Leaving Well Enough Alone

The Last Known Image


Tia Brayden sat quietly at a coffee shop in mid-town. Her face was hot and her emotions were raw because less than an hour ago, she and her boyfriend of three years officially and completely dissolved their relationship. She wasn’t sure what her feelings would be at the end of the day but right now, she was sadly energized as her feelings subsided and the ugly facts of a long-term breakup still loomed around her head. The whole thing bubbled up into an emotional volcano; festooned with tears and hyperventilation. The first brutal truth hit her hard: he had to move out immediately for two reasons; he was the real instigator of the dissolution and second, it originally was her apartment. As she kept the other brutal, tactical truths away from assaulting her self-conscious, Tia needed to dissect the perfect storm of circumstances that delivered her present state of andrenilized loneliness.

She continued to sit alone, concentrating deeply on her internal personality traits, what initially drew her to him and what eventually drew him away. As the concentrated analysis concluded, nothing too heinous came to mind but she couldn’t argue with the eventual result of cataclysmic failure. She prided herself on being above most trends; rarely watching television, falling into habits affected only slightly by recency and tricky relationships but this was a full-on train wreck of emotions. As a trained observer, Tia was rarely in the factual epicenter and sitting there alone, she tried to assess a situation for what it was worth and move on without influencing its outcome but the novelty of dealing with personal issues was confusing the main issue of a relationship in the toilet.

Tia had always felt that the ability to allow things to be left alone was a dying art. Much too often, trends and desires are categorized and analyzed to their microscopic death and thus, any innate beauty and usefulness is squeezed out of the original piece.  The boyfriend, not with some depth, did not advocate benign neglect for all things but he consistently recommended that “we would all be better off if we could let some things lie quietly.” Living in the city allowed for significant observational opportunity as well as continuous pedestrian traffic to keep his senses fully stoked. Always armed with a camera, he was trying to capture the spirit of things around her, not impose her own attitude and opinions. Tia had accused him early in their friendship of being a professional observer; not willing to commit to anything. He coolly agreed with the assessment but didn’t feel compelled to defend his actions (or anyone’s action) and left her with the choice of living with it or moving on so she lived with it until recently.

They loudly separated and went in two different directions about an hour ago. She fantasized that he was sitting in another coffee shop, desolate and crestfallen but he was likely just looking out some window, oblivious to the world around him or calling up some buddy to help him move his three bags of dirty clothes from their apartment. That realization stung her and began to write like a madman all her individual memories as well as any less-contrived collective recollections. She wrote as fast as she could because her passive memory was not providing any substantial clues but the frantic nature of her writing was therapeutic. She was also afraid that with time, these clues would fade and the lessons learned would be too trivia to remember in the future. Like an injury, time will smooth over the emotions and she did not wish to forget the sting she was feeling right now.

Tia wanted to remember these feelings not because of him and his indifferent ways, but in spite of them. Going forward, she needed to feel her emotions as she navigated through this tricky state of enlightened confusion. The indifference was the first thing that needed to be lifted and disposed of before she could continue and with each passing, adverb-saturated sentence. There was no interest in a reconciliation and even less chance of one happening but the perfect storm of consequences were too impressive to ignore and quietly chalk up to a silly thing called love.

The most memorable trait of her ex-boyfriend and the one Tia likely would likely never forget, was his incredible but creepy intelligence. Crossword puzzles are destroyed as fast as he could pen the answers, complex arguments were dissected, organized, relegated to its base fundamentals and rebutted as fast as he could talk with no tangible problem could withstand his focused concentration on a solution.  When he had originally met her in Graduate School , she was calm and collected at all times which later, he admitted, added to her allure. Aggressively demonstrating no fear of perceived ignorance, he participated in class discussions and was never backed down by a professor. When she saw such courage, she was automatically drawn to his personality which was obviously forged by equal parts of street smarts, book smarts, general gumption, moxie and passion. Only later in the relationship did she realize that his bulldozer approach also applied to the human dynamic.

He, in turn, realized her detachment was a defense mechanism to not get hurt or be viewed as stupid. This discovery disappointed him and he was bluntly clear with his opinion and spent many wasted evenings try to re-forge her personality. He argued just to sharpen Tia’s negotiation skills and he took opposing sides of opinions just to see if she had the intestinal fortitude to stand up for herself but these experiments failed miserably. Tia didn’t argue because she was weak; she chose not to argue because she felt that being combative was a waste of time and energy. She had seen him many times toy with individuals; arguing in a way that a bored predator slaps around a quarry out of sheer boredom. But as the time went on, his style for arguing became predictable and the once nimble orator looked more and more like a bully.

