First Person/Present Tense


The evening is beautiful. The air is cool and if I listen closely enough I can hear the leaves rustling even from four floors up. Every once in awhile there is the ding of the Riverline on the tracks circling the building and the occasional voice rising. The Camden skyline and the shore of Philadelphia are framed in the windows. In the distance, a tall ship blinks its mast lights before they remain a solid red. They are a warning for small aircraft that dare soar this late in the evening. Later, when I think of this night, I will remember this view and hold onto its beauty.

I cheated on you in Chicago.
 I have no recollection of packing my bags. There is no memory of driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge. I do not remember the trip to my co-worker’s home. I do not recall the stillness of Northeast Philadelphia so close to midnight. When my mind unscrambles I am sitting in front of a darkened house screaming into my phone, punching a steering wheel, and sobbing. Weeks later, there will still be no memory. There are only bits and pieces of a conversation and a weight in the center of my chest I won’t rid myself of for five months. I don’t know it in these first moments, but my entire life is gone. Or at least it feels like it.

I live with my co-worker for two weeks and my in-laws for another two before my job gives me a hasty transfer back to Ohio. They say I’m essentially homeless and alone in New Jersey. There is no reason for me to stay. I spend weeks existing on fumes and small pieces of food. I wake nightly with terrors. My fists ball and my eyes darken. I lose hair, drop weight, and visit the hospital twice. I start therapy for the first time in my life. I break and I want to die.

The morning is depressing. I wake in a guest bedroom in a bed surrounded with suitcases. I drive back to my home to get as much as I can stuff in my small luxury coupe. I walk into the massive loft apartment we moved into two months ago and listen to it echo. My husband is not here so I smell his shirts and pillows. I leave our wedding vows on the kitchen counter and a note on his keyboard. I make the bed, wash the dishes, sit in the middle of the floor, and cry. I don’t care if the neighbors hear me through the vents. When he arrives, I am gone.

How do I begin to understand my worth when I feel obsolete? Replaceable? Expendable?

How do I begin to feel anything besides rage and, if I’m lucky, numbness?

The pieces of me are scattered across three states and the energy to put them back together again doesn’t exist. There is no memory of me. What existed in the twenty-eight years before him is a blur. Dulled. Color drained. I feel cleaved and the wound is jagged, gaping.


I begin a list of who I was before this marriage:

a poet

a painter

a photographer

a sister

a daughter

a friend

an academic

a woman

I begin a list of what I was before this marriage









I begin a list of what I will be after this marriage:




a survivor


Athena Dixon-DeMary is co-founder of Specter Literary Magazine, poetry editor of The Reprint, and a managing editor for Z-Composition. Her work has appeared both online and print and is forthcoming in several journals. She writes and edits in NE Ohio.

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