May 30, 2010
Before I wrote the story about him, before I wrote a real story which I would show not just friends and family but also professors and editors, I went to his work and asked him, point blank, what made him love her better than he loved me.
After all the pain I’d endured, I wanted at least to get a story out of it, but needed info, info which would implicate him and not me. It had been a month since he left me, since he moved in with Stella, a week since I’d messed up his car. His eyes widened when he saw me, like he wasn’t happy to see me, like he was in fact scared of me. He did that nervous thing where he used his thumbs to smooth down his bushy eyebrows while baring his tiny teeth like a rabbit.
(We’d had an ugly breakup, a breakup so horrible I’d spent nights in the bath tub with a girlish pink razor against my wrist, never intending to kill myself, but wanting to, a breakup so horrible I’d reduced myself to dragging a key across his car door and smashing a cage-free egg into his windshield. The cage-free yolk had clung to my fingers, dangling like snot from my thumb, stretching and stretching toward the ground as I ran.)
What are you doing here, he said. I thought we agreed you’d stop coming here. He did the eyebrow/teeth thing again.
I want to know, I said, what specific things does she have that I don’t? If you just tell me that, I’ll be satisfied. We were standing on the steps that led up to his office entrance, me one step below him so that I was looking up to him.
No, he said, I can’t tell you specific things. How could I tell you specific things? That would be not only stupid but also cruel. He stared at me, and I knew he was noticing the weight I’d gained, how my lipstick was smudged, the purple shadows beneath my eyes, the huge pores covering the surface of my nose and cheeks. I really don’t appreciate you bothering me at work, he said.
I took him by the shoulders and shook him, well, as much as a one-hundred-fifty-pound woman can shake a two-hundred-pound man, and said, you have to tell me, you have to tell me, if you don’t tell me I don’t know what I’ll do. I won’t stop loving you until you tell me.
When I said that he smiled, the kind of smile one smiles after they’ve taken a test, not just any test, but a test they’ve cheated on and aced, a test they’ve done exactly zero studying for. His weakness has always been his ego. Appeal to his ego, he’ll eat out of your palm.
Okay, he said, okay. I’ll tell you. Let’s go to the place with coffee.
Wine, I said. We’ll go to the place with wine.
The place with wine was a dimly lit restaurant with overpriced lobster tacos and fancy, thick tablecloths which tickled my knees. We drove there separately. After we ordered our wine (Sauvignon Blanc, the cheapest bottle they had) he leaned back in his seat and said, I guess I’ll start. I know you need this closure, I know you need it if you’re going to move on.
Yes, I said. Yes I do.
Talking to him, I felt like I was biting down on tinfoil, I felt like there was warm, pleasant blood filling my mouth, like I had to spit. That’s how it had always been, the entire two years we’d been together. Me loving him and him being loved.
All right, he said, I’ll start. I’ll give you the reasons, the honest-to-God reasons, and you’ll have to accept them, whether you like it or not.
All right, I said. All right. I’ll accept them, already.
First things first, he said. Stella has a fun, sexy profession. This one is the biggest deal for me. Stella works as a receptionist in a plastic surgeon’s office, although she’s in school right now to become a masseuse. If she were a little younger (she’s twenty-five) she could model, but that boat has passed for her. She did some work for Sears a few years ago. I’ve seen the catalogue, and she looked like a gazelle, all legs. But the massage will have to do. Of course, it isn’t an intellectual pursuit or anything, and sure, my sisters make fun of her when she isn’t around, they have some sort of hatred for her just because she’s pretty and a woman and uneducated, but I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care what a bunch of jealous women think. Me being an engineer and all, sure, you’d think intelligence would be important to me, but really, it isn’t.
It isn’t? I said.
He shook his head and continued. It really isn’t. That’s what my sisters, and that’s what you, can’t seem to accept. That a person can be loved for something other than intelligence, that they can be loved for being, yes, gorgeous, but also for being sweet and kind and giving and selfless and all those wonderful things that Stella is. I think that was where I messed up when I was younger. I dated women who were on my “level” in terms of education, etc, women like you, women on their way to being professionals, or women who already were professionals. It gets boring, just talking politics and books and theatre all the time. Or, in our case, books. All you ever talked about were books. I hated how much you wrote, how you were constantly stressing about your latest story. I don’t even like books as much as you think I do.
You lying rat! I said. All those books we read together . . . all the readings you attended!
He laughed. I guess I was a rat, he said. But now I’m true to myself. I talk about television with Stella, I talk about food, I talk about celebrities, I talk about my favorite sweater, and I feel smart, damn it, I feel like the smartest person in the world when I’m with her. That’s important. Relationships are supposed to make you feel good, right?
I gritted my teeth, curled my toes underneath the table. Yes, I guess so, I said. I guess relationships are supposed to make you feel just terrific. Next reason?
