“My Life Partner” by Jack Cubria follows Paul—narrator Roy’s best friend—and his relationship with Ada. In “My Life Partner,” Cubria has constructed an honest, conflicted narrator who loves Paul despite everything, through prose that recalls Hemingway: true, and direct, and with depth beyond measure.
On their first evening out they went to the symphony, and then they fucked like Romans in the car. He made her come just by touching her over her leggings. I know this, because Paul tells me everything he does and thinks, especially when it’s about women.
The first time I actually saw Paul and Ada together they were passing through California on a road trip. I was still in college. We rendezvoused at the campus and caravanned to Tunitas by Half Moon Bay and camped on the beach, and when it was dark they very earnestly told me that they were going to get married. I got up from the campfire to go piss whiskey into the surf and thought, they’ll be finished once the sex slows down.
The following morning, when we walked around the campus in the heat, Ada was upset at something. She refused to talk to us and lagged far behind as Paul and I strolled side-by-side past the dormitories and academic buildings. She didn’t crack a smile when Paul scaled the marble statues on the steps of the art museum and hung around their necks and pretended to kiss them on the lips.
As their white van drove away down Santa Teresa I found myself hoping for a painless outcome. This was not to be expected, which I knew even then.
* * *
After our beach excursion I didn’t see Paul and Ada for nearly a year. I graduated from college in the spring and took my first job writing for a magazine in New York. I covered politics, manufacturing rote prose out of provocations and lies. Before long the whole arrangement defeated me. I decided to get out. Around that time Paul called me.
Come to Missoula, he said.
After a period of perseveration I quit the magazine and took his advice. It was not too hard to move out there—back to Montana, back West—not as hard as it had been to move to New York. I got a room on the north side of town in a little house with a porch. It was close to the Catholic cemetery, and in the afternoons I would go to read among the tombstones. Another man lived with me, but he worked two restaurant jobs, so I saw little of him. I was writing for a website to make money, about eight hundred dollars per month, and I was drinking hard every day at the taprooms around town. Meanwhile Paul and Ada were living in a basement apartment by the campus. She was finishing school, and he was living off savings from prior years, when he had worked summers as a wildland firefighter. They had a puppy, black as the road. It was a mix of collie and husky and wolf, and it was not well socialized, though it obeyed Paul’s commands sweetly. They called the puppy Ash.
While Ada was in class, Paul and I drank growlers on my porch. He read Roethke and Rilke to me. One June afternoon he was moved to tears by the Duino Elegies, stricken by a kind of mortal anxiety. He started fretting about how other women still interested him. For a minute he talked about being afraid to die alone.
The thing is, he said, I’m always attracted to these dark-haired, light-eyed girls. Whereas Ada has light hair and dark eyes.
In those days he was conversing feverishly in text messages with a college junior named Jill, one of a dozen-odd women he’d met at the university music department. They had exchanged pictures of each other. He showed me the pictures on his phone. Besides everything else, Jill had dark hair and light eyes. I didn’t know what advice to give him about it. I wanted so badly to be loved.
* * *
I went to their house at the end of June. We drank Japanese whiskey in the backyard. I cooked burgers on the grill while Paul paced around reading the Tenth Elegy aloud. Ada was painting a watercolor picture on an easel and tossing a tennis ball for the dog with her other hand. The sound of the neighbor’s lawn mower roared over us. Paul yelled at Ash when he dug a hole by the fence, and the lawn mower stopped. A voice came from the other yard: Why don’t you ever say anything nice to that pup, asshole? Paul grinned at the fence. He has a unique grin, totally open-mouthed, which expresses disgust with another person.
Later, after we’d eaten the burgers and had gotten very drunk, Paul said that he had a new job. He was going to teach all twelve grades of music in Belt, a town of six hundred people a few miles from where we grew up.
Are you going? I asked Ada.
Where else would I go? she said.
It impressed me. She really loved him. After another week they went away.
* * *
There was somebody else for most of this time. She came to visit me in Missoula, and I thought she would live there with me, but she went away after a few difficult weeks that I won’t bother going into, except to say that the experience was a shock to both of us. It prompted her to discover and subscribe to a strain of Evangelical fundamentalism. What happened to me, meanwhile, would all be part of a long and different story. In sum I was so ungrounded that I asked Paul to come visit, because I couldn’t stand to be alone. This was the end of August.
We went on a hike during the day. In the evening we sat on my porch watching cars and dogs and families going by beneath the trees along the sidewalk, in shadow. As it was getting very hot, and the sheets of leaves were becoming gold, Paul started to holler at the pedestrians in an Irish accent.
