Dave is Afraid pt. 2

Pick up your coffee and grab your book, reserving a pinky to hook the handle of your water tumbler. Step outside. Remember to invite the dog before closing the door behind you. Or, better yet, leave it open! Let the stiff air escape along with the lingering pet dander and cooking odors. Emerging into the open air of the backyard, you may not immediately pick up any fragrance of note, but take a moment to breathe it in. Take notice of the crispness, the contrast between air that flows and air that’s stagnant. Your nose has never been particularly keen, so give less attention to the idea of scent. Focus instead on the raw aspects. There’s an earthiness in the air that you can almost taste and a tang of salt from the nearby ocean. Invite in the refreshing breeze as if it were the delicate melodies of a flute. Allow your feet to sink into the coarse gravel, feeling its rough texture beneath you. Listen to the satisfying crunches as Cohen prances out into the morning sun. Settle into your favorite chair and place down your things.

The dog is carrying his toy lobster that Vanessa gave him for his birthday. Don’t sit back…it’s not your time yet. Be a good dad. He was alone for three straight days this week. Vanessa moved into her new place and this was Cohen’s first week without his brother Binx. With no Vanessa and no Binx, he’s all alone when you’re away at work. He seeks solace in your presence when you are present. He depends on your affection and support—Cohen, in particular, thrives on love, on your attention to keep his mind engaged. Get the lobster and throw it for him to retrieve, and make him feel good.

Tell him he’s a good stinker! Raise your voice an octave. Ask him if that’s his lobster. Tell him you’re going to get it. Explain that you said you were going to get it as you pull it from his mouth. Give it a good throw.

Tug of war may not be the battle it used to, which may suggest he’s experiencing a toothache, but don’t concern yourself. He likely prefers fetching more than tugging. He enjoys being chased above all, so chase him best you can in slips. The loose grip of the straps on your feet enhances the game by limiting your mobility. The threat of catching him is what matters most. It’s good that he wins. It’s more fun for him that way. Look at him run with a fury through his ad-libbed obstacle circuit, ears pinned back, maneuvering around the rocking chair and under the table. Look at the joy. Let the love inside of you swell like a warm pool. He’s much too fast to catch outright, but he has to believe you’re trying. Use angles to cut him off and you’ll get a hand on him. Knowing you almost had him makes him go harder. Trap him in the patch of palms. He’ll juke, and you’ll have to knowingly take the bait, aware that he won't act unless you've fully committed to the wrong direction. Remember, you keep the game alive by placating him. After all, it's for his enjoyment primarily. He’ll do the majority of the running, your role is to capitalize if he exposes himself. Your legs may begin to ache, you may want to relax, but don’t quit yet. Keep chasing. He’s having fun. The game is called off only when he gets water or when a part of your body truly reminds you of its age. There’s still juice in those knees. Even in sandals, your first step has a bit of a burst. When he rounded the chair and you were on his heels, you almost stopped on a dime! In gravel no less. Empty the tank…go full throttle at him! 

Okay, stop. The piercing pain shooting below your ass cheek is likely temporary. Perhaps you were a bit over-ambitious there. Recognize and acknowledge the pain without letting it overwhelm you. Explain to Coh that he’s won this round so you may limp back to your chair. 

You’re a good dad. You gave him what your body had to give. Now, sit back…now it’s your time…take a deep breath. Look out at the vines climbing the pergola like they swallowed its legs. As you have so many times before, follow their slender tendrils swaying in the wind. Follow the bees moving in and out of the trumpet flowers entwined in the greenery, listen to their alluring hum. Accept the breeze on your face. The sun’s warmth too. Close your eyes so you may see the fiery orange brilliance as it burns against the darkness of your eyelids. Fill your lungs and let out an audible sigh as you exhale. As you open your eyes, acknowledge the synchronized collaboration with your mind to form shapes, reveal colors, and measure distances. Acknowledge the serenity washing over you. 

If your phone beckons for your attention, ignore it. Dismiss the pull of the text messages that went unanswered, and refocus on the wind. It's of no consequence if the humidifier you ordered has shipped. It will arrive when it arrives. These thoughts have no intrinsic meaning. Compare them to the chirps and trills being made by the various chipmunks in the trees and you’ll find neither carries inherent importance, they are together merely brief moments in consciousness. Like the chipmunk squeaks, let your thoughts diminish gradually, becoming quieter, softer, or less distinct until they eventually disappear or blend into silence. 

