"Separation Anxiety" by Nathan Elias

 

The day after I cheated on Andie I woke up numb again from the medication. With the edge of a hunting knife I poked my finger until it bled, but still felt nothing. The scent of Anissa’s sweat lingered in my sheets, mine and Andie’s sheets. I covered my face in the linen and hoped to suffocate. After ten gasping breaths I knew it was a futile attempt. I got out of bed, chased my Prozac down with bourbon, and clothed my naked body.

Before I could get fully dressed the apartment door slammed ajar, blocked by the padlock.

“What’s going on, Neal?” It was Andie, weeping on the other side. I couldn’t just stand there half-naked; I had to let her in.

I unhinged the bolt and stepped back away from the door. I wanted to be as far from Andie as possible. Who knew what she was capable of?

“Are you okay?” she asked. “You have red marks all over your body.” I gazed down at my bare chest. Andie was right. I must have looked like a cat attacked me. They were from Anissa’s fingernails the night before.

“Just an allergic reaction,” I said.

“You don’t have any allergies, other than dairy.”

There was no arguing her. I escaped into the bedroom to cover my torso.

The sound of airplanes flying overhead came through the balcony window. I noticed sweat gluing my clothes to my skin, though I did not feel hot.

“I can’t feel my skin, Andie.”

She entered the bedroom and saw the blood on my hand from pricking my finger. Although mascara ran down her eyes and her blond hair poofed up into a curly afro, she never looked more beautiful to me. She inched toward me, hand extended, Anissa’s paintbrush dangled in the other. “Did you stop taking the pills?”

“No,” I said. “That’s the problem. I’m still on the pills and I’m completely numb from any sensation.”

“Let me take you to you to urgent care,” she said. “And I know it was Anissa.”

I pinched my hand to see if I could feel yet—still nothing. “It was Anissa,” I said.

“I knew it.” Andie dropped to the ground and sobbed into the carpet.

I don’t know why I told her so bluntly. As she fell apart on the bedroom floor I fought the urge to kneel to her and cry along. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t force the tears. With my lover of four years in a sopping heap on the ground caused by my infidelity, I wanted to jump off our second-story balcony. It wouldn’t have been enough to kill me—maybe just a few broken bones. But then at least Andie would see how sorry I felt.

“You had another woman in our home.”

“I didn’t think we’d come back here.”

“You told me to go to a hotel and give you a night to think.”

I pulled the shirt over my head, went to the kitchen, and sheared its polyester with a pair of scissors. Standing shirtless again, I opened the freezer, cracked the ice tray, and rubbed a handful of cubes against my flesh.

Nothing. I felt nothing.

I should let her take me to urgent care, I thought. The ice cubes melted in my hands. They’re like portable tears. I went for my bottle of bourbon and found that I left the cap off when taking my pills. A couple of dead gnats floated around the syrupy, golden liquid. It didn’t stop me from putting the bottle to my lips and gulping a mouthful.

“I think you should go back to Toledo,” I said. “Your family needs you. Your sisters need you. You’ll be happier there, Andie. We both know that.”

“I need you.” She crawled from the bedroom to the living room, unable to lift herself up. She was so helpless—so elegant in her defeat.

“You don’t need me. You never needed me.” I dropped down to her level, allowing the tears and drool to spill from my face. “Look at me. I’m a wreck, Andie. I don’t know what to say.”

Her eyes met mine and her own tears ceased.

“I’ll never forget this,” she said.

I sprawled out across the living room floor while Andie stood up. She didn’t speak another word. The door slammed shut behind her. In the ray of Los Angeles light, I splayed myself across the carpet and wept, clutching Anissa’s paintbrush to my chest.

 *

I waited in the bathtub for Anissa to arrive. By the time she got to my apartment my clothes were soaked and the suds had nearly spilled over the sides.

“Neal,” Anissa cooed from the doorframe. Although she shook her head with her brows narrowed, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her silky hair, sharp face, curvaceous body. Here she was—a woman I’d loved from afar, standing in my bathroom; her silence rung loud as church bells. I was a mess. I wanted to marry Anissa.

“This water is scalding hot.” She pulled her fingers from the tub and stuck them in her mouth. “You have to get out right now.”

I stood up. My clothes stuck to my skin.

I had loved many women but never like Anissa. She guided me out of the hot water and into the bedroom where she stripped me. I wanted to feel my own naked body. I wanted Anissa to feel it, too.

“I might need urgent care, but I whole-heartedly believe that your love is medicine enough to heal me. I can’t feel my skin.”

Her hazel eyes weighed me down. I couldn’t move under that goddess-like gaze. “I’m worried about you.”

“Anissa, I’ve known you for three years and although we’ve only been hanging out for a couple of weeks I know that I want to marry you. I want to marry you tonight, Anissa. As soon as humanly possible.”

“You know what? You’re right. You need to go to urgent care.”

“I’m not joking. I love you. I need you. So will you do it? Will you marry me?”

She contorted her jaw, sizing me up.

“I’m already in love with you,” she said, shaking her head as if I’d just pissed the rug.

 *

We chain-smoked outside the chapel until the priest was finished with the first Sunday morning ceremony. The owner had no problem taking walk-ins. I paid for the whole service on the spot.

 

“This really means a lot to me,” Anissa said. She wore a jeweled headband over that dark, smooth hair. I envied the cigarette between her lips.

“I’m never going to regret this,” I said. I had been more sure of that statement than I was of death. I had regained feeling in my skin sometime around three in the morning. Anissa had lain next to me in the dark, tickling my arm where the tattoos blended with the scars.

I felt her fingernails against me.

“Scratch hard,” I demanded.

The sensation was so overwhelming that I decided to skip my morning dose of Prozac. No depression, I had decided, was worth missing Anissa’s indelible touch for.

When the owner waved us inside I took my bride by the hand and led her to the kitchenette-sized chapel room. There were no guests to witness us faithfully united. We tried to include our loved ones via Skype but my father and her mother both thought we were joking.

Standing across from me, the priest at our sides, I never saw Anissa so nervous. Her hands shook between my fingertips. Afterward, we made love all day and when we woke the next morning, the window on Anissa’s car was shattered.

“Why would someone do this?” Anissa cried.

“Is there anyone who would want to do this to you? Any enemies?” My first thought was that Andie had gone off the deep end. I could see her with a mallet and a ski mask, taking her rage out on the unwelcomed vehicle in her parking spot.

“Neal? Are you okay?”

Broken glass crunched beneath my feet. I looked into the car through the gaping hole to find Anissa’s purple clutch wide open, its contents splayed across the seat.

“I think she took your credit cards,” I said.

“Who?”

“Andie.”

“You think she could have done this?”

In the apartment I called the Los Angeles Police Department to file a report. While waiting to speak with the detective, Anissa sat at my feet as if praying at an altar.

“She still loves you,” she said, plucking a shard of glass from my jeans. “I need to know we didn’t make a mistake.” My hands shook while trying to hold the cell phone to my ear. Before I could answer her, the detective asked me what I needed to report.