8FOLD: Doomed Romance # 3
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Fri Jan 18 23:03:12 PST 2008
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Stacy's birthday was the occasion of our first
argument. We had agreed ahead of time that until our
financial situation improved we would not buy gifts: a
simple card would do. Stacy was very adamant about
this, and I had no reason not to take her at her word.
About an hour before she came home from work, I
scurried through my collection of birthday cards until
I found one my grandmother had given me four years
before. I crossed out my grandmother's name and
signed my own before altering the text of the card to
read "to a special girlfriend" instead of "a special
I left the card on the dining room table, the
dining room being adjacent to the apartment door. I
turned out the lights and lit a few of the scented
candles that Stacy had always shown a preference for.
I inserted one of her favourite compact discs into the
player, an anthology of love songs that had often
served as a preamble to our couplings. In short, I
thought I had did everything correctly and that she
would be satisfied.
She was far from it. She pretended to cry when she
saw the card, and she pretended to get angry when I
asked her what was amiss.
"You said you only wanted a card," I said.
"A card from you," said Stacy. "Not your
"But it is from me," I corrected, pointing out that
I had changed the salient details. "I don't
understand why you're upset."
"It's the thought that counts," she said. "And you
just weren't thinking!"
Looking back at it now, I of course can reach the
logical conclusion: she had wanted a present. She
used the ridiculous pretense of the card to mask the
fact that she had wanted a present without appearing
to want one.
My friends had told me how beautiful Stacy was
before I met her. I found her to be highly
symmetrical, large-breasted, and in possession of
clean, healthy skin, all very much in keeping with
prevailing standards of beauty. The group I was with
laughed many times at several of her comments, and she
generally held the attention of persons of both
genders: every conversation orbited around her, she
was often asked to recount apparently amusing
anecdotes from her life, and most of the group's
decisions were made at her suggestion or whim.
"She's a lot of fun," one of my friends said after.
"A little crazy, maybe, but she's a lot of fun."
Most agreed with this sentiment, stating that while
she was often flighty and undependable, they derived
great pleasure from her company.
These qualities made her a very good candidate for
a girlfriend. I added her to the three or four others
on my mental list of possible girlfriends, and
weighing the pros and cons of each one over the course
of the next several weeks, I found that Stacy was
creeping steadily towards the top of the list.
The only real negative, her flakiness, was actually
a positive as well because that ensured the
relationship would not overstay its welcome. I
figured it would take roughly two weeks of courting to
win her over, and that our relationship would last
about four to six months after that, which would allow
us enough time to celebrate my birthday while still
cutting it short before Christmas and the expenses
that it entails.
With time thus being of the essence, I quickly
contacted her and told her that I was attracted to
her. I pretended to stutter and pretended to look
away, and she pretended to be touched by all this.
She said that she was attracted to me, too-- that she
could tell that I was a serious and passionate man: I
seldom laughed, she pointed out, and my eyes were
always observing everything with a "terrible
intensity". Stacy was like that, prone to exact and
dramatic word choices that she probably thought would
The truth is, I didn't laugh because jokes are
still the one thing that throw me. All the rest of
it, I've got pretty much down pat. I know to smile
when something fortunate has taken place. I know to
cry when someone has died, and to let my mouth hang
open when I first get the news. I know that when I am
supposed to be angry, which happens very infrequently,
I am required to tense up my muscles, flare my
nostrils, kick inanimate objects and mutter
And I know that I am supposed to laugh when
something humourous has occurred, but that's just the
problem: I have no way of knowing when something
humourous has occurred. While concrete, definable
circumstances surround the other emotions, I can only
piece together "funny" from the context clues-- if
someone else is laughing, for example, or if the
person speaking is smiling excessively and speaking
quickly. In those cases, I am poised and ready to
laugh at a moment's notice. I have to listen
carefully to the speaker in order to anticipate the
shift in vocal tone that generally accompanies the
But it's still extremely inexact. Sometimes
someone is smiling simply because they're happy and
not because they're telling a joke, and so my laughter
is inappropriate. Sometimes, if they are especially
bad at telling the joke, the vocal shift occurs before
the punchline and I end up laughing before the funny
part. Perversely, if someone is considered to be very
good at telling a joke, there is no real shift between
the set-up and the punchline. In fact, many of the
mannerisms I have come to associate with "telling a
joke" are not present. In those cases, when others in
the group end up laughing hysterically, catching me
unawares, I had found it useful to explain my lack of
laughter with the words "Very droll".
