Short Story: "Painless Separation"

[This story was the Featured Friday Fiction on With Johanna Harness' permission, I thought I'd put it up here, too. Thanks to @johannaharness for giving me this chance!]

Painless Separation

A few weeks ago, our relationship started to get rocky. No, not rocky. It got wiggly. Anyway, I knew a break-up was inevitable.

Noah and I had been together for over six years. I wasn’t his first (I was his third), but we were both so young when we got together, we basically grew up at the same time.

I remember when Noah introduced me to his parents. They loved me immediately. They coo-ed over me. “So cute!” they told him. That felt good. I’ll miss them, too.

Mostly, our relationship was… well, you know how, when people ask about a how things are going and you say, “Great,” but you don’t really mean exceptional? You just mean that there’s nothing wrong. Noah was very stable; considerate but not particularly affectionate, dependable but not passionate.

I mean, I had my little issues. His diet, for one thing. Noah loves candy. That always bothered me. He wasn’t heavy. In fact, Noah’s a skinny guy. But he was always looking for the next gummy bear the way a less moral man might keep an eye out for floozies. It irritated me. It wasn’t a serious threat to the health of the relationship or anything. But it was the one way Noah was inconsiderate, and because his sensitivity was my favorite of his qualities, that unwillingness to think about my needs bothered me just a bit.

Still, over-all, Noah was great to me. He was protective, but not in some annoying, macho way. And tender. I liked that a lot. I guess I’d always known we wouldn’t go the distance. Relationships that start when you’re so young almost never do. But I fell into a rhythm, I got comfortable, and I guess I let myself be lulled into a false sense of security.

Then, a few weeks ago, I could tell he was just not holding on to me quite so tightly. I thought about it a lot, of course. I suspected there was someone else. I wondered if I was being pushed out. But there didn’t seem to be any evidence. I just started feeling like I was …I don’t know, dangling there, somehow.

And the more I thought about it, the worse it got. Pretty soon I was hanging by a thread. His parents, who’d been so supportive at first, turned on me so quickly it shocked me.

“I think it’s time,” they’d tell him. I was right there!

His dad was the worst. Noah’s mom would just leave the room whenever the topic of our relationship came up. Like she wanted to wash her hands of the whole thing. That stung. But his dad was really in his face, actively trying to pull us apart. I don’t think I’ll ever fully forgive his dad. And the way Noah just let his dad talk to him like that, and never stood up for me… I thought I’d never be able to forgive him, either. But then…

See, it all came to a head the earlier tonight when his dad was getting in his face again.

“But it hurts!” Noah said. See? That was the kind of sensitivity I depended on. But now it had all turned to selfishness. No concern for me whatsoever.

“We won’t do it if it hurts. It can wait a little while. Maybe tomorrow night.” His dad said this in a completely calm voice. Like postponing a breakup for a single day was some great mercy.

“Okay,” Noah said. I was in agony. He was just accepting this one day delay without a word of protest? I couldn’t believe it!

I should have been outraged. Such an obvious attack on my pride should have motivated me to break it off first. I know that now. But it just made me more desperate, more clingy. Pathetic, I know.

Then his dad said, “Oh, I have an idea!”

My hopes fell. Brainstorming about our break-up and he’d had a eureka moment. How could it get any worse?

“What?” Noah asked his dad. And there was an eagerness in his voice that shook me to the core.

“Hold on,” his dad said, and ran out of the room.

He came back a moment later holding an ice cube. Both of us were confused.

“Lean your head back,” his dad told him. Then he used the ice to numb Noah.

It’s strange, because the cold didn’t just prepare him for the breakup. It calmed me down, too. This was happening, I told myself, happening right now, but somehow it didn’t bother me as much anymore.

Then his dad took a piece of string and looped it next to me, then around behind me, and then back around to the front. He gently moved the string back and forth until it slid up above me. Maybe it was just because of the ice, but this reminded me of the tenderness his dad had shown back when I first appeared on the scene. Despite all his calls for our separation, his dad was acting like he cared again. I couldn’t feel much, but it felt good, in its own strange way. In fact, it almost tickled.
Then his dad twisted the string in front of Noah’s face and pulled the ends in opposite directions, first very gently to get his hands a few inches apart, then one quick tug.

And, just like that, we were through. There may have been a sound, but I was so surprised I honestly can’t remember if it was a pop or a bam or a squelching or just silence.

Next thing you know, I was in free fall. There’s always that moment, right after a breakup, when you’re just untethered, spinning and bewildered. For me, it was very brief.

I hit bottom fast. But, to my surprise, I felt whole. I was different, but the same. Complete, but separate. We had ended. I persisted. Frankly, I still can’t wrap my mind around it. Maybe I’m still grieving. I don’t know. But that wasn’t the end of the breakup.

His dad picked me up and set me down on the bathroom counter, right in front of Noah. It gave me a whole new perspective on him. Noah wasn’t sad, and that should have hurt me. A lot. But he looked shocked, and I could identify with that.

Then Noah smiled and examined the new gap between his teeth where I’d been just seconds before. His smile grew a little, and his eyes, already wide from the speed of the breakup, warmed up as though someone had stuck needles in them and injected them with pure joy.

“Oh my gosh!” he shouted, his voice cracking on the “oh,” with the “gosh” bursting out like an untied balloon filled with awe.

And he was so happy, so overjoyed, so beautiful that I couldn’t hold a grudge. I forgave him. I forgive him and I love him.

When the tooth fairy slips me out from under Noah’s pillow and flies me off to whatever’s next, I’ll go away happy.