I was angry. Angry at myself for being so sickly weak with fear and angry at myself for destroying someone else’s happiness with a stupid affair. Someone who had been brave enough to have taken that leap and opened himself to that possibility but also too—and I realized this—I was angry at him. Angry at his weakness and his willingness to trust so foolishly, for being dumb enough to get married in the first place, for being a milquetoast unable to protect himself and his family from me and my lechery.

It was sometime later, after the darkness of it all disgusted me and rotted me away from the insides and I had ended the whole wretched thing, that I found myself in the most god-awful tuxedo imaginable. Grey and candy pink, an eye wrenching dichotomy of colors thrown together by some master tailor-sadist that had it out for every goddamn groomsman in the room. It was my brother’s wedding, and though I love the man, I could not still my uneasiness. The whole idea of being in the wedding set me on edge, everyone’s happy grins and enraptured stares as the ceremony proceeded on with the whole charade. It was all sour bitterness and so I kept it down, prescribing myself a healthy regimen of beer and the occasional cocktail to keep me steady, smiling, and stupid. I didn’t even go home straight afterwards but instead had a friend drop me off at the bar by my house. The same bar that started the whole affair, where we would exchange dirty whispers and steal caresses as my hand would inch further down her lap.

I cannot tell you to this day how many drinks or shots I consumed or what I did while there, the tequila has stolen those memories from me, but I was the worse for wear before stumbling my way home. My roommate’s dog greeted me happily at the door and I ignored it as I trudged down the basement steps to my bedroom. I must have left my computer on the entire time I was out because it was cranking out some melodic tune. It was Ella Fitzgerald, “If you ever should leave,” she crooned soft and low, “why would I want to live?” I tried to flip on the light switch and somehow failed miserably. Again I tried, flailing dumbly in the darkness before giving up and plopping down on the floor of my doorway. I hated marriage and Ella Fitzgerald and every dumb schmuck in the world at that very moment. I just sat there, with the dog there next to me, both of us staring into my room. Both of us wary and afraid of the world, hesitant of the darkness that lay beyond.

10505374_827602226875_1907749450164983176_nZoey is primarily concerned with moments. Are we defined by them? Do they accumulate one after the next until they create a clear image of who we are? Or do we objectively exist above and outside them? Zoey likes to create spaces in his writing to explore these questions along with the reader.

His inspirations are Noam Chomsky, hip-hop music, Salinger, and most forms of whiskey.

He currently resides in central Ohio where he wages a not-so-silent war against all things mundane. You can find more of his work here.


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