ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching

Book Two, Chapter 26: Day of the Butcher Knife

I take a butcher knife out of a kitchen drawer. I put the point of the knife to my inner wrist. I think of Ernie’s first wife standing before him as she slashed her wrist with a razor blade once, then again. “You don’t love me! You love Sally!” she said to him. I twirl the point of the knife against my skin. I think of people who cut themselves. I don’t cut myself. I don’t draw blood. I just leave on my skin a small mark of the point of the knife.

I call Joshua. He doesn’t pick up. I leave a message. Joshua, please call me. I need you. My voice is small, like a little girl’s, a frightened little girl who doesn’t know how to help herself.

Joshua calls back. “What’s going on?” he asks. My words come out in staggers. Or, no words come out. “Um. Um. I’m in bad shape. Um.” Long pause. “Bad mental condition. Um. I put a knife. Um. Um. To my wrist. I don’t . . . I don’t want to go on.”

“This is crazy talk,” he says. “I love you. I need you. I’ll be over in thirty minutes.”

Out my window, I watch for him. I see him approach the front of this building. He’s running, then he slows up. He doesn’t like to come here.

I meet him in the hallway. We hug for a long time. I need to feel him.

Inside my apartment we talk, but I don’t remember what we say. My neighbor, Bella, knocks, and we follow her to her apartment. Her apartment is clean.

Joshua and Bella talk to me. Tell me I’m too much in my head. Overanalyzing. I read them Ernie’s poem. I see me in thee looking out at me. How can that be? How can I be inside thee looking at me? There I be inside thee staring out at me because I love thee.

“A love poem,” Bella says.

“A poem about soul mates,” Joshua says.

“But we weren’t,” I say. “I thought we were, but now I know we weren’t.”

“Are you hungery?” Bella asks.

“I am,” Joshua says.

She brings out hummus, chips. I go back to my place, retrieve a pasta salad from my refrigerator, and place it on Bella’s table. My offering.

“Do you want hot tea or coffee?” Bella asks Joshua.

He spots a bottle of white wine on a side table. “I’ll have a glass of that.”

We talk as we eat.

“You overdramatize everything,” Bella says.

“You were used to drama,” Joshua says. “Now you make trouble for yourself. You don’t have anything to do.”

“You need structure,” Bella says. “Go to the exercise room with me for half an hour every day. Will you do that?”

I nod.

Bella’s cat Tweed jumps on my lap. I feel her tongue on my hand. She licks it, then licks her fur. Takes turns — first licking my hand, then her fur. Now she rests her paw on my hand.

“Tweed knows you don’t feel good,” Bella says. “She’s comforting you.”

“Cats have good instincts,” Joshua says.

So does Bella. So does Joshua.

Joshua and I take leave of Bella, and Joshua takes leave of me.

Tonight, I leave him a message. “Today I symbolically killed off the old me. The selfish, deceitful, uncompassionate, gutless me. I feel a surge of energy. I will be here for you, Joshua. I will be here for you.”

I want to believe this.

Ernie hated to be alone. He wanted a familiar, someone like him who was indivisible from him, who would always be with him. That’s what his poem is really saying, isn’t it? I see me in thee looking out at me . . .

Oh, Ernie. I didn’t see me. How could I see thee?

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.