A Fifth of a Life
Amy Butcher

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 lightly.

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 reading books.

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 goddamn thing.

"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.

Amy Butcher is the 2012-13 Olive B. O'Connor Fellow in nonfiction at Colgate University. She has essays or stories in or coming from Hobart, The Indiana Review, The Colorado Review and others.

Detail on main page from painting by H.A. Sigg. Read more of AB's work in the archive.

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