Enjoy your first sip of coffee, savoring the hint of caramel at the back. This is your time. This is a moment you've been awaiting all week. You part with an unseemly amount in rent for moments of peace in your backyard. Fix your gaze on the stray vine tendrils reaching for the sky. Their extension is the very origin of this breathtaking canopy you spend your weekends admiring. Tendrils seeking more sunlight, reaching and clinging and wrapping their way up the pergola. Consider the success of that climb they made, all of these leaves being nourished through a central system, weaving together and fostering new growth, each contributing to a lush and verdant tapestry, each playing a role in enhancing the composition and functionality of the whole entity. Breathe in the air these leaves so dutifully purify. Begin filling your stomach with it and then your chest. Hold for a bit and then focus on your exhale. Extend it. Cover it with consciousness. Feel your body deflating and collapsing in like a bouncy house. Slow your mind to an easier pace. Silence your inner chatter and find the pure void, the smoky amethyst expanse you so often conjure. Do not pick up your phone. 

If you’re feeling this would be better with music, open only Spotify, and be quick, be intentional. Your phone is what sped your mind up in the first place. Put on something reliable and set it back down. Take a sip of coffee. Savor it. Begin all of the cliche things. Smell the air. Listen to the birds sing. If you give your attention to the chorus of chirps, your observation will shift to feeling. As the boundaries separating you from the birds begin to ease, let each layer of sound draw you closer until their calls are reaching out to you personally. Connect deeper still, as though you are the echo through which their melodies pass. These are the moments you live for. Tell yourself the Mary Oliver quote David sent you. Tell yourself it’s a serious thing just to be alive this fresh morning in the broken world. Tell yourself a second time. And a third. Remind yourself of your good fortune. You have the opportunity to relive it again and again, just as she says

You can relax today. You did it. You found the chairs you so tirelessly sought. Not a knockoff made of rubberwood in China, the original, Swiss Bruno ‘Rey’ chairs from the 1970’s. Your kitchen nook is modest and their sleek and minimalist design fit perfectly. The curved backrests hug right up to your round beachwood table. Even those without intimate knowledge of their design, who surely would never notice the renowned screwless wood-to-metal connection that contributes so significantly to the clean appearance, will still appreciate its effect! They make such a statement as you enter the kitchen. Their smooth contours and rounded edges, the fine pattern of beechwood grain flowing like the whorls of a fingerprint beneath the red coloring. You doubted whether the deep, crimson red would work in the room, you preferred natural, but it matches so perfectly. It is as if they’ve been manifested by the abstract painting on the wall behind the table. 

You can put the search to rest now. Your fiance left and much of the home you created together went with her. Yes, an empty bedroom still awaits your consideration, but the kitchen once again offers a table fit for dining and the common areas are finished. You should be proud. The aesthetic you created in the living room is a vibe! By commingling periods and styles, incorporating elements of modernism—both organic and glam with inspiration drawn from the emerging Japandi trend, you gave constitution to a room bum with its own conservative form and dullness. When Vanessa gifted you marble baubles for your white oak tables, she helped you pair two textures that harmonize beautifully while creating a pale palette, but your addition of chrome accents—a smooth interruption to the patterned narrative, ironically presenting texturelessness as the third texture—sit so beautifully against those natural materials and tastefully enhance the monochromatic tones. Orange, red, and green were great choices of pop colors and subtly incorporating them with books and flowers and a painting of flowers brings life to the composition of the room without overpowering it. And your final addition, the purchase you made to fill the hole left when Vanessa took her artificial banana plant…the twisted dracaena tree adds personality the banana plant could never offer, it dispels any air of pretentiousness while giving the room a frilly, funky tone. You had a vision for the space and you brought it to life. You took chances, choosing to express yourself with pieces that stand out with distinct designs and bold colors. You could have avoided that risk by choosing nice things that were more understated. You could have avoided risk altogether and simply copied the CB2 catalog. No one would’ve thought less of you. Your place would still have been chic, but you wouldn’t have felt the same level of accomplishment. While it's true that these are just material possessions, and the real heroes are those like Bruno Rey who designed the pieces, being here makes you feel at home again. It brings you happiness. There was a time when you held enough faith in a future to purchase a ring and kneel before the one you envisioned building a life with, and you watched movers carry this future, that life, away. You stood in the kitchen as the cat who became like your own was begrudgingly forced into a carrier he despises and taken out the door too. This space was a sad one. Not long ago, looking around forced you to remember all the things that led to the end. When she sprayed you with chemical cleaner, for god knows what, and you smashed her pink tumbler, the one you bought her because it matched your green tumbler—which you brought everywhere and playfully asserted came with every Dave action figure—that she photographed and captioned as 'his and hers', symbolizing the loving relationship you shared, just as the shattering of one the end of it. 

