It was a few weeks ago, some time in the early afternoon on a weekday. That time when working people are just getting back from their lunch hours, full of Chipotle burritos and 5-hour Energies, looking forward to another four or five hours of staring at a screen and wondering when it all went wrong. I was just waking up.
I had recently graduated with my master’s degree, and my previous job, being a student position, had ended. Overnight, I went from being a full-time student and working 40 hours a week to all-night Coach marathons on Netflix and naps at 11 p.m. Things were looking up.
I shuffled into the living room, iPhone in hand, eyes half open and my hair sticking up like Woody Woodpecker. Nan was sitting on the couch, working on some Good Will Hunting-level decoding problem in one of those giant Variety Puzzles activity books only the very young or the very old buy. In a few days, I was due to make a trip to my dad’s near Kansas City for a concert, and as soon as I sat down, she asked me what route I was planning to take.
“Whatever the phone tells me to do,” I said automatically. Having no sense of direction, all I knew was I needed to head north. Siri would take care of the rest. I pressed the home button on my phone, swiped to the right and started the daily, hour-long journey through Facebook notifications, texts and emails that greeted me each time I woke up.
The red bubble on my text message icon glared at me – 3. I tapped the app open, tapped open the unread conversation at the top and tapped into another dimension. My vision tunneled in on the screen in front of me. Everything around the phone went blurry, and I could barely make out Nan asking me if I was taking I-35 all the way to Missouri.
“Hey baby girl.”
“I didn’t say that.”
Even though I didn’t need to, I looked at the sender’s info. His name bore into my brain, my eyes wide with disbelief. My ex-boyfriend had texted me. I could picture him sending the messages that morning from his iPad, the one his parents got him last Christmas.
“So do you take 35 the whole way, or do you get off before Missouri?” Nan asked again.
“Huh? I don’t know. I don’t think I take 35. I take some back roads,” I said, hoping to convey my disinterest in anything other than the total mind bender on my phone.
What was I supposed to do? Respond? I knew I couldn’t not respond. I was too curious.
“Is this who I think it is?”
“Do you go through Wichita?” Nan again. Why in the hell did she pick today to channel Magellan?
“Jesus, Nan, I don’t know. I don’t care right now, ok?” I didn’t want to tell her what was going on, but I couldn’t keep talking about goddamn driving directions while my entire life was falling apart. Priorities.
I looked down at my iPhone. My hands were sweaty and leaving visible prints on the screen.
“Well, if you didn’t wanna talk, why didn’t you just say so?” Nan asked. I fumbled with the phone and typed out the only thing I could think of.
“I’m not sure what to say…”
“Hello?!” Nan pressed.
“Look, my freaking ex is texting me ok? You’re over there talking about driving routes and shit, and I’m over here dying!”
About ten months had passed since I’d heard from him. What did he want now?
We texted each other on and off that day, me asking what he wanted while he not-so-sneakily avoided the question. He wasn’t working the job he left Texas for anymore. He was getting an HVAC certificate, working part-time as a janitor and growing out all the hair on his body. Things didn’t sound good. We agreed to talk on the phone the next day. I had no idea what to expect. Memories were flooding back, feelings of contentment and coupledom. It had taken me a long time to move forward and be able to talk about our relationship without getting emotional. And now he had to message me?
The next night, I sat in bed, phone in hand, waiting. The phone rang, the theme song from How I Met Your Mother filled the air, cutting through the tension. One ring. Two. Three.
And then his voice was filling my ear. We’d decided to just chat, see what was up. I promised not to corner him. (Apparently, I’m like Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer. At least, I assume so. Is anyone watching that show?)
Just as I’d expected, his voice brought back a ton of memories, but not the ones I was prepared for. I listened as he butchered my last name in an attempt to be funny, as he sang unintelligible songs in my ear, as he burped and smacked while he ate on the phone. I thought about all the things I’d reminded myself of after the break up — all the annoying, unfunny, uncouth things about him that eased the pain back then. And here they all were, blasting out of my phone and into that part of my brain that collects the sounds of the neighbors’ dogs barking at 7 a.m., visuals of kids running through fancy restaurants and the feeling of standing behind a slow walker on the sidewalk. Was he always this annoying? Yep, he was. Except I was too “in love” to realize it. I knew he could bug me back then, but it’s amazing what some sweet words and good sex will mask.
After talking about what we were doing in life, how our families were and anything else you might talk about with a cousin you haven’t seen in five years, we hung up. I’ll admit, I was confused. Was I just not used to him anymore? Was there still something there to be saved? I gave Nan an update, scrolled through reddit for a while and went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning, determined to get to the bottom line. I texted him.
“So what did you think about our conversation last night?”
A few minutes later, he responded.
“It was nice.”
He thought it was nice. Meanwhile, I couldn’t quite bring myself to feel the same way. The entire time on the phone I’d been either bored or annoyed. I guess having stomach gas projected into my ear through a tiny phone speaker had something to do with it. I asked him what the point of contacting me was. He said he wanted to see if there was anything still there, any chance at reconnecting. I asked if there was. He said no. And I felt…relief. Sure I felt a little slighted (who doesn’t want to be the object of someone’s affection?), but more than anything, I was happy that he’d taken care of the dirty work. I didn’t have to over-analyze anything anymore. I didn’t have to spend days coming to the same conclusion I did in that moment — I was finally free to move on not because our relationship didn’t work out but because I was happy I wasn’t with him anymore. I wasn’t dreading finding someone else, I was excited about it.
As politely as I could, I told him he was a nice guy, to take care and to move on. I already had.
Ps. I still have no idea how I get to my dad’s house. Siri is my master, and her wish is my command.