A Fifth of a Life
You're in love again and that's okay. You're a financial assistant, so
of course it's only natural you've found another girl. We are like
money, maybe, and can be traded back and forth. Some of us are maybe
foreign and exotic, and others are just green and plain but that's just
the way it works. Money is always money. And either way, it's a thing
of value. That is not to say you don't value us.
This new girl is tall and lean and in photos I find, I can't even begin
to tell where her stomach ends and her legs begin. That is to say: she
is pretty, and in the photos you've posted from your trip to Corsica,
your new friends write, "Gorgeous!!" and "Smokin hot!"
I have tried to learn more about her—through the routes you
might assume—but all I can clearly discern is that she lists
"Cute Animals" as an interest. I've spent whole days on this alone.
There's something so pointed about the physical act of adding that
interest—typing those letters, considering their
projection—that seems to me especially troublesome. I've
thought about it quite a bit. It's just not something to take so
Of course we all like animals. Who will deny a teacup pig? So it is
easy for me to tell myself that probably she's very stupid. She's not
smart and getting her Master's. She doesn't know French, never lived
there. I'll bet you anything she's not reading books the way that I am
Does she know who Lydia Davis is?
Does she know about Amy Hempel?
I bet that she does not. I bet she's not writing a goddamn thing.
My interests, as listed on Facebook, are: back roads and driving and
essays, and anxiety, because let's just be honest. These were interests
that we once shared, but now you're too busy going to ballet recitals.
You're roasting your own coffee beans. "In a paper bag," you say, "it's
great." I sit around in next to nothing developing what I like to call
a "thesis baby." This is what we've termed it. My friends and I pat our
bellies and rub our hands in tiny circles, saying, "It's coming along
so nicely," saying, "It's growing and taking shape."
I sit in a chair for ten hours rewriting the same goddamn sentence, and
you two are eating brie on a picnic blanket stitched with pastel fish.
Do you realize how long we dated? We dated for nearly five whole years.
That was more than a fifth of my life at that point, and a fifth is an
awful lot. I know because in pie charts I've made, I like to sit and
stare at that summation.
It is quite a bit of time.
You don't need me to remind you, but for a moment let me remind you: we
broke up when I moved across the country and you made that decision not
to follow. I hated you for that, and I knew but never told you. In
truth, that hatred is why it happened; it was temporary but no less
real. And it was messier than you think. But still thank you for
letting me keep the salad spinner. I think of you as my lettuce dries.
I would try to burn this bridge, maybe, if I wasn't so smart and mature
and well-educated. This is what I try to think. But instead I call you
once a month, and we talk and we talk and we talk, and I am right that
she's not reading. She's a Physics teacher at Harvard. She's not
working towards her Masters because she is working towards a PhD.
"Isn't that so funny?" you say. "Me dating a Harvard physicist?"
And yes, it is so funny, so I just laugh and laugh and laugh. I laugh
so hard I cry and then I put my hand on my thesis baby. If it were real
it could count for something, but it's just fat and flesh and skin.
Proof of the nothing I can call my own.
You were the self-declared poetry major. You spent whole days in
pajamas. They had tiny, little moose on them, and I never said a
"Oh my gosh," I say, "insane," and then we talk about the weather.
Sometimes I find myself wondering what would happen if I became
something more like her. If I listed "blue sky" as an interest. If I
listed "green grass" or "puppies" or "laughter." I'd dress my puppy
like a goddamn princess and find the world's smallest gold tiara.
I wonder if you'd come back. I wonder if any of that good would remain.
"We're so lucky we're so mature," I say, and in the meantime, the baby
grows. I turn twenty-five on Wednesday, and you are finally just a fifth.