They both knew however, that personal perceptions only last a few moments until they are either validated by more tangible evidence or internally ridiculed  as the person is assessed in a more quantifiable manner but she was in no mood to acquiesce in order to fulfill his fantasy of ultra-cool detachment. They eventually agreed to not dwell on each other’s shortcomings but attempt to enjoy the mutual areas of interest that actually did occur. They both enjoyed physical activities and travel and after a rocky start, fell into a comfortable pattern that she felt would eventually end up with matrimony. Their respective families thought they were a good coupling but neither side pushed for a hard date for tying any knots. Tia and the boyfriend never felt compelled to bring the relationship to the eventual conclusion but passively assumed that some miracle would eventually result in their mutual happiness.

For the most part, the strategy was successful but when fact-infused conversation vectors returned and insisted on imposing themselves within the relationship, Tia learned quickly something was going to have to give. She could win or lose with a minimum of thought as issues were never considered for their intrinsic value; facts ruled and inexactitude drooled but sooner or later a decision would have to be made.  That decision came to a head recently and she was still shaking from their public display of irritation.

As she looked ahead, she kept focusing on the beginning on their partnership. Initially, the relationship was vibrant (or so it seemed at the time) but never too far away from his reality that was based on what was the best plan for the moment. He would make decisions on social plans just as if he was buying a sauté pan: the scenario or plan that would give him the best value would be his decision and the rest of the day would be convincing her that those decisions were the best and most obvious choice. He never implied anything different than that, even during their initial friendship phase and he was upfront about his rules of life. If Tia decided to accommodate her lifestyle and her decision-making nomenclature, she knew they could be friends. If she felt that it would compromise her own self-esteem, she never said anything because she would have almost certainly understood and parted ways immediately. This always bothered her but it wasn’t until recently she decided to plant the seed for her emancipation.

As she wrote, she realized that she had placed too much stock in the fragile aspect of relationship building and was upfront that “if it was going to work, it would work. The success was already engineered within the dynamic.” Faced with that relatively blunt assessment of the relationship process, Tia safely declared her an acquaintance and built further affection into the template going forward as he had no real self-esteem or an internal social blueprint for guidance, so he just smiled and told her that it sounded good. Up until seventy minutes ago, their plan worked to her satisfaction until he finally scuttled it under the guise of their mutual decision. Tia was a wreck but not from surprise; her unseen manipulation of the boyfriend finally brought the whole maelstrom to a head. An issue was introduced, opinions were blended wildly and after a pointed discussion, the pressure valve popped and everything came out. They were both tired of the whole trying episode.  Tia was completely spent but not because of unrequited love or a broken heart; she experienced the power of imploding relationship and was still a bit jumpy. It wasn’t love but it had its powerful moments.

Tia ordered another cup of coffee because her caffeine-addled revelations were coming fast and her copious notes, once considered open-ended were now appearing immature and troubling. She had seen several people, obviously deranged, writing frantically into their journals and she always wondered what could be so important to result in manic scribbling but as she paused to take a fresh sip of coffee, her own prolific writing caught her off guard. Within the span of an hour or so, she had written over twenty pages of something and she felt like the journalist equivalent of a bag lady that would wander pointlessly with a shopping cart full of discarded items. She didn’t dare read it yet as the exorcism seemed to be helping but she couldn’t remember anything specific but he did realized that it would not be the tightest writing of her life. There was a lot of scribbling there and she had no interest in editing: it was serving a purpose of an exorcism.

As she surveyed the pages, a man walked by and looked down into the journal. Tia always had solid, elegant handwriting and the man smiled when he saw the layout and care in her efforts. The man was not concerned or privy to the purpose; he was just impressed with her penmanship and smiled an impressed smile of passive interest. A page of intelligent-looking handwriting, irregardless of content, is always an impressive demonstration of assumed competence. People have always assumed the neater the handwriting, the more legitimate the message; if you make it neat, at least the passers-by think you are smart.

The whole issue started, in Tia’s opinion, when the alarm clocks introduced the snooze alarm. This epiphany hit her on the way to an obligatory morning coffee get-together and by the time they sat down, the cause and effect was unable to remain within.

“There was the downfall of western civilization,” she thought, “by introducing a new choice to the sleeper, we have damaged our resiliency.”

As she walked it became clear: instead of turning off an alarm clock and greeting the day, the snooze alarm offered a pseudo-choice by notifying the owner that they should begin entertaining the concept of waking up versus just getting up and doing what needs to be done.

That morning, over coffee, she decided to introduce the concept and stick to her observational guns. The boyfriend, always looking for an argument, could be easily pulled into the debate and for once, she was going to lock horns for the pure hell of it.

“I think snooze alarms are for the weak,” said Tia without looking over her newspaper. They always read the newspaper facing each other at the table, and for the most part, kept the paper shields in front of their faces and talked through the newsprint walls.

