A Real Break Up
It was the same argument they'd fought a hundred times. Some couples argued about money. Some argued about infidelity and some argued about family troubles. Adam Levine and Dana Wilmot argued about responsibility. Specifically, Adam's lack of responsibility and Dana's excess.
Almost two years together, six months of it spent living together, and they still found themselves constantly facing off over the kitchen table. Why didn't Adam take anything seriously? Why did Dana have to take everything so seriously? It wasn't an argument that either of them thought they could win. Yet they kept at it through everything else, a small part of each of them hoping the other would change.
Love wasn't the problem. Adam loved her more than he had ever thought possible. He loved everything about her. Her long brown hair, the way the left side of her mouth curled up when she smiled. He loved how much she cared about everything, it didn't matter what, she was always 100% invested. Since he wasn't wired that way, since his mind immediately went to the humor in a situation rather than to its gravity, it was what caused most of their problems.
For her part, Dana loved him just as much. His tussled hair and scraggly beard hiding a sharp intellect behind his often bloodshot but always kind eyes. They argued about that too. He smoked pot and she drank. He liked to remind her of this but she was right when she said that he smoked a lot more than she drank. Still, they loved each other.
Adam wrote for a living. Meaning, he didn't have much money. He sold essays and articles, usually for pennies a word, to small literary journals and magazines. His magnum opus was completed and every afternoon he would stand in front of the mailbox and will it to have a letter inside from someone that loved his book. So far it had just been a long series of rejections.
Dana made a lot of money. Mid six figures and she was still a couple years shy of thirty. She worked long days in front of a spreadsheet, calculating insurance risk for corporations. She was good at it, really good. Still, they'd been together two years and Adam could barely begin to describe what she did for a living. Dana had tried to explain it to him on many occasions but he could never keep his eyes from glazing over.
“How was your day?” Adam asked her. She had just walked into their flat, her eyes looking tired and her gray suit a little rumpled from a day spent sitting and staring at a computer screen. Adam was still in what he'd worn that morning when she'd left for work, navy blue sweatpants and a tattered t-shirt he'd had since college.
“It was long.” She said.
“Want me to make dinner?”
“I want to take a shower.” She replied. “And then I want to talk.”
Adam didn't like the sound of that. Since he couldn't think of anything specific he'd done wrong, he guessed he was in for a lecture. Maybe she could still smell the pot smoke, drifting in through the screen door from the back deck. Or maybe she just was tired of coming home from a a real job to a boyfriend in sweatpants.
He sat at the kitchen counter and listened as she undressed in the bedroom and turned on the shower. In days past he would have taken that as an opportunity to hop in the shower with her but not today. In fact, they hadn't had sex in almost a month. Adam missed those days, the days when they were still so excited about each other that every change of clothes was an opportunity to fool around. When they didn't need an excuse to make love.
He drummed his fingers on the counter while he waited for her to get out of the shower. He remembered of his childhood, waiting for his dad to come home when he's gotten in trouble at school. The anticipation of bad things to come was always so much worse than the actual event. Not today though.
He heard the shower stop and the sound of her toweling off from the bathroom. It was a sound he'd heard countless times and he always loved to kiss her when she was fresh and clean out of the shower. She always smelled so good.
“So, we need to talk.” Dana walked back into the kitchen, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. Her hair was up in the ridiculous towel turban that women seemed genetically required to don after showering.
“This is going to seem like it's totally out of the blue. But I want you to know that I've been thinking about it for a while now.”
“Okay.” Adam's heart started to beat a little faster.
She sat down at the kitchen table behind him. Their flat was full of windows and the light poured into the kitchen in the afternoons. He turned around to look at her and saw that she was fighting back tears. Whatever was happening was serious. Alarm bells started going off in his head. He got up from his stool and sat down at the table across from her.
“What's going on?” He asked.
She smiled at him but it was a sad smile. It was the same smile he remembered his father giving him when he was ten years old and his mother died. It was a smile that said his life was about to change. He held his breath, hoping he could will away the inevitable.
“This has been a while coming, Adam.”
“What has?” He found it hard to get the words out of his choked throat because he knew exactly what she meant.
“I love you.” She said. “But I don't think it's enough anymore.”
And there it was. The one thing he had been dreading since they'd met. In the beginning she had been so excited by his ambitions, so supportive of his dreams of making it big and writing for a living, not a meager living like he had but a real career with acknowledgment and praise and money. There hadn't been much of any of that for him. He had been afraid that one day she would discover what he feared. That he was a fraud, that he wasn't going to make it and that he had few other options and even less desire to do anything else.
“What does that mean?” He asked.
“It means I can't keep doing this. I can't keep going to work every day and coming home to you smelling like weed in your sweats, having spent all day doing nothing.”
He didn't speak and so she continued. “You used to be so excited about the future. You used to want big things for yourself and for us. I remember when we met, you spent two hours telling me about your book, telling me about everything you wanted and that you were so excited to get. Fast forward to now, Adam, and you don't even talk like you enjoy writing anymore. You're not happy because you let that fire inside you die as soon you got comfortable and I can't be the one that just carries you along. That's not fair to either of us.”
He decided to put his fear into words. “Just tell me. Are you leaving me?”
She sighed. “This is what I'm talking about. You're so terrified of everything that you refuse to fight for anything. I just told you exactly how I'm feeling, what I'm scared of and why I'm worried and your first thought is losing your meal ticket.”
“That's not fair.”
“It's not fair, Adam, but it's true, isn't it?
“I love you.” He said.
