What She Doesn’t Know


Photo by Sydney Gage

With a sigh he brushed his filthy hand across his sweaty, sun beaten forehead to rid the sweat that had accumulated there, any thoughts of her and what they had been were gone.

Africa, Uganda to be more specific, is the setting. He rests on his knees, perched high on the partially built church that he and his other humanitarian group members are building.  He gazes at the picture perfect setting of the small town he has helped construct, the sun sets behind the school as a group of children play soccer in a dirt field nearby. He had been hesitant about going, about leaving his family behind for six months, but in this one moment all the fear and uncertainty vanishes. This is what he was meant to do. He was meant to be here, in this country, helping people. He wouldn’t be here if he had stayed with her. He would be at home, in the same cycle he went through for years. She’s only a barely-there memory anyway. He doesn’t think of her often, and when he does, the memories aren’t full of sadness and hatred or even longing as they once were. Now it’s almost as if he saw them in a movie or as if they happened in a previous life. With a sigh he brushed his filthy hand across his sweaty, sun beaten forehead to rid the sweat that had accumulated there, any thoughts of her and what they had been were gone.

In the cream and brown stone house just past the vacant lot, with the fancy square columns on either side of the faux antique door, with the perfectly clean driveway and the expertly cut grass, sits a girl. She sits on the tan couch in the almost empty living room, staring out the wall made almost entirely of windows. She has a textbook in her lap, but it has long been abandoned. The TV plays a game show rerun, and her cat sits, meowing incessantly and begging for attention, on the couch beside her. But still the girl stares out the window. She’s thinking of how she’s been living in the same house, in the same town, with the same people, not her entire life but close enough. She thought it would get better after she graduated high school. She thought the monotony would dissipate, but it didn’t. Actually, it got worse. College, work, eat, sleep, it was the same thing day in and day out; he was the only thing that broke up the repetitiveness of her daily life. She misses him. Just the thought of him brings back memories that create feelings of yearning and self-loathing. She hates herself for doing what she did, and she’d do anything to get him back, to redo that day. She wishes she had looked back at him, at what she was giving up, before she walked out the door of their apartment for the last time. As she sits, staring out the windows of her living room, she wonders if he thinks of her as much as she thinks of him. But what she doesn’t know is that she rarely crosses his mind.

They were fighting, which was rare, though it wasn’t an average fight, not in the way people imagine when they hear the word “fight.” There weren’t any thrown hairbrushes, slammed doors, or disturbed neighbors. No one suspected anything was wrong. Why would they? They seemed like the perfect couple. They had been together for the better part of three years; they had taken no “breaks” or “time apart” to “strengthen their relationship.” So, the results of the day’s events came as a shock to everyone, even some of those involved.

It was a normal day- well, it started out that way. He had come home from work around seven A.M. because he worked during the night stocking shelves at a local grocery store. When he walked in the apartment, car keys jingling in his right hand, he found her sitting on the couch. That was normal, since he and their third roommate, Michael, work together. She was there alone until they got home. That day was different. She didn’t jump up to greet him and Michael as she normally did; she sat there quietly, with a serious look on her face.

“Well, I’m going to bed,” Michael said, awkwardly, partly because he could sense that something was off, but mostly because he was a self-conscious person. He walked through the small living room to the second bedroom in the back of the apartment that he had to himself.

After Michael made his graceless exit, she stood up and faced her boyfriend. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth as if she was going to say something and then promptly shut it again.

“What’s wrong?” he finally asked after patiently waiting for her to say what she so clearly had on her mind.

“I need to talk to you about something,” she whispered, in an eerily calm voice.

“Obviously,” he retorted in the sarcastic way she used to love.

She sighed and sat down on the white couch that her mother had given them when they moved into the apartment not even a year ago, and he followed suit, shedding his jacket.

“Austin… When we first got together I felt… undesirable and unattractive. I felt like no one wanted me and I couldn’t believe that you were interested in me…” She paused and he looked at her with a huge knot of dread in his stomach because he knew what was going to come next.

“But now, after all this time, I realized something. I realized that I can get literally anyone I want.” She finished with more confidence in her voice than when she started, as if she was breaking up with an abusive boyfriend, not one who had loved her unconditionally for almost four years.

He didn’t have anything to say. He was shocked. How could someone he loved, someone who was supposed to love him, be this shallow? How could she think she was better than him? He hadn’t done anything wrong. Not that he was aware of anyway. Their relationship had been fine; actually, it had been great since they moved in together. They had just been talking about getting an apartment without Michael. He had been thinking about proposing. But all of his plans had come crashing down around him. All the memories, all the feelings, everything he’s ever known for three years were just gone. He realized that she expected him to say something, so he mustered up the last words he ever expected to say to her.

“So, I’m not what you want anymore?” he asked, barely hearing himself speak.

“No, you’re not.” she remarked, coldly. With that, she got up and went to the bedroom that they shared and she started packing her things. All the while talking about how this is probably better for them and it would never have worked out. But he wasn’t listening, he couldn’t listen. He kept trying to wake up from this awful nightmare.

She had packed all her things and gathered them next to the apartment door. She talked about how she was going to stay at her father’s house and she would still pay her part of the rent. She just kept talking. She was lingering, like she wanted him to fight for her, to ask her to stay, but after this long he shouldn’t have to. So, with a heavy heart, he watched her walk out that door for the last time.

She slowly walked down the stairs of the apartment complex and turned back, hoping for him to open the door and come after her, for him to ask her to stay, but he didn’t. As she walked out of the apartment complex and went over to her car, she saw Austin walk out on to the balcony of the apartment they no longer shared and pick up his phone. She pulled hers out of her pocket, expecting it to ring, but it didn’t. It wasn’t her he called; it was his sister, asking for her to leave the door unlocked because he couldn’t be in that tiny house of memories for another minute.

Disappointment crept toward regret as she looked at her phone one last time to see the picture of them, but she threw it in the back seat of her car, disgusted with it for not having ringed. She put the car in reverse and drove away one last time, not knowing she was making the biggest mistake of her life, leaving behind the best thing she would ever have.