We just moved into our first house. It was modest at best. A one bedroom, one bathroom not much bigger than our old apartment, a starter house I guess you could call it, but it was ours. The mortgage was cheap, but the area wasn’t too nice to say the least.

We worked full-time and then some. I was a college dropout, I didn’t wear a suit and tie to work, I drove a beat-up, used truck, but I had her and that’s all I needed to get through the day.

We paid for our groceries with food stamps; I paid for my beer and cigarettes with my dear friend Thomas Jefferson. I drank more often than I should, but I didn’t think it really bothered her and it sure as heck wasn’t hurting me.

We were struggling with our bills, but we were making due, my savings account only had a couple of zeros in it, but we were getting by.

We were young, dumb, and in love. We were high school sweethearts. I didn’t care about anything as much as her.

Her name was Amy.

All week I had been contemplating. I didn’t call my mom, I didn’t tell my girlfriends, I didn’t talk to him about it. It was something I had to figure out on my own.

I was taking night classes at nursing school; I was a waitress from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon every weekday, on good days I got five or six hours of sleep a night. I was so embarrassed to go to the grocery store because we paid for everything in food stamps –except for his Budweiser and Marlboros.

I hated that he smoked but he would always say, “Yeah but I only smoke when I drink.” That’s every day, idiot I would always think but never say.

In his kitchen I told him how I felt. In his kitchen I told him how I felt with a plate of leftover meatloaf and a bowl of instant mashed potatoes. In his kitchen I told him how I felt with a plate of leftover meatloaf and a bowl of instant mashed potatoes and a can of Budweiser to his lips and a Marlboro red in his ear. In his kitchen I told him how I felt with a plate of leftover meatloaf and a bowl of instant mashed potatoes and a can of Budweiser to his lips and a Marlboro red in his ear while I fought the tears and withstood the course of adrenaline that shot through my veins.

It had been a long time coming. He thought we were okay but we weren’t. I couldn’t live anymore paycheck to paycheck in a crammed house in a shitty neighborhood.

When he laughed I knew I was making the right decision. We stood there and I could tell he was shutting off. He didn’t know how to react. I felt like a bad person but I wouldn’t change my mind. I hid my tears.

While I packed my outfits he just laid in his bed watching re-runs of Seinfeld. By the time I started packing my make-up he was fast asleep. Hours passed. If he cared, I couldn’t tell.

I tried to drag one of my airport suitcases out the door. I failed miserably. One of the wheels was missing. I mustered up the courage to poke his arm until he woke up and asked him for help.

“Okay,” was all he said.

When I closed the trunk he was standing on the driveway with a dumbfounded expression, as if he didn’t believe I was really doing this.

When I opened my car door I turned back, that’s when it hit me. At that moment I wanted him to stop me, say something, anything, just stop me. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

Somehow I got in my car and left.

I stared at him through my rear view until he was out of sight.

I needed to think about myself. I didn’t want to live my life like this. I wanted to earn my nursing degree and have a real career. I wanted to live in a two-story house in a nice neighborhood with nice cars in the garage and have twin boys and rescue a golden retriever! …And wake up every day next to someone who could take care of me….

But I still loved him.

She left when I told her I wasn’t leaving.

I didn’t say a word when she was packing her things; I just sat in bed and watched TV as she folded her clothes while holding back her tears. I could tell because she would always tilt her head up and look into the light as if she was trying not to sneeze, but whenever her eyes were red that’s all I needed to see to know.

She stayed up till four in the morning packing.

I fell asleep.

She woke me up to help her put her suitcases and boxes in her car.

I reluctantly agreed. I didn’t even try to stop her.

She stopped before she opened her driver’s door to leave and turned her head towards me. She opened her mouth but didn’t say anything.

I just stood there on our driveway as she drove off.

We fought every now and then, as every couple does, but it wasn’t in our nature to stay mad at each other. We always made up, but this time it was different.

