The Loss Adjustment
by H. Lee Messina
I pace and shake my head and slam the front door in the delivery man’s face. He’s just doing his job, but what a jerk! I’m angry. I’m that girl. And dammit, I never wanted this.
The last time we talked, he insisted, “It’s time. You need to move on. I’ve moved on. This will make things go so much faster.”
“Can we just meet?” I begged into the phone. “Can we just talk about this in person? Please. I’ll meet you wherever you want.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Use the Sentiment, Emma.”
I crumple to the floor, letting my hot cheek kiss the cold linoleum. My eyes are still closed, squeezing. The rope in my gut, tugging harder. My head insists some feelings aren’t as valid as logic, and I need to get up, I need to get this over with.
But behind my closed eyes, I’m lost in the years we shared. How three somehow feels like thirty, and every moment spoiled when he said, “I don’t have feelings for you anymore.”
The box is small and all-powerful and promises to fix me. It’s looking at me, and I’m looking back through blurry vision, and strands of greasy, pink hair. I can hear Parker insisting, “This will make things go so much faster.”
My heart beats fast against my chest. A puddle forms under my cheek as tears stream through the crevices of my face, salty and constant. I’m on the floor and I have to do something.
I reach for the box. It drives through the puddle of tears and soaks up every ounce with its crushed velvet exterior, like that’s what it’s made to do. Made to make tears disappear, along with my feelings for Parker.
* * *
There’s a dull stabbing sensation planting itself right behind my eyes, just as the tears dry and the snot drips. I have no more tissues or the will to leave my bed. I use my sleeve and hope I remember to change clothes later.
The box is here, too, right on my chest. It rises and falls with my ragged breath, an unlikely anchor keeping me down, glued to the sheets.
I study the box’s color. It’s a soft olive green and has a stark white ribbon billowing off the top.
There’s meaning in those colors. Green is for growth. White is for healing.
My stomach churns. This isn’t a gift, it’s a goodbye.
* * *
Two hours have gone by and the blinds on my window lay stripes against the box. The sun is setting and my only plan is figuring out how I’ll get out of this.
Yes, at some point I agreed I would use what’s inside, but in my bed, tucked beneath this heartache, I can’t remember when or why.
I’m opening the box, lifting the top with steady hands and all the wrong intentions. I’ll take inventory, then know what needs destroying.
The top pops off with a satisfying lightness. A stark contrast to how my head feels, jelly-filled, but not jelly: rage. I’m also spinning as I sit still, and the tears spill out again.
There’s a card inside the box, a thin gold stripe around its edge, a white dove embossed in the bottom right corner, a symbol of peace. I wipe my face with my sleeve and hold it close to my nose. My name is there. I’m alone in my bedroom and feel put out on display because someone made this card and they know I needed a Sentiment.
There’s a list of instructions under my name. Small print with bullet points and neat lines about pressing a button, waiting for a beep, continuing to hold the button, and pressing against my temple. There’s a second beep at some point, and that’s when I’ll know the transfer is complete.
It’s that easy, huh? Why don’t I want to do it then?
I flip the card over and find the safety warning. “Removing the device at any point during transfer could cause the permanent inability to feel certain emotions. Please DO NOT remove the device during transfer. Contact your primary doctor or Sentiment representative for assistance in using the device if you believe you are not stable enough to do so alone.”
The suicide hotline is in even smaller print. As is the list of SERIOUS SIDE EFFECTS and OTHER SIDE EFFECTS. I could expect anything from bleeding in the brain to subtle mood changes, vision loss or nausea, vomiting, dizziness. If I experience any of these, I’m expected to contact my doctor.
* * *
Why am I the only one that needs to give up something?
* * *
It’s dark outside. Streetlights glowing, dogs barking, kids tucked into bed kind of late at night, and I’m so drunk, I think I’m dancing. I’m really on my back, waving my arms from a pile of dirty laundry on the floor. My feet are swimming through the shag carpeting and I yell, “This is our song,” just as my playlist cuts to commercial.
The card is inside my bra. It’s scratchy but where it needs to be, close to my heart so it knows that I know this is all a load of crap.
The box watches over me from the bed. I swear I can hear it laughing.
* * *
I’m puking and the lights are off and I’m pretty sure the neighbor can hear me through the drywall. I’m retching like a cat, on my knees, clutching the sides of the toilet. Bits of my insides struggle down the bowl, and I wipe my mouth and whip out a thumbs-up for my ego. I whip out my phone in an act of desperation.
Parker’s number is on speed dial. I’m more than thinking about calling him. My finger hovers over his name, below his picture.
Would he even pick up? Would he even listen as I explain how I’m sick because of what he sent to my house?
