On weekend nights, the B train runs express uptown. I'm waiting for it and feeling like a real sack of sh*t. All because I did the right thing.
I had to dump her. I was pretty sure I couldn't make her happy, and I wasn't convinced anymore that I had an obligation to. I'd suppressed every ounce of anxiety I had about this for so long, convinced everyone how little of a sh*t I gave that it even worked on me.
But when a speck of anxiety finally broke through, it flooded me. The walls came down and the anxiety flowed into every crevice of my being, like a broken ant farm. Once that happened, there was no going back.
She and I were supposed to go to a party tonight. I even had dinner with five of her friends beforehand, like a real bastard. She'd bought me a drink, something rummy with leaves in it, and I'd guzzled it quickly enough to need a cigarette. She hated that I smoked, but I couldn't not pull one out after we'd paid the bill, said goodbye and began walking toward a destination she didn't know she'd never see.
By the time I was finally ready, I could barely push the words out.
“I think we should slow things down,” I stuttered like a fool.
“Excuse me?” she said.
“Like, how much?”
“Like, a lot.”
I leaned on a closed-up storefront, soot seeping into my sport coat's sleeve, while she yelled and cursed and cried. Then I apologized for telling the truth, which is something only oncologists should ever have to do.
“I'm sorry,” I said. “But I'm already late.” And I left her sobbing on Bleecker Street.
Guys hate this breakup part, so we try to piss you off long enough to do it for us. Pissing people off has always been easy. Driving them away? Even easier. So when you don't leave and sometimes act like you don't even notice what's happening, then goddamn, there's not much left for us to do except make the hard choice to end it.
And we want it to end, but afterward we feel like the sides of our mouths are stapled down, like we couldn't smile if we tried.
So, congratulations, assh*le. You got what you wanted. Now you have no one, and you're so racked with guilt you're pacing the subway platform in figure eights. You're saddled with the pesky little chore of moving on, and you have no idea where to start.
Look, I just didn't love her back. What can I do about that? Why should I feel so guilty? Why does it feel so wrong to have admitted that? Would it have been better to drag the charade along, to waste more weekends flashing more phony smiles in more dimly lit bars, using more lies to cover up more and more truths?
We'd only known each other a few months, but that's a lot for me. From what she said, it seemed like that was a lot for her, too. In reality, we were children, and in the beginning we got carried away, as children tend to do. We said we loved each other, but we didn't know sh*t.
You can't love somebody before your first fight, or before you first help her mash up guacamole in the kitchen, or before one of you farts. Because those are the things that make people people, and we're all so desperate at the beginning that we'll convince ourselves we love a face.
Now it's game to see who can rebound first. So I wonder where I'll go from here, who the next person to go there with will be and when the hell is the acceptable time to start looking, as the B train continues not to show.
The protocol for moving on is always tricky. As far as timing goes, it feels like there are both certain standards of decency and no rules whatsoever. It's like waiting a certain amount of time to jerk off after the death of a family member. These rules are present yet curiously intangible.
I know the next person will come with all the same problems as the last. I know I won't be able to handle them, and I know I'll eventually feel like this again, like maybe I should just throw myself onto the tracks.
The stupid train still won't come. I lean against a dirty, old platform column and close my eyes.
Many others are also waiting for the B. Many are angry about it. I can hear them pacing, whispering, groaning. I hear a teenage couple on the other side of the platform, exhaling as they hold one another in a last-moment embrace. I hear other languages. It isn't hard to roughly translate their indignation.
“Still?” they all seem to be saying. “I've been waiting so long. When will it come for me?”
Forty minutes later, I peer down the track. Empty.
Just for sh*ts, I spin to look down the other direction. No train, of course, but there is a woman, about my age, pointing a camera my way. She's peeping out around the next platform column to snap a photo of the barren tunnel. It's a probably a good shot, all lit up and still. She clicks.
I can only imagine what she's captured -- rats rummaging on the tracks and my stupid surprised smile purposely peeking out into the frame. She notices, lifts her head, giggles and locks eyes with me. She grins, her cheekbones sharper than a Canon image all in focus. Her grassy blond hair is shiny, like in spring.
Suddenly, I'm not so tense. Things are calmer in my world. Even, dare I say it, looking up. And I feel that temptation coming over again, that sense of purpose and adventure that says, Reach out, touch me, what's the worst that can happen?
Paper cuts will heal in time, so I start walking in her direction.