“Really,” said the old boyfriend. He had heard lame attempts at instigation before so he was in no mood to get engaged unless she was looking for a fight. Tia had attempted dozens of trial balloons but always lacked the guts to lock horns. The boyfriend had no respect for dilettantes; if you had an opinion, stick to it and see where it brings you. If you couldn’t keep your part of the argument alive for a reasonable duration, don’t waste his time.

“Yes, really,” said Tia. “The purpose of an alarm is to get you out of bed and onto your next task. There is no sense using a snooze alarm if you aren’t getting out. You should either not turn it on or get up when you are supposed to get up.”

“Some people like going back to bed,” countered the boyfriend. “Sometimes it is nice to wake up and discover you can sleep longer.”

“You don’t need a snooze alarm for that. Just set your alarm for the actual time and get up then. You would get more sleep that hitting the snooze button five times.”

“People like it.”

“People like a lot of things,” responded Tia. “This is a solution in search of a problem or just another ploy by the alarm clock manufacturers to sell more clocks.”

“I am not arguing the fact that they sold more clocks,” rebutted the boyfriend, “but you haven’t convinced me that the snooze alarm is the hinge pin on the deterioration of society.”

“Then you haven’t been listening,” bristled Tia. “The snooze alarm causes a state that yet again in placed in the middle of circumstance. Why do we need a transitional state of sleeping?  If you like to lie in bed, set your alarm ten minutes early but the snooze alarm just pushes one of the simplest, most straightforward acts into the mushy world of the in between.”

“As I stated, people like it.”

“People are pussies,” said Tia.

“Really,” said the boyfriend.

“Yes, really.”

The game was really on and Tia found herself way outside her comfort zone and for the first time in a long time, she didn’t care. She had hit a nerve and was being pulled in a direction towards an unknown conclusion. Up until a few moments ago, she always transcended situational assessments by not allowing herself to become pulled into the minutia of personal discourse; but this time she was fully engaged and fascinated with her invented argument so she continued.

“Another thing that chaps my ass is when people blindly follow posted instructions without hesitation.”

“Really?” said the boyfriend. “So, are you saying that all posted instructions are inherently evil?”

“No, I am saying that people don’t question these signs. Of course, a traffic sign or a wet paint sign have to be respected but the stupid hand-lettered sign making some temporary declarative solution is lame.”

“Elaborate, please.”

He always fell back on the “elaborate please” phrase when he was buying time or being condescending. Most of time the arguments were motivated by him but since she was the instigator behind this one, the “elaborate please” phrase seemed amateurish. Tia realized that she was seeing yet another side of the boyfriend and this one was less flattering than all of the known perceptions.

“This is not an argument on whether or not it is sometimes cruel to try to protect the stupid. But the scribbled sign is placed there by the lazy to make some half-ass attempt at solving a problem with some interjection-riddled scribblings.”

The alliteration pleased here and as she waiting for his response, she realized it didn’t matter what he said, she was over him, the relationship and all crap that gets created when two people have overstayed their respective welcomes.

He opened his mouth but before he formed a word, she interrupted and said, “I am sorry. This has gone on long enough; I am sick of it.”

“Sick of what? It is me, the relationship or this stupid argument?”

“It’s all three.”

Much to his credit, he got up quietly from the table and said, “Give me a few hours to pack my things. I will leave the key on the table. Goodbye.”

There was neither lame attempt at reconciliation nor some interest in continuing the debate. He had had enough of the relationship as well and was likely partially packed already. There was no hug or longing looks, he just gathered his keys, phone and sunglasses and walked out. She knew that this was the very last time she was going to see him and decided to remain still and just wait for him to leave. Any noise or non-verbal message might delay their breakup so she remained quiet and left well enough alone.

The emotions would come; they always do but she knew these would not be heart-tugging torments but rather a rush of emotional traffic that would be flying in and out of her sometime later that day. She took a sip of coffee and stayed purposefully in concentration. He was gone and she was feeling free for the first time in a long time. The issues were personal and Tia harbored no ill will on the old boyfriend; it was never really personal and for that, she was grateful.

It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and she needed a change in scenery. She wanted more coffee but since she had spent several hours already in this coffee shop, she decided to pack up her stuff and head down the street. It was getting cold and she slipped on her hat; she liked hats and she had always got compliments but it was not time for vanity. Nevertheless, she walked down a few blocks and wandered into a new coffee shop, there was a good-looking guy near the window so that was as good as reason as any to land there.

She walked in and headed for the counter. She looked at him and he involuntarily winked.

She smiled.

It didn't matter if she would sit down next to him, as that wasn't the point. The point was that she was back.

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