When it got a little darker I explained to Paul about my girl—how she was a really good girl, how I missed her, and how I was a monster for pushing someone that good away from me, and so forth.
There’s this choir teacher, Paul said.
I think he wanted to cheer me up. Anyway he showed me pictures of this new woman. She looked very good. She had black hair and bright blue eyes. He shook his head vehemently and paced around.
Why does this happen?
You ought to be happy, I said. You have all these women in your life. I don’t have any. Not anymore.
But what if I can’t love anyone? What does it mean?
I told him it didn’t mean anything. It was a lot of bullshit and hormones and social conditioning. There was no right or wrong thing to do.
Why don’t you and I get married, I asked.
We should do that, he said. We absolutely should.
It’s legal. There are tax benefits. We would have companionship. We’ve always wanted to live together. We could still have side relationships with women.
We could, he said.
He was really thinking about it. Back in those days Paul often said to me, I’ve never loved anyone or anything as I love you. He would tell me that, and then he would talk about the women he was obsessed with.
* * *
They lived in a house in Belt that had a room to be her art studio, but Ada had no exciting prospects. She was working at an old folks’ home in Great Falls, cleaning up all kinds of bodily discharge. She worked a night shift, and he taught at the school all day, and they never saw each other.
Meanwhile his friendship with the choir teacher grew. The choir teacher worked at a big high school in the next town. Every afternoon he drove for forty-five minutes to meet her. I got all the details over the phone or by text. We went to the brewery together—she called me late the other night—she helped me make my lesson plans for the week—I met her fish—I gave her a present for her birthday….
The last weekend of September Paul came to visit me again. We smoked on the porch. He played music loudly on his portable speaker. He sang along, gesturing like a conductor, emoting for every riff on every instrument, squealing and grunting and moaning with pleasure at each turn of phrase. When he would listen to me I implored him to end things with Ada.
I know, said Paul. I know.
Then he asked, Will you read something I wrote?
Sure, I said, but let’s go to a bar first and get drunk.
On the way there, he explained that he’d been writing a lot recently. He told me about some of the things he had been writing.
Good, I said. Writing’s good. That’ll help you feel better.
It was the biggest lie I’ve ever told.
We drove to a brewery. At our table in the back I read his piece and chugged beer while he watched me read. The thing was a portrait of a dreaming man in an ambivalent relationship. It was written in an apocalyptic tone and obviously bore the influence of Pynchon, whom I’d shown to him. The whole thing was one paragraph. I told him he needed to have more movement in the piece so that the reader could follow along. I told him he ought to focus on describing a string of action rather than putting down his innermost thoughts. It was the kind of thing you learn to say in seminars—the ugly habit of grasping for an opinion on something you don’t even comprehend. Through my admonishments he nodded in a way that was skeptical and maybe defensive, and I knew he wanted so badly to do well, and for some reason he believed that I was qualified to give him advice. Subconsciously, maybe consciously, I was trying to undermine him. He was better than me at a lot of things.
Of his piece he said, I’m not sure what it is yet. It’s essentially the beginning of a story. Did you gather that it’s about me? The man in the story is me.
* * *
Beginning of October I drove to Belt to spend a weekend with Ada and Paul. I had it in mind to investigate the true state of their life, and when I arrived it seemed idyllic. We hiked with Ash the dog, and they showed me around the little town. They took me to the local brewery, and we started off on a night of tremendous drinking. After the taproom kicked us out we returned to their cottage house with its quaint creaking porch, the rocking chairs of rough-hewn logs and pine branches tilting in the wind, and we went into their cozy living room, where Paul and I finished a whiskey bottle. Then we drank absinthe, pouring water over sugar. I’d never done it before and wanted to try, because it seemed like something out of a novel. Last of all, we drank red wine with Ada. Ada didn’t get too drunk.
When I was very out of it I cried and cried over my girl who’d left some time before. Paul held me, hugging me hard and pressing his bearded face into the side of my cheek. Ada stroked my arm and kissed my hand.
She really should have given Montana more of a chance.
This one’s giving Belt a chance.
I give him a lot of chances, Ada said. I know all about his little girls. Not that he does anything. I just know about his girls.
They laughed about it. She understood him. What a nice person. What a sweet soul and what a good friend. I realized what a fool I was for crying and feeling lonely when I had such wonderful people around.
