I was walking down Damen Ave. when a stranger stopped me and asked, “Hey, wasn’t that you I saw yesterday having an argument with your girlfriend?” He then joked, “Can I have your autograph?”, before walking on.
Yesterday afternoon, Olive and I were walking down Division St., hot as piss, hungry, and looking to stretch a large portion of the last $20 in my pocket into some sandwiches from Subway. That’s when I bumped into an old associate. I introduced her to Olive, we exchanged pleasantries, and it took too many sentences to end the meeting. Annoying as hell, but nice as fuck, I allowed this old associate to take her time saying goodbye. She even tossed Olive an, “You’ve got a good guy,” as she walked off.
And that’s when my lover uttered, “Oh, no I don’t,” only loud enough for me to hear. But that was the last straw.
I’d spent the entire summer paying for her life on my adjunct professor salary, plus the little supplemental income I’ve been able to hustle up. Olive hadn’t worked in months, but we were in this together, so what was mine, was hers. How this compounded the stress in my life was lost on Olive, for she constantly treated me as if I were the asshole I’d been in past relationships. ‘Oh, no I don’t’, was another reminder that even after four years of suffering through being single, and then finding love, I was still doomed to pay for past mistakes. And pay for it, I shall, should this break up take.
When I say past mistakes, I mean mistakes anyone could make. Over the course of a decade, I’d cheated on partners, had bad one night stands, but spent four years correcting myself, before Olive came along. She never knew to what degree my indiscretions were, but it wouldn’t have mattered. This was a woman who made me feel bad for masturbating and for having had casual sex. I’m as far from perfect as it gets, but I was very good to her. I never lied, cheated. I was nurturing, romantic, appreciative. Vulnerable. I’d given this woman 100% ever since she arrived on my doorstep last October. And when that wasn’t enough, I gave her more. And this was a woman who didn’t even give oral sex.
So yesterday, her snide comment pushed me over the edge, so far that I lost my appetite. I stormed up Damen Ave., Olive on my heels. “Let’s just stop this,” she repeated, in her pouty, Polish accent. But it was too late. I tried to rush ahead of her, but she kept pace. The more she pleaded with me to stop, the louder I analyzed my anger towards her. We went a block or so before intersecting passersby, who became both audience and extras in the background. Olive grabbed me, but I snatched away, and then held my arms above my head, as I shouted for her to get away from me.
I’ve dated outside of my race ever since I began dating, but this was the first time I was aware of it. Odds were against my favor if the situation escalated. All witnesses would’ve seen is a black man in conflict with a white woman, especially in this scene of mostly first generation WickerPark transplants from Lincoln Park and the suburbs. So, avoiding physical contact, I kept shouting, making my hurt and anger clear to everyone to hear. Though the closer we returned to my block, the calmer I became. Olive got the point, but she only used my concession to get angry, herself.
There is a spot in my apartment, maybe 4 feet in diameter, where Olive and I never fight. We would always retreat to that spot, but it moves around a lot. Sometimes it’s the couch, the counter in the kitchen, or in the bed. But when we returned home, the spot was hard to find. The arguing continued. Blame and insults see-sawed back and forth over the
next twenty hours, until Olive finally left.
And now, for me at least, our break up won’t truly take until I’ve burned all the fluid in the lighter she left behind, not till I’ve eaten all the pancake batter we bought together some early summer morning ago. And also then, there is the bar of soap we both used down to the size of a puppy’s tongue, the half full carton of almond milk she insisted I buy, the just opened jar of veganaise, and the two and a half seasons left of a Danish television series on Netflix. Not until all of these things are gone, will this break up take. For me, at least.
After six tries over the past ten months, this was the final time, as I’ve claimed to friends before. But after six break ups, I think we’ve gotten the hang of it. Whose fault it was got lost in a blur of past arguments. Another break up was as inevitable as our love ever coming into being in the first place. It ended for the same for the same reasons it always ended, except in this instance my shallow well of supplemental income has nearly dried up, and news came that my landlord isn’t renewing my expiring lease. Not to mention the void I feel from finishing my two-volume novel. So this break up couldn’t have come at a worse time, but all that matters now is embracing it.
