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An Empty World
Home just isn’t what it used to be. Since you’ve been away, it isn’t what it’s supposed to be. The colors just hang drowsily on the wall, instead of popping as they had when your presence made the world bright. It’s too quiet when your laugh doesn’t ring through these halls. Sure, Riley has helped put some movement into the stillness, added just a bit of spontaneity to an otherwise unbroken routine, but he’s just a cat. A cat can’t laugh with me or cry with me or even argue with me like you used to.
I roll over in bed, my joints rebelling against the stillness that surrounds me, refusing to be sucked into the lull. The silence has become something so unpleasant now that its sweetness has vanished with you. I used to love the quiet, but that was when I felt your strong, steady heartbeat beneath my ear, and it was when words were useless because my head on your chest and your arm around my shoulders said more than words could ever convey.
Now that I’m left with no one but myself, there's nothing but stillness. These are the times when I truly feel the full impact of your absence. Even though you never leave my thoughts, there are still ways to dull the longing I feel for you. During the day, there’s always a job to be done or something to be cleaned or errands to be run. But now in the unpleasant moments between activity and sleep, the silence screams your name and no thought I form as a distraction can drown it out. This is when I can’t pretend that you're only away for the day or that you're waiting to lay with me, because I’m the only one waiting in this bed now.
I glance at the foot of the bed, and see Riley's black and white form curled up. Even Riley, who you always called ‘the untamable cat’, has settled into the house and its stillness. It worked out the first few weeks, when the cat had been a restless shadow in the night, before he’d run out of spaces to explore. Now it’s all a routine; wake up, find him at my feet, he wakes up and meows for food and attention. That’s pretty much all the affection I get from the creature, except for his random visits while I sit on the couch.
Sometimes, I think he's as lonely as I am.
I sigh and rest my head on my arm, outstretched in a pathetic attempt to fill up the space you once occupied in the bed. I look up at the pictures of us on the opposite side of the bed, focus on your face until I finally get the courage to close my eyes and try to escape the stillness with sleep. My racing thoughts begin to slow, but the change in the pace of my thoughts doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped thinking about you. That’s the funny thing; even before you left, you haven’t left my thoughts once. When I'm working or talking or trying to pay the bills, you’re always there in the back of my mind, saying one of those sweet things you used to say.
It feels as though I'm just on the verge of sleep when I feel something unmistakable. Strong, gentle arms wrap around me in such a way that it couldn’t be anyone in this world but you. I know this feeling. Nobody else could ever release countless amounts of butterflies in my stomach and make me feel as though you're the only thing that tethers me to the earth. I feel it now as your lips brush against the crook of my neck and trace up my jaw.
“I love you,” you whisper the words directly into my ear so that they go nowhere but directly to my heart. I ache as I think of how long I’ve yearned for those words, for this feeling.
Tears spring to my eyes and I turn just enough to see the outline of your body in the moonlight, blurred by the tears. I try to blink the moisture from my eyes so that I can really drink you in, but for some reason the tears stubbornly cling to my lashes. Instead, I make do with the miracle that I’ve already been dealt, even with its imperfections, and breathe the words, “I love you too. So much.”
You hold me tighter in the arms that I've missed so much, but just as quickly as it appeared you grip loosens until it feels as though you're disintegrating around me. I whip around to see where you’ve gone, but there’s nothing; with a painful twist in my gut I realize that you were never there to begin with. It was nothing but a dream that I've just awoken from.
The tears, no longer a figment of my imagination, spill over my lashes. I roll away from the space where, once upon a time, you held me safely in your arms, and stare out the window. It’s a full moon tonight; same as the night that you had to go. The light allows me to see a large part of the neighborhood that we fell in love with together, even through the tears that have hijacked my vision. Now that I can see so much, the world feels too big without you. Six billion people on this planet, yet it feels so empty when such a significant one of them is so far away…
I roll into the darkness once more, tossing and turning as usual. I let out a soft sob, and whisper the words that have been buzzing in my head from my first lonely night. They escape my lips like a prayer:
“Baby, I miss you. Please come home soon…”