Listen as your read, s.v.p.
Oh, Atlas could not understand;
The world was so much smaller than
The one he used to hold before.
But the weight, it brought him to the floor.
Where were you on September 5, 2015?
It was Labor Day weekend; a Saturday. Were you at the beach? With family? Your husband, your children? What small thing were you fussing over? What painted smiles across your face? Do you remember the weather? What you were wearing? What you’d eaten prior to 11:00 am that day?
I remember everything. My shoes. The light. The temperature. How many days it’d been since I’d washed my hair. What was in the fridge. If I sit still for long enough and revisit it from start to finish, a warm sensation begins to rise from my hips, up my chest, sending currents over my skin. Butterflies in my stomach. Nausea prickling the back of my throat.
[Out with the old…]
On September 5, 2015, I was fresh back from a trip to Greece. The trip of a lifetime. I was peaceful. I was untouchable. There was nothing too wrong with anything that love, kindness, and understanding couldn’t fix. I was full of happiness, grateful for everything, and ready for what was next. I loved my job. I loved my home. Life was brimming with possibility.
Saturday morning, September 5, I had loosely planned a trip to the river with him, to sit on a rock and read and swim. But first, I wanted to go for a quick run at the gym. I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and my old phone I use to listen to music at the gym. I placed my new phone on the table by the front door. I unwound my earbuds on the front porch. Then, I walked the four blocks to the gym. The sun was shining. I tilted my head back to feel it on my face. Things were quiet.
The gym was nearly empty.
Halfway through my run, I felt a swift gut punch. I can feel it now; I’ll never forget it. I almost buckled on the treadmill, reaching forward to press the little minus button until it slowed to a walk. Like hearing a bump in the night, I shook the strange feeling off. A random jolt of adrenaline through your system could be anything, right? It had to be nothing.
Less than 10 seconds later, it wound back up and socked me again, lower on the Richter scale, but enough that I knitted my brows together and pressed “Stop.”
Something was wrong.
So, somewhat annoyed, I left. A morbid curiosity propelled me out the door and toward the house.
Halfway home, it hit me a third time. I quickly shook my head, looking down and to the left of me with wide, curious eyes. I almost said aloud, “What was that?” I was crossing Floyd on Harvie, and I picked up the pace to a run. “What is going on?” I remember thinking, distinctly. What is it? What could it possibly be? My mind went to my phone on the table. A car crash. A freak accident.
I sprinted around the corner of our street, then, craning my neck, saw him on the front porch. Peacefully, like every other day there’d ever been, he was staring ahead holding the hose, watering the plants. I nearly laughed aloud I was so relieved, slowing to a trot. I pulled my earbuds out—I remember the song that was playing, and what part of it—and gave him a huge, relieved smile.
I wanted to say aloud “You ARE ok!” but instead: “Hi!” Nothing had been wrong after all.
I didn’t get the response I was expecting, though—same as the two other times that morning I’d been prompted to ask: “Is everything ok? You’re being weird,” to which he’d smart back, “No, I’m not.”
Just inside the door, I said “Ready for the river?” and he said, “Yea, sure,” and I said, “Well alright then! Come on up here and git yer bathin’ suit on!” I bounded up the stairs and into the bedroom.
Clearly, the morning of September 5, 2015, the weight had brought him to the floor. And I was about to find out why.
As you watched him struggle to his feet
You took photos capturing his defeat
And messaged them to all your friends
And we all laughed at his expense.
By the dresser, I began to pull out a swimsuit. He walked into the room, hovered by the end of the bed by the doorway. He seemed to be trying to remember something he’d forgotten, so I glanced at him. The air conditioning clicked on. I had on black running shorts, and a t-shirt. My hair was in a ponytail.
“There’s something I have to tell you.”
For so many of our 9 or so years together, things I’d incorrectly read to be bad news were so often not. Dark humor played such a role in our lives, worst case scenarios were just that—scenarios. Not real. Hearing these words made me almost laugh aloud.
“Ok,” and I took a few steps toward him. We looked like awkwardly placed statues, standing in two places and facing each other in a way I’m sure we’d never done in that room before, or since. Something about the angle was off. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, and I braced myself. I was poised to help talk him off the ledge, whatever it was.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.” Then, I knew he meant whatever he was about to say. He seemed to have his finger on some invisible detonation button, and he was about to press it.
