“I shouldn’t play myself again / I should just be my own best friend / Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.”
I put an Amy Winehouse song on almost every mix I make for people, but I’m embarrassed to put one on yours because you’re a music snob and I worry you’ll find my affinity for Miss Amy too mainstream, or sentimental or pop.
Instead you write me an email thanking me. In it, you say, “And that Amy Winehouse song is great. I think she really succeeded at doing what a lot of musicians try to capture. I like her a lot.”
I spend the next six months chasing you like I have nothing else going on in my life.
“I don’t understand / why do I stress a man / When there’s so many bigger things at hand?”
“Wait, who are you talking about?” my roommate says when I mention a girl from our college.
“You know her,” I say. “Short hair. He used to cheat on me with her like, all the time.”
“I thought he cheated on you with lots of people,” she says.
I chew on my bottom lip. “He did,” I reply. “Just uh, this one kept coming back throughout. Like he’d keep going back to her. You really don’t remember her? She came to the house a couple times with him.”
“She came to your house when you guys lived together?”
A beat. “Yeah,” I say. “I broke his door down once because she was in there. It was in the middle of a party.”
“No,” she says. “I don’t remember her.”
Did that even happen? I wonder. Was that me that let it happen?
“We only said goodbye with words / I died a hundred times.”
You’re broken up, you swear, so you take me back to your house. The connection is unbelievable. Sometimes you’re not sure with a man, if they’re feeling what you are but with you, it’s all over your face and in the way you handle me. You feel lucky to be here. I’ve never had someone look at me the way you are right now: Like I’m a prize you won at the fair, a big teddy bear you got for throwing rings onto milk bottles. You take your time. You savor. We’re both shocked at how in tune we are. We barely know each other but maybe our bodies know something we don’t?
It is morning. You head into the shower. I sit up. I look for my phone. Behind me on your top shelf, I see: earrings (not mine), shampoo (not mine), bracelets (not mine), and mousse (not mine).
You, in a towel in the doorway. Me, holding the earrings.
“You have a girlfriend,” I say.
“I have a girlfriend,” you echo.
“My destructive side has grown a mile wide / And I question myself again: what is it ’bout men?/ I’m nurturing / I just wanna do my thing / And I’ll take the wrong man as naturally as I sing.”
I ask: “Why are you leaving me?”
K, age 15: Because you’re too smart and I don’t understand what you’re saying half the time we talk. I’d prefer to date someone prettier and dumber.
P, age 20: Because I have political ambitions and you’re not a Jackie. You’re a Marilyn.
G, age 21: Because she’s a nicer girl than you are. Yes, you gave me the things I wanted but now I’m afraid of those things. Subtext: Hold out, you’re a prude. Give in, you’re too slutty. Dear women: You can never win.
J, age 22: I’m gay.
“I cheated myself / Like I knew I would / I told you I was trouble / You know that I’m no good.”
You were perfect and you would never have hurt me.
That was your biggest mistake. You were available in a world where we’re tigers, living to chase. The gazelle that’s fallen isn’t as delicious as the gazelle leaping at the front of the pack.
But by then, I was tired of chasing. I knew I didn’t deserve someone like you, but I thought that maybe I could change. I could finally, someday be worthy of your feelings. But you never got angry or fought for me. You rolled over and you took it. You watched me act out, flirting, cheating and pushing because that’s what people have done to me and so that’s what I expect and know — and you bowed out. And I left. I did to you, exactly what had been done to me because I needed to get rid of it somehow.
“I’m so glad I found you,” I would say, meaning it at the time. “I’m never going to go back to people who treat me poorly.”
You did everything right, baby. But you had to learn the way I did: Love is a losing game.
“Self professed / Profound ’til the chips were down / I know you’re a gambling man / Love is a losing hand.”
But their relationship at the very start…was established with her in pursuit of him, and all the years since, of hidden meetings, of wise decisions to end it and thrilling abject collapses into sex, have not disrupted the fundamental pattern of her giving and his taking, of her fearing their end more than he, and clinging, and disliking herself for clinging, and wanting to punish him for her dislike, and him shrugging and continuing to bask in the sun of her love, that rises every day whether he is there or not. He can’t believe it, quite, and has to keep testing her. – John Updike