He always leaves the light on in the closet.
When my boyfriend and I first moved from a barely livable studio apartment to a recently renovated one-bedroom in a prime Manhattan location, I was elated. I imagined a fresh start with less stress, more space, and a truly adult experience. Sometimes it’s hard to be an adult in a city so prohibitively expensive that you can be fifty-years-old without a penny in savings and a revolving door of college-aged roommates helping to make the rent on your barely-affordable-though-thankfully-still-rent-stabilized-apartment. As my friends across the country have invested in four-bedroom homes in small suburbs, gleeful as their equity increases, I will defensively argue it’s all about location and we are two blocks from Central Park. Even if our monthly rent could buy us a half-million dollar home elsewhere, we could never find an apartment to buy in this area for that price.
The initial excitement about our move was palpable and our plans embraced the smallest details of organization. I insisted he take the massive closet in the apartment, located in the hall. It’s huge for an NYC apartment and could effectively house a twin bed. I remembered how his early morning schedule when he was working full time could be disruptive and this way he could get ready for work without interrupting my unpredictable sleep and work schedule. I also figured that it was a polite way of getting him to stow away a very masculine and somewhat hideous piece of furniture. I had never imagined that a temporary out-of-work situation would become so permanent that I would be the one making noise in the bedroom in preparation for early morning call times and late night returns while he slept.
Our new place began to feel tainted and no longer new. Bad habits on both our parts became a circuitous battle that we were too overwhelmed to address. Instead of focusing on the little things that I loved most, our interactions became a series of anger-inducing episodes. He drank all my wine and I came home to an empty bottle. The peanut butter miraculously disappeared in a 24-hour timespan before I even tried it. The dog still needed a walk. No cream left for my morning coffee. And the biggest insult of all — he kept forgetting to turn off the closet light.
At first I would say something upwards of five times a day.
“Dear, you left the light on again.”
“You keep forgetting to turn off the light!”
“Are we made of money? You’re running up the electric bill!” Surely that low-energy fluorescent light used in classrooms, prisons, and also his closet was costing a fortune. But when your loved one has been out of work so long and every penny feels like an ounce of gold, the stress becomes so much that you just explode:
“WHY THE FUCK IS THIS LIGHT STILL ON? I TOLD YOU A MILLION TIMES!”
I am now the irrational villain, the angry mom, the terrified girlfriend who has no idea how we are going to find our way out of this mess. The pressure of such an expensive apartment becoming my own… when he has to leave. Because we aren’t getting along and it feels any day we are going to shatter into a million pieces– pieces just waiting to be swept up into the drama and the misfortune that life has now become. The raging headlines about joblessness being low and the economy being robust are adding to the torment when I lie awake next to a brilliant, hardworking, witty man with a law degree and a path of rejection becoming so long it feels like a road that never ends. I am used to the rejection given my chosen path in entertainment, rationalizing that a decade of life spent being often rejected and overlooked is just the way it is.
We come to the brink so often, as months of normalcy and mutual love are unbound by the next near-despair moment before another financial life preserver finds him. I think of the very early years in our relationship, when I would have a dry spell of bookings and he would have his reliable salary and schedule. I would stay in bed, wasting the morning in dread that I would not make something of my life. Drowning the hours in tabloid news and social media, I would take whatever distraction came along to keep me from further rejection. Yet now my empathy for his plight is clouded by sadness and anger and absolute terror. I cannot see through these smokestacks of rage.
Everyone is getting married around me, full of certainty or a self-fulfilling prophesy I have yet to master. Their relationships are new and they must not have experienced the lows yet, I keep hearing amidst my mind’s chatter. It will be better when we are out of this patch. It will feel like a beautiful inhalation after you have held your breath underwater for much longer than you should have. Scientifically it is just impossible for something to stay the same forever. It will not always be this hard.
And then one night he doesn’t come home on time. A message lost in the digital space causes me to panic. What if something happened in East Harlem, where he is doing a side gig to make money? My mind wanders to the very beginning, as it often does when I imagine a life without him. I think of how new and loving and supportive everything once was and how willing I was to take this chance with him. I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, noting that his closet light is off. I am struck still as I imagine that light were to never come on again.
He returns home but I have already felt the loss. We go about our routines that are going to have to change for us to survive. But some may just stay the same. He leaves for the gym as I am returning from yoga and I look to his closet to see the light is on. I silently turn it off this time, vowing to never mention it again. From now on I will flick the switch without complaint and use it as an opportunity to love and appreciate that we are still here.