SCL and I had an exhausting weekend of doing the dreaded move-out cleaning of the apartment, as well as selling our beloved couch. It was an emotionally draining, not to mention physically exhausting, weekend. The whole process of packing up and saying good-bye to the place seemed to take forever. SCL moved out at the beginning of June. Then I had another month before moving myself and then a week after that before we said our final good-byes.
I know it sounds kind of silly to be saying good-bye to a sterile apartment in a generic high rise building, but it was our first home together. I can only hope it won't be our last. And after this weekend, I have more reason to believe that we will build a home together again.
I've talked a lot about my impatience with SCL to say something definitive about our relationship. I've waited what has felt like an eternity for some kind of indication--either way, I just wanted to know. I was getting fed up with his wavering, his non-committal "I don't know"s. But I resisted my urge to blow up and demand answers. I reminded myself that this was a time of transition, that nothing major ought to be decided in the middle of this upheaval. As Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, there are times when we must say to one another, be careful. We need to be very careful about what we say during times of confusion, exhaustion, and distress.
Of course I rarely actually practice this. Last week when the fucking couch wouldn't fit up the goddamn stairs, I cried out, "Now you're going to get what you want--the money for the couch!" Not my most mature moment. But I do try. When I think about it.
Anyway, this is all to say I have done my damndest to keep my mouth shut and let SCL be in his process. And as we packed up the apartment, cleaned every little crevice of the bathroom tile and the kitchen floor, his emotion poured out. We wept together over what we were losing--of what we were both incredibly sad to be letting go of. That was the moment when I least expected a word of comfort, but instead that was what I got.
"This won't be the last time we share a home together." Guess who said this? Not me--SCL. He went on to tell me how these past few months have been incredibly important for him, for gaining perspective on our relationship and readjusting his expectations about what a relationship should be--from a fantasy to the reality that relationships have good times and bad, that we feel good and bad at times, and that all of this is normal and not an indication that there is anything wrong with the relationship itself. "I can picture a life with you," he said.
He can picture a life with me. I cannot even tell you how important it was for him to say this and for me to hear it at that moment. All along I've been thinking that this moving apart was a moving away from a future together--that we were moving backward. I'd been deathly afraid of the day when we finally left our place together because it meant that we had failed, that we were broken and never were going to put ourselves back together.
But I realized in that moment that it didn't have to be that way. SCL told me in no uncertain terms that he viewed this time of living apart as a step forward to making a commitment to each other (my non-scary way of saying "getting married"). He told me that he hadn't been ready to do that a year ago, but he didn't know that until we were in the middle of it. "Next time, "he said, "I want to be ready to do this right."
I brought up my concerns about waiting until he was done with school. Another four years just seemed like too long. He told me that while he's still in coursework, it will be a tough time for him. But once his comprehensive exams are done (probably in another year and a half) he will be in a much better place academically and will have freedom that he doesn't right now. I could tell that he had obviously thought about this extensively. See, even though he wasn't saying much the last few months, he was thinking about us.
As we did our final walk-through--and remembered the bottle of ketchup in the fridge that we'd forgotten--we held each other and shed a few tears. But we walked out together, hand-in-hand. We went back to his new place. He played the piano; I sang. We ate Ben & Jerry's out of the carton and cuddled on the couch.
And I realized, we may have shut the door on our old place, but not on our life together.