The jarring sound of my alarm clock coaxed me awake, darkness still lingering outside of my bedroom window. My hand reached over in an automatic motion to turn it off, filling the room with silence. Not much was happening in the world at 5:30 in the morning, but I still had to get moving.
The flow of my day-to-day life had been the same for the past five months. I was afraid if I went off schedule that I'd fall back into the dark place that I was stuck in for three months prior. If I went back to that place in my mind, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to escape again.
So, I did my same routine every day, making sure that I didn’t go off the rails and lose the slightest bit of peace that I had established. If I could call it peace. I thought I was just numbly floating through life, but at least I was organized. That was better than chaos.
At 5:30, I went for a run. When I got back, I took a cold shower and ate two pieces of toast or oatmeal. On the way to work, I swung by the café next to my work, which was an auditing firm in downtown Manhattan. I walked into my office by 9:00 and worked as an accountant until 5:00 on the dot. Then, I hurried home to make it in time for my run at 6:00. Dinner with some television happened around 7:30, and then I took a late night walk or sat out on the balcony of my high-rise apartment to admire the beautiful city lights. By 9:30, I was in bed and ready to sleep until I restarted the process the next morning.
My weekends had their own routine. I spent Saturday cleaning my entire apartment, not missing a single corner or crevice. All of my dirty laundry was washed and hung up. The dishes were loaded into the dishwasher, and the trash was taken out. I made sure that I was busy the entire day. On Sunday, I tried to relax to the best of my ability by going to the city library to read for a little while until returning home to drink some red wine and lounge around.
It was the best structure for me. Eight months ago, my entire world was shattered and flipped upside down when my fiancé, Benji, passed away from a tragic car accident. It broke my heart that I lost someone I loved so suddenly, but that wasn’t the only pain that I suffered from that incident.
On top of the devastation that I felt over losing the love of my life, I also found out that my fiancé had been cheating on me. With a woman. It was a double hit, and I probably would’ve healed faster if the only tragedy was him dying, but I had to deal with the heartbreak that someone I trusted betrayed me.
I had no idea that he was cheating on me. He acted like the perfect fiancé, kissing me on the head before he left for work and surprising me with gifts or dates. I truly thought we were meant to be, and now I felt like a fool.
What made things worse was how I found out that he was cheating on me. The woman was in the car with him when the accident happened. They were on their way to the theater to watch a movie when his tire burst. The car struck a metal rail along the road and flipped several times, killing Benji and the woman instantly.
When I found out a woman was in the car with him at the time of the accident, I made up all sorts of excuses in my head, getting myself to believe that she was just a friend or a family member. He was my fiancé, and he never expressed any interest in women. Of course, I didn’t think that they were together.
Then, I checked his phone after the police recovered it from the scene. Through teary eyes, I looked through all of the text messages and intimate photos sent between my Benji and the woman. This had been going on for months right under my nose.
I felt like a fool. My entire life and relationship had been a lie, and I hadn’t ever felt so alone before. For three months after the accident, I spiraled down, down, and further down. I couldn’t get myself to do anything. I couldn’t shower, sleep, eat, or work. Nothing.
I was an empty shell of who I used to be, and I curled up in my bed for hours, feeling like the world was ending all around me. I didn’t even recognize my life or myself any longer. Benji took it all away, stripped me of my dignity and my happiness.
I switched between feeling terrible that he died and hating him for destroying me. Then, I felt guilty. It was a constant cycle of dark, crippling emotions that I didn’t think I could escape. Honestly, at a point, I gave up on trying to save myself. What was the point?
Before everything that happened, Benji and I had a great life together. We were together for a few years, making memories that I thought would last forever. He treated me better than any of my past boyfriends, giving me every compliment under the sun and showing me off to his friends. I felt truly appreciated and like I actually mattered to him.
I couldn’t help but wonder when I stopped mattering to him or if I actually mattered or not. When did he meet this woman and where? I had so many questions, and so many of them were still unanswered. The whole mystery of the affair only made me feel worse because there was so much that I didn’t know. It made me feel more in the dark, and I kept getting sucked deeper and deeper into it. I felt like I was drowning.
