Tony and Amanda were a strong couple, accenting one another's particular strengths and weaknesses. Tony, though hard on the outside, was a softy, finding himself upset by things like movie endings and music. Amanda razzed Tony about this. Tony, on the other hand, had saw Amanda cry only a handful of times in their relationship. Amanda wasn't fond of exercise and health consciousness, despite studying medicine. Tony was an athletic machine that took pleasure in pushing himself to the physical limit. Despite the checks and balance system innate to their relationship, something crumbled during the four-year anabasis of Tony and Amanda attaining degrees and situating themselves in their imminent adulthood. Nobody is certain just what it was, but we know it was a virulent bastard that left Amanda starting a new life and Tony ending one.
One evening Tony called me:
"Dude, Amanda dumped me."
"Holy shit, man. Why? What's up?"
"I don't know. I didn't really get a straight answer."
"Man, I'm sorry. That's a bitch."
"Yeah. I'm not sure she even knows why."
"Probably not, man. Not if it just came out of the blue like that. She might know something, but it's probably all too fresh, unless she's known and been playing it off until the time was right."
"It's a bit conspicuous. She waited until she didn't have to see you face to face to do it. Hell, she let you move her to Morgantown and waited until you were deadlocked in Alabama to tell you. Relationships only end in mystery on one of the two sides, ya know?"
"I'm in fucking Texas," he said.
"Texas! Christ, what the hell are you doing in Texas?"
"There wasn't enough work in Alabama so they sent us to Texas. That's where the company is based out of."
"I called Walmart the other day to try and see if they had a movie I wanted. I couldn't get anywhere because nobody here speaks any fucking English. . . "
The last I knew, Tony was in Alabama installing security systems, saving up money for he and Amanda. Not one week after this was fact, I find out he was alone and broken hearted in a desiccated state full of foreign language:
"I don't know what to do, man," Tony said.
"What choice do you have?"
"I don't know."
"Get your ass home, brother."
"I'm probably going to break down when I get there."
"Who gives a shit, man?"
"There are plenty of hugs to go around," Angel asserted, being close enough to hear the conversation.
Tony didn't break down when he got home. He broke his diet, licking his wounds with Oreos one pack at a time, but I never seen him shed a tear or take a drink over his loss. He slept in late on some days. He lay around and surfed the Internet. We played extra hard, exercising, biking, and swimming. We spent a couple of weeks just being guys, just being active and rough and tumble so he could get it out. I felt bad for Tony. I'd been in that place before. Personally, there's no place worse that I've known. But I prevailed, and he would too. I found out it was Amanda who I really worried for and still do.
Tony needed to get his stuff back from Amanda's apartment:
"I need to get my stuff."
"We'll get it for you."
"Well, do you think I should get it myself?"
"You don't think I s—"
"No. Angel and I will go and get it. Make us a list."
I felt bad for Amanda from the start. For some reason, her new life as a doctor in West Virginia meant severing herself from elements of her prior life. This thought process is gobbledygook. Nobody has the luxury of leaving one life for another. Life is a continuum. Any other belief is denial or fantasy. She should have known that already. There was some facade in her mind of how her life was meant to be, and it varied greatly from reality.
Angel and I pulled up to Amanda's apartment, small and mashed between strips of concrete too thin to be roads but used as such. The front of her place, the part facing the road, was actually her garage. Her front door was actually on the side of the house. Her house looked confused and knocked about like a bruised boxer. She had a patio too small for its own purpose. In front of the patio, taking up what front yard (or side yard) she had, were sorry piles of rocks that bled into the sidewalk-sized road. The piles of stone were too small to offer much aesthetic pleasure, despite their trying. I took it all in from the driver's seat of my Ranger, which looked like a monster truck alongside a house piece in a Monopoly game.
Angel and I took Tony's stuff from Amanda's garage, where she had kindly stacked it all for us. The electronics drug wires like entrails. There were far more wires than equipment. No doubt we were taking cables she would need. The point is, I knew she needed some of those cables without any idea of what she owned. She didn't know. She stared at the cable-riddled electronics like they were something dead passing from the garage into the ether. She tried to help, but she seemed more lost than anything else. She wanted to comment about all the stuff leaving her garage, but what could she say:
"I don't think you should take all of those cables."
"Okay. Tell me which ones need to stay."
"I don't know."
"Well, what do they go to?"
"I'm not sure."
"The T.V. or DVD player?"
"No. Those aren't mine."
"To the stereo?"
"No, that's not mine, either."
"Oh. What do they go to then? Which ones do I need to disconnect?"
"I don't know. They go to something, but I don't know."
I found out two days after we left that she didn't have cable any longer.
The rest of the day went like this. Everything seemed errant and out of place. The three of us went to a cafe so we could catch up. Amanda said the cafe was a cool place. In truth, it was grungy, hot, and the coffee was bad. The windows were hazy with film and festooned with fliers fading in the sun. The events on the fliers had long passed before she moved to Morgantown even. She told Angel and me about buckling to peer-pressure and riding her bicycle drunk through the streets of Philadelphia the weekend prior. She told the story with pride. She was acting crazy, acting out of character, and it appeared liberating to her. Noting a poor decision, but continuing to do it anyway, gave her some level of autonomy. She was an adult, right? She was about to be a doctor; she was clearly rash, intelligent—in control. If she wanted to make a bad decision, she could. Who could stop her? This was the new Amanda. What she failed to see is that her decision wasn't autonomous at all. In truth, she gave into some guy who told her she would ride her bike drunk through a city. To her the chance must have looked like an opportunity to act wild and flirt with a level of stupidity or childish disregard that she had never experienced. In truth, her life was more like the surroundings that saddened me by the glance. Her apartment was small and looked as if it might roll down the side of the hill. It appeared maliciously placed or accidentally dropped from an unknown hole in a pant pocket. Her cool cafe saddened me. It looked like a shell, forgotten even by those who worked in it, neglecting to clean sticky goo from the tables or smile as you pay them for coffee not fit to drink.
After we chatted for a while, we went back to Amanda's and said our goodbyes. As we parted ways, Amanda had to swat at gnats that dotted the cabinetry and counters in her kitchen. They came from the bags of trash that sat on the floor. In her living room, her T.V. stand stood with no T.V.; her cable box sat—a useless rectangle without wires. Next to her front door was the bicycle Tony had bought for her. It was the one she drove drunk through Philly. It was disassembled into three parts. She may have not known how to put it back together again. If she did, it was only because Tony probably taught her how. I thought maybe that night she would just curl up on the floor of her empty living room and cry amongst the mess of her new life. If she didn't, I'll never understand how.
That's how Angel and I left her, to her new life not understanding one thing. Tony came home to an open Pennsylvania countryside, full of friends who cared, friends that would give him a place to stay, food to eat, anything. Tony was coming home. Amanda was going to a place I hope I'll never know.
Mitch James writes from Indiana, PA.
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