It was around the time the news broke that she made her decision: she and Bryan were over. Their year of stale coffee grinds and kale chips, of serotonin sleepovers and Nintendo narcosis had reached its terminus. It was time to move on. Her decision had nothing to do with the singer; she isn't a fan, and probably wouldn't recognize one of his tunes if he were serenading her, as if that were possible now. But this thing with her and Bryan, it's like a film without a climax, without any development or even opening credits, only a repetitive denouement fizzing toward entropy. She needed to get out as soon as possible. She needed resolution.
Which is how she explains it on her weblog. She can't tell him directly, not yet, so she uploads her beef onto the internet first. It was right after the push notifications materialized on her phone, she says, that she realized she and Bryan had to part ways. It's okay that she's posting this before telling him in person, he doesn't read her writing anyway, and maybe that's part of the problem. Overall, he's a decent enough guy. Washes her dishes when he eats over. Cleans out the viruses from her laptop. Introduces her to awesome new apps, and gives great foot massages. The sex is okay, not exactly shock and awe, but better than with most of her exes. In the bedroom, he's much the same as he is anywhere else. He puts all her needs ahead of his own. Except one. The one that, it seems, only his absence could fulfill.
The truth is, for the past few weeks, she's been experiencing this bloated sensation within her gut, something not unlike a phantom pregnancy, as if a sort of insemination has occurred, and a zygotic union formed, though engendered in pessimism, and more futile than fecund in its elaboration. Maybe the signs have been there all along. All those tweets about the #PointlessnessOfEverything. (Though people assumed this was just coming from her natural poetic predisposition to melancholy.) Whenever a Facebook friend changes their relationship status back to Single, she's usually the first to hit the like icon. As for her own status, she never bothered updating it. Not even after Bryan changed his, a month after they started seeing each other. Not even a year in, when you can't quite hide from the fact anymore.
One of her readers comments that she should be careful about acting impulsively. To make sure she isn't, she goes to Songza. Selects a playlist of romantic songs. None are by teen pop idols; they're by people her own age or older, all experts at discerning true love from the counterfeits. All averring how nothing beats the Real Thing. True love lasts forever; it doesn't tell lies and it doesn't let your attention wander. It's something you can possess without the requirement of a loan or a 30-year mortgage. It's the cosmic life-force, indeterminate and abstract, that can nevertheless be easily encapsulated by a 3-minute tune in a major key. She listens for almost two hours. She eats a couple bags of kale chips and drinks a power shake, but her heart stays just a heart, in all its beating cardiovascular regularity.
She will make an appointment with her GP to have her prescription strengthened. He will ask her routinely if anything significant has changed in her life since the last time. She will routinely reply that nothing has.
Not very long ago, she was this college girl who was bored with language yet who spent an inordinate amount of time trying to compose poems for the internet. When she couldn't find a suitable word that expressed the right sentiment, she would make one up. Not nonsense words like the ones found in Dr. Seuss or Lewis Carroll, but the kinds Joyce might have invented. One of her poems was an 8-line piece made entirely of neologisms that would've suited Finnegan's Wake. Like interlexion, which denoted the space between two words on a page (which she considered to be as meaningful as printed text); and marginitalia: those erotically-charged doodles you often make in the margins of your class notes; and disillment, a sort of hybrid of disillusionment and an obscure illness traceable to acute alienation. She soon packed whole megabytes with these coinages and their definitions. Until she got bored with them too, and just let them languish in a forgotten USB stick.
Then she tried learning a few foreign languages. French, Swedish. God morgon, Jan. God morgon, Brigit. Hur mår du idag? Or, Bonjour, Philippe. Il fait frois dehors, n'est-ce pas? And that's when she understood the crux of her dilemma: it wasn't the words she found uninteresting, it was the things they signified. It was soon after this that her doctor signed off on her first prescription.
She needs a new word for her relationship with Bryan. Something that should exist by its own merit but cannot. Something that every girl says she wants, yet would run the other way from given the opportunity. Something that should best remain undefined, if not unspoken.
And yet she has to give him a reason why she's pulling the plug. But what can she say? Bryan, our relationship has undergone a semantic shift. We are broken syntax, a fragment of a conditional sentence with a missing apodosis. Our metaphors lack both figure and ground. We're a cliché; our lexicon has kicked the bucket.
Bryan, there is no real love. There are only icons and idols in a godless world. A stage that has crumbled into a quintessence of dust.
It was so much easier with her other boyfriends. Those relationships all died of natural causes. After several overheated, door-slamming arguments (Steve). After she found out the guy was seeing her best friend on the side (Tom and Allison, those shits). After he moved to Singapore (Dave; though he still private messages her sometimes). But Bryan hasn't aggrieved her. He doesn't aggrieve people. He's always available she needs help unclogging a drain. Comes over at the drop of a hat to fix an electrical short. He knows the difference between series and parallel circuits. And he can bake, too. He's the sort of person who will pine away for a new PlayStation 4, then fantasize aloud about starting up an organic farm in California.