The only person who helped me was my sister, Angie. She cooked meals for me when I couldn’t get out of bed, cleaned around my cluttered, dirty apartment, and convinced me to go to therapy. Without her, I would’ve still been stuck in the same routine of doing absolutely nothing but grieving the life that I thought was mine. The life that turned out to be a lie.
Using the encouragement and tools that I got from therapy, I set out on a path of recovery, healing my wounds as much as possible and developing a daily structure to keep myself sane and focused. I used to be so carefree, living life moment to moment. Not anymore. My life was strict and structured. I needed to keep it that way.
After doing my morning jog, I went through the rest of my daily routine, getting through work and my night jog. It was Friday, so I could loosen up a little at night. Instead of spending time out on the balcony, I decided to lounge inside on my grey polyester couch, sipping on a glass of red wine to help me decompress after a long day at work.
I enjoyed nights like these. They felt… normal. Sure, they felt a bit lonely as well. Benji and I used to lay down and cuddle on this couch, watching movies and binging episode after episode of new television shows. Now, it was just me, and I was doing everything in my power to find some sort of peace in that.
Obviously, it was easier said than done. I had to restructure this apartment in my mind, trying to scrub old memories away and create new ones. It was hard to create anything memorable by myself, though. The best thing about memories was getting to share them with someone else. My “someone” was gone, and it turned out that I didn’t really know him in the first place.
Shaking my head, I tried to clear those thoughts from my mind, wanting to just enjoy this lazy Friday night. I had so much life left to live. I was only 27. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life dwelling on Benji, but there was a time when I thought he would be in my life forever. Despite everything that happened, it was hard to forget about that.
Nothing changed in the snap of the fingers. Time moved slowly, and healing was torturous in a way because it took forever. I didn’t even know if I would fully heal one day, but I tried to have at least a sliver of optimism. That kept me going on the hardest days, and I still had those from time to time.
My eyes fluttered slightly as I sank back into my couch, the wine starting to make me tired. I let my eyes shut for a second, but my momentary peace was shattered by the sound of my doorbell ringing. My head snapped back, my eyes narrowing in confusion as I stared down the foyer at the front door.
It was nearly nine at night. Who could possibly be ringing my doorbell at this time? It wouldn’t be maintenance or management, and it couldn’t be any of my friends. I didn’t really have friends anymore because they were mutual friends of Benji too. I had to cut them off because I wanted nothing to do with anything that reminded me of Benji. I had to completely move on from that chapter of my life.
I waited for a moment, wanting to see if whoever it was would go away. Maybe they had the wrong apartment. I hoped so. I wasn’t in the mood to chat with anyone tonight. I was about ready to finish my wine and go to sleep, which was my definition of ending a day right. I wasn’t a fan of things throwing off my set schedule. It made me uneasy, and this was putting me on edge.
It seemed like that wasn’t going to be the case tonight since the doorbell rang once again. Whoever was outside of my apartment wasn’t planning on leaving until I answered the door. With a sigh, I set my glass of wine down and rose to my feet.
I smoothed down my dark blue long sleeve, hoping it was some delivery person at the wrong address or marketing person that I could send away. I walked down the short foyer and unlocked the front door, pulling it open only for my knees to nearly give out under me.
A man stood in front of me with a large travel backpack hanging on his shoulders. Except, it wasn’t any man. He looked exactly like Benji. He had the black hair, the green eyes, and the tall height. He even looked the same age. It was Benji.
But it couldn’t be. Benji was dead. I had to identify his body. I went to his funeral and saw his casket lowered into the ground. There was no way that he was right in front of me right now. But he was or someone who looked just like him, which didn’t make sense.
I couldn’t form any words to say to the man. Shock rendered me silent and nearly dazed. No, really dazed. My head started to feel light the longer I stared at this man, my thoughts going haywire as I tried to process an explanation that made sense. Nothing came to mind, though.
"Hi, Greg,” the man greeted me with a crooked grin on his face. It looked so much like Benji’s smile, and it jarred me more than I expected. I thought I would never see that smile ever again. “I’m James, Benji’s twin brother.”
That was the last thought that entered my mind before the floor tilted beneath my feet and everything went dark.