My married friends were standing just inside their screen door. I was on the front porch lingering over our goodbyes after a long evening meal.
“But what is it,” I finally asked, intending the question for her, “that you’d like to know about being single?”
“Well…” she paused. “I guess I’d like to know what happens with women.” I said, “Yes, that’s what I wanted to know too.”
I had been living with her for three years. There was no one else in particular, but we had nothing left. We were both wondering how to say that, what to do. Our wondering made us lethargic and our tiny house, never very neat or well furnished, became gradually more squalid. Our bed sagged and felt clammy, the floor was dirty, the kitchen smelled.
Just six months earlier, in a final effort to create a life together, we had bought an old, dilapidated, but usable couch and a few chairs in similar condition. I had built bookcases from cement blocks and pine boards. They went from floor to ceiling and covered two bare walls in the living room. A friend gave us a handsome, handmade coffee table and a throw rug for the middle of the room. After I built the bookcases and arranged the furniture I sat on the couch for several hours and admired the result. I had never had a living room of my own. I liked the way the books looked against the walls, liked the dilapidated chair and standing lamp, even liked the couch I was sitting on. I rested my stockinged feet on the handmade coffee table and smoked cigarettes until very late at night.
That contentment didn’t last. Soon the faithful old dog had taken over the couch, dirt seemed to exude from the fabric of both the couch and the chairs, and empty glasses and overflowing ashtrays collected on the coffee table. We tried to ignore it just as we ignored each other. By then we seldom spoke. We weren’t angry, we were bored. If we had been married, we would have begun to talk about divorce, its details, what our lawyers were telling us. This was like a divorce but one without rules and therefore there was little that needed saying.
One night as I was reading a book at the kitchen table, she walked in. “We aren’t getting along at all,” she said.
“I know. I want out.”
She turned and walked away.
The next morning I moved out. I was 28 and again on my own.
I looked around haphazardly for a place to live while I stayed in a succession of friends’ houses, sleeping on couches or