Fear of Fighting
I tried to be Ben’s “cool girlfriend.” This meant that I tried to be understanding and not say I love you too much and never act like I cared when he was late. I tried not to obsess about every word and every action, every phone call and every kiss.
But if I was honest, there was nothing remotely cool about me.
If I was honest, this is what I would have said:
1) I get drunk and browse eBay for wedding dresses even though I am publicly against marriage and have been known to call it “an oppressive cultural fallacy of female entrapment.” I have written my first name attached to your last name in cursive handwriting in my notebook. I even drew a heart around it.
2) I download and masturbate to lesbian porn constructed for and marketed to straight men, make sure the cat is secure in the next room. am done I feel like I have betrayed you. And
3) I am annoyed that you have never once had a shower at my place.
4) I am still smoking despite the fact that I told you I quit 29 days ago.
5) Although I am outwardly cool about all of your friends being very attractive, very stylish, primarily single women (groupies) who think you are wonderful, I am not. Cool about it. At all.
6) I do not actually think it is “cute when you’re grumpy.” I said this because it gives the appearance of me being understanding when you’re being an asshole.
7) When I blurted out the words I love you that one time when we were having “crazy monkey sex” I actually called all of my friends and had a whiskey fuelled summit meeting regarding what I should do about it. It was only when Adrian informed me that saying I love you during sex means that a man feels like he (and I quote) “pounded you so good that he hit the I love you mechanism” that I relented on my ongoing stress and neurosis.
8) I have kept every email we have ever written to each other, now totalling 127, and when I should be filing invoices at my office job I often read through them to remind myself that you actually like me. I have also saved receipts, movie ticket stubs, motel matchbooks and the scorecard from the time we tied at dinosaur mini-golf.
9) I actually like flowers. I don’t actually believe Valentine’s Day to be a “commercialized manipulation of human partnerships,” nor do I believe “those who participate are unimaginative tools of the corporate regime who are living a pre-constructed lie.”
10) If I could punch any of your ex-girlfriends in the face without repercussions I would. And no, I do not think it is nice that one of them bought you an expensive Christmas and/or birthday present. And I am not actually trying to be her friend. I am trying to be your cool girlfriend.
Ben was not as perfect as Adrian and the rest of my friends assumed. At times he was a mess. Although outwardly, with all my panic and hypochondriac pain, it appeared that he was taking care of me, there were always those moments where I was forced to throw him in a cold shower after he got too drunk at a gig, times when I had to pull him up off the bathroom floor when he was passed out in his own puke.
It’s surprising, I know, but the beauty of what goes on behind closed doors is that very private vulnerability that happens when you’ve had way too much to drink.
One night Ben came home from the bar and decided he wanted to eat a chicken leg. Driven by this intense, misguided temptation, he opened the freezer, took out an entire chicken, pried a single leg from the rock hard frozen bird with a butcher knife, threw the mangled limb into in a sauce pot full of cold water, and put it on the stove to boil. Twenty minutes later, after a failed attempt to eat the still partially frozen leg, he shoved the entire pot in the fridge, packed a slice of stale Wonder Bread in his mouth and went to bed.
The pot, with the chicken leg still floating in it, remained in his fridge for weeks.
Not one of the three boys who lived in the house felt the need to remove the undercooked meat from its shelf above the cheese. For weeks I would see it shoved in the back of the packed fridge when I pulled out a beer or got some milk for my tea. I was trying to be a cool girlfriend, which didn’t include critiquing Ben’s ability to clean up after himself. Because of that, I simply stared at the decaying bird limb and felt powerless to say anything.
One night, after a particularly heated argument about how miserable and pathetic I had become, Ben stormed out of the house and I took that opportunity to do away with the decaying chicken leg once and for all. I took that pot from the fridge and decided to hide it in Ben’s bed before I stormed off into the night myself.
Later that night I received a phone call from Ben that began with a sincere apology and ended with, “Did you give the dog anything to eat? He’s not looking so good. And why is there an empty saucepot in my bed?”
Bill the dog ended up at the vet and after a course of antibiotics became suspicious of any food I offered him. I couldn’t even get him to lick food remnants from my fingers after snacking.
Staring at the sick dog sprawled out on the living room floor the next day, I knew that was the beginning of the end.
Breakups always begin with a vague feeling of irritation. This little itch you feel the need to scratch with snarky comments and eye-rolling.
I’m irritated you forgot to pick up cream for the coffee. I’m irritated that you broke my favourite mug. I’m irritated that you forgot to tell me we were having dinner with your parents on Sunday
You used to hold hands. You used to have sex four and a half times a week. You used to call each other for no reason.
Now you’re irritated because he looked at you wrong.
“What?” you say.
Before you know it, you go out for Chinese food and he’s ordering jelly fish salad and preserved pork just to piss you off you if you want green beans even though he knows you don’t like green beans, and when you remind him he says, “What kind of fucking person doesn’t like green beans?”
Conversation highlights include:
“You look weird in that dress.”
“You used to love this dress.”
“I’m evolving. Now I hate it.”
“How is that even possible?”
“What, I’m not allowed to change my mind?”
“For fuck’s sake, Ben. Why don’t you just have yet another drink and shut up?”
“Oh yes, another drink. Better to tolerate you with, my dear.” (Raises glass in a mock toast.)
When the bill comes he no longer reaches for the cheque, which is particularly irritating given how much you both now drink at dinner in order to tolerate each other.
One of many humiliating breakup experiences:
Calling my cell phone provider to finally cancel our “couples plan” and having the teenage customer service representative fight to retain me as a customer.
“Maybe you’ll get back together? Or maybe you have someone else you can use the plan with?”
“Well, don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll find someone soon.”
“You know what? Let’s just cancel the phone all together.”
Excerpted from Fear of Fighting by Stacey May Fowles (illustrations by Marlena Zuber)