Dead Like Me is an interesting story for a number of reasons. I wrote this at a time when I was really at a crossroads in my former marriage, and it caused a bit of friction between my second ex wife and I. Whether that was warranted or not, or even if it meant anything at the time…I can’t really say. I write because it needs to come out, and sometimes what comes out is very much what I’m feeling at the time. So make of that what you will. I know she certainly did.
Dead Like Me
By Cary Kelley
It was cold as he stood there, looking up at the window, wondering if she was really asleep or just laying there waiting for him to knock at the door. It was dark, but there was a moon of sorts and he could see his breath pluming out beyond the trees where he waited for her. It all reminded him of the past somehow. When he was cold he always thought back to days of hand me down clothes and waiting at the bus stop. Slower days. Less complicated, in their own way.
The time for their meeting came and went, and rather than freeze any longer, he finally moved on. He walked back the way he had come, down the block, but looking back every now and again trying to catch her peering at him. He knew she was up there. Something told him she just didn’t want to see him anymore.
They had grown steadily apart over the last six months. She was angry. He was even angrier. They said things so unnecessary that anyone listening would have had to laugh rather than take them serious, and yet they were. They said the kinds of things that people never forget, and rarely forgive, though at the time they made up and swore things were better. It was all a game they played with each other, neither willing to admit the truth, that they had been doomed from the very beginning and were just too stubborn to see it.
He supposed it was what had attracted him to her when they met. She had a singular wit, and could hold forth on any number of interesting conversational subjects. She had the right mix of vulnerable female and hardy companion and seemed the perfect fit. She intrigued him in many ways having nothing to do with sex, which was odd. A new experience for him, to be blunt. Most of the women he had known were more than a little shallow and outright dumb if truth had to be told. He had been looking for someone to spark his interest for years, and like an afternoon storm, there she was.
Early on it was idyllic. They were far too busy loving each other to fight. They got on well, each with strengths that lent themselves to the other, and they made a decent match. At least at first. Then as people often do, they both began to grow. She into a more stout believer in her own self confidence, and he into a depressed, stifled husk of his former self. He was caged. There were things out there for him to see and do, but he felt trapped by the circumstances he found himself in. His feet were in amber even as he saw himself running in place. The end result was resentment. She picked up on it early and fought back with a vehemence only a woman can summon, matching him strike for strike.
Thus began the second phase of their relationship, what he would eventually come to call the “combat phase”. The crux of it was quite simple. He would bait her, she would dive in with both feet, and the resulting fight would last until one or the other of them grew so tired of it they gave in. The result was always the same, making up, passionate embraces, and apologies all around, but it was a sham and they both knew it. Nothing was ever really forgotten, regardless of the promises made in or out of bed. The fact was every single word was stored for later recall, just waiting like a spring steel trap, ready to snap shut at the most inopportune moment and snare the one clumsy enough to wander into it.
And so they became two wary dancers, circling each other across a floor of glass shards, both waiting for the right moment, the perfect time to inflict a cut on the other, or better yet to trip and witness an enemy fall.
They continued in that destructive vein for years before it was finally more than he could bear. Funny that it was him. He had always been the stalwart of the two, always the bear in the fights. But time and unhappiness takes a toll on everyone and each person to themselves has a limit. He finally reached his, and walked out without so much as a word behind him.
They still talked occasionally, mostly about the disposition of their joint assets or the weather, but they had limits to where they would go. He would ask after her health, she would riposte with why would he care, and silence always intruded heavy and smothering. He supposed it would be that way with them forever, as he finally grew tired of looking back at her window and looked toward what the future might hold for him. The possibilities were limitless, and he knew it. All he had to do was reach out and grab one or all of them and his journey would begin.
He lightened his step a little then, as if a weight had been lifted. She saw it, even at the distance and from behind the edge of the curtains. She watched him stroll down to the end of the next block and turn left, to where his car was most likely parked. She never really understood his reluctance to drive up to the house like any other normal person would when visiting, but she was beyond caring. She felt the very same weight lifting that he did, and she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. But she watched him all the same. Watched him walk out of her life, as if it were the most casual thing he had ever done. She supposed in the balance of things, it probably was. He didn’t look back at her after a while, she noticed. It filled her with a rage she couldn’t explain, but she knew it would pass. It would pass just as certainly as her former husband turned and passed out of her sight.
And that was the last anyone saw of Thomas Dodd for twelve long years.