Every two weeks my ex-boyfriend would send me a message asking politely if he could please take the dog out for a walk.
It became a routine, he would show up at the door bearing gifts: a new sweater for the dog, treats for the dog. We made chit-chat and then he would take the dog out for a walk, come back and leave. It became a routine. At first I treated these polite visits with apprehension, then with indifference.
I was over him. In fact I had stopped loving him long before we had broken it off. Three months after we had called it quits, I met the love of my life. This love was a revelation, like an omen blazing across the night sky. In an instant, I knew what love was. I had found what I had always wanted but was too afraid to hope for.
In an instant I knew what love was, and I realized that I had never experienced anything like it before. This is not to say that I did not love my old beau. I did, or at least I thought I did for a long time. This 'love' caused me considerable pain as he had never loved me back; not in the way that I had wanted him to.
The dog was a different story; he loved that dog, spoiled him even. We both did, both of us had lavished our affections onto that little fur-ball especially during the darkest times in our relationship. This explains why after six months of separation, my old flame was still showing up at my doorstep.
By now I had become accustomed to these visits, exchanging the obligatory inquiries after our respective families, briefing each other about the major occurrences in our respective lives. Mostly I kept quiet, aside from offering a few words of encouragement or advice here and there: where ever it was needed.
Oddly, he seemed to get more and more jittery each time I saw him, whereas I, on the other hand, was finding it more and more difficult to maintain a polite interest in his breathless rambling monologue. I let myself smile blandly as his avid, oddly high-pitched voice washed over me: something about a new job, buying a car, and trying out for his driver's license next month. I smiled as I stared into his face without seeing it, in my mind I was envisioning the face of my new love: my true love.
Of course it was nice to hear that my old beau was finally starting to take an interest in his own life. It was about time. But frankly, I was finding it hard to care. I was over him. We were finished, finito. I was tired of caring.
When we were still together, it was a different story entirely. My world did not revolve around him but the slightest hint of animosity from him would send me reeling. He knew this and often played it to his advantage. At times he had treated me with cruelty, but mostly he treated me with indifference. Perhaps I did love him, yet it was clear to me that he had never loved me. My love for him had become imbued with pain; the pain had turned into numbness until eventually I felt nothing for him at all.
I kept my face impassive, feigning an interest in the ongoing babble. Idly, I compared him with my new boyfriend, just as a way to pass the time. If I had been more mentally acute, I would have found such a comparison altogether unnecessary, even offensive. But the ceaseless stream of prattle had lulled me into a daze and I allowed myself the foolishness. In short, my new man was kind, loving, and intelligent whereas my ex was spiteful, aloof, with flashes of intelligence. Sadly, I thought to myself that I did love my ex, at least at one point. That love had taken root in my heart like a mustard-seed, springing up bright and hopeful, only to die from prolonged neglect.
With that perspective, I then realized that my relationship with the ex was inconsequential in the grand-scheme of things. We were together for almost three years, but in the long run, three years was only piss in a river. I smiled wryly as I remembered the past, the tumult of my emotions: fear, pain, love.
My reverie was interrupted by a sharp nervous laugh. My ex-love had mistakenly attributed my bittersweet smile to pleasure, or perhaps he had just told a joke? In any case, he laughed, loudly and self-consciously at my twisted smile. He was acting strange, perhaps he was lonely. He had mentioned something earlier about needing to get out of the house more, hadn't he? He kept chuckling to himself, more out of embarrassment than actual amusement.
I reminded him of the time and that the dog still needed to be walked. I saw them to the door. The dog was panting, running around in his new sweater, already deliriously happy at the thought of his walk and my ex-sweetheart was smiling. I smiled back at him and shut the door.
It was dark when he came back, huffing with exertion, his cheeks red with cold, yet still smiling. The dog was happy to be home and quickly curled up to sleep at the foot of the bed. My ex-sweetie made as if to sit down as well, I stopped him. I must have scared him with the abruptness of my response or maybe he was offended by the coldness in my voice for his smile faltered.
Gently, I suggested that he call his ride so he could go home. This statement was greeted with silence. Something in his demeanor changed as he responded in a strange voice, "After all, I was only here to walk the dog."
He called his ride, no answer. I wanted to be rid of him so I offered to drive him home. He cheered up slightly at this yet soon it became apparent that he was in a black mood. I was annoyed at having to shuttle him around and I made little attempt to hide my irritation. Perhaps that was the reason why his mood became darker, his silence more pronounced as we approached his home.
We pulled up to his house. "Well, we're here," I said, trying to hurry things along.
He sat in his seat, staring straight ahead, his expression blank, his eyes fixed: looking at something I couldn't see.
"Brandon, we're here, I have to go home now," I prodded him gently.
"What? Oh you're right," he said slowly, coming out of a daze.
He looked at me strangely and I realized that he expected a good-bye, something inside me softened at the hopefulness in his face.
"Bye Brandon, take care of yourself," I told him as I wrapped my arms around him in a hug.
He hugged me back. A long moment passed. He held me tighter, burying his face in my shoulder. I felt him shake. I heard a sound, like a stifled sob.
"Goodbye," he managed to say in a choked voice as he stepped out of the car and shut the door.
I heard his footsteps quicken into a run, but it was too late. I had already seen the glimmer of tears in the yellow light of the street lamp.
It hit me, in the same moment that I heard his front door slam shut, I realized that he did love me, he still loved me.
For a few minutes I was overcome with the sadness of what might have been, what could have been, what was already gone.
I collected myself, I put the car in gear and drove away. I looked outside, the night sky was alive with stars. In the east, Orion hung in the heavens, like so many glittering diamonds. Sirius followed at his heels. There was no moon.