Thursday, July 23, 2009

"X" Previously Published in 2002 by Three Rivers Press, The Dictionary of Failed Relationships

\‘eks\ often capitalized, often attributive
noun (before 12th century) 1a: the 24th letter of the English alphabet. b: a graphic representation of this letter. 2: an unknown quantity. 3 : A former lover, also ex.
transitive verb (circa 1849) 1 : to mark with an x. 2: to cancel or obliterate with a series of x’s—usually used with out.

X: A Wholly Fictional Essay by Suzanne Finnamore

“One should never know too precisely whom one has married.” Friedrich Nietzsche

This is, as they say, a long story, but one with undeniably entertaining moments—some of which informed my workings as a functioning adult, one who has recently turned two hundred. Actually, thirty-six. I just feel two hundred.

I am soon to be divorced, for the second time. I should be ashamed, but I’m not. I’m inconvenienced mostly. Sometimes sad, sometimes grateful, as though I have been untied from the train tracks of life. You can be sad and grateful at the same time; that’s one thing I’ve learned. Also, property is everything. Buy the bastards out if necessary.

As always with a major breakup, and particularly divorce, I feel devastated yet freed, much like one of Lincoln’s slaves: I don’t know quite what to do with myself, but I am aware that a pressure has been lifted; constraints broken. For example, I am writing this while eating an individually wrapped Ding Dong, a small detail that I can’t help but include. Could I do that while married? Interesting. Like a photographer at the scene of a crime, I am intent on documenting everything, so that it may lessen the blow of actual firsthand reality, which assaults me daily.

I suppose I should start with Ex#2—also known as Soon-To-Be-Ex #2, or S2BX2—my currently estranged husband, age forty-two years, of five years. (Estranged is a perfect word; it efficiently includes the word strange.) I have recently been forced to acknowledge that ever since my second trimester last year, when I began to look like a gourd with legs, S2BX2 has been having affairs, even though he is, on the surface, remarkably trustworthy and likable. Perhaps that has been the problem. He has been too well liked, mostly by people with large breasts and an i at the end of their first name. He sells luxury cars for a living and is strikingly good looking, in that eventually you want to strike him. He cannot pass a mirror without doing the Sears-model half-turn, with that hand-in-pants-pocket-and-one-eyebrow-cocked move.

Historically, there is X1—my first husband, who is convinced that we should have stayed together, even though he tried to poison me with Snail Death after an argument concerning joint checking. He sprinkled some on my English muffin. “Just a little,” he said. “I didn’t mean it. If I had meant it, you’d be dead now. I always follow through on the things that are important to me.” So it was just a gesture. A shot across the bow. I ate half and was fine, if you don’t count the vomiting and headaches that persisted for a month, too long for X1 to suppress the brilliance of his plan. I did not press charges. Instead, I filed for crucifixion (his), otherwise known as divorce.

X1 has never remarried. He is far too busy making my life a living hell and going through mental scrapbooks of our sordid years together in the eighties (Reagan was president; a lot of bad shit went down). He will call and say, “Do you remember the time we made spinach lasagna in the middle of the night?” We were stoned, I say. I don’t remember. “Well, it was raining,” he said. “We were watching Bewitched on Nick At Nite, the episode where Dr. Bombay cures Darren from telling the truth.”

X1 is like a damn elephant. He never forgets anything, except the small detail of the SnailDeath incident. “Why can’t you forgive me?” he says. He says I need to work on my doubts, jealousies, and insecurities before I can rediscover our love.
X1 says we will always love each other, and that it’s because of my Karma that my marriage to S2BX2 is breaking up. He generally feels that the fact that I got married and had a child with X2 was just a minor passage. He will not validate any portion of my life that took place after October 11, 1990, which is the day we divorced. Every wedding anniversary, he still sends flowers, and on the anniversary of our divorce too, with a card that says We Are Mean to Be Together. I don’t know whether he means to leave out the T in Meant or not. It’s the kind of joke he would enjoy, especially the not explaining part. He is about an inch away from being one of R. Crumb’s brothers—the one that’s a street person, who swallows string and then pulls it back out his ass and starts over.

