The Roof


The Roof
by Jill Gallagher

A few weeks after my husband tells me he is in love with someone else, I throw a party in our apartment. The goal is to polish off his prized bourbon collection, the bottles arranged on the wooden trophy stand we’d bought at the farm where we got married sixteen months before. It is my friend Kim’s idea, my friend who shows up the day after my husband’s confession, who takes down the wedding photos he’d clipped up in our living room with clothespins on our anniversary, who helps me put the detritus of our years together in brown paper Trader Joe’s bags and stack them beside his desk in our bedroom.

I am moving to Boston in a week. Not only can I not afford to live in New York City alone, I cannot bear the weight of all we lived through together there, alone. I cannot see our friends, I cannot visit our favorite sandwich shop, I cannot go to Red Hook, where we’d spent so many lazy summer afternoons, where we’d taken our engagement photos. Most of all, I cannot take the chance that I will see them together, my husband and my friend he’s fallen in love with, walking Chief, the dog we’d adopted together, down the sidewalk, arm in arm, just another young Brooklyn couple in love. So I’m leaving.

But first, there is my goodbye party. Kim arrives early, brings quintessential New York snacks: bagels with lox, soft pretzels, black and white cookies, pickles. She tapes a subway map on the wall. It makes me think of the goodbye party I’d had in Boston, nearly four years before, the summer I’d moved to Brooklyn, where I wore a green foam Statue of Liberty crown all night and gazed happily at my boyfriend, my future, the man I was moving to New York to be with.

“There should be a prize every time someone finishes one of the bottles,” Kim says. I scan the apartment, still mostly intact though I’m moving in one week. “How about these?” I joke, lifting up engraved Tiffany champagne flutes we’d gotten as a wedding present and never used. “Perfect,” she says, and it’s decided.


Earlier that day, my husband and I meet to finalize details of our divorce, sitting woodenly at the kitchen table like strangers, barely speaking. I mostly stare at the talking points I’d listed in a spiral-bound notebook, willing myself not to cry. We split up furniture we picked out together and gifts we’d received for our wedding. Later, as I pack, I count the plates and mugs and flatware to make sure everything is even, a semblance of fairness and order when everything else is a complete mess.

“I’m sorry,” he says, haltingly, as he puts on his coat to leave. I’m on the couch, petting Chief, staring straight ahead, letting the tears river down my face. I nod and let him go. I don’t tell him I’m throwing a party, that all our friends will gather here later, that he’s not invited.

It is the last time we see one another.


Later, at the party, there is a cheer every time someone pours the last from a bottle of amber liquor—the Eagle Rare and the Old Overholt and the Blantons. Even the cheap Kentucky whiskey with the yellow label that says Mellow Corn goes. I circulate and mingle and smile, slightly dazed, but pretending it’s just another house party. I’d invited Adam, a guy I’d had a crush on before I’d gotten together with my husband, and when he shows up, I’m filled with a kind of intoxicating hope. This is what the future could look like, I think. Possibility and tall, bearded, sarcastic writers who make you laugh.

Everyone is drinking and laughing and the apartment is warm, despite the freezing, slushy snow outside. The knowledge that it’s all ending, that we will never all be together in quite this same way again, lends the night a kind of wild desperation. We all drink too much. A couple of friends raid my husband’s weed stash and sneak off to smoke it. People start to trickle away.

Adam is one of the last people at the party, and when he says he is leaving, my heart sinks. I don’t want anyone to leave, I want the night to stretch forward into forever so I won’t have to say goodbye. But mostly, it’s the realization that my naïve hope for some kind of romance is completely unfounded and ridiculous. This is what the future really is, I think, standing at the door as my last guests pull on coats and boots—frigid and lonely and regretful.

I’m still lost in my thoughts when I notice Adam noticing the rickety ladder on the landing. “Come on,” he says, beckoning before he unlatches the milky skylight that leads to the roof and climbs out. My husband and I had never climbed it because our landlord told us it was unsafe. We’d walked by that ladder every day, sometimes wondering aloud what it was like on the roof, but it was always just a hypothetical, out of our grasp.

Heart hammering in my throat, I put on my boots and follow. It’s surprisingly easy—just a few rungs up and I’m outside, standing on the roof of the building where I’d lived for the last three and a half years. I step gingerly over the piles of slush dotting the roof and join Adam, standing at the edge.

“What do you see?” he asks, looking out over the lights of Brooklyn. I don’t say what I really see: the ruins of my life here, everything I worked for collapsing, a city that I will never call home again. Instead, I point out the landmarks I know, try to keep my breath even.

“I can’t believe you’ve lived here for years and never came up here,” he says.

“I know.” There are so many things I’ve never done. The lights of the city hang below us like the garland from a Christmas tree, so close it seems like we can reach out and touch them. It’s a view I’ve seen before, from many other roofs and patios and screaming cab rides across bridges, but this time it’s different. This time it’s mine. For a few minutes, I have something my husband doesn’t have—I’m creating a memory of my own in the place we shared. I’m standing on top of our world, looking over the edge, ready to meet whatever comes next.

After a few minutes, we climb down and Adam leaves. Inside the apartment, the champagne flutes are shipwrecked among clusters of empty bottles in various corners, abandoned prizes.

Jill Gallagher is an editor & writer in Boston. She blogs at Looks & Books and loves cheese, puppies, and 90s pop culture. She has an MA in Publishing & Writing from Emerson College and her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Ploughshares blog.

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