Eventually Ada passed out in the bedroom. Paul showed me some more of his writing. It was a prose poem about a man’s dreams of a woman in a seaside castle.
Her blue eyes were the sky to his own blue eyes’ ocean.
It’s about her, he said. Did you notice?
Yes, I said.
What does it mean? What does it mean if every story I write is about a girl with dark hair and blue eyes?
* * *
I was back in Missoula when the World Series was on. The series was being played between Chicago and Cleveland. During the first game Paul texted me saying that he was planning to leave Ada. For five more games I didn’t hear anything from him.
I asked my friend Matt Swisher to watch the seventh and final game with me. We met at the Union Club. During the fifth inning I got a phone call from Paul and stepped out into the breezeway. I came back into the bar a little teary-eyed and had to explain to Matt what was the matter. I related the whole situation: how I had a friend who loved someone, how their relationship was dying and about to be all the way dead, and how Ada, apparently, had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Matt nodded his head repeatedly, which is his nervous and conciliatory movement. He is very good at understanding how awful things can get.
That’s tough, said Matt. My grandpa died of prostate cancer. But that’s different. He was old. That’s tough. That’s a tough situation.
And he was right. There was not much else to say—not in the Union Club, anyway. We had as much control over it as we did over the series. I didn’t want to bring Matt down too much. So we watched the game.
* * *
Ada was going to have surgery on the twenty-seventh of December. Until then a lot of things happened that I don’t need to say much about. I stopped drinking. I lost my job and found a new job looking after children with autism in a public school. I flew to Bellingham, Washington and watched the rain while my friends were at work. I shopped at something called The Container Store, and I was high the entire time. And I didn’t think about Ada. She stayed on the edge of my mind, roped off by the words that’s tough, encircling a poem of chaos. I was living easily, and I didn’t want to think about life and death.
It could no longer be helped when I was back in Great Falls on Christmas Eve. I shared an early lunch with them at the public house by the river park. Ada hugged me excitedly when I came to their table.
I’ve missed you, Roy.
How’s Belt? I asked.
Fabulous, she said. Especially with the snow and ice on the highway. You can die on any trip to the grocery store.
She ordered a Bloody Mary from the bar. I wondered whether she was following her doctor’s orders. How could she feel like drinking while face-to-face with eternity?
You okay? Paul asked me.
Swallowed down the wrong pipe, I said.
I looked into Ada’s round face. She has soft cheeks and a big forehead and huge loving cow eyes. She looks exactly like a baby. I thought if she died of cancer it would be the cruelest thing that would ever happen to any of us. Ada didn’t betray any kind of fear. She sipped her sludgy drink, ate the vegetable garnishes one by one, and spoke with us about the inane and the mundane. She was bright, smiling at nothing. Nobody brought up the surgery. Then Paul asked me, What are you doing for New Year’s?
I don’t know, I said. I’ve been thinking of a trip to California.
Where’ll you go?
Maybe San Francisco. See friends, go to the beach.
You could camp where we camped, Paul said.
What about you two? Could you make it to Missoula?
We should all go to California. What about that?
I’ve long forgotten. What I remember is looking once at Ada, far along in the easy talk, and seeing that her face had become fully transformed. She was staring between us and absent, a white mask. It reminded me of how she looked when she was hungry and angry.
* * *
On the twenty-eighth, the day after her surgery, I was in my kitchen drinking tea and wine while cooking a second dinner. At ten o clock Paul called me and said there was bad news.
The surgery went all right, he said.
I told him he was an asshole.
I know I am, he said.
Did you end it, or did she?
She did. I went over to the hospital tonight. As soon as she saw me she started to talk about how I’ve been treating her. She got mad at me for forgetting about our anniversary. She had cancer, Roy! I was thinking about the cancer, not the anniversary. Of course I forgot everything else. And she was angry because I didn’t buy her a cake on her birthday, even though I bought her a new set of paints that she wanted. She said she didn’t deserve to be treated like that.
Is she going to be okay? Medically?
Yes. The surgery was successful. They took out her thyroid and one of her lymph nodes too.
Is she cancer-free?
I think so. I told you, the surgery was successful.
It didn’t spread through her lymph nodes? Just the one had to be removed?
Then everything’s fine?
Yes. Everything’s fine.
That’s the main thing. That’s it, then.
I can’t even think about it, he said. I already miss her.
No you don’t.
I told him that he could go after the choir teacher now. When I said this, he started to cry.
* * *
Paul couldn’t afford to pay rent on the house without her. He ended up living with Ash in a trailer that he parked at a KOA by the Great Falls Wal-Mart. It was bad for the dog, now destined to be confined throughout the day.
