What Happens When You Turn Your Love Life Into A Webcomic
We are discussing the consequences of memoir in my introduction to non-fiction class when you text me. There’s no such thing as a coincidence but I can’t help but wonder. You’re asking if it’s okay to visit me in Boston the following weekend. We are broken-up, I think; and I am about to go live with my webcomic about the break-up of a couple in a long distance relationship. My roommate doesn’t think I should let you stay in our apartment, nor does the freshman girl in my class that I confide in, nor my boss. I should know better but I don’t. I say yes, you can come, but only if you behave.
It’s the first time since before we started dating that I even notice other boys, let alone have these actual, heart-palpitating, blushing crushes. It’s the first Valentine’s Day in two years I’m not wishing I was with you. And it’s the first time in two months that I could stop thinking about you for more than a few minutes. When you arrive in Boston, I’m slightly irritated by your presence and initially refuse to kiss you. My webcomic has been up for just a week. I have been agonizing whether or not to tell about it. It’s about us. Sort of. There are phrases that are verbatim, but they are out of context. You are painted as an unsympathetic asshole and I, a self-victimizing shrew. These are aspects of our respective identities, but they are fragments solely used for the purpose of humor.
When I finally let you kiss me, the crushes I’ve been harboring dissipate instantly. I don’t want to tell you about the stupid webcomic because I know I might lose you for good.
We had broken-up just before finals in early December. It’s a simple and sad story most have heard before. You wanted more experience, I only wanted more experience with you. I was able to temporarily distract myself with film projects and all-nighters spent racing to finish essays. But when I returned home to Brooklyn for Christmas, I felt the loss of you everywhere that I went. I could not help but think of us walking down Smith Street — our first date at Café LULUC or drinking mulled wine at Sample Bar; in the beginning, when I would anxiously wait for you to emerge from the Bergen Street station, still not recognizing this all-consuming feeling was love.
I found a strange solace in the onerous task of de-cluttering my room. In a rubber box filled with high school notebooks, I discovered a drawing pad with the original conception for my cartoon, “The Misadventures of Wilhelmina Sadface.” On the first page, Wilhelmina is wandering the streets of Brooklyn, wondering why her ex-boyfriend won’t continue their friends-with-benefits shenanigans. I’m a horrible drawer. The characters look like demented paper dolls and their features lack consistency box to box. But I’m good at self-deprecation. And my mother says I’m good at cutting others to the core.
Before Wilhelmina Sadface was a webcomic, I drew about her ordeals in small notebooks that I passed around my high school. The first notebook chronicled her break-up with Jonas DeMoanus, the constant fights Wilhelmina has with her mother, The Nag Hag, and the tales of Wilhelmina’s cruel best friend, Nicotine Jean. Some of it was inspired by my own life, some of it was based on my friends’ lives, and some it was completely fabricated.
After re-reading my journals, I finally figured out how to quell the pangs of loss I felt. It was in re-creating you, us, our story. Making it funny, making it a joke. Re-writing the lines, emphasizing the bad, omitting the good. Because writing about going to Shakespeare in the Park, you helping me into my denim jacket, pressing my tears away and saying, You deserve all the love in the world — that stuff just makes me yearn for something that doesn’t exist anymore. I begin the series again, starting with “The Break-Up of Wilhelmina Sadface and Bookworm Brad, Part I.”
The things you said me the night we had broken-up still echo clearly. These words are trapped in the place where I memorized Helena’s lines for an elementary school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that time in the fifth grade when Sara explained to me why Scott would never reciprocate feelings for me, the image of the first of many failing test scores written in red Sharpie. These are moments that have become ingrained in my cells, define the lines that are starting to give root on my forehead. The only way to keep you from forming into more of the white hairs that I’ve already started to grow is to transplant you onto the page.
You become a poorly drawn cartoon, spouting out the standard break-up lines but with more brutality. I give you a penchant for anal sex that borders on fetish. I give you ugly, doodly curls. I make my character so desperate it’s sad, so sad it’s amusing. I give her a boy-crazy obsession that makes her drink and say stupid shit. I give her no tits whatsoever. I make a mockery of you, of us, because it’s the only way it doesn’t hurt.
Before you board the bus back to New York, you say I love you for the second time. It is one of three times you will ever say it to me and I treasure it for the preciousness that it is. It gives me hope.
Before you board the bus back to New York, you discover my webcomic while using my laptop. I tell you that you can look at it but I think that it might be hard for you to read, to remember it’s all in good fun. You say you’ll remember.
A week later, I’m on my way to New York for spring break. I’ll see you but I am disappointed when I find out a girl you used to like is staying at your apartment. We talk on the phone about it. I poorly articulate my opinion that you are clueless. You insist it’s platonic, and I feel like I am losing it. Eventually, I come over to your place bearing Proseco and apologies. After we’re tipsy enough, we can finally start asking questions we mean. Does my webcomic upset you? I ask. My character doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, you say. Everyone’s mean to each other, I say. That’s the point, I say.
I gaze around your studio. You’ve taken down the Polaroid of me. There are no candles lit like we used to do. We make love but it doesn’t feel like love. I don’t know if it was a point worth making.
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She assumed it was jewelry. Every year he gets her a charm for her gold chain or a pair of dangly earrings.
Fall if you will, but rise you must.
You may lose what would have been the joy of the experience had you not been so focused on some fabricated idea or unrealistic expectation you had of how it was going to turn out.
This is Hugh Dancy. This is his face. That face alone is reason enough to watch TV.