My Last Try

It was January, not a pretty month no matter how you shake it down. I thought when I left Yance that day, well, I thought that's that. I can see handwriting on the walls as well as the next person. It's the kind that makes that little sinky feeling under your ribs and puts its sharp blade down your throat to lick your breath.

We'd been drinking wine, or rather I had, because Yance was crazy enough without it. I was the one who needed that little booster rocket for what we were doing, what I was doing. He'd already declared himself free and independent, sliding out from under his wife to a downtown studio apartment. Nestled safely among the office buildings, where he could flash the workers in the late afternoon failing light, he didn't hand out his phone number to his wife or friends. He acted like he was so far ahead of the game he was playing the next one, and I was back there trying to bat that thing across the net all by myself.

It wasn't true, it turned out, when we came back one Sunday evening and found her note stuck in his door. By the time he'd hustled me into the elevator, checking both ways down the hall in case she was lurking, he was looking up at me. We used to see eye to eye.

That day the sun shone mean and glittery as a knife in my throat. Like a Broadway musical of my life, The Phantom of the Opera gone bad, and I was expected on stage any minute, with the mask covering whatever ugliness I'd been up to. It was that hard white and silver light on everything that says, Redemption is just around the corner and, honey, you ain't coming. It was Thursday and I faced another long weekend of my husband burrowed in the sofa like he was hibernating, with that long wounded expression as if we both knew I'd never be able to apologize enough for what I was doing. He just switched channels and got smaller when I tried to talk. I never saw two men so prone to disappearing. It worried me.

And there was the wine. A light, cool place, fruity with grapes in rain and green, oh it was so green there I took off my clothes just to be close to it, just to let that green soak my skin good and clean. I'd like to say that Yance was a good lover, really, because in this kind of story you need to say things like that, but I can't lie about it, not now, not after all this kind of failing. He was a hard man, a hard lover. Everything he did was just the other side of gentle. Slow down, take it easy, not so hard, I whispered, and sometimes just pulled his hands off me to make a point, but he was like a kitten fighting for milk, he wouldn't let go, not really, and I always gave in and tried to think good, light green things with the wine. It helped, it really did.

You know, being unfaithful isn't all that easy. In stories it is, but in life, it's as hard as being married. I felt tired that month, going from one to the other, like a mother with two sick children or a person with two jobs. I never slept. Someone was always upset, in trouble, needing me. I got worn out, grocery shopping for two households, taking so many phone calls I could've been a bookie, and all the time dissatisfaction growing moldy in the closets and corners like it's my fault the three of us are living in this ice and snow without proper arms around us twenty-four hours a day.

When are the love notes, the flowers, the secret meetings full of music? I kept asking. How come I bring the wine, the bagels, the presents and talk Yance out of his depression? Get some of those grow lights, I told him. Take some pills. By the time I had him cheered up, I was depressed, and isn't that always the way? The most compelling reasons to stay alive really sound stupid when you say them out loud. That's what I began to notice.

No one noticed how run-down I was getting. They both thought I wasn't running hard enough. I went out and bought some of that under-eye concealer, the extra-thick-for-getting-old-and-wrinkled stuff, and tried it on the darkness. My wedding rings began to slide on and off too easily. One day I left them on the dresser at home. My husband got sick and moved to the other room, and stayed. There's a lot of true things that happen in our life. I think we see them at the very moment they happen too, then we try to forget about them. I know I did.  

The house started creaking, like the joints above us were pulling apart, that squeaking thing when you wrestle a nail out of a board after it's been locked there for years, the claw of the hammer catching it, threatening to pull the rusty head off. That was the noise over my head alone in my bed at night after I'd hung up from Yance and waited for sleep like a big hand to come and close my mouth. I try to remember if I prayed then for anything, like let me die in my sleep, but I don't think I did. I was way past god, way beyond hope. I wasn't even in despair, not that you'd notice. I mean, now I had two men. You're so lucky, my friends were saying. You've always had all the luck. What do they know, I mean, really, what does anyone know when they can't lift the flap of your heart and read that secret print there? I tried to let them hear it in my voice, my jokes, but they were busy being thrilled, the way friends are, by good luck that rides right over age and circumstance. At your age, they kept saying, imagine.

The crows paced the snow in the backyard looking for food I threw out. Once I watched a crow hide a crust of bread in a snowbank and come back two days later to eat it. There was still a lot to learn, I knew that. I had just had about enough. Can't a person say that to themselves. I did.

That Thursday with the light mean enough to make it all clear, how this was going to come apart on me, and already was, I drove into the garage and closed the door. I mean, I got out and shut it with the button on the wall and forgot, no, I didn't want to turn the engine off. I left it running. It'd been that kind of day. I was pushing something. I admit it. I climbed back in my Oldsmobile, a car my father had preferred before he got money for a Cadillac. I think he always missed his Oldsmobiles, at least I like to think that, now that he's gone and can't dispute the fact, which he would, being stubborn and more married to mystery than truth.

I leaned back, closed my eyes. I can't remember if I had music on. It was in my head anyway. Some music of the wine and rough screwing, and the words which were off just enough to let me feel the trembling overhead that was my house with the nails pulled out, the joints spreading, my husband's uneasy sleep in the room down the hall. I rolled down the windows, wondering if the smell would drive me inside the house. I thought about things. I didn't have anything more to say to the world though. I didn't feel like leaving a note or anything. I was tired, anyone should be able to see that.

Waiting to die didn't take much. I tried to cry, couldn't, thinking as I grew drowsy, good, now I won't have to wake up. Then I did. I looked at the clock, half an hour, any moron could die in half an hour inhaling car fumes. I got out and looked around. Sure enough, the Olds was pumping good solid gray into the twilight of the garage, but there was a space under the back door and the big garage door didn't fit at all. Overhead, on all sides, and along the bottom, you could see daylight cracking in. What kind of cheap trick was that? No wonder I couldn't die. I'd have to spend the rest of the afternoon plugging holes. Just more work. I turned off the engine and went inside. See, in stories people can succeed with love and death. In my life I've just found a lot of things that fail. But it's one thing to fail at love--you see a lot of that--it's another to be such a failure at death. I wanted to call my parents, wake them from their eternal sleep and yell at them, How come you didn't arm me with everyday knowhow? Now I've embarrassed myself to myself. I'm so ridiculous, even death won't have me.

I never really knew about despair until that moment. I knew about being tired. I knew about disappointing people around you and how you take your little breadcrumb soul and give it a good thrashing. But I never understood what it meant to be sentenced. I figured it was a special kind of failure, because you couldn't very well call your friends and tell them. It would never be shared, it would never be anything but another secret on your heart, another reason someone wouldn't get to know you.  

Jonis Agee is a St. Paul writer. "My Last Try" is from A .38 Special and a Broken Heart (Coffee House Press, 1995).

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