I dial my other ex instead. Fred. The one I didn’t need a Sentiment for because my feelings for him were as deep as the puddle of a melted ice cube.
After two rings, I’m sent straight to voicemail. “Hey, it’s me, Emma. I just wanted to see how you were doing. What’s new?” I wait for a response, then remember I’m not talking to anyone. “Anyway,” I add, “call me. Wait. Don’t call me. No, I’m okay. Okay, bye.”
* * *
At some point Parker stopped looking at me in photos, even the candid ones. His eyes always away, lost or unkind as his arms hovered off my body. I’m not sure he noticed I never stopped looking up at him. How I would stretch my smile and pull him close, tucking my hands into his back pocket, standing tall for a kiss that never came.
I insisted on taking photos like I was collecting evidence. Like I knew one day we’d need to prove that our love was a great one, and I could point out my face, not his.
I look at the photos now and see the flaws. I see the space he placed between us and the state of unease. A clenched jaw, his head pulled away.
I collected these photos. I cherished them and shared them, hung them on my walls. It’s my lock screen and the wallpaper on my computer. And I remember the gaps in Parker’s social media profiles after he deleted all of them.
There’s enough photos to map out a timeline of when our relationship went from casual to a miserable companionship. And yet, I always loved him.
I’d take Parker back. But he’d never take me back. He fell out of love with me, even before I screwed everything up.
* * *
I’ve done regrettable things as a person and someone’s girlfriend: taking our mundane conversations and manufacturing arguments to feel noticed; using my words as lashings and expecting the distance between us to transform into intimacy; thinking I could do things with someone else and Parker would feel invested again.
“I don’t have feelings for you anymore,” Parker said.
In a pause of silence, I could hear everything. Parker’s roommates listening at the door, the fan in his computer sputtering at the desk, the gulp of my guilt.
“Don’t you want to talk about what I did?” I said, voice shaking.
Parker wouldn’t look at me, he couldn’t. “I don’t want to know more. I’m not sure I even care.”
“You don’t mean that. You’re just angry.”
“No. I’m pretty sure I stopped caring about what you do a long time ago. You’re only telling me now because of Dana.”
My mouth hung open. “What does she have to do with this?”
“Don’t play dumb. It doesn’t suit you. You know I like her.”
No, I didn’t. I only knew after the breakup was official. He changed his profile picture from one of us to one of them.
In the tiny circle at the top left-hand corner of my phone, I see, he’s looking at her. And Dana looks at him in flirty clothes, with her bouncy, shampoo commercial curls.
I almost recognize that glint in his eyes, an unspoken giddiness, happy. That’s the look of love I always wanted. Now I only have my feelings and I can’t let go.
* * *
A rush of panic sweeps through my consciousness as I wake up and find the Sentiment in my hand. Did I use it yet? Do I still have my feelings for Parker?
His face flashes in my mind, and the crack in my heart further crumbles.
Last night, I cried over the box which led me down a path of one too many beers. At some point I danced on the floor. I was in the bathroom, sick, and called... Who was it? Fred.
I recall stumbling from the bathroom and falling into bed. I pulled out the Sentiment. It looks like a T.V. remote, long and slim with a glossy white exterior. Rather plain with a cold, minimalistic aesthetic. Nonconfrontational. Not so threatening.
It rested in my hand as I quietly wept. Then I fell asleep. I didn’t use the device. Not yet. Last night wasn’t the right time.
* * *
There is no right time. I’m deciding when to let go of the love I’ve invested in someone. Feelings so deep I believed they’d withstand my indiscretions.
I’m not ready to let go of my feelings for Parker. But I’ve been kidding myself thinking there’s a future for us. Not after he sent the box to my house.
I hold up the Sentiment and follow the instructions, pressing the first button and waiting for a beep which is quick, pleasant. I continue to hold the button down and move the Sentiment to my temple. It’s warm, like the sun is kissing my skin.
A minute passes and I think I’ve done something wrong. I almost remove the device from my temple, but remember the side effects; I’d like to keep my ability to feel.
And then the second beep goes off. It’s over and, if I’m honest, somewhat anticlimactic.
I place the Sentiment in its box and put the top back on. The box’s velvet exterior suddenly changes colors. It’s no longer green, but a blush pink, fresh like the blossoming of young love. And the ribbon on top is no longer white. It bleeds red as deep as a new relationship has the potential to go.
I’m putting everything away, tidying up my room, making the bed, cleansing what remains. Without mourning, without protest, like I never owned those feelings to begin with.
I take the Sentiment and its box back to the front door. Before the delivery man can knock, I open it, smiling.
Copyright © 2021 by H. Lee Messina