Munchkin

I am pulling up in front of his house, with a round plastic container of shredded Parmesan bouncing around the passenger seat.

He called earlier in the week. “I found a few things, cleaning out storage. I think you may want them.”

I could’ve asked what the items were, and determined then whether they were worth the trip down sentimental lane, but he went on:

I have a surprise, too.

A surprise?

Yes, he paused. But you’ll have to come by to see.

Tell me you didn’t cut your hair, I joked.

I say nothing, he said in an accent that implied he was a little kid with a secret to tell.

I rolled my eyes. I’ll come by later tomorrow.

So, I am here tonight, parked in front of his house in North Boulder. And I’m tired, and not very hungry, but he offered dinner if I picked up the Parm, so the trade-off feels fair.

I walk into the house without knocking, which I wonder momentarily as I do it – if that’s appropriate.

I am not his partner anymore, and his roommates barely know me. I am the ex-fiance, a story they likely, purposely side-stepped when he moved in last summer.

Music plays; he is singing to himself in the kitchen, Rolling Stones. I pause, closing the door quietly. And smile. I know before turning the corner that he has a glass of craft beer beside the stove, and a kitchen towel draped over shoulder as he uses the spatula to move veggies around the pan.

There is a familiarity between the past loves in our lives, that will never leave. There is a comfort I crave in that familiarity.

Heya, I ring out as I walk towards the kitchen. I like that song, I say – as I turn.

He is at the stove, predictably, but he is waiting for me, his eyes twinkling.

It is then I see his hair.

Holy SHIT, I say, my hands to my mouth.

He has done it. He has cut it. And I barely recognize him.

G, I say, once. Then again. He is smiling, and he is waiting for me to say more.

My ex fiance, in all of our years, had not once cut his hair. His ‘Samson’ mane freely cascading down his back. It was an identity, his middle school adult rebellion, and it was beautiful and occasionally greasy, and glossy and I came to love it fiercely.

We used to talk about it. My parents hated his hair. His parents hated his hair. And all that did was cause me to love it all the more. Throughout our time together, he’d grow wary of it at times, and how long it took to dry in the winter months. Sometimes, when he turned over in the bed, the hair would sweep over to my side of the pillow, and I’d huff some of it in, and fake-choke dramatically.

I’d beg him, regardless, to keep it. I still don’t know why.

It meant something to me – his hair. It represented something.

And it was gone.

In that moment, though I’ll never be able to capture the feeling perfectly, I am acutely aware that we will never quite have that familiarity like before.

And never be those two people, together, again.

You look good, I say, as the feeling sits. But I don’t know if I mean it. Or if I know it’s what he wants to hear.

He looks older, I note. His jawbone more distinct. More polished. I suppose, at 30, there is a time and place for that. I just seem to keep missing the memo. And I’m disappointed that he seems to have read it.

I hug him, mixed feelings swirling, and though I want to talk more about it: I mostly don’t. So, I ask him who cut it. And how it feels. “AMAZING,” he says, running his hands through his now neck-level cut. “Everything is easier.”

I smile. Agree. And let out a few more “happy for yous,” but mostly I know I am a little sad. And that I also will not share that.

Shortly after, he serves dinner. And as he goes to scoop broccoli from the pan to the two plates full of pasta beside the stove, I am about to remind him I have an allergy to broccoli when he quips:

The broccoli’s not for you, he smiles. Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten.

I return the smile, softly.

I am thankful he remembers the broccoli.

When we sit, I wait for him to talk first. “So, you lost your job?” He says, knowingly. I had told him on the phone when he’d called.

I nod, and sigh. It’s been a week.

Well, you hated the job. You’ve been wanting out since you started.

On my terms.

Right. But, that’s life. Now you can do what you’re meant to do.

I don’t know what the fuck I’m meant to do.

Ah yes, the motto of Lindsey Hall, he smiles.

I look down. And change the topic.

Later, when the dishes are cleared – and we’re loitering in the kitchen, he asks if I want to see his room. “Careful though,” he warns. “It’ll be a nostalgic feeling, I’m sure.”

We head to his room, down the flight of stairs, and he comments how he finished the basement himself to make it his own space. He pays less rent this way, and has more privacy. I nod along, in awe as always, of his ingenuity.

He turns the knob of the makeshift door, and as he pushes it open – I am indeed filled with the sentimental wave of familiarity mixed into the newness of what I see. A burnt orange pillow we purchased on a couch I’ve never seen.

A bed I used to sleep in, in a place I’ve never seen. A comforter I wrapped myself in during the winter months, a stain at the end of it I don’t recognize. A painting his mom did for us last Christmas in a newly purchased frame.