We were together in Great Falls a month or so into the New Year. I was there to see a dentist and a psychiatrist and my parents and to see Paul too. We heard that Ellie Fielding was going to be in town. But I shouldn’t say that as though it had been the word on the street. Paul was the one who told me. Paul kept in touch with people—with women.
Ellie was a woman we knew from the neighborhood where we grew up. Her boyfriend, Bruce, was a medical student from Seattle, about to start a rotation in town. The four of us met at a dive bar. The lights were on. You could see the cracks in the walls. The bartender served me some excess foam from a spent keg. I waited for it to settle into something like liquid form. Ellie asked me to narrate to her the decade of my life since we’d last seen each other. Several times she asked if I needed a hug, and I never said no.
We went to three more bars. At one joint we were the sole listeners in front of a local trio doing hair metal covers. Ellie talked to Bruce a little and Paul a little, but mostly she talked to me. She put her face very close. I could see her wetting her lips.
When it was closing time around town we sat in my car and smoked. Bruce asked me what I wanted out of life, since I was the only one of them without an incipient career.
Your cadence is very slow, he said.
How about another hug? Ellie said, and from the backseat she leaned forward and put her arms around my neck.
Then we drove home in two separate cars. Ellie drove her car with Paul, and I drove my car with Bruce. I don’t know how we came to that arrangement, but it soon went badly for me. Bruce only wanted to talk about my audio equipment and about fixing sound systems.
This is an okay set-up for this little car, he said. If you replaced the front speakers it could be better.
As he started talking about the process, I turned my radio up to dispel conversation. Instead of taking the hint, he leaned across the middle console and shouted in my ear about all the different sorts of speakers he had worked on.
The two of us got to the house first. We sat in Bruce’s living room. We were waiting for Paul and Ellie for half an hour before Bruce started calling her.
I know something’s up, he said.
I said, Take it easy. They’re probably talking about speakers.
After fifteen more minutes we heard Paul and Ellie come through the front door. They sat with us in the living room, and everyone acted very cool. Bruce brought beers from the kitchen. We talked about subjects I don’t remember until Paul started talking about his eyes.
Can you believe I didn’t win prettiest eyes senior year?
No, Ellie said. Who won?
Probably the quarterback, I said.
That’s stupid, she said. Paul’s eyes are better. Don’t you think so, Roy?
Beloved, I said, You have the bluest eyes. Thine eyes are the sky to mine own eyes’ dark earth.
He didn’t know I was making fun of him. He took his eyes seriously and really thought it was a great injustice.
Roy, you could have won too, Ellie said. You have nice brown eyes.
Jesus, I said.
At length Ellie and Bruce went into the bedroom to change into pajamas. Paul crawled over to my chair and put his chin on my knee.
Don’t talk about it right now, I said.
I was not the catalyst, Paul protested. But I’m going to roll with it nevertheless…
Bruce came out of the bedroom wearing a hoodie. He slouched against the wall and put his hood up and looked like he was going to start shooting. The rest of us drank more beers. Finally Bruce gave up and went to bed. When he was gone Paul got on his knees in front of Ellie and put his head on her lap and cooed at her as though every little thing she said was the most important thing he’d ever heard. I felt some schadenfreude, since Bruce had made such a poor impression on me.
Paul called me on the phone later in the night, after I’d gone to sleep at my parents’ house. He explained that Ellie had always liked him, secretly, for years and years.
What about our doctor friend? Is he in the dark?
He’s cheated on her before.
Why are they together?
He’s staying at her folks’ place.
And her job—man, this is messed up—he’s on the board of her company.
You’d think at some point you’d see this shit on the horizon.
No, said Paul. You can’t. You just go crazy. You forget who you were.
Do you feel bad about it?
I can do it better than he can, Paul said, because he’d also related in great detail how he went down on her in the car.
That’s good. I guess empathy only works on the people we like.
That is exactly it, Roy. Roy, you nailed it. You always nail it.
* * *
I saw Ada again a month later. I haven’t seen her since, though I’ve heard that she’s very much alive and generally about town.
I was at the Union with Matt Swisher and Lisa Elise. The time was after eleven, the place was busy, and the honky-tonk group that was the house band was creating a lot of feedback on the PA. I’d embarked on a stretch of relative sobriety or moderation, and I was feeling very ill with the dregs of bronchitis. The endless coughing had left a pain in my chest, right below my heart. We were in a big group of Lisa’s law school friends, and I didn’t know any of them. It was somebody’s birthday. I talked to Matt about what we were reading. It was a good, long talk—until I saw Ada. She was sitting a few tables away with a group of friends, drinking out of a twenty-four-ounce PBR can.