Then there’s the Crazy-Ass Bitch (CAB). CAB is the woman my temporarily still husband (S2BX2) sold a pre-owned automobile to and with whom he had his most recent affair; CAB turned out to be a bit of a psychotic—sewing his boxers shut and Krazy-gluing the pockets of his suits shut when he had the temerity to suggest that perhaps this was a “transitional relationship.” So whereas once he was proffering yellowfin tuna down her lily-white throat and knocking back sake as if it were oxygen, now he wishes she would fall down a cement stairwell. She turned out to have quite the stamina and imagination. I will give her that. She has taken the job of torturing S2BX2 right out of my hands. It’s really too delightful. The irony is that now that he wants to get rid of her, he attempts to hide out at my place. I almost never allow it, except for when he comes to see our daughter. There’s a grease spot where his car used to be, and I like seeing it. I don’t want his car covering it up again.

“I told her we reconciled,” he says. “Can I just park my car here in the driveway?”

“I don’t even want your toothpicks here.” I say. The multi-colored toothpicks that I packed up along with his martini shaker in the large cardboard box of his belongings, which he was loading into his car as he asked for sanctuary. Imbecile.

The silver martini shaker should have been my first clue that there was serious trouble, at the instant that he brought it home from Restoration Hardware. Its “James Bond time in the suburbs” vibe should have been my clue. James Bond never married, and was an international spy. He never gets old, either; he is just recast. S2BX2 was trying to be James Bond. I was in the way, like someone standing in front of the television. It is possible that CAB was originally cast as Pussy Galore.

CAB calls me on the phone, making heavily nuanced statements (for example, “You need to let him go, you bitch!”) CAB sends me chihuahua turds wrapped in heart-embossed tissue, a dozen clam pizzas, and nasty notes in her childish scrawl. Like Glenn Close, CAB will not be ignored. She is the artist formerly known as Small-Foot Bitch, because while we were still together, I found a charge on S2BX2’s credit card from Neiman’s, and he swore it was a gift for me and that it was in his office. So he brought it home that night, and it was a pair of Manolo Blahniks—size four. He said he was going to just give me the sample size, and then I could exchange it for my own size, which is nine. And I believed him. That was during the time when I wanted to believe, was desperate to believe. If he had said that the earth is flat, I would have said, “As a fucking pancake.”

But that’s all over now. We’re in the vortex of uncoupling. Working on the legal settlement, alternately hating each other’s guts and waxing nostalgic, still having occasional sex. It’s incredibly complex, and you can’t explain it to people. They either make you feel pitiful or guilty. Neither are emotions that I covet. I mean, no one got this excited when we got married. They just showed up and drank too much, ate the roast beef and poached salmon. Plus, it was over in a day. Divorce is much slower, more protracted. It’s like LSD time. Not that I would know. I mean, I don’t even take Tylenol, not after they killed those people. (It’s not like I’m lucky, either. I mean, look. Take a good look. Maybe you can avoid my life. Maybe you can steer around it.)
Divorce, unlike marriage, has a crazy schemata of its own. It’s like the soapbox derby that they have at the top of twin peaks every third Sunday in San Francisco: There are no rules. You can put a 1950s stove on wheels and wear a chef’s hat, and that can be your soapbox derby racer. Or, you can make a ratmobile with a long, hairless tail made of licorice. Mine would be a Pottery Barn couch on wheels with me and the baby and no husband, careening down the hill, screaming. CAB would be right behind on a Ninja bike. X1 would be on a huge, Styrofoam English muffin that’s embroidered with live snails spelling out COME BACK, BABY!

S2BX2 is always saying he loves me, too. The way he expresses it is through filing for divorce and screwing the Crazy-Ass Bitch. “And that’s just the ones we know about,” my best friend, Sarina, says. Yeah. Right, I say. She would like his penis to fall off, the way a baby’s umbilical cord does, in the middle of the night. Noooo, I’m still using it, I say thoughtfully.
“What would Gloria Steinem say?” Sarina asks, mildly reproachful. I don’t know, I reply. “What would Camille Paglia say?” she asks. I don’t know, I say annoyed. Let the lesbians duke it out among themselves. This is my divorce. I can do it however I want. I can have a party if I want to. I can frame the divorce petition, in a silver frame. I can do that. In fact, I have done that. It’s in my office. It makes a fantastic conversation piece.

S2BX2, although admittedly great in bed, is a lifetime-achievement cheater. He was the kid who always insisted on being the banker in Monopoly games and then won, pulling five-hundreds out of thin air. But it’s all he knows how to do. He’s never been faithful to anyone. He’s like an epileptic pilot that way and should not be working for Air Monogamy. Here’s something interesting. Since we separated, we are having more sex than ever. I have become the Other Woman. Plus, I get checks now. I never got checks before. So there’s that. It’s called Spousal Support monies. It should be called Keep Quiet, Bitch monies. Stay Away from My Lexus with That Icepick monies. Why don’t they call things what they are?

