“The ghosts that roam this house, like winter air right through our souls.”
You don’t have to write about my stairs, she said, and we can only be friends if you stop hurting my feelings. I didn’t have to be in the room to know what Nancy’s eyes would have looked like- desperate to hide the depth of her vulnerability- but like every other time, no matter how hard she tried, the way she looked at you betrayed her. This was what made you fall in love with her. She stopped talking to you when you posted the piece about her house- her house as a metaphor for every bit of hurt, every battle scar, every coping strategy and defense mechanism; walls and coldness- circles that needed squaring. Parts of her life to be compartmentalized; some locked-away, some delicately framed with self-talk.
It was a long time ago, she’d tell me- with just enough hesitation, half-seconds further halved; moments so brief that you were certain you were the only one to ever notice, like Meriwether Lewis crisscrossing the uncharted west. New territory to discover and examine and critique. To write about- a loving tribute, as if to say: I see who you really are and I want to use every bit of energy I have to protect that.
She didn’t see it that way- over the course of our time together, but also in the piece about her house. Like tricking Rocky Balboa into being on a news bit meant to humiliate him, she saw it as a cheap shot. Come laugh at the sweet, entirely normal woman- who never wanted to be written about; used as fodder for Internet web clicks- the entirely normal woman, who takes comfort in the “My Heart is at the Beach” throw-pillow; the entirely normal woman, with the dead husband and the unfinished house, who never felt she had anything to prove to anyone, and now you want to rub her face in it.
And even if you explained that it was meant to make her seem sympathetic in the face of awful people who make awful decisions, this was sympathy she never asked for.
It’s funny, but it’s not a joke, Blair explained to me. I have a difficult time with this distinction. Blair’s good for things like that; smart, Ivy League whatever, IQ likely a standard deviation above average. I think you’re emotionally abusive, she told me. She sent an infographic explaining the qualities of a manipulative narcissist; red flags, she told me, with the wide-eyes of sincerity.
It’s not funny, she insisted. I told her that I’d cut-and-paste the list to my OKCupid profile. OKCupid, because anyone who hasn’t already switched to Bumble is expecting a little abuse. You’re doing it again, she told me- this is emotional abuse.
And maybe she was right- it read like a personality description of someone awful enough to be me. I never shy away from conflict, especially when I’m “fighting to be right.” I try to get women to think exactly like me, and will not accept conflicting narratives. I often tell women that they love me and ask them to repeat it. I prefer when a woman mirrors my emotions- if I’m laughing, I didn’t hurt your feelings, it was just teasing, you big baby, and you should be laughing too. In this regard, I will deny someone’s experiences if I don’t agree with their emotional reaction, using phraseology like “it wasn’t that bad.”
I always prefer women to read my mind, mood, or body language– my mood which will shift, erratically and arbitrarily, throughout the day. I talk about myself incessantly- I have a fucking blog where I expect strangers to be facinated with me; I am self-obsessed. In this regard, I am always sure my needs are being met before checking in on her.
I’m insensitive, I told her. It’s my worst quality. Please try to be understanding.
You can write about my stairs if you don’t use the picture I sent you, she told me. I don’t do well with if/then statements. I can’t be told what to do- natural inertia forcing decisions to be made in the opposite direction, even to my own detriment. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t just sell the house, anyway. The past died on its own, no killing required- board up the old place and forget about it. She had the market on her side- riding the tide of an inflating bubble; photogenic good looks. Burn the boats on your way to a second life.
I have to use the picture of your actual stairs, I explained to her. For purposes of authenticity. Like the most damaged ego-maniacs of my generation, I’m obsessed with authenticity. Every bit of output- words written, social interactions had, emotions expressed- must be organically sensed with a blind, Jedi-like intuition. I am not someone who enjoys small-talk– pitiful social grooming for the lesser intelligent. I like to discuss ideas. Everything I’ve written about- personal lives dissected, women scolded for making what is quite clearly the wrong decision in retrospect- is exactly how it happened; at least, certainly, a close approximation. From my own perspective- from the godly throne at my computer.
She stopped talking to you when you posted the piece about her house, and you thought she was being a big baby. She said her feelings were hurt, but you thought she just wanted to get her way; that she was being manipulative. Exert a little bit of power; have you take your piece down; she always made snide comments about your writing. Started seeing her again during the summer- had broken up right before quarantine; it felt like ages had passed but also no time at all. Was already seeing other women, and you wanted her to know. No one fucking breaks up with me. Now was your time to rub her face in it.
I started working on my house, she told me. She was proud of the changes she made; home-improvement, they call it, and she did it all on her own. But it was when you got the picture of her freshly stained stairs that it hit you- so hard that you needed a minute to compose yourself. She was doing all this because of what you wrote. She cares about what you think. You made her feel embarrassed; ashamed. You hurt her feelings.
Stay alone long enough, you learn to only trust yourself- not other people; their motives seem disingenuous. They are inauthentic; unlike you. Perfect son of God; purity of heart; purity of intention.
A writer; an artist- this must come before all else, at the expense of feelings being hurt, relationships damaged beyond repair. This is what you tell yourself to get to sleep at night- still necessary, even after the handful of pills. This is what you tell yourself when you know you’re just a selfish asshole; a parody of a human being; a bad sequel. The King of Hell, on your throne at your computer.
I have to use the picture of your stairs, I told her- I’m a writer, I’m an artist, I’m an asshole- anything else, of course, would be inauthentic.