But after a few embarrassing encounters (generally
laughing too hard at what was apparently not a very
funny joke), I had decided it best to simply not laugh
while still being somewhat sociable. I was
alternatively considered "moody", "serious", or
lacking in a sense of humour. And I found, much to my
surprise, that I was not ostracized for this missing
I think it's the only part a human being is allowed
to be missing. If you're missing some other part--
happiness, sadness, desire, anger, love-- it can be
And so I pretend.
I think everyone pretends, and I think my
relationship with Stacy really cemented this idea for
me. She was always pretending, always the center of
attention, always "on". She embellished stories to
apparently make them more entertaining. She spoke
very loudly and moved without any hesitation or
warning, always performing, always making an entrance
or an exit or a scene.
She even admitted as much to me once. She said
that only around me could she really be herself. That
she had to put an act for the rest of the world and
she didn't know why.
But she was never really herself around me. She
used emotions as an excuse to act illogically and to
make unreasonable demands of my attention. She cried
often, and she yelled often, for no reason that I
I don't think anyone has any emotions. We're all
liars. We've been told that we're supposed to have
emotions, that people without them are freaks, and so
we lie so that we fit in, avoid that stigma. A lot of
people have convinced themselves that they have them
after all, and I would feel pity for them if there was
such a thing as pity.
Something always had to be wrong with Stacy. She
had an appetency for turbulence. Most people, when
you ask them what's new, the answer is invariably "not
But with Stacy, something was always new and
something was always on the brink of disaster. It
didn't make any sense; she couldn't just let things
be. It was extremely confusing for me.
I tried to point out to her the illogical way in
which she was acting. I attempted to use calm, clear
reason-- the only thing that separates us from animals
and plants-- to make her stop all this crying and
screaming and nonsense. But she was impenetrable.
During one particularly bad argument, she started
hyperventilating. I could see that this conversation
was not going anywhere good anytime soon. There was
no point in having it. And I told her that much. I
said, "This conversation obviously isn't going to
solve the situation. I'm going to see a movie."
And then I left.
And the really bizarre thing was, when I got back,
she hadn't calmed down; she pretended to be even
angrier with me. In fact, she told all her friends
what had happened and they, too, thought I had acted
Sometimes I think I'm surrounded by morons.
Looking back at our time together, I've come to the
conclusion that either there was something wrong with
her brain, or that she was extraordinarily and
intentionally devious. It wasn't just that she
couldn't follow a basic and perfectly logical
argument. It was that the basic patterns of the
emotion game were skewed.
I know how the game is played: stimulus A demands
emotion A, stimulus B emotion B, and so on. Winning
the lottery demands ecstatic happiness, generally
demonstrated by jumping up and down, pumping one's
fists into the air, and screaming joyously at an
intolerably high decibel level. Whereas winning
tickets to a sporting event or concert on the radio
requires the winner to say "Really?" in a very
surprised voice, followed by meaningless ebulliences
like "Oh, wow" and "Cool". Each stimulus has its own,
finely-keyed emotion to be faked. And with Stacy, I
was often penalized for coming up with the correct
Let me give you an example. Conveniently, two
different conversations only a few days apart neatly
paralleled each other. On the first occasion, I was
penalized for making a mistake; on the second, for
getting it right.