I’ve decided I am through with clever, charming men. I want someone simple, maybe even slightly retarded. I’m thinking one ear. A simpleton, anyway. I call my girlfriends for talk. Men don’t want to talk after the first year; they just want you to do their laundry and screw doggy style. Men are nice, but they are not strictly necessary, the way ketchup is to French fries. You can do without. I will do without. For at least the next few hours. God, this celibacy is grueling. I mean, divorce. Divorce is grueling. But I will keep doing it until I get it right. Either marriage or divorce. One of them I must perfect. Clearly, this is my life plan.
Tomorrow, I will see S2BX2. He’s coming over to visit our daughter. What should I wear? I must look fantastic. I must harm him in at least one aspect. Even though he filed for divorce, winning still seems possible. I will meditate on it. I will go to the closet and exclude mercy from my selection of attire. This is war.

I decide on the outfit from Bebe, a store I formerly eschewed because its clothes would perfectly attire a prostitute on Nob Hill. And yet, last week I could not resist the blatant allure of the flimsy and the stringy and the clothes that say, “Come get me, you great big hunk of a man.”

Bebe. The saleswomen all appear to be from an alternate planet, where there are no pores or breasts. Not a menstrual period among them. They twirl about like skeletal tops and pay no attention whatsoever to me, and for this I commend them. I need none of their attention, I am more than capable of humiliating myself on my own and prefer it thus. One of the girls is on the store telephone to her boyfriend, telling him that she hates him and then laughing maniacally, putting the phone down for a minute to her bony chest, and then bringing it back up to trill, “I do. I do hate you!” She has a diamond in her nose, a precious rock fastened onto her very nose. I have nothing fastened anywhere and resolve to keep it that way, for aerodynamic speed and efficiency. Also, I feel no urge to have tiny metal spikes rammed through my body tissue so that I may look like gay Zulu.

I choose a pair of capri pants that are a Gucci knockoff, bright sixties paisley against black background, side zipper. My blouse is silk chiffon and terrifyingly expensive; it matches the pants perfectly in that let’s-kill-all-the-homeless kind of aplomb. These clothes are the opposite of actual clothing. For this, I am thankful, because actual clothing has gotten me into my current situation. I need costuming—the more inappropriate and scanty, the better.

S2BX2 calls from his cellular telephone to say he will be late because he thinks—no, he is certain—that CAB is following him in a red Ford Escort GT. I ask him how he knows it is her, and he says she has a pink garter belt hanging from her rearview mirror. I wonder aloud how far one has to search to find her exact blend of intelligence, wit, and style. S2BX2 screeches around a corner, announcing that he has lost her, breathing heavily. It is entirely possible that he is masturbating. I put nothing past him.

When he finally arrives, he is red faced and somehow icy at the same time. He seems to feel a sense of effrontery that I have kept the connubial home. He wanders around, picking up cigar ashtrays and candlesticks and coasters, his lips curled tightly. He is taking a mental inventory of everything I have bought since he left. It all seems to insult his memory, his legacy. I am certain he felt that after he left, I would transform our home into a museum, along with my vagina. He is so often mistaken about the most basic truths of life.

“When did you get this?” he asks, holding up the edge of a pumpkin silk chenille throw.

Oh that, I say brightly, walking past him just close enough so he can smell me. I have taken the liberty of daubing Jil Sander No. 4 behind each ear. I have spent perfume on him, and it is not in vain. I can see by the way he shoves his hands into his pants pockets that he is nervous and excited. He wants to discuss CAB, but I wave my hand in the air, as if to dry my fingernails. My work is done here. I escort him to the door, kissing our daughter and telling her to have a wonderful time with Daddy. I am channeling Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, only younger. I shut the door behind him and twirl the deadbolt shut, so that he can hear its sound. So that it is the last sound. Not only have I had the last word, I have had the last sound.

After he has gone, and upon checking my e-mail, I am horrified to discover that yes, the whole world has gone mad and is calling this madness spiritualism. I am in receipt of an electronic Tantra Nepalese Totem. I am instructed to send copies to whomever I think is in need of good fortune. In my mind, of course, I choose both my husbands, past and present, and their respective mistresses. The Tantra Nepalese Totem includes vital advice, such as “Eat plenty of whole rice,” and “Don’t believe anything you hear” and “Do not sleep as much as you would like to.” It’s just this kind of thing that keeps me believing that computers are black holes and should be avoided.

