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Let Me Take a Deep Breath, Babe

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These things probably got easier the more you did them, she thought in the first instance, and then quickly after, hoped that she wouldn’t have to do them too often. She sniffed, her breath clear in the air before her, fogging up the windshield as she sat behind the steering wheel in the stationary car trying not to think about it, trying not to think about what had brought her here.

It had been easier when she was younger, it hadn’t seemed like such a big deal, and feelings had just been storms to weather until they passed. Yet as she had got older, and the longer she had stuck around, it felt as if the storms, whilst not initially noticeable, came upon her all too soon, all too suddenly.

She reached up and wiped the snot from her nose with the back of her hand, took a deep breath, caught a glimpse of herself in the rear-view mirror and tried to pretend she had not been crying, tried to pretend that it was okay, that it was going to be okay, that this got easier the more you did it.

Her mother would have said that, she thought, that bit about things getting easier the more you did them, that was the kind of advice that her mother had liked to dispense, standing with her back to her in the kitchen in a plastic apron, looking down at the dishes, the pots and pans, curls of dark hair and a figure that had never quite recovered from giving birth to two healthy if not wayward daughters.

Best not to think of your mother, she warned herself, glancing over her shoulder out of the window at the back and setting the car into reverse, easing out of the parking space, not looking up at the window of the house opposite, not looking up at the figure she knew was watching her.

When you were young, there is no one to tell you that sometimes you have to walk away. Every ending is a happy one, every boy a prince charming up until the point where you forgot what you felt, and, again, the storm passed. It was different, she thought, in October, when you were 24-years-old and you didn’t know what to do with the rest of your life, didn’t know how or when it might begin to get easier.

She glanced down, caught a glimpse of herself, those jeans of his with her name still on them, and she felt the storm raging once more, the waves threatening to rise up and wash her away, and she tightened her hands on the steering wheel and ground her teeth together, and tried to believe it would get better.

It was good, he had said, then it wasn’t, he had said, and then it was over.

She drew another sharp breath, a tremble running through her. No, she thought, not a tremble, an earthquake, a life-changing, shuddering tumult that would leave nothing the same in its wake.

She nodded to herself, pushing the gearstick into drive, sniffing again, breath still frozen before her as nothing but cold air rushed up out of the dashboard, the car’s engine far from ready to accommodate her with warmth.

You’re going to miss me, she said to him, yet not aloud. Maybe not right now, maybe not for a while, but you’re going to miss me, and when you do, I’m not going to be around. We’re not going to be friends, you’re not going to be able to call me, not going to be able to ask me for advice when something goes wrong with whatever girl you’re seeing in that moment, and you’re going to feel bad about this forever.

She nodded, as if taking her own advice.

If I have taught you anything, she told herself, then it is how to feel regret.

She took another deep breath, urging the car forward, not looking up, not looking behind as she slid out of the street she had lived on for the past two years, as she drove away from the apartment they had shared for the past two years—as she left behind the boy she had shared her life with.

There was a bowling ball in her stomach, a desert in her mouth, and yet still her courage held out, still she remained with her hands tight upon the steering wheel. It would take nothing short of perhaps running over an angel for her to be swayed from this course of action now, she thought. She had committed to this, she believed in this, and as she reached the end of the street, as she waited to turn right into the traffic flowing up and out of their neighbour, she was seized at last with the desire to turn around.

Too quickly for her to chide herself, she turned her head and looked again out of the rear window, her eyes moving past the cartons of boxes, the swollen suitcase of clothes, the carrier bags of old records that she had not listened to in years, that she had forgotten she had brought.

The street was empty and quiet, already faintly unfamiliar, as if her memory was slipping away. There was nothing special about it, nothing worth staying for, and there was no sign of anyone who would wish to tell her otherwise, and she didn’t know how she felt about that, whether she was happy that he was not there to challenge her, or sad that he had not made the effort to ask her to stay.

Will you leave a light on for me, she asked; will you leave a light to guide me back to you, even though we both know that now I can never come home to you?

She swallowed hard, her body consumed with sorrow, snot on the back of her hand, tears in her eyes.

Weather the storm, she told herself, duck and cover, the trembling will subside, and you will be okay, you will pick yourself up again, and you will go on, no sad tears, just a faint smile when you remember such days.

If I have taught you anything, she told herself, then it is how to feel regret.