Short Story: The price of love

Love is stupid. Yeah, I said it. Maybe love makes people stupid, or at least makes sane people do stupid things. Maybe it’s part of it, or all of it, or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. I used to know, just like everyone’s an expert until you’re mired in something and you realize just how little you know. I just don’t know.

Right now she’s clinging to life on the barest of threads. The doctors say she’ll go at any moment, but they’ve been saying that for almost a week. Experts my ass! It hurts to see her like this, a woman in the prime of her life. She should be living her life, but the irony is that if she were, she wouldn’t be here with me. Like I said, love makes people stupid, me included.

I was never the kind of guy girls noticed. Sure they were nice to me, smiled at me, became my friend. I was, as I later learned, non-threatening. I was safe, the kind of guy they could trust, the guy they could talk to because I was understanding, and kind. I was the kind of nice they all claimed they wanted, but in reality didn’t. I soon came to believe that nice was code for loser.

Then I met Carly. Carly was like the rest of them, except she gave me something no one had ever given me: a chance. We started dating my sophomore year of college. She had broken up with her boyfriend, a star on the basketball team. He was the typical douche athlete, and all the women wanted him, and he obliged, never mind that he had a girlfriend.

So she dumped him and soon started dating me. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I was just a rebound, worse still that she used me to make him jealous. Losing out to a guy like me made him crazy jealous, and I was too blind to see it. She soon dumped me and took him back. I was devastated.

Carly, just so you know, was, in those days, a beauty. The years and her illness have ravaged her, but beneath her withered and pained expression lingers the ghost of her former glory. She was blond, with hazel eyes, pale skin, and the cutest freckles on her nose. She had a magnetic personality, and she could make friends with anyone, even a recluse like me. She drew people to her, a flame pulling in another moth to become her next victim.

She was my first girlfriend, my first grown-up girlfriend, I should say. I had a few summer flings in camp growing up. Hold hands, an awkward peck on the lips, that sort of thing. I lost my virginity with her, fell madly in love with her, and it tore me to shreds being dumped the way she did me. I was just a cog in her plan to win back her dream boy.

I fell to pieces. No one knew it by seeing me. I was so straitlaced that no one would ever have seen my inner turmoil, not that anyone was close enough to have known. I was for all intents and purposes, friendless. I suffered alone. I just turned my attention to my studies to cope.

But I had become obsessed with her, but I just accepted it. What could I do? Even I, for all my naivette, understood that I had no chance to win her back. I could admit defeat and walk away with some vestiges of dignity, or I could pine for some woman who had made a fool of me.

Funny thing is that dating her had made me seem more interesting to some other woman. I began to date. I found a serious girlfriend my junior year, and we dated for almost two years, up until a week before graduation. I found myself as I broadened my horizons, and I found some confidence as I came into my own. I had become a man.

But I never got over Carly.

She would come around every so often, this damned woman. Every time she dumped a guy, or they dumped her, she would come by. I broke off a few relationships because of her, including that serious girlfriend, someone with whom I could have married. I know because she had been hinting at it for months. I loved her in a way, but she wasn’t Carly. She couldn’t compete with her, and she never knew she was competing with her. I did her wrong. I did to her what Carly had done to me, and I regret it.

Carly knew that I was obsessed with her, and she took advantage of it. She used me to boost her ego when she was feeling down. She used me to get over her failed relationships. I was nothing more than a plaything to occupy her time until some more suitable asshole stole her attention.

It went on like this for a couple of years, until the year we became 27. Almost everyone we knew was getting married, having children, settling down. Carly decided it was time to grow up and get with the agenda and get married, so she did, to a guy named Kurt. Just like that, I was cast aside for the last time.

By then I had grown used to it. I was tired of it and it came as a relief. Yes it hurt, and yes I cried, but I was also glad that I could gleam some measure of closure. This cruel game had come to an end, and I could finally move on.

I met a girl, dated, and we became engaged. Everything was going great, until Carly came into the picture to ruin my life one last time. My engagement fell apart, mainly because of Carly, but also because my fiancee was cheating on me with one of my friends, something Carly was all too happy to point out.

Carly’s marriage had fallen apart because her husband wanted a family, and she couldn’t conceive. It was impossible. Uterean cancer had taken her chance of having a family, and with it her hope for the life she had wanted.