In continuation of intestinal self-destructive mode, I drive through Burger King for lunch. Waxing maternal, I decide I am a growing girl just as my daughter is, and that I need protein. I order a five-piece chicken nugget pack. After nearly maiming a pedestrian who has stepped out into traffic—as if it is his right as a United States citizen—I grab the paper bag, take one bite and am startled. It turns out that the food handlers had temporarily lapsed in their blinding efficiency. It is a jalapeño cheese nugget pack. Outraged, I take another bite: terrifyingly delicious. I save the rest for cocktail hour, reheating them in the microwave—even better than I had originally estimated.

Meanwhile, S2BX2 is coming on Saturday with cheap, Irish movers to get his furniture and boxes. Arguments loom over who gets the pewter pepper grinder, electric pencil sharpener, weather vane, et cetera. I think this will be the last horrible thing we have to go through, until he moves in with a size-zero receptionist and the whole travesty begins again. I myself have an invisible sign that reads DON’T DATE ME, I CHAIN-SMOKE, I’M BITTER, AND I INCLUDE A GRABBY TODDLER; this has dramatically decreased my social life. Have now resigned myself to a lifetime of jalapeño cheese bites, midrange wine, and Seinfeld reruns. Why has no one proposed yet? I feel bad about that. I should have been asked by now; divorce will be final Tuesday. Lowering standards by the minute, but still nothing. Recently decided that the contractor working on the construction site down the street looked like Robert Downy Jr.. Slowed car down and tried to look available, despite toddler seat in the back and Elmo sunshade. Then, today, he looked like Edward Norton. I know my vision is impaired and cannot be trusted with even the simplest tasks, much less dating. Not that I have come within talon distance of a man.

I would have to run over the Downy/Norton contractor to meet him: jump the curb, ruin German car, chance arrest. Even running him over may not ensure an introduction. Maybe I could just clip him as he crosses the street? This would require keener eyesight than I apparently have. I would probably clip him into a coma.

I’m just not sending out the right vibe lately. Perhaps the fact that I frequently wear stained sweatpants and free, editing-house, XL T-shirts is holding me back. Save for the recent escapade with the Bebe attire, I just can’t seem to get back into the daily donning of intelligent-slut-for-hire outfits that lure men. Even shoes with laces evade me. Plus, my hair is Fran Lebowitz-esque. I think my eyes are getting closer together. I don’t know. Judgment clouded.

To make matters exceptionally worse, my brother is getting married next month. It’s all I can do to keep from chopping his foot off to deter this obvious mistake. Still, I feign happiness for him. His wedding should be interesting. They’re doing it in a Catholic church and I plan to wear something smart, like army fatigues. I may accessorize with an assault rifle. I don’t want anyone to get married right now. Why can’t people consider my feelings? Selfishness of world continues to astound me.

Mail order shopping is shaping up as an issue. Bought a floor lamp last night, plaid cashmere pajamas, and twelve pairs of cotton raglan socks. This should fill out my divorce wardrobe nicely. New lines on my face are popping up with hideous regularity. The beginnings of a mustache intrigue me—surely, this is not the right response. One leg seems longer than the other. Where will it end? Yet, just now, I am unexpectedly cheered by a news item appearing on my computer screen:

Chronic work stress and divorce can be a deadly combination for men, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the State University of New York-Oswego studied data from 12,366 patients who participated in the seven-year Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial.
Of 10,904 men who were married at the beginning of the trial, the researchers found that those who stayed married were less likely to die from a number of causes than those who divorced. Of those who divorced during the trial, 1,332 died from various causes, including some 663 from cardiovascular causes. (Reuters)

Information is so invigorating. So much of it on how to get a man, so little of it on how to get rid of one. To this end, I proffer a handy list, which I have been compiling for my divorcing girlfriends, some of whom have clearly been born yesterday and need my advice as well as physical intervention. One of them actually had moved out from her home after she caught her rabbi husband with his hand up the nanny. I immediately alerted said girlfriend to the folly of her actions, installed her back in her home, and changed the locks myself. As for the mezuzah on the doorframe, I bashed it off with a sledgehammer and mailed it to his temple, along with the Polaroids (one needn’t ask what was within the photos; Polaroids are never lucky, I am afraid, unless properly dealt with). She looked on as I sealed the envelope, tears frozen on her once-blossoming cheeks, which had turned the color of ash.