I have to take care of something, I said to Matt.
I went over and got her attention and said hello.
Roy, she said.
I just wanted to see how you’re doing.
I’m not here with him. I’m by myself.
This is strange, she said. This is odd.
It’s all right.
You don’t understand, she said. You don’t get it.
I do understand. I really do.
No, you don’t. I got cancer, Roy. I got cancer. I got cancer, and he didn’t want to take care of me. I had to have surgery, and he wouldn’t miss a day of work. He only came to the hospital after it was over. Two years together. Two years, and he didn’t want to be there for me, like I’m nothing. He wouldn’t even let me come back to the house to pack my stuff. Not until he moved out. Did he tell you that? Did he tell you how he wouldn’t let me be in that house while he was there?
How are you doing now? I asked. Are you doing more treatment?
She was crying hard.
They had to take out my thyroid. Then they had to take out three of my lymph nodes. He was telling me to run. Exercise. Because I was getting bigger. I was getting fat. But I had cancer, Roy. I had to take a radioactive pill and be in quarantine for three days. He wouldn’t let me come home. He wouldn’t let me come back to Belt. I moved to Belt for him, Roy. I could have taken the couch. He could have taken the bed. But he wouldn’t let it happen because I broke up with him. I loved him. I loved him so so much. I thought—I literally thought—I thought I was going to marry him. And then he took the dog.
Her face was wet. I hugged her and dried her eyes, and I’m sure everyone in the bar got the wrong message, and Lisa was even grinning at me from the table. Then I understood that Ada was much too drunk. She kept shouting, and I was afraid of getting thrown out.
How is the treatment going now? I asked again.
I don’t know, she shouted. We don’t know yet. It spread to my lymph nodes. I have to see another specialist. Then it might be radiation. And definitely chemo. I’m sick, Roy.
I thought to myself, God—fuck this.
But I still love him—do you know that? Do you even care?
I do care, I said. I care a lot. Of course I care, Ada.
She laughed once harshly and broke down sobbing. I hugged her. At length her friends peeled her away, looking at me like I had put something in her drink. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I sat down at our table and explained the whole situation to Matt and Lisa.
That’s tough, Matt said. Damn, that’s tough.
She seemed energetic, said Lisa. She’s out drinking. At least she’s doing that.
* * *
Through winter and going into the spring things steadily went against Paul. He was embattled at the Belt school for having clashed with the parents of some students, and the administration had placed him on something called an “improvement plan.” Recalling this now brings to mind a memorable incident from his college years. He was required to complete a program in ethics after being caught cursing at a seventh-grader. They made him read Crime and Punishment. We used to call this his “reeducation.”
In late February he got into a bad car accident, sliding on interstate ice. He had been drinking, he told me, and he had been on his way back from seeing the choir teacher. The car was wrecked, and he had to borrow one from his mother for a few weeks.
Some time after this, he decided to confess his love to the choir teacher. They arranged a date in the park on the pretense of walking Ash together. He texted me on the morning he planned to do it. I read his message on the way to work. I had gotten a new job folding towels at a health club. I didn’t have to ask how it went. I knew how it would go, and I knew that he would tell me.
After this incident, the conclusion of his embarrassment, the final thing hit. He was forced to get rid of the dog. It had become impossible for him to take care of Ash alone. Travelling around the state for high school music festivals and football games with the pep band, he often had to leave Ash with his family, who hated the dog because it was a difficult dog and dug holes and snapped at people. This is one of the rare instances in which the course of real events resembles a parable, although I didn’t think Paul had earned a punishment. It was more that he had incurred an inevitable heavy charge for the fun times.
It wasn’t hard to find the dog a new home. There was a farm in the town of Cascade outside Great Falls. He told me how the whole thing went. He drove out to the farm and let Ash loose on the lawn in front of the farmhouse. A woman in her forties came out of the front door, followed by the bursting blurs of two more collies. The collies dashed around on the grass. Paul and the woman finalized their agreement and shook hands. She made him promise solemnly that he would not come back for his dog. Then she called her own dogs inside to give the two of them a last moment together. He kneeled and looked at Ash in the eyes and said, Listen. You did not do this. This is not about you. Do you understand? And Ash understood. This is what Paul says about it. The little chaos dog followed the woman into her house and did not look back at Paul through the screen door when it closed. Then Paul drove back to Great Falls crying, and he smashed up the inside of his trailer for the rest of the afternoon.