During the first conversation, Stacy was recounting
the story of the time she crashed her car about a year
before. My previous experience with car wreck stories
was that one was to respond with shock and concern.
And so I did.
"Oh my God," I said. "Are you okay?"
And she looked at me like I was an idiot, and I
suppose in that instance I was: I had overreacted. I
realized that if the accident had happened more
recently, then that reaction would be the proper one;
because it had happened a year before, the situation
required a more subdued response.
I didn't want to repeat the same mistake, and, when
a few days later, she told me about the time five
years before when she was raped, I gave the proper
response. "Oh, that's too bad, then."
And then, inexplicably, she acted as if she was
enraged and we got into the biggest row we had had up
to that time. It was insane.
And so, either the wires were crossed in her brain,
in which case she thought anger was the proper
reaction to my reaction, or she knew exactly what she
was doing and was maliciously trying to drive me out
of my mind.
As time wore on, I began to suspect her more and
more of the latter. That's probably why during the
last month or so of our relationship I embarked onto a
bold new experiment.
During one of our arguments, she said something
along the lines of, "Why won't you be honest with me?
I just want you to be honest with me. Just be
Now, most of my previous girlfriends had said
something to that effect, and it had never really
phased me before. But this time, I thought, why not?
Why not drop my safety net, why not stop pretending?
Maybe, I figured, maybe that's what she really
wanted. Maybe she realizes that emotions are a big
giant fraud, and she wants to see if you know. So I
called her bluff. I started being myself.
The first thing I noticed in this new stratagem is
that it greatly reduced our conversations. I no
longer felt it necessary to give lip-service to such
domestic trivialities as "That's nice, dear" or
"How're you doing?" I stopped inquiring how her day
was, as I had no real desire to find out. She
persisted in asking me, though, and I answered when I
felt like answering.
I stopped saying "I love you", as I knew it wasn't
true. Sometimes she would say "I love you" several
times in the row, hoping to prod me to respond in
kind. If I said anything at all, it was simply
I had thought, and had hoped, that this new
stratagem would calm her down. It did not. In fact,
she became more erratic. I had thought that by being
honest, she would stop asking me to be honest. But
quite the opposite was true: she accused me more than
ever of bottling up my feelings.
I tried to explain to her that I didn't have any
feelings, that nobody does, that they don't exist,
that there's no such thing as love. But she refused
to listen; she clung to her fiction.
Perhaps at that point in time, I should have
doubled-back and pretended to have emotions again.
But I remained committed to my decided course of
About a week before I was scheduled to break up
with her, I found her dead in the bathroom. She had
most taken several pills, I was to discover later. I
made a cursory attempt at reviving her and called 911
more or less immediately. It would look bad
The paramedics also failed.
The funeral was held a few days later. I read a
poem but did not pretend to cry. I heard whispers
that I was still in a state of shock, that it hadn't
hit me yet. Everyone knew I loved her, they said;
even her friends, in whose eyes she had vilified me,
were supportive and nonjudgmental.
I watched her mother pretend to cry and throw
herself over the box. I wanted to tell her how stupid
she looked, how stupid they all looked, but I opted
There was no real palpable difference to me between
the way things ended with Stacy and the way they did
with previous girlfriends. Sure, she was dead, but
either way the relationship was over and so, really, I
was the same either way. One plus is that her mother
more-or-less let me keep all of the stuff in the
apartment, so there was no acrimonious divvying up.
I didn't really think about her at all much
afterwards. Though about seven or eight months later
I came across a photograph of her.
I stared at it for a long, long time.
And I think that I may have felt something then. I
don't know what it was; it was only there for an
instant. If emotions do exist after all, it's quite
possible that it was one of those. But as I had
nothing to compare it to, there was no way for me to
really be sure.
I don't really think about Stacy anymore, but I do
think about that moment. I wonder if it really
happened or, if like I suspect is the case with
everyone else in the world, I just fooled myself into
thinking it did.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2008 TOM RUSSELL.
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