“You have reached Meredith Kornachen,” and I found myself again, as I always do, needing to take a deep breath against her newly married name, the ease with which she had taken it and the question of this Hank Kornachen. Not, of course, not without reason. Our marriage had disintegrated over ten years ago. But there it was. It’s cold consonants. Kornachen. And I always took it on the answering machine like ice in the teeth, the frozen fact of time passing.
“Please leave a message after the tone, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” And I left, as I always did, my message of “just checking in” and of “Clara—I hope you’re doing well” and the assorted other tweedle-dee and tweedle-dums of what remained of my fatherhood.
I worked very hard to sweep Meredith from my life, to wipe her away just as I sometimes go, crouching and fastidious with a wet paper towel, marking the perimeter of my kitchen floor to gather up the lint and crumbs, hairs. I responded in this way—despite our fifteen years together, despite the fact of our child who could still appear luminous and understanding when I call her to mind at six, at ten, at fourteen, even. At twenty. Yes, I responded in this way, wiping and clearing her from my crouched and steady position because the end of our time together—the way we had terminated, more than the fact of it—shocked me completely and can still catch me unaware if I think of a certain aspect at three am when my leg to the cool, empty side of the bed will bring me nearly to the brink of speaking out loud against the recollection of our last real night together when my effort, for example, just to touch the divot of her lower back had her shifting away from me so I pretended to read, again, the same paragraph in my civil war book, the one she had given me for Christmas three years earlier only to watch her at the New Year’s party openly mock me to Jim Cornwall’s face—“An astonishingly important history,” she had said, drunk. “For a guy who professes to like the civil war or history in general and I was like, really? Really? You like this? This is actually something I need to get for you? I mean, really? James Hershfeld is a historian? And for what? So you can leave it on the shelf and never read more than twenty pages? Really? Again? I mean…”
‘Astonishingly important’ still sticks in my mind. I tried to laugh about it. At the drugstore, for example, while I was buying some toothpaste and toilet paper. “Astonishingly important,” I had said, trying it out.
“Stop it,” she said.
I spent the initial months leading up to and following my divorce living inside these memory shards, ghostly behind my desk at work and bewildered with a scotch afterward, waking up to decipher the morning starch of my mouth and lingering a minute in bed to determine, to let it come back to me: Why this starch? Why this way? And it was at 6:28 am and then 6:29 that the whole of it would break over me and I could no more get up than remain in bed and so would spend the next half hour staring into my toilet only to stand up and wipe my mouth and say “Jesus Christ Goddamn it.” I wasn’t sick. I had built my life.
“How can I even look at Clara,” she asked me at the end. “When all I see is you?”
“I don’t know,” I said. It was all I could say. “It’s just a case of I don’t know.”
“What is that?” Her hand inexplicably flew up into the air as if to hit me. “No one talks like that—a case of I don’t know.”
I looked into my bathroom mirror. From that point I washed my face and began my day. The question at the Martin was becoming “Is everything all right?” which, from Jason, became the statement, “Everything is all right,” and I knew this needed to be contained. Another morning in front of the bathroom sink and I struck a deal with myself—no more bullshit. Handle this. That was the deal. I washed my face that morning and all subsequent mornings and did not get sick again but rather swallowed this change that manifested in my own face a new development: two flat open eyes that would look for opportunity but without expectation. I was 38 years old.
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Seitchik)