This is How You Leave Him

Holly Pelesky

  1. With a clatter. You will drop your coffee cup and the ceramic will shatter onto the orange linoleum and the shards will look up at you and you will look down at them, at the hot coffee splattered on your ankles.
  2. Don’t mop it up.
  3. Leave a note: I wanted to love you better but I am only this. It will look so lonely on the counter. Pull the potted fern next to it so it looks at home, like it belongs in this place where you never did.
  4. Heft up the suitcase you have crammed your essentials into, carry it over the threshold as Matthew once carried you, before you resented him.
  5. In the car, Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” is playing and suddenly you have the urge to sing.
  6. Roll down the windows—even though it’s a cold November morning—and sing so hard you run a red light. It was only yellow turning red, so don’t feel bad.
  7. miles later, knock on Gina’s door. Continue tapping your foot to “Valerie.” It’s still playing in your head.
  8. Say “Hi, sis,” with enthusiasm, as if she isn’t a shinier version of you.
  9. “What’s with the suitcase?” she’ll say.
  10. Her stomach has grown into a belly, her eyes ringed with worry.
  11. Ask, “Do you mind if I stay for awhile?”
  12. Gina turns away from you but leaves the front door open. She is thinking, as always, you’ll cave and return to him.
  13. She doesn’t know the ferocity you’ve recently found. 
  14. years since you have lived with her, and finally it doesn’t matter whether or not she believes you. All that matters is your courage.
  15. I don’t get this letter, Matthew will text you while you eat spaghetti squash Gina ladles onto your plate, as if you’re helpless.
  16. Under the table, block his number.
  17. You will feel light.
  18. times in the next three days Gina will ask you when you’re moving out.
  19. Her husband, David, will co-sign on a small apartment you pick for the lion fountain out front.
  20. You will sleep on the floor for awhile, in a sleeping bag you used to take camping with your father in the Appalachians.
  21. It will still smell like those damp summer nights when everything was interesting. Peel apart a pine cone you find outside your door one night, filled with wonder once again.
  22. Buy an iron bed frame off Craigslist. Lube its creaks with WD-40. You feel, you decide, like royalty.
  23. Although your apartment is seven hundred square feet, it’s all you need. “Castles come in all sizes,” you say aloud, and you think you’ll write a story that starts there.
  24. Write it on a notepad that you keep in the kitchen, look at it again and again.
  25. Get a job as a barista. You used to think you were overqualified for minimum-wage jobs, but a job that doesn’t stress you out, you discover, is the best kind. Money isn’t important to you. You only thought it was when you were married.
  26. At the coffee shop, you read books in the early morning before the rush starts, draw pumpkins and candy canes and flowers and suns on lids as the seasons change.
  27. When your niece is three, Gina, who never tells you anything, will drop by with a truck barreling out of her throat: “I slept with Matthew.”
  28. “My Matthew?” But when you say this, you’ll realize he isn’t yours, and you’ll think how fucked up it is that people try to own one another. 
  29. Still, you hate your sister.
  30. You always have. This is just mounting evidence.
  31.  “Well, I slept with David, so we’re even,” you’ll say, even though you have never seen David naked, never thought of him existing without a half-zip pullover.
  32. Tears will fill Gina’s eyes. Here is where you’re supposed to feel guilty, where you’re supposed to apologize, where you are supposed to pull your sister into an embrace, stroke her hair, tell her, “it’ll be OK, everything works out, shh, shh.”
  33. Only you don’t. You don’t because you’re
  34. And you’ve learned to stop being who you are not. You are a woman who sings at the top of her lungs when no music is playing, “Well, sometimes I go out by myself and I look across the water.” There is no water in sight, but you can picture it, this life you never had, you see it, a mirage that comes to life, loudly and out of tune. Surely Gina will figure this out, too, and if she doesn’t, she was always a bitch anyway, and you’re going to be OK, Valerie. That’s not your name, but maybe you’ll make it your name. Tomorrow you’ll go to the courthouse and file the necessary paperwork. This is you now. Pick up your coffee cup. This time you don’t drop it.
Holly Pelesky is a lover of spreadsheets, giant sandwiches, and handwritten letters. Her essays have appeared in The Nasiona, Jellyfish Review, and Homology Lit, among other places. Her poems are bound in Quiver: A Sexploration. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska. She cobbles together gigs to pay off loans and eke by, refusing to give up this writing life. She lives in Omaha with her two sons. Follow her on Twitter at @hollypelesky.