I sigh. I so badly wanted you to be living in some bleak, undecorated black hole.

He smiles.

But, this, I pause, peering around. I’d live here.

Sometimes, it’s like you did, he nods, looking around.

Is that our shower curtain? I point towards the closet.

Yeah! He grins. Now it’s my closet door. Crafty, right?

I love it. That thing was way too heavy to be a shower curtain.

He points towards the couch. Sit, he says. I’ll grab the box.

I take a seat leaning into the brown leather. And I grab our burnt orange pillow and cradle it in my arms. I miss it, in that moment, though I hadn’t thought of it since I left. I look up towards my left, and the blanket we used to drape over us for movie nights – lays delicately as a throw.

He grabs a cardboard box from the back corner of the room, and sits it on top of the coffee table in front of the couch. I’m glad you kept the table, I mumble. You worked so hard on it.

Yeah, he says, standing over it. Anyway, okay, there’s mostly just a bunch of paperwork in here. Some trinkets. I forgot I used to keep all your important documents in my filing cabinet. So here, he points. It’s in that “Lil Munchkin” labeled folder.

I smile. Little Munchkin.

He nods. Well, there. So, take what you want. I’ll get rid of the rest.

I scoff. How can you just get rid of shit so easily? I’m so sentimental.

You are, he agrees, moving around the room. It’s not that I’m not. But, I don’t need more reasons to remember you.

Is it all that bad? I say.

No, he says. And he smiles. I still think of you fondly.

He turns. And there’s also usually a fuck you involved.

I laugh. I don’t know why, really, but I laugh, and it comes from a place deep in my gut. Laughter rarely lasts longer than a few seconds, it’s true. But how enjoyable those few seconds are.

As I dig through things, he sits beside me and we chat about nothing really memorable. It doesn’t take long, sifting through the things, but I take longer anyway.

Maybe we’ll see all these things again, someday, I muse. I had a dream about our old house. Maybe, when all this is over, and we’re gone wherever gone takes us – we’ll get to experience living with all these things again, together.

He makes a face, and shakes his head. Oh you. You’re in that kinda place aren’t you?

I feel drunk off sentiment. So yes. Your fault.

He nods. I made her feel drunk, he says. Success!

A few minutes later, he leans over.

Hey, he says – and pulls on the sleeve of my shirt. Whatever the afterlife is, I know we’ll be as one. Because we’ll be one with everything.

I groan. Gross. The afterlife seems so boring.

He smirks. Only you would dread the peace of an afterlife.

I hate the idea of it, I muse. It all sounds so dull.

He shakes his head. You love the chaos of living.

I do, I say. But not like before. I like it now, as I am today. It’s easier to endure without being drunk – who knew?

He snorts. And then sighs. How I love you, Linds, even if sometimes it pisses me off.

Like now?

Like now.

We linger for a few more minutes when I’m done. And we don’t talk about the afterlife.

His phone buzzes.

It’s a woman, I recognize the name. And he swipes the phone off the table quickly.

I look at him knowingly.

Don’t, he says. Just don’t.

And I don’t.

Walk me out? I ask.

When we reach the front door, he turns, and we loiter. Thanks for coming, he says, while I pull on my coat. And hey, you’ll figure this job stuff out. You’re blowing me away, y’know. All these things you’re doing – all the things you’re doing for yourself – I’m happy to see it.

Do you wonder what it would’ve been like had I done this when we were together?

I don’t, he says. I could, but I really don’t. Because we met when we met – and where we were, then. And if you were this person, now, we wouldn’t have been together because I wasn’t who I am now, and I met you to learn things. And we met to learn from each other.

I hug him. I don’t know what else to do.

Bye G, I smile, pulling back. I touch the tips of his hair, and it feels unfamiliar because it is.

He nods. Bye Munchkin.

As I drive home, the manila ‘Lil Munchkin’ folder and trinkets rocking together in the passenger seat, replacing the Parm I left on the kitchen counter, I listen as a radio host fills in the gaps of an interview:

Well, as it goes, he pauses, reflecting on the political discussion taking place. Ignorance is bliss.

And as I come to a brake at the last red light to my house, I think, momentarily, about how silly that analogy is.

And that ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given, even if it is insatiably painful.

And that love is so painful, y’know, how can you ever wish it on anybody? And also love is so essential, how can you ever stand in its way?

I park in the driveway. My current partner is watching Forensic Files. I know this because I can see the screen of the TV through the blinds.

The world around me is quiet, the neighborhood still:

And with my hands on the steering wheel, I bare down softly:

I am grateful.

I am grateful.

I am grateful.

I am grateful – to feel pain.

It is only with it, that I can live.

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