The cancer was in remission, she told me, but I think she knew something that she didn’t let on, that the cancer would return, which it did a couple of years later. In the meantime, we rekindled our relationship, and this time it stuck. Carly had become domesticated. Gone was the wild girl I had fallen in love with. Her love was subdued, tamed, and I think it was because she knew she was dying soon.

We got married as soon as the ink from her divorce had dried. At thirty-one I had my dream woman, but I could sense that it was not going to last. Her fire had been extinguished, and she no longer felt the need to lead me on. I knew she was using me again, and because I was so in love with her, I let her, and I let her to this day.

She came back not because she loved me, but because I loved her. She knew no one would take her. Carly was damaged goods. Those are her words, by the way, not mine. She didn’t want to die, and though the doctors had told her that her cancer was gone, she felt that they were wrong.

After four years of marriage, the cancer came back. This time there was nothing to be done. It had spread to her lungs, her kidneys, her brain. It was attacking her, killing her slowly, and no chemotherapy, no radiation, could save her.

Now, a week before our fifth anniversary, she lays in our bed, a hospice worker coming in daily to check up on her, and a nurse does as well. She didn’t want to die alone and she knew I would take her back.

I hate myself for letting her do this to me, but I am powerless. I’ve come to believe that I don’t really love her. I think I’m obsessed with her as the woman I couldn’t hold on to, Now that I have her, I’ve come to see that I don’t love her like I thought I did. Even so, I never walked away. I’m a nice guy after all. I ended up with the girl, though not in the way I might have wanted, but I have her. Til death do us part. I just wish I hadn’t had to find a way to give her cancer to make her come back to me. I wish I didn’t need to kill her to keep her from leaving me again.

She’ll never know that my work with cancer was never to find a cure, but to learn to manipulate it, to weaponize it. She’ll never know, and soon, she’ll never know anything again.

Love is stupid? Maybe, but love turned me into a monster, and I’ll never be nice again.

 


Short Stories

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Previous story – Porcelain

 

A writing assignment

I wrote this as part of my final portfolio for my Creative Writing class back in 2013. It’s probably the most intimate portrait of what I went through during 2011, and the most painful experience I’ve lived through ever committed to writing. It’s not easy putting it out there, but here it is.

If you’re interested in seeing the video to the song, here it is on YouTube. It still moves me to listen to it, and I think it’s probably one of Pink’s most powerful songs to date, and the reason I’m one of her fans.

~Joe~


Far from perfect

(Discovering a truth in an unlikely way)

You’re so mean when you talk
About yourself, you were wrong
Change the voices in your head
Make them like you instead

Lyrics from Fuckin’ Perfect by P!nk
From her album: Greatest Hits… So Far!! 2010
Written by: Pink, Max Martin and Shellback

The one thing about my ex, you have to understand,
Music has meaning, a true and undeniable significance.
On her computer she created and saved several playlists
All personal, speaking about what she felt in her heart.
This she confessed to me when we first found ourselves free of
Our respective spouses, and after we finally got together.

She played one of those playlists for me,
Telling me as she did so that she created it for me.
She would sit and drink,
Wistfully listening to those songs as she though about me,
While her children ran around her,
While her husband sat there enjoying the music with her,
Oblivious to the fact that his wife had another man on her mind.
And that man was the most unlikely person
But one the husband always feared because he knew
Deep in his wife’s heart she felt she made a mistake in choosing him over me.
He knew she loved me but she thought she lost her chance.

What could I say to that?
I probably made some self-deprecating joke,
The kind I use to protect myself from pain.
The kind that tends to piss people off.
And that always has gotten me into trouble
Especially with the other loves in my life.
But I can’t deny who I am
I won’t deny what I am.

One day when we were still in the everything-is-wonderful stage,
She emailed me a link to a video and I played it at work

Made a wrong turn once or twice
Dug my way, blood and fire….

I listened, trying not to let my tears show
I listened as the singer reached the chorus

Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
like you’re less then fucking perfect…

All I could do was sit there in my office
At my desk on the computer at work
And all I could do was play it again
All I could do was look up the lyrics to the song
To grasp the meaning behind the song –
To understand why she might have sent it to me.

I confess:
I am guilty of belittling myself
I am guilty of putting myself down –
Of trying to use my jokes as a way to protect myself –
Of trying to diffuse the pain by laughing instead of crying.

