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Miranda S. Miller recently graduated summa cum laude from Cleveland State University, where she double-majored in creative
writing and communication. In spring 2009, she won CSU's creative writing contest as well as the Plain Dealer Excellence in
Writing Award. She is a writer, an editor, an amateur photographer and an avid traveler.
Miranda S. Miller
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Alex


He fell in love with your voice, your laugh. He locked eyes on you during a staff meeting and couldn't look away. Within months,
you were finishing each other's sentences. It warmed your heart that he would wake up first on Sunday morning to clean up the
hairball your cat coughed up so you wouldn't step in it.

Eventually you found the cache of porn on his computer, the vulgar posts on Howard Stern's forum. You stopped having sex
because he'd get high before coming over and couldn't get it up. He swore that wasn't the reason, so you developed a complex,
thinking it was your fault. After a year of dating, you realized you'd never once spent a holiday with him; he'd spent them all
with his parents. The next year was no different.

"I think I was happy before I met him," you muse on a half-hourly basis. You know for a fact you painted your nails more often.
Still, you spend each alternate half hour convincing yourself you're still in love with him, reminiscing about that week in the
Bahamas, the three-day weekend in Niagara Falls, the weekend you bought a puppy. You'd hate to think of all your inside jokes
going to waste, so you ask your doctor to phone in an antidepressant to your pharmacy. You sleep more and cry less.

                                                              ~

Now he sits opposite you in the booth of an Indian restaurant downtown, sliding chicken
makhani from one end of his plate to
the other, not eating, as you shovel curry into your smirking lips. Lips that haven't seen an antidepressant in weeks. His eyes
welled the second you sat down. You always used to sit on the same side of the booth. At every restaurant you frequented, the
hostesses called you some variation of "the cute couple".

"You look great," he says, glancing up at you, and you smile. But it isn't a nice smile, a thank-you smile. It's a you're-going-to-
miss-me-when-I'm-gone smile. Two months ago he showed up on your doorstep at two a.m. on Christmas Eve having just
returned from a two-week trip to Amsterdam, where he smoked pot with his 58-year-old mother in coffee shops, where he may
or may not have fucked a hooker. In the time you've been together, he's seen the freckles smattering your shoulders from your
second-degree sunburn in Florida, the occasional stray black hair that crops up on your right wrist and left forearm. He's no
doubt noticed that your teeth aren't as white as Jessica Simpson's. He knows your breasts wouldn't exist without a Wonderbra.
So, when he stood on your doorstep, chin hanging to his chest, wanting to know why you hadn't returned his calls, why you
didn't miss him, and you wanted to scream, "Fuck off" — you didn't. Because you didn't want this to be the way he remembered
you, in flannel jammies, hair piled on your head in a lopsided ponytail, leftover mascara smudged beneath your eyes like a
linebacker. You didn't want him to leave shrugging his shoulders, thinking he could do better.

But, of course, he didn't invite you to dinner tonight to let you leave. He's promising you the sun, the moon, the stars and his
dead grandmother's wedding ring if only you'll give him one more chance to make you miserable. Unfortunately for him, you'd
rather workout on your lunch hour than bicker with him in the park like you did all last summer and you've taught your dog
more than enough vocabulary words to adequately hold up what used to be his end of the conversation.

Still he rambles on and on, fork in hand, reminding you of one particular afternoon you'd spent in Nassau, talking, laughing and
digging in the sand with toothpick-sized sticks that washed up. You poked at things you were afraid to touch. Shells resembling
tubeworms or the fossilized vertebrae of some small sea creature. With each new discovery, you both hunched down for a
closer look then flung it away with an "Eww!" or a baritone "Bwuh!" He'd waded out chest-deep to explore the ocean floor,
pulling shells, driftwood and smooth green glass out of the sand to be caged on your bedroom dresser, and you yelled, "Look!"
while holding up a blue crab leg. He'd fought the tide to see what you'd found, and, while it was the most interesting thing
either of you encountered that day, you were both a little surprised and horrified that you actually picked it up. A gull sat at
your right ankle, waiting for you to drop it. Later you walked the length of the island and made love in the sugary sand.

He knows that if he keeps talking, you will break. You always have. You promise yourself you won't. You think about your cube-
neighbor Mary saying, "Oh, Moon," her fifty-four year old face turning downward more than usual, "you can do so much better."
That's what she's drilled into your head since the day you met her. Maybe it's her fault you broke up with him.

"I love you," he says, reaching across the table, cupping one clammy hand over yours.

And as the first tear slides down your left cheek, you resent him for sitting up a little straighter, for knowing he has you right
where he wants you.
                                                              ~

A month later, he exits your bathroom holding the long-handled blue and white comb you use to detangle your long bleached-
blonde hair, smiling, an expectant look in his eyes. He's expecting you to thank him for removing the fistful of hair that had
been twisted around the teeth, but all you can think about is him sitting on the toilet, your comb in his hand.

"You used my fingernail clippers on it, didn't you?" you ask, already knowing the answer.

"Yeah." He looks proud of himself. Like it took an inordinate amount of ingenuity to think of using nail clippers to snip all the hair
wrapped around the teeth of the comb.

"Thanks," you say, avoiding eye contact, trying to rid yourself of the picture of him sitting on the toilet, your comb in one hand,
nail clippers in the other, his flaccid dick smashed between his pudgy thighs. "I think the hair was bothering you more than it
bothered me."

You know what he's thinking – that you never appreciate anything he does.

"Let's go eat," you suggest, before this turns into another argument.

