In His Voice

I sat back and rubbed my hand over my face, looking at the envelope in my other hand. Just the sight of it swept me with vertigo and nausea. I didn't want to open it, but I couldn't not. It had fallen next to my foot when I opened the door, excited to be going out with a girlfriend tonight. We were dressed for clubbing, but that wasn't the actual plan. We took odd pleasure in heading to Barnes and Noble to sip coffee, laugh, talk, and read, knowing that our short skirts, long legs and 3 inch heels were driving the young men playing RPGs crazy.

I wanted to go out - I couldn't stand being alone in here anymore - but I couldn't stomach the bar or club scene: getting hit on, sizing the guys up, and in a few moments knowing how short they fell of the standard I had. The standard he had set. Even if they had measured up, I wouldn't have wanted any of them.

It had been three months since I had seen him, three months since I last heard his voice. Those last angry words echoed in my thoughts daily. There had only been one attempt at contact, six weeks ago. A small sheet of paper, slipped under my door. It simply said "Miss you." It's tucked into the book on my nightstand right now.

The short message on the front of this envelope is in the same handwriting, a script that I know as well as my own. In fact, I have a small box of quick notes saying, "Went to the store. Love you bunches," and things like that as well as actual love notes more than a page long. A birthday card and Christmas card with the sweetest messages, both signed with love. All in this same handwriting.

I rubbed my thumb across the lettering. Why was I doing this to myself? I leaned up from the end table I was perched on to push the door closed. I couldn't stop that last fight from running through my head again, mingled with memories of picnics and movies and lazy walks and playful banter, laughter and fun and comfort and overwhelming love. How did it fall away?

It had building. For weeks, maybe months. We'd tried to agree to disagree. But I was too stubborn, and he was too much of an ass. But… that night… that fight… it wasn't supposed to be the end. One of us would call and apologize and we would make up and we would work it out… but we didn't. I was still too stubborn. He was still too much of an ass. A couple of days should have been all it took, but that turned into a week, then two, then six.

Then he reached out. "Miss you." And I didn't call. I don't know why. The note is now my bookmark that I use every night, dotted with tear stains. I quit working overtime, because I couldn't stand to see his empty chair. He hadn't even come in to pick up his few personal belongings. I kept thinking he'd show up one day, but this week I gave up hope and decided to move his things out of sight.

Since I wouldn't stay at work and didn't want to go clubbing and no longer had him to fill my spare time, I wandered into the Center for the Visually Impaired about a month ago to ask if they needed a volunteer. The time helping there, now virtually all of my free time, is fulfilling. Or fulfilling enough to mask the emptiness for a while. But I still come home to an empty apartment.

I only arrived home about an hour ago and changed clothes for my "night out." Which means he'd been right there, on the other side of that door within the last sixty minutes. I wonder if he stood there, deciding whether or not to knock. Probably. I wonder if he heard my heels approaching the door and left quickly. Maybe. I wonder if he's trying to move on, but wishes he didn't have to. Possibly.

The padded envelope is shaking, or is that my hands? I consider the message across the front again. "I thought you could use this at the Center." I slip my thumbnail under the flap to peel it open, realizing that he knows where I've been volunteering for the last month. If it were anyone but him, I would find that creepy.

I slip the CD case out of the envelope and a tear slides down my cheek. It is an audio book. Perfect, of course, for the Visually Impaired. Maybe I qualify, too, since my friends tell me I can't see what I obviously should do.

Damn. This wasn't what I expected.

He knows I download books all the time to my iPod for while I'm running and occasionally check out a book on CD from the library for while I'm soaking in the tub. And he knows I have a weakness for when the reader is the author himself (or James Earl Jones- I could listen to him read the phone book). But there's something special about hearing an author read his own work. You get nuances from which words he stresses, what feelings he wants poured into the characters. There's just that something in his voice that makes the story come more alive. And, this disk, it's a book by my favorite author. And it's read by my favorite author. And I know for a fact that this author has never before recorded an audio book. It wasn't even on his website that he would be doing this one.

That man certainly knows how to get to me. I've got to cancel my night out. I shouldn't, right? The CD can wait.

No, it can't. A quick text that something came up should do it.

I draw a warm bath, pouring in lavender scented bath oil. As it fills, I bring my old Bose into the bathroom and set it up on the back of the toilet, letting the rich tones fill the small room. And then his voice begins to read. I slip into the hot water and close my eyes.

I already know what the book is going to be about. It is the fourth in a series of very familiar characters, with a mystery being solved and a romance being pursued. Except, in this book, the romance is much more serious than in the previous ones.

So much of the fictional romance sounds like us. The banter, the fun, the trust, the arguments, the make-ups. It's breaking my heart all over again.

When the first disk ends, I drain the cool water from the tub, wrap up in my robe, and go eat a banana. The apartment felt less empty while I had the CD playing. His voice is echoing in my head. I don't want to escape from the story just yet. So I refill the tub, even though I'm already wrinkled like a prune. I pour a glass of red and start the next disk. I shut the door tight so the room fills with steam. And I get lost in his voice.

The story makes my chest ache. Not the main story of the mystery, of course, but the subplot of the romance. The building tension finally erupts. It hits too close to home. This is why he gave me the disk. The characters fight -an awful, spiteful, fearful fight, full of selfishness and stubbornness. Hearing them, I hear us, and how wrong we were. Our points were all valid, on both sides, but we couldn't hear each other over our own wants. And we let go of a really good thing. It's so easy to figure out when the fight you're listening to is between two fictional characters. You just want to yell at them, "Hey, idiots! Get over yourselves! Work it out! It's worth the effort!" Or at least, I want to. I know that my displaced anger is stronger because of how I'm feeling about my real life.

But the author really drives it home. He sounds so passionate, so angry, so afraid, so hurt. Anyone with a heart would react the way I am. Well, maybe you wouldn't bawl, but it's late, and my glass of wine is empty, and I'm in a tub all alone with his voice.

I need to compose myself, so I pause the disk while the faucet runs and reheats my water.