Stories Tragedy

A Breakup In Five Acts


Act I is the easiest part to write as you don’t even like him at first, unusual considering how hard and how fast you fall. On your first date, he asks what type of restaurant you prefer. Idiot, you think. We aren’t going to get into any place decent this late on a Saturday night without reservations. He asks you again, enumerating your options: Thai, French, Greek, Italian. You throw him a curve ball: Mediterranean. He smiles his salesman’s grin at you and drives directly to the Iron Gate Inn in Adams Morgan. You are shocked when, indeed, he walks to the podium, and, while looking directly into your eyes, simply gives his last name to the hostess for his reservation for two. She whisks you both away to a wisteria ensconced patio. Later, over bottomless glasses of wine, you ask him how he pulled off that trick, waltzing up to one of the most popular restaurants in Washington, D.C. during peak dining hours on a Saturday night, making up some fictitious dinner reservation. It wasn’t fictitious, he replies, a little hurt. I made reservations at a half dozen different places because I wasn’t sure what you liked. This level of thoughtfulness gives you pause.

On the way back to the car, he notices a tiny crab apple on the street. He picks it up and offers it to you, bending down on one knee. You are the apple of my eye, he says. It’s corny and dumb, but you are unapologetically charmed. You pocket the little apple and keep it in your jewelry box for far too long.

🜋 🜋 🜋

Act II is the most thrilling part to write because six years go by in an instant and you don’t remember a time when you weren’t with him. You don’t remember a time before all of your inside jokes, your knowledge of what he likes for breakfast or in bed, and your shared memories of snorkeling in Antigua and wandering through museums in Paris. As a couple you amass friends and there are engagement parties and weddings and baby showers and divorce parties and funerals to attend together. You two make a lovely pair and win (most of the time) the goofy dinner party games that your friends foist upon you after rich pasta dishes and bottles of red wine and French macarons for dessert.

You’ve met each other’s parents and everyone heartily approves of one another. You move into his three-story brownstone in Georgetown, expecting an engagement ring any day. He is one for grand gestures, so there is no use trying to second-guess when the much anticipated event will occur. Besides, he starts a new, very demanding job, so when you get home earlier than he does, you make him a plate to microwave for later. You don’t like your own job very much, but it’s close by. It’s doable.

🜋 🜋 🜋

Act III is the most painful part to write as you are making a plate for him more often than not. His job is going well, very well. They’ve hired him some help — a junior partner, Francis and an executive assistant, Lauryn. Lauryn is just a doll. You speak with her frequently to make your personal arrangements as he is usually in meetings or out with clients, sometimes late into the night. Lauryn and you joke about his peculiarities, the egregious amount of sugar he takes in his coffee and his penchant for watching all the NCAA Men’s Division basketball games during March Madness. On his direction, Lauryn is the one who sends you special occasion flowers and orders your theater tickets. All part of the job.

When you are at one of his coworker’s housewarming parties, an old but not close friend comes over to see how you are. You air kiss, yet her jaw is oddly clenched. You notice she isn’t blinking as frequently as is normal while she talks to you. Before she flits off, she lightly grasps your forearm and says Lauryn is not your friend.

That night you watch him sleep.

He isn’t the only one for grand gestures. You can surprise him, too, bringing take out from that Mediterranean restaurant you haven’t been to in ages. As you open his office door, the image of their entangled bodies will sear itself in your memory.

To your surprise, Lauryn is enraged with your dropping by unannounced. He said it was over between you, she whines. Oddly, you feel tremendous compassion for her.

You blankly look at him, as big fat tears run down his face. He says nothing.

Lauryn, you say. If you want him, he’s yours. But he won’t really love you because he really loves me. You turn to him. Right?

And he says, Right.

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Act IV is the most exhausting part to write because sometimes it’s all just too hard. In the aftermath, you agree to really talk and to try counseling and to stop going through his phone and to quit calling the office at all hours. You can’t help yourself, though.

You understand now what a carefully built sandcastle feels like as an incoming tide washes away more and more of it. You can feel the sand involuntarily sift through your fingers as you try to hang on to something so ephemeral you wonder if it was ever really there.

A year or so passes but there is no lightness, no inside jokes, no crab apples. You try to talk but every conversation seems to have an ugly subtext or is spiked with thinly veiled contempt. You still hate your job. You aren’t seeing your friends. You don’t want to do anything but make sure he comes directly home from work.

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Act V is the shortest part to write because he simply tells you one day that there is an us and a him, but not a whole lot of you. You burst into tears because he’s right: seven years with him has dissolved you into something you don’t even want to recognize. All that’s left in this play is the denouement, a French word meaning to untie. And much like the Gordian knot, sometimes it’s best to just slice it in half with a single stroke.


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