11.15.21 the sicilian defense2022-02-18 specialk
As I waved my last goodbye to your doorman and stepped into the numbing morning air, a single thought kept racing through my mind: Who am I now? In the storefronts stirring to life on Lexington Avenue, I no longer recognized my puffy-eyed reflection. In Chinese school, I hated chess with every fiber of my being. I was the kid who forfeited each game immediately, beaming as my teacher informed my parents that I was ranked dead last. But when you asked me if I wanted to play, I immediately said I’d love to. It had been over a decade since I knocked over my last king, yet I managed to trap you and take your queen. It took an hour for you to recover from my beginner’s luck and checkmate me. I knew you were impressed. I told you I loved chess. You always let me play white because it’s easier for a beginner. In Cartagena, I learned that your go-to opening was called the Sicilian defense. I rarely saw you make mistakes, but when we played you miscalculated freely without rage or shame. Sometimes you beat me quickly, sometimes I’d have a few moments of inspiration that brought us to a draw. I never won, and I didn’t care. I was just happy to be there. The night I told you that you didn’t need to work so hard, you got so quiet, it freaked me out. You told me that you didn’t regret any of the choices you’d made in life. Then, you added that if you had my life instead, you’d be miserable. Unfulfilled. I felt myself imploding. I just wanted you to spend more time with me instead of working. What did I do to make you hate me? I need to fix this. How can I fix this? You kept your distance from me the rest of the night, letting the silence do the dirty work for you. At four in the morning, quietly suffocating millimeters away from you, I peeled myself out from under the covers and plopped down alone on the couch. At five thirty, I crawled up next to you again, whispered, “I’m sorry,” and sobbed uncontrollably as you took me into your arms. And I was so sorry. I was sorry for making your studio feel small. Sorry I couldn't take up negative space. Maybe part of me was sorry to myself too, I’m not sure. We were both in a good mood when I signed up for my company’s online chess tournament. I’m not sure if we played again after that. Anyways, today, my first day without you, was the first round of the tournament. I was assigned black. As I made the first move of the Sicilian defense, the gnawing pit in my stomach made me double over. I stared blankly at the clock, letting it run down to the last seconds and flash red, before I made some move that I can’t recall. My hands trembled as I clicked and dragged pieces. I went to save my last bishop only to realize I’d already lost it. As I pondered where it went, a popup on the screen told me that my coworker was the winner. I Slacked him, “gg,” and he replied, “thanks,” and then I crawled back into bed and wept. I can still feel every inch of your body – I know it all by heart. My eyes closed, I pressed myself into you and sobbed until I couldn’t breathe. The sadness was bottomless, the ache fresh no matter how much I cried. I miss you. I miss the way you speak softly, the way you spring to action when you think I’m hurt. Your steady hands. How you’d try to plate Taco Bell like a Michelin chef. Maybe I would have been content to grow old with you after all, to curl up next to you each night and giggle over observations we can’t make in public as my chin drooped and your hair thinned. I really don’t know what love is without you. The loss consumes me, heavy and weightless all at once. Relationships are meant to be hard work, everyone says. If you don’t succeed, you haven’t tried hard enough. I would have bitten down and kept trying until your I-just-don’t-feel-it-anymore’s drove me to the grave. Despite how much I loved you, I have to admit I was so far out of my depth. When we talked about the future, I felt like a little girl playing dress-up in a bridal veil. Is that how you saw me this whole time? Were you unimpressed by everything I thought was beautiful? I used to love getting texts from you that were lists of date ideas: a) take the ferry to Greenpoint and get donuts b) walk down the East River to Veniero’s c) order in and play chess. You defined what my options were, and I chose, giddy over the illusion of free will. You were always so sure of what you liked and what you wanted: your place in Midtown over Downtown, “timeless” looks over trendy outfits, your homemade chili, every night, over the restaurants on Infatuation. I wasn’t sure of much, so I made a compromise here and there, month over month, until my entire identity was reasonable little concessions to you. What I could never give you, though, was time back - the years ahead of me that were chapters already closed to you. That’s where I found the strength to turn away from your tear-soaked face and walk out the door. I have no choice but to grow up, to figure out what I like and what I want, in my own time.