[Author’s note: Today’s message was supposed to be the actual story written and rejected from the Arts and Letters Awards, the one that spurred yesterday’s piece. And normally I don’t mind releasing work from years ago, even if I can barely re-read it without throwing up. This includes for me, as for most people I assume, everything written before about a year ago. And I try to make it public without caveats like this one here. But this is embarrassing. The writing is forced, sure, but I don’t think that’s the reason. It’s not entirely the content’s fault either. It’s because I remember being confident at the time that it was very good, and that the A&L adjudicators were wrong. But they weren’t, not even a bit. And this is why it’s hard to be proud of anything, knowing that in a minute you’re going to hate it and hate yourself for making it. This is also why you need to put things out there as soon as they’re done, because the longer you sit on it, the more it will drain you. Screw it, here it is. Unedited. Ugh. It’s not even an ounce of autobiography, so I don’t know why I care. The number of sentences that start with ‘I’ and ‘she’ is out of hand. Maybe it’s not, I don’t know anymore. Anyway, I can’t get myself to delete this acknowledgment that I’m aware it’s garbage, even if I should. I’d prefer if you didn’t read it at all, actually. This note should be enough for today, Mark.]

Blown-Out Joy

We met at a bar. Well, outside a bar. And people wonder why I smoke. I was wearing my number one, a green and white plaid shirt I found at a thrift store. It was a little cold without a jacket, but the air was nice. I had a good buzz on, the kind where everything I think and say seems to be funny or interesting. She looked like she was out of my league under normal circumstances. Forward and confident, with a piercing smile. She took me away from the bar and we walked together down the street. Outside her place, she invited me in for a drink. Before she could get to her fridge, our eyes locked and I smirked with a slightly confused but mostly hopeful look. She mirrored my facial expression so I went against all my previous tendencies and just grabbed her, lifted her onto the counter and started to kiss her. We eventually ended up on the couch, taking off each other’s clothes. She took a break long enough to look up and say, “I don’t sleep with guys that aren’t my boyfriend.” She was like nobody who had ever shown interest in me, and I’d been lonely and living in my own head the last few months. I asked her out without hesitation. It was the most connected I’ve ever felt to someone.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that she was not really who she was that night. I quickly discovered that her initial impression was an act and that she had serious problems. She was only two years younger than me but was immature beyond her years. She was smart enough to know how to pick a target and get what she wanted, but far too emotionally unstable to exist in this world. Her father left when she was two and found a new family in a new city. Her mother’s incessant verbal abuse was certainly not conducive to a healthy upbringing. The woman relentlessly called her fat and ugly through her formative years, and I correctly assumed that this was not the first generation in her family that relied on such parental methods. She left her small community when she was sixteen and moved to the only urban centre she knew, three hours away, where she could either get lost or lose herself.

She entered new circles of friends seamlessly, but her imminent exit was never far behind, with the whole situation leading to anguish on all sides. She’d create drama, invent problems, and then call out her new friends as she talked about them behind their backs. She couldn’t trust anyone, especially herself.

I tried to end things, but she wouldn’t let me break it off, always saying we were perfect for each other and that she couldn’t live without me. We did have fun together, but it was mostly superficial and never lasted long before she would deliver another emotional outburst, a nervous breakdown that would leave me confused and distraught yet always consoling her. I was naive, and she had an acute ability to make me believe anything she wanted with her teary or smiling eyes. I convinced myself, she convinced me that there was more good than bad in our relationship. I should have seen it coming. She was so eager to please me from the start, mainly because she was so afraid to be alone. She just wanted someone to show her friends and a constant shoulder, and she didn’t care where it came from as long as she stayed in control. She moved in with me, uninvited but not denied, when she ran out of money and her roommate gave up on her. Our families were pretty much non-existent in our lives, and her jealousy prevented anyone from getting too close to us, so all we had was each other. I was still a student and couldn’t afford to provide for myself, let alone two people, especially one as financially reckless as her. But I paid for everything, mostly with a creditor’s money. She would often tell me she was looking for a job, but I couldn’t believe her, no matter how hard I tried. She spent more time asleep than awake, and more time in front of my computer than anywhere else. The effort she put into complaining would have been much better spent on anything else, preferably thinking. It would be ignorant for me to believe she wasn’t sleeping with other guys. When I wasn’t around I know she was with them. I didn’t even blame her. She was addicted to the attention.

As our relationship continued to deteriorate, it became evident that we would never make it work in the long term, and it appeared that I had finally gotten through to her when she agreed to move out. The next day I came home from school to find a positive pregnancy test on the kitchen table. I had wanted to be listening to the Antlers’s “Epilogue” when I found out I was having a child. The woman I loved would be lying beside me on my bed, both of us staring at the ceiling, scared but excited about our future. To be honest, though, my initial thought was that the white plastic stick with the crossing blue lines was just another trick she was playing on me, and that the potential baby wasn’t really hers. I was wrong. She asserted that her pill must have failed that one time in the last two months when we actually had sex, probably because we were both drunk. She would not even discuss another option, equating it to murder, one of many unfortunate life ideals that her mother passed on to her.

I got back with her, convinced that I had to for the baby’s sake. I couldn’t leave a child to be raised by this girl on her own, and at this point I still believed that children whose parents stayed together were better off. I didn’t realize at the time that for this to be true, the two people had to love and trust each other. Years later, during one of our many arguments, she would admit to me that she had intentionally stopped taking her birth control that month, under the correct impression that I would not leave her if she was having our child. I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t even surprised. I wasn’t really disappointed in her. I blame myself for falling into the trap. She left the next morning, and through a note spoke that she felt inhibited in this house. I haven’t seen her in over three years, and until she finds psychological help I hope to never see her again. I take great comfort in that a brilliant, beautiful little girl somehow grew out of this waste of a relationship. Joanna is seven now, and I love her more than I ever thought possible. We have each other, and for this little while at least, that’s all we need.

September 25 – Mark Hamill gets the story submitted and subsequently rejected, prompting yesterday’s piece
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