She drops onto the sofa and reaches for the remote. Almost no one on TV is talking about the dead singer. MTV3 is running Never Say Never, but with more commercials than film footage. On CNN, AJ and Nischelle spend three minutes debating the finer nuances of his post-adolescent material, now known as his Late Period, before shifting to a discussion about the next Bachelorette. Fox, meanwhile, has a tasteless exposé on child celebrity drug problems. MTV, MTV2, VH1 and Bravo are all running clips dedicated to Caitlyn. Disney is showing reruns of early Hannah Montana episodes.
The phone chirrups. Texts from a couple of girlfriends who saw her blog. Heidi wants to make sure she isn't afraid she will never meet another decent guy and die a lonely death. Lise asks whether Bryan hit her or committed a criminal act. Both invite her over for TV, Snuggies and Doritos.
She assures them she's fine, that Bryan hasn't done anything wrong, that they just ran out of steam. What she doesn't mention is how there never was very much steam to begin with. That gravity is all you need to propel you when you're travelling on a perpetual downward slope.
It's funny how the one thing all couples do at the beginning of every relationship is to replay the dissolution of the last one. Maybe it comes from a natural human need for dramatic continuity, for assurance you aren't just happening in medias res. But these conversations must also have a practical purpose: a way of sussing out the other's moral and ethical base, as reflected in his or her reactions to the breakup narrative. Are you showing me an adequate amount of sympathy right now? And an adequate degree of antipathy toward my ex? These conversations act like a big Yield sign on the road to the bedroom: So long as you don't repeat his mistakes, we'll be fine. Oddly, Bryan never talks about his exes. They've run into two or three of them about town, and he always behaves courteously toward them. He never let on what led to their breakups. As if he didn't want to give her any ammunition she could use later on.
She opens the folder in Google Drive where she keeps drafts of all her poetry. Opens a document entitled Stuff about Bryan. She wrote this a few weeks after they started seeing each other, random things that either did or did not endear him to her. Like how his face dimples when he passes a bakery selling Dutch crullers. Or how his nipples aren't aligned. How he is the only partner she's had who will willingly watch Girls with her. And not just for the sex scenes. Bryan's like the only guy on the planet who doesn't look at net porn. It isn't for moral reasons, he says; he just thinks the videos lack imagination. She says she thought that's why they make them, for people without imaginations. He says there's no point frittering with fantasies when you could be enjoying the real thing. It was weird to hear him say this. He doesn't listen to popular music.
Another thing about Bryan is that while he isn't afraid to show his emotions, he doesn't cry much. There was the one instance he teared up a little after Marnie broke up with Charlie for like the three-hundredth time. And the night he took her to see a production of Lear, and his cheeks moistened at the end when the old man died. Her own eyes couldn't have been drier if they were constructed from cardboard. It wasn't a real old man. His daughter wasn't really his daughter. They were characters. Played by actors. On a stage.
The only time she caught him weeping openly was after his office issued the Employee of the Year award to someone else. All those nights he took work home, and weekends too, he bawled. Days before, he went around to everyone's cubicle canvassing their support like a politician. A colleague of his later told her there were six nominees, and only seven people bothered voting. One staffer got two votes, the others only one. She didn't ask the colleague if Bryan was among the nominees.
Are you kidding me? He wept?
This was Lise, replying to her text.
He takes the Employee of the Year award that seriously?
Lise didn't mean this. Her comment was accompanied by a sarcasm emoji. What she was really saying was: Get the fuck out before it's too late.
In a few hours Bryan will be over. He will venture a cheek kiss or shoulder pat or make some form of respectful contact, sit on her chair, rest on her couch. He will carefully thumb through a magazine from her coffee table: The New Yorker, Utne, Harper's, Women's Health. He will treat her space with a display of familiarity bordering on intimacy, and yet with the same solicitous deference to personal boundaries he shows her own body. He may or may not be wondering: Should I ask her to move in with me? He may or may not be dreaming of marriage, of raising children together someday. He probably would be willing if she told him she wanted to.
He will ask her what she's done today. Whether she's written any new poems or anything. Then he will bring up the news. They will exchange speculations about whether drugs or alcohol were involved, or whether it was by the departed's own hand. He will make an offhand joke about some conspiratorial theory he read on the Deep Web. She will not laugh.
She will say there is something she needs to tell him. He will ask if he can pour himself a glass of water first. She will say of course. He either will or will not reach for an ice cube in the freezer. He either will or will not ask her if she would like something stronger for herself.
When she is done, there won't be tears. He will simply ask in a quiet voice if he can have a few minutes to gather up his things. He will circulate through the apartment like a spent zephyr, careful not to touch anything that doesn't belong to him.
He won't even bother asking her why. In all probability he understands that all breakups are the same, in that they are as senseless as the premature death of a young celebrity. Both depend on an iconology of permanence to mask their fragility.
After he leaves, she will turn the TV back on. The newsman will give the time and location for the funeral. He will name all the A- and B-listers expected to be attending. It’s unlikely, however, any one of them will weep either.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Marc S. Cohen is a writer, artist and musician born in the United States and residing in Canada.