There is a consequence to leaving me, a big one. What I mean is, I am unlearning the tricks you taught me to save the world. I am unlearning conservation. I am going back to being a part of the problem and I have to tell you that contributing so thoughtlessly to global decline has never felt better. It is bringing me immeasurable pleasure.
Remember how appalled you were to see that I did not turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth? It was the morning after a night spent between your legs, going down on you for the entirety of your favorite Fleetwood Mac record, which, with calculation, I never informed you is everyone’s favorite Fleetwood Mac record, is in fact the only Fleetwood Mac record worth knowing. I left the water running and this earned your outrage. Didn’t I know that a standard faucet can use two to three gallons of water per minute? Couldn’t I comprehend what a waste that was, especially considering the water shortages in third world countries? Yes, I said. Yes, you’re right, what a waste. I loved you already, loved you first and also more. So I began to treat the faucets in our house as if they contained a rare elixir that cured blindness, as if they were all connected to your body and turning them on meant draining you of all your love and live energy.
[My breath, you said, was even better, though I understood this to be more of an encouragement than an actual improvement.]
I continued in my quest for sustainability. I reused my towels until they were soggy. I unplugged all the appliances that weren’t in use. I opened the windows instead of using the fan, didn’t even think to touch the air conditioning. I washed my clothes in cold water, washed dishes by hand. I ate local, drank local, made it so that everything my body consumed had not travelled very far, certainly not on an eighteen-wheeler polluting the miles of highway from here to Arkansas. Chose candles over lights. Brought my own bag to the grocery store. Planted a vegetable garden. Purchased a bicycle and made it my primary method of transit. Cancelled my delivery of the Yellow Pages, something I thought of even before you did.
But now? Paper plates. Plastic bags. Baths, bleach. Flicking cigarettes. I’ve kept every light on in the weeks since you left, baby, and I’ve been sleeping just fine with an eye mask. I turn the air down as low as the thermostat will let me and enjoy the freeze. And when I brush my teeth? Gallons upon gallons go down the drain.
Do not misunderstand my intentions. This behavior? It’s not a way of saying, Please come back to me. And it’s not a way of saying, I don’t want to live if living is without you, either. I am not so self-righteous. I am not so heavy-handed.
It’s just what I’ve been up to, what I’m doing. It’s what I’m doing, that’s all.
VINCENT SCARPA is a fiction writer based in Austin, TX, where he is a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in journals like Hayden’s Ferry Review and Baltimore Review. A two-time Pushcart nominee and the 2012 Norman Mailer Fiction Prize winner, he is an associated editor with American Short Fiction.