I try to cover my shame and guilt of never achieving,
Of finding myself with someone I despised,
Of having a dead-end job.
I felt trapped and forsaken,
A complete and utter failure –
Dejected,
Rejected,
Ashamed of who I had become,
A loser – a waste of space.
I fucking hated who I had become.
I wished I were dead.

But…

I was sent a link by someone who said she loved me,
And I listened to this song,
One that I had heard before but never paid attention,
But this time I listened
This time I heard what I needed to hear.

…you’re fucking perfect to me.

At my lowest she picked me up,
At my lowest she told me what I needed to hear.
And although it wouldn’t last but a few months,
I felt that someone actually cared.

She burned a CD for me that I listened to in the car.
The third song in and the powerful ballad would come on
I listened intently, especially to this one.
Every song was precious to me,
Knowing that she chose them with great care,
But it was her music that would become our undoing.

Her playlist changed.
Not gradually, not subtly
But radically.
All of a sudden it was about partying and drinking.
Avril Lavigne’s “What the Hell” and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night”
Sure enough we broke up.

What of those songs she said belonged to me?
I could no longer stand to listen to them
I threw her CD out my car window,
On a dusty dirt county road in Hunt County.

To this day I can’t hear any of those songs because they remind me of her,
And my stomach tightens up and I want to punch a bitch.
Does that make me a bad person?
I don’t know, but at least it makes me an honest person,
Even if it makes me uncomfortable to accept my own darkness,
My own personal shortcomings.

But that one song?

It became something more –
It became, not a love song, strange as it may be to say,
But it transformed into an anthem,
A mantra,
It was – it is – a song that speaks to me,
Deeper than any other song before or since.

Yes, it will forever remain intertwined with her,
But it is separate from her, too.

In spite of what I may feel,
Despite the ugliness I fear I wear,
Maybe I have value, perhaps I have worth.

I no longer am the pitiful person I was a couple of years ago.
I no longer feel as dejected as I did then.
I no longer feel the all-consuming anger towards her.
But neither have I forgotten,
And I struggle to forgive
Her,
My ex-wife,
Life,
God,
Myself….

I’ve accepted that it was my own life choices that led me to my downfall.
In the midst of my personal Dark night of the soul,
I found a strand of hope to hold on to,
A tether to this most perishable life.
I found an affirmation in a rather profane song.
Isn’t it ironic that sometimes the message has to come from the most unlikely of sources?
Could this be why Life-Destiny-God, sent her to my life –
To give me the message and then slowly drift away?
And I hold onto it, a life preserver in the rough seas,
A reminder of the bad and of the good still to come.

…you’re fucking perfect to me.

(end song)


Short Stories

Next story – Lina
Previous story – Open Secret

Tangled mess

As I try to rewrite this tangled mess that I laughably call a book, I’ve come to realize that writers are a masochistic bunch. Luckily I am indeed a masochist, or at least that’s what I took away from the tangled mess of what once was my love life.

Piece of the wrong puzzle

Puzzled

puzzle perspective

puzzle perspective (Photo credit: jugbo)

It’s hard to describe what my life is at the moment. It’s a jumble, a fragmented picture that I’m trying to piece together without a clear understanding of what the picture is supposed to be. Do you understand how frustrating it is?

Where does this piece go?

Here?

No.

Screw it. I’ll set it over here for the moment and deal with it later.

Playing the “What If” Game

I’m finishing up the last of my college. I have spoken about his often, probably because this is something I have wanted for a long time. I’ve often wondered where I would be today had I done the intelligent thing and finished over a decade ago. If I hadn’t stopped in 1999, presumably I could have graduated by 2000. Would my life have been better? Worse?

What if? I know you’ve played that game before. What if I had gone out with this person instead? What if I had taken that job? What if..?  What if…?  What if…?

The problem with this is that it presumes that we have the ability to know what would have happened. In hindsight everything seems so painfully obvious, but the problem is that what we know is a result of our experience. Had we gone and taken that other path, that what if, we very well could be asking what if we had done the very thing you currently wish you could have avoided.

You only ask because maybe things would have been better the other way.

In flight

But what I’ve discovered is that I’m a man still in flight, fleeing a past that has probably been long forgotten by the other party. Is this normal? When something traumatic happens, is it only a trauma to one and not the other? Could something that is holding me back be a non-issue for the other?

I realized that I’m still running away from the ghosts of my past yesterday afternoon. I had to go to the bank inside a Walmart to take care of an outstanding issue that I should have dealt with ages ago. Took fifteen minutes and I was done. Typical.