* * *
That was really the end of it. The dog was his last attachment to Ada. And isn’t this a story about Paul and Ada?
There were aftereffects. We went to a concert in Seattle together in the summertime, and he was dour for the entire trip because he had once travelled there with her, with his girl, and any place he had been with a girl he came to associate with that person alone. It would have been understandable, maybe even sympathetic, except that he longed for them in every other place too. When he came to meet me in Mexico some years later we fought bitterly with each other and almost broke up our friendship because he could not stop perseverating out loud about a girl he was dating back home. It was Jill. I remembered Jill.
I shouldn’t say that we almost broke up our friendship. It will upset him to read this. But at the time it felt truly and completely broken. At last, in another country, sitting at some café table by a public park, I couldn’t talk to him about women anymore. I couldn’t stand to listen to another goddamn thing about girls with black eyes and blue hair. I couldn’t stand to listen to what he said, and I couldn’t stand to watch—jealously I watched him, I’ll admit—as everyone fawned over him. I personally watched three separate women in Mexico City fall in love with Paul at first sight: an awkward-looking teenager at a museum, a fair-skinned Veracruzana at a mezcal bar, and an ancient Indigenous woman who was hawking churros in the plaza at Coyoacan. They all looked at his long blonde hair and his blue eyes and asked me in Spanish if he was an angel.
But that is all almost a different story. I’m going too far ahead. Let me try again.
* * *
It was summer, more than a year on from when I followed his friendship aimlessly from the east. We were driving together from Missoula to Seeley. The plan was to spend a day on the lake and then get high and go eat at the hotel restaurant.
Paul had a new car. He had Ash’s collar hanging from his mirror. He looked better than I’d ever seen him, his hair and beard grown long and thick and healthy, his skin tanned. A brightness had returned to his voice. He sang louder than the wind all along the highway. When we were on the beach by the lake I asked him how he was holding up.
I couldn’t give her the life she deserved, he said.
I had not asked about Ada.
At the end of our day on the lake we had dinner and drank red wine on the terrace of the Double Arrow. This was a few weeks before the worst forest fires in decades rolled in and obliterated much of that area. It being summer, I had begun to think nostalgically about everything that had happened. Memories reformed, becoming something other than pain. I asked Paul whether or not we improve through suffering. What a foolhardy exercise in thought. He seemed interested in it. He said he didn’t know.
Do you think you’re better off now?
What do you mean?
It never would have worked out. But that doesn’t make it feel any better. You’d feel better if you were still doing the wrong thing.
He shook his finger at me knowingly, as if to conduct the orchestra of his thoughts. I felt for the first time that he might know and understand it, the way I had understood it the very first time—on the porch, looking across the street at the necropolis. He began to drum his other hand on the table, as if beating out the contingent constructions of meaning from his body and freeing himself, but it was not that way in the end; for, in the very next moment, he began to tell me a story about the previous summer, and his girl. I looked out over the evergreen country—and I thought of it as looking all the way to the seaboard, the city I’d left—and we spoke these loving memories of evil years and were ignorant.
At the beginning of teacher training, Paul said, all the new hires got school calendars. I wrote notes to myself in my calendar. Sometimes I just wrote little poems in the panels—little haikus. Poetic stuff. Anyway, I found my old calendar yesterday when I was throwing things out, and I saw this day in August that I’d marked up a bunch. It was a real palimpsest, Roy. There were a bunch of Rilke quotes in there. In the middle of one box I wrote, best day of my life.
Was that a Rilke quote? I asked.
It was the first time he spoke to me thus. Since then, every time we’ve met, there has been at least one moment like that, when I wonder if he’s done with me and just can’t figure out how to break it off.
What I was trying to say, Paul went on, is that I don’t remember that day. I don’t remember anything about it. What happened, where I was—any-fucking-thing. I know we didn’t travel. I wasn’t making any money. I wonder what that means.
It can’t be important if you don’t remember it, I told him. I didn’t say what I truly thought it meant, which was that it meant nothing at all, and nothing does with respect to your own suffering, but you do have the ability to destroy and suffocate another human being. Perhaps I’ve been protecting him. Maybe putting him out.
He said to me, Roy—I don’t remember anything.
Jack Cubria is a writer from Missoula, Montana. “My Life Partner” is his third published story. He lives in Dublin.