I knew something was wrong, when I walked into our apartment and sensed the change as if it lingered in the air, a distinctive, unmistakable sting that you connect to this one special event. Like cinnamon to Christmas and the smell of freshly mowed grass to summer, or the first breeze of cold air that wafts through the world when summer turns to fall. Only this is not a good smell, not a nice memory, not a thing you can´t wait for to happen. It´s dangerous. It´s live changing, it´s inexplicably complicated.
I look about the room and my eyes scan the interior, looking for the thing she changed this time. It takes me longer than it usually does, but then I see it. She´s changed the classic section of my book collection. I know it the very instance I walk over to the bookshelf, because you get quite used to the way your bookshelf looks. You notice the ups and downs of the horizontal line of books, when a slightly bigger book stands next to a smaller one. I don´t mind the asymmetry of books at all, it´s the thing that slumbers between covers that I´m drawn to, but Allyson likes order. Symmetry. Her inner peace, she calls it.
I admire her sense of balance and order, but I wouldn´t be able to uphold it like she does. I don´t mind the ups and downs of books, the slight dust cover on the plants, the somewhat crinkled linen on the bed, unwashed dishes in the sink or a lamp we forgot to turn off when we left the house. Usually, neither does Allyson. But these are different times. A different phase. And Allyson worries, Allyson cares, and I try to do everything so that she doesn´t have to worry, doesn´t need to care, because I know things like that, as simple and minor as they may seem, can trigger off her escapism mood, her incurable desire to leave this place behind, to run away, to go into hiding, to flee the intimacy, the love, the relationship and the life we have together.
I had them organized according to the year they were published, because then I can get a sense of how writing changed over the years, the change of one epoch to the other, the variation in topics, in style of writing, in creation of character, but now that I take a closer look, she has them reorganized in an alphabetical order. By title, not by author. It makes me cringe. It´s not so much the fact that she´s spent hours rearranging my classic section into an order that isn´t working at all. It is the range of confusion that led to this reorganization nightmare that shocks me. Whenever she spends hours reorganizing something alphabetically, her mood is really spiraling downwards. I can deduce a lot from the way she has changed things around the apartment about her degree of her escapism mood.
Simply moving the furniture is just a warning sign. A green light that turns yellow, so to speak. Nothing serious yet, but something that makes me go through the apartment, cleaning up messes that I´ve left behind. When she rearranges the furniture, I scan her every move and I try to understand what she´s doing and why she´s doing it, because this is just one step from her running away. When she goes into detail and changes the order of our DVDs, my books, the way the dishes are piled in the cupboards, I know something´s off. The further detailed her arrangement is, the graver the consequences. Alphabetical or chronological rearrangements are severe.
I drop my suitcase by the bookshelf and stagger over to the sofa and sit down. Frustrated, I bury my face in my hands. She´s gone. I can sense it in the loneliness of the apartment, the odor of solitude that lingers on every item she has ever touched. Everything looks sad now, lost, despaired. I wonder what it was this time. I´m pretty sure that I didn´t create any messes that triggered it off. I´m sure I didn´t say anything to her, I didn´t… I… didn´t.
Lifting my head out of my hands, I glance over to the bookshelf again and my eyesight begins to get blurry. Call the police, I tell myself. Call Eddie down at the Sheriff´s Department, I tell myself, but I can´t get myself to get up and go to the phone. I know what they´ll say. They´ll say what they always say, the only thing they can say. Wait. Wait for her to come back. Because with her record of simply disappearing off the face of the earth and then returning, this is the only thing you can do. Wait.
I didn´t know she was a runner. When we met, she was the sweetest girl I´ve ever seen. Like a miracle. She stood there like a mystical figure, in the mist arising from the river. You couldn´t tell that she was sad, because she usually doesn´t know until the very last minute. She doesn´t see the warning signs like I have learned to do. She was leaning against the railing and she was looking down into the sparkling water that you could barely see because of the mist. You could only hear the bubbling of the water as it flowed over stones and sticks, and she was staring down from the bridge as if she was looking for something.
