That I was no longer with him.
My breath returned.
I hit the gas and kept going.
I drove past the outlet mall in Washington, PA. Every time that I went to that outlet mall during my marriage felt like an escape.
An outlet mall is, and always has been, my personal incarnation of hell.
I met a friend from my MFA for a drink before my reading. She said, “You don’t even look the same.” She said, “How did I not know? Should I have known?”
I answered that no one could have known.
My reading was attended by a friend from OU and her mother, my friend from my MFA, a former student, a former professor, and a few strangers.
One of the strangers was a kind and earnest looking man wearing a t-shirt that read, “UNPAID PROTESTER.”
I wanted to ask what he was protesting.
During the Q & A, my former professor asked how I feel about West Virginia. I answered honestly. I told my story of disassociating earlier in the day when I entered the state. I said that I love the people in West Virginia, but that it was a site of great pain for me, and it is hard for me to forget that.
West Virginia is a ghost in my bones in the same way that he is.
The next day, I did a full day workshop on writing about trauma. At the end of it, an older woman hugged me. She looked in my eyes and said, “You brought more out of me than I expected.”
A younger man stayed to chat, and we exchanged email addresses. He later sent me some reading suggestions.
That evening, I sat at a restaurant with a different man. I glanced at my phone, saw the email with reading suggestions, mentioned to the man that I was dining with that I appreciated the email from the other man. The man I was with said, “Was there interest between you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Are you wondering if I was interested in him?”
“No,” he said. “Was there interest between you?”
“On my part or his part?” I asked.
“Between you,” he said.
“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” I said.
I finally gave in. I said no.
He asked me where I thought that I might move for a job, asked if I was committed to being at a certain university. I said no.
He said, “Where would be the top five places that you want to live?” I said that I didn’t know.
He said, “But where?” I said that I’ve learned I can be happy almost anywhere.
He said, “But where do you want to end up?”
I finally gave in. I said New Mexico, Vermont, or somewhere sunny. I said that I would stay in Athens if I could afford it and could find a partner. I said that I am happy, but I don’t want to be alone forever.
He looked away.
We ate dinner, had drinks, then went for a long walk. I told him my irrational fear of being raped by a Lyft driver. I ordered a Lyft to take me back to my hotel. The Lyft driver was a current OU student. We bonded, had a lively conversation. I told him to take my class in the fall.
When I got back to my hotel, I saw that, while we had been driving, the man I had dinner with had texted me, “I am behind you.”
We had dinner in the same neighborhood where one of Caleb’s groomsman from our wedding had lived, where we had slept on the futon in the groomsman’s guest room, and that guest room was cold. My Lyft driver drove me past the exact house. I remember curling up tightly next to Caleb’s body for warmth.
Before this past weekend, the last time that I was in Pittsburgh was with Caleb. The night before, he had almost killed me. My face was swollen from tears. I had slept for only a couple of hours. I woke up and drove a WVU van full of students to the Andy Warhol museum. Caleb drove another van. The students lightened my mood, my fatigue, my trauma. I felt that what I was doing was important. I resolved to stay with Caleb.
Students or not, I left him a little over a month later.
He was going to kill me.
I chose to live.
On my way home, I talked on the phone with my good friend, Keema, in Montana. She said, “No matter what is happening between that man and you–whether it’s friendship or something more–he is helping you rewrite those memories, and that is something to be grateful for.”
I left Pittsburgh happy. Pittsburgh is no longer Caleb’s. I made that city my own.
And as I drove through the Ohio hills, the green trees loomed on either side of the highway. I was stunned by how much the countryside felt like Montana or Idaho. I played a game with myself. I pretended that there was a river on the other side of the trees. I pretended that I was home.
Soon enough, I realized that I actually was home.