Where She Wasn't

It wasn’t until the night he read out loud on his own for the first time that he realized he had lost a dozen people when she died. He saw it clearly then: years of turning this way or that, in the middle of some common task, missing one of her: the her that settled onto his chest when they watched a movie; the her that led the way through town on summer bike rides; and that night, the her that snored away as he read. In a flash, he saw every woman she was, all of their places empty, all of their clothing limp, all of their moments flat. And he knew that she had soaked into the wrinkles of his life, and that he would keep finding empty places that belonged to her everywhere, seeing ever more clearly where she wasn’t. 

It was a sweet discovery, one that felt like it finally filled the glass of the honor he owed her. The glass of his pain, too. He knew if he told his friends, “a dozen people,” they would finally understand why he still refused to throw her phone away, why the thought of love with someone else felt mathematically impossible. And finally he could convince them that he should be unhappy indefinitely, hurt forever. 

But the realization also dealt him a blow. It had taken so long to arrive. “Dammit,” he muttered to the empty room. “It took me this long to fall in love with her.”