Three days and she hadn’t returned my calls or responded to my texts.

Then a week passed without a word. Her mail stopped coming altogether.

Before I knew it two months had come and gone.

One day my friend, Tim, called me and told me to come out with some of our friends from work. I forced myself to get out of my depressed stupor and halfheartedly agreed but only if he picked me up and drove me back. I wanted to enjoy my drinks without worrying about driving home – can you blame me?

He said, “Okay, but you have to pitch in for gas.”

I nodded but showed him my middle finger.

He chuckled.

While he pumped gas into his truck I got a pack of cowboy killers and a tall boy. I shoved the change into his shirt pocket and threw the empty beer can out the window as we drove off.

Our usual intoxication rendezvous of choice was The Black Wolf; it was a hole in the wall bar. They only had four beers on draft, their bar snacks were okay at best, and there weren’t any bottles of Maker’s Mark or Grey Goose on the top shelf, but it was our spot that we had been going to for years.

We met our co-workers in the parking lot.

They laughed at how gruff my beard was and how long my hair had become. When they saw my outfit they really let me have it. Fuckin assholes I thought. I was wearing a gray hoodie, skinny jeans, and flip-flops. On second thought, okay, maybe they had a point.

When we walked in that’s when I saw her.

She was with another guy at the bar.

My friends saw her but pretended they didn’t.

She saw me but she pretended she didn’t.

I did the same, but I couldn’t help but look back at her every few minutes.

They left before we did.

A minute went by and I wanted to leave as well.

When we walked out we saw them pull out of the parking lot. Together, in a car I didn’t recognize.

Tim found a moment to ask me the situation when we were walking to his car.

The other guys had already left without bringing up the subject.

“What’s going on, buddy?” was his nonchalant way of asking me about it.

When I laughed and said that didn’t mean anything he paused and let out an incredulous sigh before he said, “They left in his car.”

I changed the subject.

He didn’t fall for it. Tim brought it back up.

I told him.

That night we were arguing about our mortgage during dinner. I told her the electric would be late again. She knew I was scraping the bottom of the barrel.

She broke down and screamed at me for not finishing school and spending so much money on beer and cigarettes. She started talking about the future and our savings down to every last detail.

I argued back that she was still with me. I didn’t think we were doing that bad and I was happy.

Her demeanor changed.

She said, softly, almost in a whisper, “I want to be happy.”

I laughed and replied, “Aren’t you?”

She shook her head, “No.”

It felt like she drove an ice pick through my heart.

I paused and didn’t say a word. We just stood there for what felt like a lifetime. At first, all I managed to say was, “That changes everything.”

I didn’t know what to think. I thought we were in love … I thought love was enough….

I went back to school to finish my degree – full-time. I took mostly online courses and gave a hybrid class a shot so I could still work full-time, the drive to the campus is a pain in the ass anyways and gas prices suck shit still. I think going back was the right decision; statistics is still a bitch though.

I told my boss I needed to work more night shifts, that way, I wouldn’t be able to go out drinking after work and I could study during the day.

My boss caught me chewing gum on the clock yesterday and questioned me about it. I replied, “It’s that nicotine shit. I’m trying to quit smoking, cutting it out cold turkey, you know?” He didn’t know what to say. He was even more surprised when I told him I stopped drinking – on the weekdays that is. I’m a work in progress.

A few weeks later my boss gave me a raise and promoted me to night manager. Guess he liked my attitude adjustment. Can’t complain, at least now I’m on top of the bills.

I kept it a secret when I gave up the nicotine gum and started dipping instead – baby steps.

The house was lonely so I decided to get a dog, a golden retriever, she’s a rescue. We used to always talk about getting one together. She doesn’t sleep in the kennel though. I guess I was too used to waking up next to a beautiful girl.

I was on lunch break when Tim told me she had changed her relationship status back to single. He was a Facebook creep. He said her status was, “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”

I called Amy on break.