He smiled and tipped his head back so he was dreamily gazing at the ceiling as he spoke. Stella’s hair is blond, he said. Her hair is so blonde I can see right through it to her skull. There’s something extraordinary about a woman being so blonde. I guess men always look for something extraordinary in a woman. I mean, maybe, maybe not, but for me, if a woman is extraordinary, I’ve got to have her. I’m not saying you aren’t extraordinary (I told you this was going to be cruel!), but what I am saying is that you’re cute, you’re cute like Drew Barrymore-cute, but Stella is beautiful like supermodel-beautiful, like she-just-stepped-off-a-private-jet-and-she-wears-expensive-underwear-beautiful. That kind of beautiful. Men will tell you all the time, and I’m being honest here, that hair color doesn’t matter, but they’re lying. They’re lying. I mean, what, aren’t we biologically programmed, or whatever, to like blondes? I read that in a magazine. So I don’t have to feel guilty about any of this. I liked your hair fine. But I like hers better. Stop looking at me like that. You wanted to know the reasons. I’m giving you the reasons.
I’m not looking at you like anyway, I said. I’m just listening.
Really, I was wondering if it was possible to gauge out someone’s eye with just your fingers.
Last but not least then, he said. Stella is great in bed. She’s passive but not too passive, sweet-eyed, child-like, but not in a porn-y way, not in a creepy way, in a real way, like, she’s just naturally vulnerable, you know? I won’t go into specifics or anything, I’ll just say she makes me feel powerful but also protective, like I could break her if I wanted to, only I won’t, because I’m a good person. You were passive in that phony way, or maybe more like a frigid way, and it wasn’t very erotic. You just laid there with a judgmental look in your eye, like you were cataloguing all my mistakes for later. Remember when you bought that lingerie? Can I tell you now, that it was pathetic? You weren’t pathetic, you really weren’t, you were funny and nice and I thought your quirks were cute for a long time, I loved you for a long time, but the lingerie, it was pathetic.
The bit about the lingerie made me clench my fists beneath my chair and dig my fingernails into my palm until I felt the warm wet of blood.
He sat back in his seat, put his hands on top of his thighs, and grinned. Is that enough, he said. Does that clear everything up for you? Does it? Because, those are the reasons. Those are really the main reasons I love her better than I love you.
You’re a real piece of work, I said, emptying my wine glass and then standing up to pour myself some more. There was blood on my wrist.
The waiter is supposed to do that for you, he said. Or I am. The lady isn’t supposed to do it.
Shut up, I said. I poured my glass so full that when I brought it to my lips wine spilled over the top. Wine dribbled down my chin, onto the table. I ignored the spill and continued. You’ll never do better than me. You’ll wake up one day next to a dumb, ugly woman, because she won’t be pretty forever, and you’ll be sorry! I said. You foolish idiot! You want a doll, not a real woman! You couldn’t handle me! You couldn’t handle my mind!
And he looked down into his wine and said, you could be right. You could be completely right. I’m shallow, honey, you know I’m shallow, the whole time we dated you talked about the superficiality of men, how they could be attracted to someone they hated, how they’d fuck a Nazi if she were hot. At the time, I argued with you, but now, I see you were right. You were right all along. But I can’t help myself. I can’t help myself. It’s all my fault. I just can’t control my sex drive. It’s like a living, breathing beast.
And then a single tear fell from his eye, and made a plopping sound as it dropped into his wine glass.
Only, none of that actually happened. He didn’t say any of those things. There was no list of reasons. I don’t even know how old Stella is, if she’s beautiful. I heard through the grapevine that she’s a doctor. A doctor! She’s probably just like me, like every other woman he’s dated, mousy, intellectual, desperately infatuated with him. I went to his work, I did that, but he shoved past me and said he didn’t want to see me. There was no restaurant with wine, no lobster tacos, I never told him to shut up. I never even got the question out: Why do you love her more than you love me? It never left my lips. I didn’t even yolk his car. I didn’t have the nerve. I stood out in front of his car with the egg but I never threw it. I was too afraid, if the police came after me, the yolk would be the figurative and literal blood on my hands.
The last thing he said to me was, I haven’t loved you for a long time, right before he packed his things. Why do you love her more than you love me? It’s an irrelevant question, completely misguided. He didn’t leave because he loved her, he left because he didn’t love me.
But how could I write a story about being unlovable? How could those years with him, all those months in which we ate, fucked, shit, showered together, amount to a story which is meaningless, a story with no pizzazz, no hero, no victim, no dumb-blond blow-up doll? How could I write a story, a story which I would show not just friends and family but professors and editors, about my boyfriend leaving me for someone just like me, some bookworm doctor with big glasses, how could I write a story so ordinary, a story which made me look ordinary? A story which confirmed my deepest fear, which implicated me and not him, a story which revealed that men leave because they don’t love you anymore, simple as that, and it’s got nothing to do with sex or blondes.
Kindall Gray is a Tucson native, and writes poetry and fiction. She received a Foundation Award for her writing from the University of Arizona in 2010, and her work was a finalist for the Gival Press Short Story Award in 2009. She is currently at work on two projects: a novel tentatively entitled The Crying Party, about a young wife’s mounting paranoia regarding her husband’s fidelity, and a collection of short stories entitled Break Me In which explores the childhood struggle to understand and define desire.