One Dead Donkey (Rocco)

About a week before, you notice tiny ants congregating around your bathroom sink. No bigger than a sesame seed they make elaborate trails up and down the white porcelain, their tiny invisible legs carrying them with confidence, on a hunt for what you can’t imagine. You’ve dealt with ants before, but always in the kitchen, a slightly larger variety that make a straight road from the garden patch, up the stairs and through the teeny tiny hole in the seam of the back door. Those are crumb ants, on the lookout for dog food bits strewn across the floor by your ancient schnauzer. But what do sink ants want? They seem less assured of their destination, meandering aimlessly around and around the faucet and the tap. You buy ant traps, then ant gel, but it seems only to encourage them. Each morning when you turn on the light in the bathroom, there are more and more ants. Soon they are walking the tightrope of the toilet seat, traversing in pairs along the vast expanse of the shower curtain, and scaling the bathroom mirror like Alain Robert. Once poisoned, for whatever reason, they choose to die in the bathtub, and when you turn on the shower, the tiny, weightless carcasses catch a droplet each and make their final ant journey in a graceful swirl down the drain.

The thing about ants is, alone, solitary, they are equivalent to almost nothing. Like a little moving piece of dust. But, there is no such thing as just one ant, one ant means there are a million ants, and a million ants is a problem.

By the time it's over you've been trudging through the relationship, the winter, for months. But, after the initial trauma of the breakup what you feel most is...relief. You can finally relax. Almost instantaneously you lose 5 pounds. You stop worrying about him. Stop wondering what is going to happen. You are thankful for no longer having to attempt cheerful conversation with a brick wall.

You realize, sometimes, when you’re knee deep in it, you can’t see the sum of your relationship but instead just all these little things, you’re micro-focused on the problem of today, the conversation or argument of the minute. When you exit or are forced out you can finally see what all the little things added up to be, a big mess. You can finally see the truth, the person you loved was gone long ago and the person that remained was unknowable, unrecognizable, and unreachable.

When you met, you speculated you'd be together forever. You were so in sync, you had a similar pace, personality, sense of humor. You were both intense, intelligent, intuitive, opinionated, both tough and tender. You shared a love of dogs, spicy food, good beer. You liked the same music. Have you ever felt happier than that night you were dancing together on an abandoned beach getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? 

You were both excited by the possibility of a future, a future together. He led the way, opening his heart, flattering you, flirting with you - he said "I love you" first, asked you to move in, way too early. He made plans, organized trips, bought new sheets for his bed, cleaned up the kitchen, stocked your brand of coffee and creamer so you felt like his home was your home. You talked about moving somewhere with water, somewhere warmer. He wanted you to be happy, he wanted to make you happy.

It was probably gradual but it seemed all of a sudden. All of a sudden he stopped cleaning his house, stopped inviting you over anymore, he wanted to stay home, alone, or go home for the night after dinner together. He complained about your house, no dishwasher, the "trinkets," thought your penchant for fresh flowers in a vase, ridiculous. You bought a new couch, memory foam for the mattress to encourage his comfort. He was still uncomfortable.

He wanted more and more alone time, and since you were busy you agreed. Soon enough you were only seeing each other a couple, maybe three times a week. About once a month you spent the night together. The flattery disappeared, replaced by teasing. "Really, you need to bring that big purse?" The compliments stopped, did he even notice your haircut? He chided you, pointed out the ways in which you weren’t compatible: you didn't like the same kinds of movies, you weren't a football fan, you worked too much. He still said, "I love you," but he stopped kissing you, stopped squeezing you quite so tight.

It wasn’t just your relationship. It was everything.

He stopped wanting to do anything unless it involved watching sports on television and drinking beer.

He wouldn’t exercise. He blamed you for that. Even though you went to the gym regularly. He rarely even went outside, for fresh air, to stretch his legs, to move around.

He rarely saw his friends. He blamed you for that. You wanted him to spend time with friends, have a social life. You pointed out that most of his friends maintained a partnership and still saw their friends, it didn’t have to be one or the other. You made an effort to see your friends, your family, to talk on the phone with loved ones far away.

He gave up cooking, not that he was ever much of a cook. His diet consisted almost entirely of pizza, Cobby's sandwiches and hamburgers at the brewery. You tried to do a family dinner once a week, but it mostly put him out.

He hated his job. Your conversation after work was most often him railing on his idiot co-workers and complaining about the commute, the gas money. He'd probably blame you for that if he hadn't worked there for 14 years. He did blamed you when he didn't work on his resume, a mantra he’d repeated since the day you met, "I should work on my resume this weekend."

His only remaining interests seemed to be washing his car, playing Words With Friends on his phone, and watching hour after hour of TV: football/tennis/car repair shows and the Walking Dead. Only the things that required no effort. You required effort. 

He didn’t bring up the future anymore. Not yours, not his, not your future together. 

You missed him. Missed the closeness, the camaraderie, the comfort, the in-depth conversations. But, you were lousy at encouraging him, trying to connect, build bridges, even though you felt like you’d tried every angle. You were nice, you were mean, you tried funny, pushy, you avoided, ignored, you tried talk it out, shut up about it. You read articles, tried new tactics. None of it worked. He was constantly mad, irritable, annoyed with you. You ALWAYS did the wrong thing. You ALWAYS said the wrong thing. He wanted you to apologize, but your apology was wrong, too. His only suggestion was that you be more gentle but you were exasperated. Why did he stop trying? Why couldn’t he be like when you’d met? What was wrong with him? Why didn’t he just do SOMETHING? ANYTHING? So he did.  

The Thursday night before Valentine's Day he took another girl to the scene of your first date. The place you went nearly every Thursday, together, a little celebration of your togetherness. Because it's 2014, you found out via Facebook - she tagged him with hearts and stars, and a picture. He apologized the next morning...but only about her Facebook tag. "She shouldn't have done that." 

Valentine's Day and you're officially dumped. He says "it's not you, it's me," but he doesn't mean it. Even though it was him. He says he "disconnected, disengaged, easily." Apparently a total of nine stepparents means that you can't love anyone forever or for longer than a year. He suggests maybe you could be friends. But, why would you want to be friends with him? 

You wanted to fight for it, for him, but then you realized you had already fought and lost. There was nothing left to fight for. He wasn’t going to fight for you in return. He didn't miss you, he wasn't at all sorry how it turned out. It was over. The only things left were the tiny ant carcasses from your misspent year, the little paper cuts on your heart, questions with no answers, detritus from a dead relationship. He was no longer who you loved. Then again, maybe he never was.