The moon was a waxing gibbous, but it lit up the sky with arrogance, like it was already full.
“So,” her soon-to-be ex boyfriend continued with a cool indifference, “are we separating?”
She wanted to chuck his string bean body down 78 flights of stairs and simultaneously wrap herself around his left leg and beg him to never, ever leave.
“You know”, he said, “it doesn’t have to be so dramatic.”
She stood there with tears streaming down her face, with the San Francisco fog rolling in, without a jacket on, wishing she could disappear into the mist. She stuttered something about being hurt. She tried to shrug it off by saying, “it’s cool if you’re not hurt.” Then she walked back to her car in the moonlight without taking a single breath.
“It doesn’t have to be so dramatic” echoed in her mind. She felt betrayed, like she had been stabbed in the heart repeatedly and left to die in the swell of Ocean Beach, left as bait for the sharks, while the person who stabbed her caught the next wave with the carefree abandon of a lotus leaf drifting on by. She felt shards in her stomach and cacti in her throat. She felt the insides of her soul leaking out through all the pores of her body.
You could say she has a flair for the dramatic.
That’s what the doctor told her when she was 8 years old. A cruel diagnosis. It was summer and she’d tried to do a one-handed cartwheel in her best friend’s yard. She waited until no one was looking to try the trick in case she failed brilliantly, which she did, snapping my wimpy right arm bone in two places.
She sat in the emergency room with her high-strung parents and screamed her head off for nearly two hours until they finally reset her zig-zagged arm. She needed to let everyone know just how bad it hurt. Like in the movies, when someone screams and the shot pans out to show the Earth and then the entire Milky Way. They call it a “distant reaction shot” in the movies, but she just called it her “feelings”.
She sobbed her way into the x-ray room and then the doctor said words that haunted her: “You certainly have a flair for the dramatic”.
Afterwards she forgot how enraged those words made her feel, because she loved having a blue cast. She loved every time she got asked to recount what happened to her arm. She loved each signature from the kids in her class. They didn’t all like her, but they all wanted to sign her cast. Her mom even pulled out the family camcorder to record her entire rendition of what happened, laughing at every flamboyant detail. Melodrama came easily. She has an innate talent for exaggeration. She probably would have made a great hellfire and brimstone evangelical preacher, but even at eight years old she thought God was for people who were weak and afraid. It was only later that she discovered how weak and afraid she felt most of the time.
Her whole life she’s been told she’s a drama queen. She played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz summer camp production as a kid, but she didn’t have much use for theater as a hobby. She lived it.
Her feelings are like a volcano, they erupt dramatically and then harden and cool and go dormant. Like the cinder cone volcano she had trudged to the very top of with him, her now ex-boyfriend, just a few weeks ago. It was only a two mile trail through Jeffrey Pines rising out of sandy lava beds, and then 784 feet straight up through ankle-deep basalt gravel and ash. When they finally got to the top, huffing and puffing with her toes bleeding from improper volcano footwear, she triumphantly caught her breath and looked over at him. He was grinning ear to ear with a crooked smile. They stood facing the crater in the center of the volcano with the sun beating down on our backs .
She blurted out an impulsive I LOVE YOU.
His smile disintegrated and he looked at her robotically. He said THANKS.
These memories terrorized her now, as she sat on her bed in a ripped white t-shirt that used to belong to him. She thought of how eager he had been to get to know her with his nonstop questions on their first date, how she cringed when he tucked his napkin into the top of his shirt, but later thought of it adoringly. How when they went hiking by the beach, he brought strawberries, took his shirt off and let the strawberry juice stain his teeth and run down his chin. How he smiled like a five year old does when he’s done something he’s really proud of, like caught a bunch of fireflies in a jar on a humid summer night. How on the way back from the hike she was convinced she had blown it. She had said too much and he would probably never speak to her again. But then he gave her a Truman Capote book wrapped in paper from The New Yorker. On the next date he cooked her a steak dinner and they ate it sitting cross-legged on his floor. They played three rounds of checkers before he said, “can I kiss you?”
She had been confident he would be different. But now as she chomped down fistfulls of butter-drenched popcorn in this all-too familiar place, she knew she had deluded herself again. She told myself she was going to go to bed without flossing her teeth because, why bother to floss? THESE ARE END TIMES! It was more vital that she delete all traces of him from her Instagram and pretend the last few months hadn’t happened.
Four weeks ago, they watched Perseid fireballs streak across the Milky Way on a volcano in the wilderness, miles from anywhere they’d ever been together. Four weeks ago having his baby seemed like an intriguing backup plan, like maybe she should quit her job, stop pursuing her goals, birth his twins and move in with his mom. Four weeks ago fantasizing about what she might name the twins seemed like a good use of her time. She thought about names with a zen desert aesthetic, like “Agave” and “Sage.”
But just a few weeks later she’d had enough. She felt repulsed by his Golden Boy smile and the way his whiney voice said babe, how there’s always specks of sand all over him, and how he was prone to sucking his thumb like a three year old. Maybe she was just premenstrual but she couldn’t stop thinking: I hate my boyfriend.
She hated the way he actually said stuff like “welks” instead of “you’re welcome” and how he smelled like organic soap and lemon and salt water taffy, and how he texted her routinely for no reason other than to tell her he’s hungry. So after doing the back and forth pros and cons dance, she broke up with him. Honestly, she thought he’d be resistant to the idea and try to change her mind, but he just shrugged his shoulders and went along with it.
Now instead of imagining their hypothetical twins and whether they’d have his beach blonde hair and ocean colored eyes, she imagined her premature funeral. She mourned the perfect future she’d now never have (thanks to him). She fantasized all the hypothetical poetic theatrics that might surround her tragic untimely death. She imagined how her dying might finally make him feel something, how he’d rue the day he ever failed to meet her needs. That would show that sniveling little garden snake not to toy with her precious emotions.
The story of her dating life is basically sporadic unrealistic fantasies in between wanting to die. But through it all, she just kept waiting for him to change back, back into a person she could actually love. As she picked the last pieces of greasy popcorn from the bag, she realized what she meant was, back into a person he simply never was, a person who only existed in her grandiose mind.
Amidst the confusion of breaking up earlier that night, she had said “I love you” for a second time, trying to undo the reality of what was happening. He responded with, “you’re really unique”. But she didn’t want to be unique and she didn’t want to see the petty truth of the games she played.
She didn’t love him. She didn’t hate him either. Her overambitious fantasies had sucker punched her into believing narratives that didn’t exist.
But this wasn’t some defining moment in the trajectory of her life, as much as it was just another tender experience to carry with her. That in reality, she was okay. This had little to do with him, and everything to do with what she was learning about how to love and be loved. This was all hers to hold.
It really didn’t have to be so dramatic.
She flossed her teeth and went to bed.
now what? Check out What To Do With Pain