                                                               ~

Nestled into the corner of a booth at Baker's Square, surrounded by senior citizens in slacks, cardigans and orthopedic Hush
Puppies, you flip through the pie menu you memorized months ago, humming along with Carly Simon, Three Dog Night, and
Juice Newton, hoping your French toast won't taste like the onion in his omelet again.

But it always does.

"How is it?" he asks, poised over his plate with a fork in one fist, a spotty knife in the other.

"Tastes like the onion in your omelet," you say.

He nods without looking at you.

"Maybe we could go to Bob Evans next weekend so I could get a cinnamon roll?"

"Ech," he crinkles his face. "Their eggs are runny. I think they use that No Yolks crap."

You don't really need a cinnamon roll anyway. Last spring, the plastic surgeon you consulted about a boob job asked if you
were a bodybuilder "like Chynna", the WWE wrestler. Now your size twos cower in the back of your closet, your sixes are
getting tight, and your favorite black boots won't zip over your calves because you spend weeknights knocking back kreme-filled
Krispy Kremes like tequila shots, wondering what your boyfriend is up to. Or, more specifically, what he's jacking off to. Even
your dog looks less like a dog and more like a barrel with short legs and dainty ankles. You no longer have the energy for three-
mile hikes, you take her outside just long enough to "hurry up".

Once upon a time you were happily anorexic, subsisting on Fruity Pebbles, pretzel rods and fat-free Fig Newtons. You worked
out three hours a day and got so thin that the only thing left to compliment was your collarbone. He used to lie next to you in
bed, tracing it with his index finger. "It could cut glass," he'd say. When he got back from Amsterdam, you couldn't stand the
thought of him touching you. You thought that if you gained weight, he'd leave you alone. So you started eating. And never
stopped. Now
he's on the elliptical every night after work, sweating off salads. Your cube-neighbor Mary calls him Lollipop Man
because he still has the head of someone who weighs two hundred and sixty-five pounds. You accused him of losing weight to
attract other women and demanded that he stop eating "like a girl," but he refused. So you saw a shrink, hoping she would
hypnotize you and summons your inner anorexic, help you regain some control over your life, or, at least, your obsessive-
compulsive eating patterns. Instead, she accused you of stuffing down your emotions and recommended you read
Codependent
No More
. You stormed out of her office, snarling that you're the most independent person you know.

But, as you licked the thick white filling from your first doughnut that night, you remembered all those times you'd bought him
groceries after he'd pissed away his paycheck playing videogames with Joe at Dave & Buster's and that Fourth of July you drove
half an hour out of your way to take him Alka-Seltzer Cold & Sinus and a bottle of Nyquil. Rather than buzz you in, he'd
bounced down the stairs to meet you, looking perfectly fine, not sniffling, not sneezing, not even remembering to pretend to.

You spent the next two days camped out at the library, reading, highlighting and photocopying. Stockpiling. Self-help books
became your best friend.

                                                                ~

Usually after breakfast, he pulls his Monte Carlo up to the front door of your apartment building, and, feeling obligated, you give
him a quick Aunt-Mary-kiss goodbye. Today he parks his car and follows you upstairs.

"Did you forget something?" you ask, taking off your jacket and draping it over your treadmill.

"Nope." He grips your waist and pulls you toward him.

"What the hell are you doing?" Every muscle in your body stiffens. You lean away from him.

"Loving you," he says. In the old days, this was funny.

"Get off me," you say, scrambling. You're the black-and-white cat from the Pepé le Pew cartoons.

"No." And now he's tickling you, which isn't fair because, as you continue to push him away, your laughter tells him you're
kidding, you're playing hard-to-get.

You wriggle free of his grip and storm down the hall. "Get out," you hiss over your shoulder. But he's on your heels, following
you into the bedroom, tugging at your clothes. "What the hell has gotten into you?" you ask, turning to glare at him.

"We haven't had sex in
months," he answers.

"You fucked a hooker! What the hell do you expect!"

"How many times have I told you," he says, getting louder than he's ever dared to raise his voice with you, "I didn't fuck
anybody. If I'd been single I would have, but, out of respect for you, I didn't. And you're lucky because a lot of guys would
have."

"Yeah, I'm so fucking lucky to have a pig like you for a boyfriend. Get the hell out of my apartment."

He shoves you onto the foot of your bed and fumbles with the button on your jeans. This is not the person you fell in love with.
The person who, after everything you've been through, still celebrates your anniversary on the tenth of each month, who sends
you e-cards for no reason, who shows up at your office bearing big, bold gerbera daisies. This is the person who writes things
like, "If I were in that pack of Jap chicks, I'd find a hole to plug", who photoshops Nicky and Paris Hilton's heads onto photos of
half-naked women, who created an eHarmony profile but "never responded to any of those women."

"If you do this, I swear to God I'll file a police report."

"It'd be worth it," he says. And with that, the ounce of respect you still had for him evaporates.

"I hate you," you say.

"It's nice to finally hear you say it," he says, looking down at you on your bed. He leaves without another word.

                                                                 ~

The next morning, there's an email waiting for you.

i've been doing a lot of thinking, and there is no reason for both of us to be so unhappy all the time. no matter how much we
both say we're going to try, nothing has really changed. i sucked at being your boyfriend and if there is one thing that i've
learned it's that relationships are rollercoasters, but i don't think i ever really met the height requirements.

this hurts more than any feeling i've ever felt before, and i know hitting the send button on this message is going to be the
hardest thing i've ever done, but everything in me is telling me it's the right thing to do.

i hope you'll keep in touch with me.

love always,
alex

                                                                  ~


You'd like to think you'd have been the one to break things off this time, for good, but you know better. You're a sucker for a
"sorry." If only he'd given you the lame rollercoaster analogy months ago. Crap like that, you can't tolerate.