Foggy mist got entangled in her hair and the long strands clung to her head and shoulders. She wasn´t wearing a coat, even though it was getting cold out. Her face was bare of any make-up, but she wore long earrings that glistened in the moonlight. It was late and the moon was out and I was crocked, but looking at her standing there, I felt something rush through me that I had never felt before in my whole life. Whatever magic was going on that night, I won her over and I was grateful. I believed in fate and coincidence and serendipity and sheer luck, and I couldn´t believe that I should be this lucky guy to meet this wonderful girl. And in this bubble I lived happily and gladly, until she disappeared for the first time.
The first time she disappeared, it wasn´t because we fought or there was something that made her sad or something I did that told her I wasn´t grateful for every single second I got to spend with her. We were happy. We had just had dinner with friends, her friends, and as we got home, she asked me to go to the market down the street to buy her some ice cream. It was a hot summer day, so I understood her craving for some ice cream, and I knew we hadn´t had any at home, because I had eaten it off her belly the very morning. So I went down the street to the market, bought her favorite ice cream, returned home, but she was gone.
She didn´t answer her phone, she didn´t call any of her friends. She just disappeared. She left behind her purse, her wallet, her everything. And left. I called her friends and asked if she had returned to their place, if she might have left something there that she now remembered leaving there and decided to return to pick it up. No. I called her best friend to ask her if Allyson had called. No. Debra was quite sad when she heard the news and she told me that Allyson has a habit of disappearing every once in a while. I didn´t believe her. I called the police. I called Eddie down at the Sheriff´s department and he came over.
When Allyson disappeared for the third time, Eddie and I went from Sir and Mr. Singleton to Eddie and Ian. Eddie knows there isn´t much he can do. He tried tracking her, but it is almost impossible. I don´t know where she goes or what she does and who she does it with, but when she returns, I take her back. Every time.
We´ve been together five years now and she has disappeared eleven times so far. Once, she had been gone for over two months. She didn´t use any of her credit cards, she didn´t call any of her friends, she didn´t call me or left a note or wrote a letter, but she returned after nine weeks and three days, carrying a grocery bag. She went into the kitchen and started making me dinner as if nothing had happened.
I didn´t see it coming this time, though. I guess I should have. She was overdue. She hadn´t left in a year. Once, she left for her sister´s and she only called the following morning, but that was when her sister´s husband had died from cancer, so I guess this one doesn´t really count.
Allyson´s not inconsiderate. She knows she´s putting me through hell when she leaves. But she never told me where she goes to. Or why she leaves. And she always comes back.
I sit in the apartment, wondering how long she will be gone this time. Looking at my bookshelf, I guess she will be gone for a long while. After rearranging our DVDs according to genre, she had been gone for three weeks; after finding a new organizational system for the suits and business shirts in my wardrobe, she had returned after two weeks. Just reorganizing her shoes resulted in a one-week disappearance. When she had left for over two months, she had rearranged our apartment completely, had cleaned up my office, had pushed the bed from one corner of the room to another, had rearranged out medicine cabinet by expiration date, had single-handedly sorted through the pictures of our then three-year-long relationship, and had exchanged every single light bulb in the whole apartment, so that instead of white light, a warm, glowing yellow now lit up every room.
I know she will return. It´s only a matter of time. So I get up and I take my suitcase to my office and drop it by the desk, go into the bedroom and hang my sports coat, take off the tie and the shirt, dump it into the laundry basket. I find myself scanning the room for a note, but she hasn´t left one. A pair of her shoes is on the floor next to her side of the bed; as if she had just slipped out of them to take a nap and forget she had left them there. There are books on her bedside table and a bottle of aspirin. I pick it up and walk into the bathroom and put it away in our medicine cabinet.
In both the bedroom and the bathroom, the world seems normal. Nothing has changed. There are signs of her presence, reminders that she has actually been here, that I´m not fantasizing, that she actually does exist, but I know these reminders of her actual existence will have to be enough to bring me through this period of absence, no matter how long it might take. Because in the end, I will take her back. Again. Once more. I´m helpless. I reckon it´s the price I have to pay. To be with her. To have her in my life.