But, now you look around with pride. She left the Togo couch you love so much. That was very kind of her. She likely didn’t hate it like she said. She’s seeking a fresh start and hasn’t been given time to overcome her resentment for the lengthy spells you spent in front of the TV, scrolling through your phone—the way you monopolized the couch and when it was finally her turn to unwind and enjoy her shows about vampires and witches, you needlessly expressed your disdain for them.

Admitting you two weren’t compatible will be challenging, especially with no better point of reference. This was the furthest you’ve come in a relationship, making it your most successful. You were both highly committed and put forth your best efforts. Both of you embraced each other's limitations as long as was possible, stood by one another, showing up during each other's most difficult moments. You wrote her papers for school when she was overwhelmed. When she found herself ensnared in a malicious scam that almost broke her self-confidence, it was you who provided support, and your proactive efforts that rectified much of the scammer's wrongdoing. When anxiety consumed you late at night, she stayed up with you—laid her body on top of yours to comfort you through the attacks, soothing you and easing your body when it began trembling. What makes two people compatible is a bit of a mystery and you made as good a case as any that the two of you were well-suited.

Yet, there was something crucial missing. And you were more consciously aware of it than you may be ready to accept. It lingered subtly beneath layers of self-denial, perpetuating narratives, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to diminish its truth, gradually diminishing its prominence. Your attention was willfully drawn to the benefits of the relationship: the emotional development derived from mirroring her methods of managing trauma, the enriching experiences of family life, and the solace found in sharing a bed with a loved one. In celebrating all the ways she contributed to your mental well-being, you didn't grasp the extent to which the stresses of the relationship compounded your angst and misery. You elected not to assess your needs, leaving you unaware when they went unfulfilled. Perhaps because she matched the archetype of ‘marriage material’ you convinced yourself she was right for you. But evaluating based solely on trait-oriented standards rather than considering what nourishes you personally, is no way to measure what's right for you. Think of the leaves of the pergola vines and how they thrive by moving toward nourishment. The standards you arrived at were not your own, they were standards provided to you by the world. A world you’ve mostly resisted. You’re not the first to succumb to social conformity. Being single at forty suggests there's something wrong and you enjoyed feeling like a grown-up, respectable member of society with a respectable partner. It seemed to remove a stigma you felt tied to, that you were unlovable. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s easy to overlook a missing ingredient, no matter its significance, when your partner is fundamentally good, always prioritizing others—especially you—above herself. In time, you will grow to accept this absence was the reason you never fully accepted and embraced her love. It was what positioned you on opposite sides during quarrels, preventing you from approaching them with a sense of team, and persisted most notably in the latter quarrels when all you could summon were sighs of resignation. Subtle though they were, those sighs and cold shoulders amassed along with countless other micro-rejections, each of them taking small pieces of the relationship. Ask yourself, why did you begin rolling your eyes when her number came up on your phone? What was it that had you feeling so indifferent or irritated when she arrived home? And what led you to belittle her and her childlike excitement, the very trait that initially drew you to her. Behaviors like these are rooted in contempt—a corrosive acid that eats at love, eroding healthy habits and leaving behind a pungent stench where beauty once flourished. 

These are important questions, but questions that will be answered in due time. You ought not try to answer them now. Such an exploration will not serve you in this moment. A day will come when you may devote yourself to investigating that missing piece. Today, honor your resilience. You survived one of the great tragedies of your life and undoubtedly gained valuable insights into the ‘what not to do’s’ of a relationship through this experience. That notion she clung so desperately to, that she was the sole support beam holding up your household, was grossly inaccurate. The same household hasn’t collapsed in her wake. It may occur to you that you don’t wake up early to make the bed every morning. Yet, the place remains almost as clean as ever and the things that might spoil the backyard's magic, namely the dog's pee and poop, are being tended to. There's no reason to feel ashamed. There’s nothing else you should be doing. Take another deep breath.

Now…pick up your book.

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