She shook her head. “I know that. But I don't think that loving each other makes this work anymore. It worked for a long time, because of that love. But now, I feel like love is all we have left of each other.”
“And that's not enough?”
“It's not. And you know it's not. Adam how can we be together when you can't even stand to be by yourself?”
“What am I supposed to say to that?” He asked, feeling his own eyes start to water.
“Tell me what you're feeling. Tell me what you want. Do you have any idea how long it's been since I heard any declaration of ambition from you? How long its been since you showed interest in anything other than getting high and lounging around?”
Once again Adam was unable to reply. This time it wasn't because he was afraid, it was because he knew that she was right. He had stopped dreaming and started going through the motions. He had stopped thinking about the future and instead focused on how comfortable he could get. He was a selfish man and he really had just let himself be content to ride along on Dana's coattails. That made what she had to say next even harder for him to hear.
“You don't even like yourself Adam. How can you love me if you don't like yourself?”
That, he knew, was the real crux of the matter. He had somehow, some time, decided to start coasting. He was disgusted by his failures and so retreated into them and used Dana's success as a crutch to lean on. If someone so successful and vibrant loved him then he must be doing something right. Now, he realized, he was as wrong as could be. He couldn't even be angry, as usual she was right.
“I don't know what to say.” He said. “You're probably right.”
“Of course you know I'm right. Christ Adam, you're one of the smartest people I know. And I love you for it. But I can't look at a future with you knowing that you're not going to change. Knowing that this is good enough for you. It never used to be. Honestly, do you really see a future with me? A future like this?”
“I don't know.” He said softly. “An hour ago I did.”
“You're really surprised? You've known all this for a long time. You've let yourself go for a long time. You're not happy and I can't be happy for both of us.”
She stood suddenly and pulled the towel from her head. Her wet hair collapsed around her shoulders and Adam got a whiff of her shampoo. It brought a flood of emotions streaming into his hea as he stared at her.
“So what happens now?”
She shook her head, obviously frustrated. “You're sitting there waiting for me to tell you what to do with your life? All these years you've strutted about your independent spirit and your creative ways and you've just given up on yourself.”
“So you're giving up on me too then?'
“No.” She sighed. “I just can't wait for you to grow up anymore.”
“And you don't think I can change?”
“I know you can change. I just can't hold your hand through it anymore.”
Adam was starting to get angry. All the denial, the years of frustration and rejection and the depressive cycle he had buried himself in came bubbling out.
“What should I have done differently?” He asked, his voice raising slightly. “Just because I'm in sweatpants and smell like weed when you come home from work doesn't mean I haven't spent the whole day working!”
“And so you make excuses, like you've done for months. You've been working all day?” Dana stood up suddenly, her anger rising to meet Adam's indignation. She marched out of the room, leaving him bewildered and nervous. A moment later she stormed back in, carrying his laptop.
“Show me.” She said. “Show me the work you did today and then you can get self-righteous.”
Adam dropped his gaze to the table. She'd called his bluff, probably because it was one he'd used before and her suspicions were justified.
“Okay.” He said.
“Okay you're right. Like you needed me to tell you that.”
“So what the hell are you doing all day when I'm working? Getting high and watching tv?”
He nodded meekly.
“And that's okay with you? That's the life you saw yourself living in your late twenties? No aspirations, no ambition, no drive?”
“It's not that simple.” He said.
“It never is.”
“So what happens now? You want me out?”
“I can't keep doing this.”
“All right.” He said. “I'm going to go out for a while.”
“Does it matter?” He looked at her like a puppy might look at an abusive twelve-year old.
“Please don't do anything stupid, Adam.”
“I'm going to get a drink. When do you want me out of here?”
She sighed. “I thought maybe we'd talk more.”
He shook his head angrily. “You want me out, I'm out. You're absolutely right Dana, I'm not going to change and you're just wasting your time.”
He stood up and his chair toppled to the floor behind him. He looked at it a moment and then walked past it into the hallway and then to their bedroom. When he walked through the open door he felt the lump in his throat threaten to explode. He stared at their bed and their dresser and their television. Stared at the things he'd taken for granted and the person he had just lost because of it.
He rubbed his eyes with both fists and then grabbed his backpack from the closet and tossed it on the bed. He started pulling clothes out of his dresser, at first discerningly and then haphazardly and then crazily, grabbing five pairs of socks and only a single change of underwear. He stuffed the clothes into his backpack and zipped it up.
The zipper caught halfway up the side of the bag and Adam started to tug on it. It wouldn't give, he could feel that the fabric caught in the zipper's jaws. He pulled and pulled and as he did the tears he'd been holding back started flowing freely down his face. He gave it a final tug and the zipper pulled clean as he stumbled backwards. When he did he noticed that Dana was standing in the doorway, watching.
“You don't have to go right now.” She said.
“Yes.” He replied. “I do.”
She stepped out of his way as he left the room and followed him as he walked hurriedly towards the front door. She stopped in the living room and rested her hand on his chair, the beaten green recliner she'd always hated but kept because he loved it. He opened the door and was gone, closing it quietly behind him. She started to cry.
Adam walked down their steps and got into his car. It smelled like cigarettes because it was the only place she would let him smoke. Another thing she hated about him, he thought. He sat there, without turning the engine over. He started to cry, not small tears but heavy sobs, burying his face in the steering wheel.
He didn't know how long he had been sitting there but he felt a wave of nausea cross over him and his eyes started to dry up. He looked up and could see her in the living room window, watching him. He took a deep breath and started the car, backing it slowly down their driveway. Then, without another glance at their house, he drove away.