And I don’t mean embrace in the sense of completely letting go, for I find myself wandering into the kitchen and speaking to Alice, the plant my ex got last winter. “Alice,” I say. “She’s really not coming back this time. But let’s silently wish for her return. 1, 2, 3, and wish.” Then I stand next to the plant, its top leaves reaching shoulder length with me. And we silently wish for my lover, its mother, to return. But then I go into the front room, and kneel down in front of the window, hoping the breeze will wipe away memories of her. This is embracing it.
Embracing this break up means leaving my phone at home when I walk to Walgreen’s after 10 p.m. to buy items for a cheap meal, but coming back home and checking for messages right away. And when there are none, I try as hard as I can to ignore the sight of my phone.
During the break up before this last one, she texted me around 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday night. I fucking hate you. I hope you die, it read. We hadn’t talked in about 13-16 days. And once the initial shock wore off, the surprise of hearing from her, I found it touching, knowing she missed me. And perhaps she’d had enough time to reassess her mistakes. She’d never admit to it, but proved she had, upon returning to me.
Oh, and our names aren’t Olive and Pierre. They’re the names we used when we were writing letters to each other last summer. Olive and I met in the summer of 2002. I won’t call what we did back then dating, but we spent some sentimental time together, before parting ways a month or so later. Over the years, she’d always come to mind, especially since the first poem I ever got published was about her. And then in fall of 2013, one of my favorite musicians, Moonface, released an album with Olive’s real name in the title. I listened to it endlessly, thoughts of that summer with her swelled up. So late last spring, I sought her out on Facebook.
IM’s led to long emails. And long emails led to long conversations on the phone. Olive was working on a farm in Oregon, living in a yurt, and single. She had no desire to come back to Chicago, wanting to stay away from big cities, and her family, but we were falling in love. This coupled with the fact that farm life was wearing her down, Olive accepted my invitation to come stay with me for as long as she liked. But I first had to convince her that my social life had slowly down dramatically. Being that I was home every night talking to her, one would think it wouldn’t have been an issue.
But trust was an issue, slightly at first, and completely unwarranted. I didn’t know how much it was an issue, until Olive came to Chicago. She began our relationship with the perception that I stunk from a stranger’s bed, beer in one hand, another girl texting my phone, in the other. There never was a clue of my bad behavior, because there wasn’t such a thing. Trust issues, uncanny and unwarranted, plagued our relationship. Though she blamed it on me being a city boy, the true cause of Olive’s trust issues stemmed from her family.
Abandoned by her father and neglected by her mother, I saw signs thirteen years ago
of the verbal abuse Olive would deflect upon me. By her own admission, she’d left a trail of broken hearts, boys who’d let her take her shit out on them, until she got bored, and moved on. But I wasn’t the one. In my error, I barked back, just as loud. And then we’d make up, recognize the problem, and then repeat.
But when we weren’t fighting, we were best friends, intimate lovers. We formed a bond that I’d never experienced before. Ironically, I don’t think I could ever trust another as much as I trusted Olive. Only, every time we got closer, she found a reason to run away. Knowing of my short fuse, and how to light it, Olive would ignite me, most times out of nowhere, and then blame me for the explosion. One of the few things I can hold onto as I move forward is knowing when 100% wasn’t enough, I gave more. But look at what it has cost me.
It’s been fifteen days. The weather has dropped, and so with it my health. I make myself a lemon juice and cayenne pepper shot. And I make as it as well as Olive would if she were here, even leave the lemon on the cutting board overnight, as she would’ve done. I’m doing well at sticking to routine, in an effort to let her go. I convince myself that she doesn’t hurt, that she let go. The list of all the reasons she isn’t good for me grows, but there is no reasoning with the heart.
When memories of us lying in each other’s arms in the middle of the day flicker in my mind, I latch onto the flashes of blackness. And it is in this space where I remind myself of all the awful things she’d said and done. Alas, the wish for her to come back lingers, for these are things I’ve already forgiven her for. And her reluctance to meet me half way is a major reason we’ve been in this mess six times.
I used to tell Olive all the time, mostly in an impassioned effort to will ourselves back to peace, I’d say, “We’ve been invited to a place, but we have to get there together.” Perhaps we’ll never get to that place. Perhaps we already did, and didn’t know it. The first time Olive and I made love, she made me promise to never leave her. I’m not sure if it would’ve made a difference had I made her make the same promise. All I know for sure is that I feel dead inside, but I’m going to go out and dance.
Separate names with a comma.