“The agony is exquisite, is it not? The broken heart. You think that you will die but you just keep living, day after day, after terrible day.” – Miss Havisham, Great Expectations
Miss Havisham is my heart’s spirit animal. Just like Charles Dickens’ famous spinster it remains firmly frozen in time in all its heartache and disappointment that you have left. Although it has only been a mere 48 hours since we decided to end our relationship, I have settled nicely into this periwinkle state. Replaying the memories of us like a home movie in my mind, I have been laying curled up in my hand-me-down IKEA bed for the past hour smothering my body pillow with a loveless embrace. A string of melancholy folk-pop songs play in an infinite rotation and fill the 400 square feet of my apartment with the audible equivalent of my tears. Releasing the pillow from its chokehold, I roll over onto my back as scenes of you continue to play in my mind. There is a glimpse of your illuminating smile and the way it consumes your entire face. Next is the thoughtfully brooding way you would rub your chin when you were contemplating an idea or the rebuttal to a debate. However, it is the way everything in my tiny studio seemed to radiate with perfection while you laid sleeping in my bed that bring back the tears.
The truth is, this apartment was way too small when I moved into it almost two years ago. The walls visibly caked with layer upon layer of institutional eggshell white paint. The build-up of encrusted polish is most noticeable at the baseboards and in the once smooth curves of the crown molding. These walls are definitely nowhere near perfect and whatever secrets they’ve recorded have been painstakingly whitewashed away. Only one scar bleeds through the stark dinginess of the colorless facade. Near the door there is a jagged softball-sized ripple in the plaster; likely made by a spackling novice. I don’t recall seeing this on the wall when the management office showed me this 20×20 box, but I’m sure it was there. Hidden from view by the open door as the rental agent played up its vintage charm and reasonable rent.
Since moving in little has changed about these walls. There are no pictures or decorative fixtures to make this room feel more like a home. In fact, three large copy paper boxes sit haphazardly stacked against the warped wooden slats of the closet door waiting to be unpacked. This is clearly not a home, but a transient way station that has more in common with a hostel than an actual residence.
I open my eyes and stare blankly up at the ceiling as the last of my tears fall down my cheeks. Spattered between the corner of the wall and the window frame is a faint black mold. It looks like a child has flicked watercolor paint down the seam of my wall. This is the only thing radiating from my apartment as it diverges from the upper right corner and out onto the ceiling. Management has advised that it’s harmless, but if the only one to inspect this mildew-like apparition was the building’s maintenance man, Igor—I want a second opinion—this is the same man who thought that a clogged toilet could wait three days. So, I certainly don’t trust his ability to evaluate what is and isn’t toxic.
He probably thinks that I’m benign and he’d be wrong.
“Ugh, Igor is a complete dumbass.” As I commiserate with my new fungi roommate, I feel my eyes begin to swell up with tears. Again. I close my eyes tightly in hopes that the scrunching will act as a dam and prevent the salty liquids escape. Once the desire to cry begins to dissipate, I force myself out of bed and walk into the bathroom. I stare blankly at my reflection as I stand in front of the mirror. It is almost as if I am looking at a different person as I slowly begin to focus on and assess the current state of my face.
The dark circles under my insomnia-laced eyes are made only slightly less noticeable by the new glaze of red and irritation brought about from my recent rounds of crying. My hair sits on top of head in a messy Medusa-like knot, the shorter hairs flailing wilding beneath it. To complete this personification of misery, a zit is starting to form in the crevice of my nose. Not wanting to be judge by the Walgreens clientele or the video store clerks, I take my hair down and brush it out before putting the knot neatly back atop my head. I then wash my face; producing an all-around red effect to my skin. I complete the half-ass facade of having my shit together by adding a little mascara to my upper lashes. Taking a final look in the mirror, I shrug at my reflection. A nonverbal, this will do, before grabbing the hoodie hanging on the door behind me and exiting the bathroom to find my shoes. From the foot of my bed, I scan the room and see my shoes cowering in the corner under the kitchen table. I walk over and bend down to drag them out. Although I have a habit of throwing them off and tossing them in corners, these knitted boots have actually become one of my favorite winter accessories – Of course. It seems fitting that I would be so reckless with something I actually adore. I finish putting on the boots and my coat, and checking to make sure I have my keys, I head down the stairs.
Exiting the building, I am immediately bombarded with the sights and sounds of Lakeview on a Friday night. My nose is assaulted with the smell of rotisserie chicken from the Chicken Hut as mildly drunk, giggling girls dart in front of me wearing their flashiest spring dresses in the middle of January. Huddled together in a failed attempt to stay warm, they dash across the street as the crosswalk light flashes DON’T WALK in bright red. The last pair of heels barely touching the sidewalk before a cab barrels through the light and makes a sharp right turn. I roll my eyes at their stupidity and apparent zest for life as I continue across the opposite side of the street toward Specialty Video and DVD. Once inside, I begin checking out the new releases and turn my nose up in disgust at all of the romantic comedies available to rent. THE LIES!! My heart screams from within as an invisible fist shakes in front me. After perusing through every genre twice, I settle on Jennifer’s Body and the entire series of Veronica Mars. I decide not to analyze what exactly this might say about my current mental state and make my way to Walgreens.
As I’m leaving the video store, a guy holds the door open for me and all I can muster up in the form of a thank you is a sad scowl. Even kind gestures are lost on my cold, mourning heart, or it could be that I just want everyone to feel as wretched as I do. Either way, I quickly grab what I need from Walgreens and head back across the street where I can burrow back into my habitually morose solitude.
Re-entering the apartment, I set my bags down on the table and toss off my shoes and coat. Maudlin pop ballads float through the stale air as I immediately wrap-up back inside the comfort I have created inside this bleak one-room flat. Exhaling away the stress of being around the flurry of activity just outside these walls, I head over to the fridge to make dinner and pause to look at the photo collage plaster across the door. Pictures and mementos of the full happy life I have put on pause while my heart wallows.
Ms. Havisham really is a bitch.
I smile at the montage as the mold catches my attention from the corner of my eye. I turn, giving my full attention to the dark abyss settling into the corner of my wall and stretching out to make itself at home. My anger returns. I walk over to the stereo and put on some dance music. Then I turn back around and open the cabinet door under the sink to retrieve a bottle of Lysol and a roll of paper towels. Taking the arsenal in my hands, I march over and stand on my bed. I spray the Lysol across and wall and begin to smear a bunched up pile of the paper towels across the fungus. I continue to spray down the entire wall, wiping away every inch of black until all I can see are the clean white walls as I jump and dance on my bed to the beat of the music. Once all of it has been removed, I throw away the soiled towels and feel a sense of accomplishment come over me as I wash my hands.
The CD comes to an end, and I watch as the soap goes down the drain. In the silence, my mind wanders back to you and tears swell in my eyes. I turn off the faucet, dry my hands, and walk back over to the bed. Curling up inside my comforter, I pull my body pillow close in a frigid hug and turn on the DVD player. Mold is much easier to remove from the wall.
Stephanie Hammond is a West Virginia transplant who has made Chicago her home and playground. She is active on Twitter and Instagram as @dancingliterati where she pretends she is a professional champagne drinker and Gilmore Girl.