Anyway I left the bank and I wandered around the store and I felt apprehension. Why? Because that’s where the forsaken she-devil works. I’ve avoided the department that she works in ever since we broke up. Forget the obvious that she works at a store 400 miles away, but I really have no idea if she still works there, at the store, in that department, or even in the company. I could easily find out, but why do that to myself?

So why avoid it? I’ve conditioned myself to avoid it. Being in the area brings back memories which makes me sad, fills me with pain and anger, and all I want to do is to escape. I leave. I feel better. I think that may constitute negative reinforcement.

I haven’t dealt with the underlying problem. I ran away from it, from her. At the time the pain was all-consuming, it encompassed my entire being. Those close to me are probably better able to describe how I was than I am. I shut down. I didn’t function really for a long time. I lost my job because of it and look at me now.

So walked in, half-expecting to see her, knowing that I was being an idiot. I walked around, trying to break the synaptic connections that make me associate that department to the girl who hurt me. She hurt me, and she works there so being there brings back the pain.

Walk around.

Look at bbq things.

She’s not here.

Cool patio set

I wish I could see her.

What would I say?

Nothing. I’d run away.

I’ll have to go back more often to free myself of that particular association. It’s silly, but is it really? I’ve decided that it isn’t. I’m entitled to my feelings and I’m entitled to dealing with them in my own time. Emotions are too complex to figure out.

Some of you might be judging me, you may say I’m weak, that I fell apart. What can I say to that? Fuck you. That’s what. You don’t know me. You don’t know the experiences that I’m gone through. What would it take for you to fall apart? You’re not as strong as you suppose. We all have a breaking point, and the trigger may be something you’d never see coming.

So what now?

I live my life, that’s what. I walked around and window shopped for a while, but I didn’t buy anything. I left and drove to the Barnes and Noble to escape into fantasy. I walked in, after being gone since 2000, I’m immediately flooded with memories from an even more distant past. A less painful past.

I walked around, glimpsing at the thousands of stories there were to be discovered. It was nice to be surrounded by books. The feel, the smell, the connection you get by the tactile immediacy of holding a book. It’s wonderful and joyous and marvelous and…

Oh shit.

Do I really expect to join all of these books, vying for shelf space, hoping to attract a readership? Am I good enough? Do I have a story to tell? Would anyone be willing to spend their time and money to read what I have to say?

Don’t know.

So I walked around, forgetting myself and my troubles, leaving my doubts and fears behind, and I shopped for a story, somebody else’s story. There are so many books to choose from, so what do I get? I looked for a book, and it took me several minutes to remember the name, but who was the author? Crap. Oh there it is, magically appearing before me on a display. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This was a NaNoWriMo novel she wrote and got published. I had to get it.

I walked around some more, searching but not finding, wondering if it did so poorly that B&N decided to discreetly banish it from the store. An employee asked me what I wanted. “The Casual Vacancy,” I replied sheepishly. Why sheepishly? It’s my money, and I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I knew J K Rowling was going to publish a non-Harry Potter book. Screw reviews I’ve seen. I wanted it.

Books in hand, and almost $60 poorer, I left the bookstore, knowing that there were better things on which to spend the money, but nothing that would give me more pleasure. I got into my car, went to Kohl’s and bought me a shirt. Happy, I got into my car, went through the drive through of a McDonald’s, and headed home.

So? What the hell is the point?

That’s the puzzle, isn’t it? You live, you have an epiphany, and life goes on. Here soon I’ll have my degree in hand, and I’ll find a job and then what? Hopefully I’ll find someone to blur the edges of my bad memories and who will dull the hurt that I guess I’ll still have. I know I still harbor resentment. Will that ever go away?

Who knows, but I have two books to read, and a few stories percolating in my head. I have a quiz on Monday, an exam on Tuesday, and an essay to read on Wednesday. And you know, I should probably start working on my mental health project that’s due on the 25th.

Life goes on and you deal with things as they come. I’m slowly dealing with her, but you know what, she’s not as big a piece of my life and I once thought. And you know what? That puzzle piece I couldn’t figure out where it went? It doesn’t even belong to my picture and I can chuck it into the trash can.

And just like that, maybe I’ll be able to throw her away, just as she did me. She doesn’t belong in my picture so why keep her on the table, and life moves on.