I teetered between disbelief and horror, but was suddenly incredibly impatient.
“What? Oh my God, what. What. WHAT?” My voice sounded frantic in my own ears. They weren’t even questions, they were demands. Years of asking “What’s wrong?” and getting no answer flowed from my sternum with a fury.
He placed his hands on my shoulders, and then he told me.
Atlas, when you set the world down, you let me down. Your biggest fan, your greatest supporter, your most loyal friend. You set it down, and you set me down, too.
I think, first, I launched myself toward the bed, but I can’t be sure. I just needed to get away. Where I went, he followed, and I fought with arms and fists and elbows. I was hollering, the only word that can do those sounds any justice.
I flew down the hallway, into the office, and tried to slam the door behind me. He fought his way in, and I was on the floor, screaming. I beat it with my arms and fists—pain was a welcome, real sensation in the face of nothing feeling real at all. I moaned, “No. No. No. This isn’t happening. You can’t do this.”
I must have caught the door latch on the way in, because my hand was bleeding—the blood was on my face, and my shirt.
I needed to get out; that’s all I remember. Screaming as loud and hard as I could felt like the only way to keep from exploding into so many pieces I knew I’d never have the energy to gather them all back up again. Nothing was recognizable anymore, least of all, me.
As he begged me not to leave, I grabbed my keys and leapt from the front porch, flying across the street to my parked car, screaming still. I looked back to see him standing there helpless. Eyes have never said ‘Please, don’t’ as hard as his did. I shook my head, like a little warning. “Don’t you come after me,” it said.
Every exhale made a desperate, high-pitched wheeze, like I was being choked. I can recreate these sounds, even though I’d never made them before in my life. I drove down Monument Avenue, a brilliant sunny day, my hands holding the top of the steering wheel. I screamed the whole way until Boulevard, when some measure of strength made me flip on the blinker and slowly, deliberately turn the car.
My hand quaked as I tried to call my mom. Then my dad. Then my mom again. Then my best friend. No one answered.
Pulling into the Hardee’s parking lot off of Boulevard, I finally got a hold of my brother. The air conditioning was blowing in my face and I was screaming so loud as I tried to talk, he couldn’t understand me. When the two most important words became distinguishable, he softly replied—and I’ll never forget the weight of his voice—”Oh God, Carey. I’m so sorry.”
Oh come, my love, and swim with me
Out in this vast Binary Sea.
Zeros and ones, patterns appear;
They’ll prove to all that we were here.
For if there is no document,
We cannot build our monument.
So look into the lens and
I’ll make sure this moment never dies.
September 5 feels as far away today as it does familiar.
On September 7, 2015, I spent the afternoon with someone new.
With only the span of two days separating them, these two anniversaries have faces. One, a death. The other, a rebirth. I have this feeling only one will remain relevant to me moving forward.
[…. and in with the new.]
On May 25, he moved away, clear across the country. On the same day, my certificate of divorce arrived.
“For if there is no document, we cannot build our monument.”
The monument officially crumbled, and I stood in the rubble of it, a little bewildered, and sort of dusty. I looked at Eli and around me at this house and at all the finally answered questions and I thought, “Almost as if it never even happened, right?” And I had someone fearless there brushing me off—which stands out more to me now than the carnage.
Oh, Atlas could not stay engaged
Was more distracted every day
You slowly fell into disarray,
Just trying to think of something to say.
That stanza right there—it breaks my fucking heart. That was us.
Never forget those left in disarray—never. We are the true warriors. The brave because we have no choice but to be brave. The strong because we have no choice but to be strong. Able because we have no choice. We make the brave and the strong brave and strong because we quietly remained so ourselves, up until the day they didn’t need us anymore.
For if there is no document,
There cannot be a monument.
So what’s September 5, 2015 onward look like?
So lean in close or lend an ear:
There’s something brilliant bound to happen here.
Yes. There’s something brilliant bound to happen here. Right here where he left me. Right here where I start over.
Right here where I belong.