As 2015 winds down, we’re each re-posting what we think were our best pieces so far. This was originally posted in May.
So, young man: will you ever get married.
Well I already was, when I was 25. Kind of. We had a yellow house in a clean neighborhood for white people. With a little Maltese Yorkie. Identical sexual encounters every eight days or so. Married except for the rings, but those don’t mean anything. Marriage is just rings and a party. If you look at the full scope of human history then marriage as we know it was invented last week, almost. No rings, but we were married.
She was southern. Kind of tall and had played volleyball, made good seasoned chicken and bought me books. I was her first time. I didn’t love her. I liked her a lot for the first two weeks and then all of sudden I didn’t, but I lacked the testicular fortitude to say that, and so I just kept doing the wrong thing for the next two years. Spent all that time full-steam ahead on the wrong track, thinking thisiswrong thisiswrong thisiswrong, my head had a bomb in it that I couldn’t defuse.
We met in China when I lived there and moved back to the States together. I shouldn’t have left, but I did anyway because I was a spineless fuck and lying is probably the easiest thing in the world for anyone to do, especially spineless fucks. Linking together a train of a thousand lies is easier than sitting down to tell the truth once.
I didn’t want to leave. In China I worked two hours a day and could get hammered for two dollars. I could and did write all the time. I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to leave with her. If she wasn’t sitting directly next to me then I forgot she was alive.
And that wasn’t fair. I should have told her.
But I left. Getting on the plane to Boston felt like being extradited. No more dodging my destiny of a Sisyphean hustle back in the homeland. Paying $3.50 for the fuel to drive eighteen miles. The homeland punished me for my absence. There were lots of jobs I wanted but the only thing America let me be was a waiter. No one was going to hire a screenwriting major who had just spent two years drunk in Asia. I wouldn’t have hired me either. After a while I got a desk at a research corporation on a temp contract.
Then a literary agent emailed and said he loved my book. I’d never been good at anything before and now someone was saying I was. Maybe he had bad judgment. Didn’t matter. I had a scrap of validation and I’d never think about anything else again. Type type type type. Get better at it; it is unacceptable not to. Life, reality, people—they all became distractions.
So one night I left.
I think we want different things, I told her.
She didn’t respond. So I said:
You mentioned going back to school. It’s a good idea. But I’m not going back.
She asked, without looking:
Are you breaking up with me.
And I said no, because the moment was so unfathomably huge and I was too pussy to say what I needed to, but then she asked again and that time I said yes. I almost didn’t pull the trigger in person. I’d been disappearing on long runs throughout that week and drafting a letter to her in my head. I never wrote it down but I was going to leave it on the counter and get in a cab at 3 A.M. and fly off and plot my return to the East.
But I didn’t. Instead I finally owned up to my thousand lies. I owned them when we were on the couch, about to put on Netflix. When I have my flashbacks the phrases from that letter are intercut with our post-mortem phone calls.
I thought I was going to marry you, she said. You should have told me a long time ago.
I know. But I was so scared of this moment, when I would have to look at you and then kill you. Because that’s what it feels like. You will die from this–that’s what happens–but then you’ll come back. That’s what happened to me before, that’s what happens to everyone.
She wanted to hear more, to help process it all. The debrief lasted weeks.
You know, I wrote in an email, when we hung out with the other couples I heard this guy talking, and he was so boring I wanted to kill him and then I realized it was me. I was in this lockstep parade and my life was evaporating. When you’re in the parade you see the same things everyone else does and so you only think the same things as them. I don’t want to do this social merry-go-round and meet people I hate. I just want to go to new places and type.
She answered: but we can travel. We can go anywhere we want, and you can write there.
You know we can’t. We already were doing that, but then we came home. And your parents live here so we’ll never leave.
Of course we will, she countered. We can do it, we don’t have to be like our friends.
I don’t love you, I said. Please don’t make me say it again.
So it’s been some time. She’s in Spain now for school and I’m in Korea until they kick me out. Now I don’t have to imagine what I’d say to other girls, because I can just say it. I call my mother and go on agreeable outings with friends. But mostly I just type until I’m nauseous.
Still working on not being a pussy. It’s hard, man, this character development.
The common narrative dictates that now I should look back and torture myself for taking the wrong turn. I’m waiting for the haunting of regret but I don’t feel it. I’ve been in love before but I find that creating is a better high. More dependable, for now. That could change someday, and probably will. After all your character arc isn’t really finished until you’re dead.