The icy wind blows right through me. The stone and concrete building at my back digs the chill deeper into my bones. I feel decades beyond my years this cold January afternoon.
“Hey buddy,” I call out. The man rushes by, averting his eyes. I am not here. They don’t see me. If they do not acknowledge my existence, they can continue with theirs without the guilt and shame of ignoring one of their own.
I could tell him I was once like him, but I won’t. I can’t. It is too fresh a wound, too vivid a memory. I used to be the man rushing by, ignoring the poor, filthy beggars, telling them to get jobs and get off the streets. I used to be the man dressed in smartly tailored suits and wingtips with a shine that could stop a deer in her tracks. There aren’t any deer in the city, but wildlife still thrives.
My nose twitches and I think of Santa and Rudolph. The air freezes my nostrils when I inhale. This time last year, I’d have been curled up with Rafe, sipping hot cocoa laced with Kahlua, and watching holiday cartoons. I loved him – love him – though he never understood. It was my fault, still is, and I deserve every plummeting degree of the windchill as this day wanes to its death.
“Spare some change?” A couple rushes by me; the woman clucks her tongue in disapproval. Her nose remains high in the air even as she folds herself into the back of a cab. They leave and I am colder still.
“Let’s move it along. Time to get yourself down to the shelter, Vic.” The cherry-cheeked beat cop is one of the nicer ones. He bothers to use my name and talk to me like the creature I once was – one of them, the real people, the normal ones who have a job and a family and a warm home to return to when the snow starts to fall.
I inch up the wall, unable to find my balance alone. He nods at me and I turn to shuffle away. His voice trails after me like a frightened puppy kicked one too many times. “Don’t sleep in the park tonight. It’s going to be colder than a witch’s teet tonight.”
He doesn’t know what today is, but he sees the desolation clouding what’s left of my soul.Today is January 6th, the twelve day of Christmas, and the day love left my life and my life left me.
A year ago today, after eleven beautiful days of exchanging silly but thoughtful gifts, my dearest Rafe confronted me about an affair I’d had with the mailman. Cliché, isn’t it? The mailman had showed up at our door that summer in shorts, and a light sweat. I had been waiting for that package, and thanked him for his delivery with a cold soda. He then proceeded to thank me for a good long hour.
How Rafe found out about that, I’ll never know.
I can still see his last gift – his partridge in a pear tree. I cannot banish the image, no matter how much I drink, or how many drugs I swallow to force me to sleep. We loved each other, Rafe and me, and I betrayed him that once. Only once. With body, but not heart. The partridge hung from the old, gnarled tree in the back yard that always produced bitter fruit. Poetic, I suppose, and definitely tragically so.
His body had turned cold by the time I found him. His pants were soiled from the things dead bodies do when life slips away into the crisp winter morning. I threw myself on the ground, crying until my tears glued my face to the frozen blades of grass beneath his feet. Even after the neighbors called the police, and they pried me away from the pear tree that bore crab apples, I cried bitter, broken tears I did not deserve.
I remember little after that. I do not know when I quit, or maybe, lost my job. I do not know how I lost the house, or maybe I didn’t and it’s still there, harboring his ghost. I had money; I might still have it. I stopped caring that day. He took his life, and mine. Melodramatic? Maybe. I loved him that much. I still cannot remember how to survive, to live, to love. I still cannot care. Not about myself, this selfish man who drove his one and only love to self-destruction with one careless afternoon.
The park is quiet as the sun sets into the smog that is an ever-present wreath around the city. Not even pigeons stir from their high-rise roofs to flutter among the trees and think of times before concrete jungles and lovers dangling and twisting from low-hanging branches. I cannot go home – I cannot remember where home is – but I find the one crab apple tree, hidden in disgrace among other, more loved, more cherished plants. I have not the strength to climb it, nor have I more than a bit of string to fashion a noose. The night falls around me and I talk to Raf. I tell him of my misery and I offer my apologies. Somewhere in the darkness, he forgives me as the cold leaves my bones, and for once, I am warm.