Yes. It is sad what ignorance does to women without resources who have been struck with an infidelity. It can and will render them childlike, like palsied Shirley Temples, throwing themselves on the floor and crying about the general unfairness of life, et cetera. I try to be kind but firm, and in the end they all thank me. It looks like a hothouse here come Christmas, so numerous are my bouquets of thanks from women who have lost neither their minds nor their shirts.

I hope that no one reading this will ever be faced with the travesty of divorce. It should not happen to any good woman. But if it does? If you fall in with the wrong kind, the way I did? Be glad for divorce. It is God’s way of telling you Girl? You have fucked up again! Now, here I’m going to give you a chance to start over. Go out there and please, please, please show some sense. Don’t make me come down there again and bail your ass out.

Ten Simple Yet Elegant Keys To Divorce

1. Change the locks.

2. Make him pay for the divorce—and anything else you can.

3. Keep everything beginning with consonants (children, money, house, cars, furniture, real estate, medical benefits, retirement funds, linens).

4. Allow him to keep everything beginning with vowels (armoires, umbrellas).

5. Sequester precious items at a friend’s house. Men never remember what they have—if they did, they would not have ruined their lives by running around with whores.

6. Don’t fight in front of the children.

7. …“Children” includes your X/STBX. Fighting only adds gasoline to the fire. He won’t care how angry you are, because he exists wholly in his own tiny birdcage of a brain.

8. Take lots of baths; get manicures and pedicures; have your hair expensively cut.

9. Everything, no matter how ludicrous and squalid it seems at the time of the split, will get better and better, until you will wonder why you cared so much in the first place.

10. When confronted with a question regarding fairness to your ex, err on the side of Lifetime Vendetta. That way, you will never feel a fool, and you will also have kept everything of worth in your rightful possession. In short: You may have once been in love, or you may still be in love—but you are not crazy.


jelly said...

i really enjoyed that.
thanks for sharing.

i finished 'the zygote chronicles' and now i have 'otherwise engaged' on hold at my library. i guess i'm reading your books in a mixed up order, huh?
my silly ass library doesn't even have 'split'.
i wonder why?

i have a birthday coming up. i am going to ask for this book for a present.

i just got home from a weekend at the beach, i feel sandy, warm and sunkissed.

i really don't want to go to work tomorrow, but the bills must be paid and books must be bought.

happy sunday.



thank you kym. it's good to hear from you and thanks for supporting what i loosely refer to as my Body of Work. ;)


The Cockrells said...

thanks for being a blogger! i've read all your books and had no idea, even though i've been blogging myself for 6 years!

came upon your 1st book by chance at my public library about 4 years ago, finished it in 2 days, and immediately googled you for further reads. no luck. but then i found zygote, and then i was thrilled when you released this last one (though not thrilled to learn you went through the divorce--sorry for that).

anyway, i try to pass on your novels to all my girlfriends, but my BFF has had them for QUITE a while now--must harass her, as the wealth must be shared.

keep the writing coming!

thanks, gayla


gayla, i will commence to try! thanks for reading and commenting. writing is a lonely business.... xo sf

Carrie Wilson Link said...

If he had said that the earth is flat, I would have said, “As a fucking pancake.”

Smiled the whole way through, but spit out my coffee over this one.


love u carrie! your Mary Seeds did the trick. plus the st joseph statue i buried in the front yard of my old house which finally sold after 10. months. gak!!!

Adia Belle said...


I am a huge augusten burroughs fan. in fact, he may have changed my life just by writing about his. i am new to blogging and began searching for his blog. i did not find it but there are no mistakes in life because i found yours instead. i can't get enough of you. you make sense. your writing speaks out loud. those you quote and the content you choose to pull from them has affected me deeply.

now, i realize this comment is sappy and perhaps a bit overwhelming but i have to say that i have always written, always. even when i haven't felt like writing, the writing makes me write. starting at a very young age.

however it's been a while since i've actually allowed the words to come out and i can't stop. i've had a blog for a week and i can't stop blogging!

thank you for being a daily inspiration to me while i begin writing again. you're truly gifted, brilliant and cool. rock on.


oh, thank you. you're lovely and you have made my day. xo sf