Have you ever marveled at the ability with which one can toss you out on your ass after years of knowing them? Paul had. It was in the summer of 1997 that the demise first began, and he remembered it distinctly being August, because a barrage of terrible incidents had happened, starting with the resuscitation of publicizing Timothy McVeigh after he was given the death sentence on August 14th, and followed by the passing of Princess Diana on August 31st. He was in between work at that time, living in the East Village and making ends meet with a constant stream of book reviews for The New York Times. His girlfriend, Rosanna, was considerably more successful than him in the field of writing and had, in fact, just published what some more cynical types might call a “lonelyhearts novel.” Its title? Black Wedding Dress. The premise of the book explored the Greek concept of how a bride wears a veil to get married in order to symbolize her death, of sorts. From this lore, Rosanna builds on the narrative of how all women kill themselves by getting married. Obviously, it was met with great fanfare and Rosanna had been quite busy with promoting it via interviews and readings throughout the city. Soon, she would be going to other major markets to further support its sales.
Conversely, Paul would continue to hole up in their butter pat apartment, eking by on meager freelance assignments that tended to force him to go to underground shows he felt too dinosaur-like to attend. But self-degradation was at the very core of making money. So he went to the shows, did the drugs, drank the drinks. He tried his best to conceal that he was dying inside from Rosanna, as she was the only source of light in his life. But Rosanna wasn’t a bestselling author for nothing, and she was smart enough to see that his depressive state was intensifying. This was not going to be good for her image, she couldn’t help but think.
By December, the state of Rosanna and Paul’s inequitable relationship had grown unbearable, at least for the former–perhaps Paul was, for a time, more willing to ignore some of the more glaring issues between them. She came home after a week spent in Chicago promoting Black Wedding Dress to find Paul glued to the TV watching a news report about the European Union’s plan to admit six nations, part of its gradual long-term strategy for partial world domination. Paul was unshaven, and a noticeable smell was emanating from his pores.
“Hey… what are you doing?”
“Research for an article I have to write.”
Rosanna nodded slowly. “About what, hon?”
Paul whipped his head around to sneer at her. “About the fucking world economy, okay? It’s going to be in Newsweek. Is that impressive enough for you?”
Rosanna sighed. “Paul, why don’t you come into the kitchen and let me make you something to eat?”
“Why don’t you stop condescending to me and acting like I’m not doing my share around here, huh?”
“I’m not acting that way. You’re the one who seems to be harboring none too subconscious feelings of inadequacy. I just got back, therefore it’s not my emotions that are poisoning this apartment right now.”
Chortling to himself, Paul rose from the floor and said, “You think you’re really something, don’t you? Something real special. You write a little book for women and now you think you’re some kind of literary god. Well, I’ve got news for you: you’re coasting on being a woman–on the very nature of its marketability. I’d like to see your write about something real, something non-gender biased for once in your life.”
Rosanna stalked away from Paul to go to their bedroom, her rolling suitcase in tow. Paul followed her into the room, which had fallen into noticeable aesthetic disrepair since she had been gone. It appeared Paul hadn’t opened the window during her entire absence, which was causing the musty dampness of the room to peel the wallpaper off at the edges. Unsorted clean and dirty clothes peppered the floor, and a visible cum stain beckoned to Rosanna from her vantage point at the side of the bed.
As she turned to face Paul, he cowered at the sight of her expression.
“I’ve been a wreck without you, okay?”
Rosanna looked back toward her unopened suitcase, saying nothing.
Paralyzed by the silence, Paul filled it with: “Maybe you shouldn’t unpack. Maybe you should go.”
Rosanna laughed. It was a titter at first, then an outright gregarious explosion. “You’re telling me to leave?”
She plopped down on the bed. “I’ve stayed with you in the face of everything. Because I thought you loved me. And I love you, believe it or not.”
“This isn’t working. I feel insignificant all the time. Do you want me to feel that way?”
“Do you want me to be less successful just so you can feel ‘okay’? What the fuck is wrong with you? We’re living in the 90s here, Paul. It’s not a big deal for a woman to have a career, a life of her own separate from her significant other. Shit, we don’t even have to get married anymore.”
“I can’t stay with you, Rosanna. It’s killing me.”
Rosanna guffawed. “You’re a fucking prick. And a coward.”
“We’ll always be colleagues,” Paul offered, wrongly.
“Colleagues. You don’t even have a fucking job!”
“I’m a writer, like you. Aren’t I?”
Rosanna rose from her position, picked her suitcase off the bed and heaved it onto the ground. “Yeah, you’re a writer like Posh Spice is a singer, casually and with misgivings.”
“You really want to end this with a Spice Girls reference?”
“I didn’t want to end it at all. But thanks for doing me a favor, lunatic.”
It wasn’t technically Paul’s apartment, but somehow he had gotten Rosanna to be the one to leave. Her willingness to do so meant that, in truth, she never cared; she was waiting for him to push her away. He knew in his heart that Rosanna had been the one who slighted him, who found it so easy to let him go. He was only testing her, after all. If she had truly wanted it to work, she wouldn’t have found it so effortless to allow him to rip them apart. They may not ever speak again, but Paul would be condemned if they weren’t always going to be colleagues.
In fact, he saw her again two years later, at a book reading at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. Paul had only happened to be there looking at the latest releases, grimacing at every title and thinking how he could have written something better. That’s when he saw the sign for her newest book, Daughter of Salome. Too intrigued not to see her, he made his way to the crowd that had already gathered in anticipation of her arrival. As she took the stage to commence, she locked eyes with Paul. She smiled, that smile that can only come from the vindication of being quite literally elevated above the person who fucked you over. And with that, she read the first line, “I had a colleague once…”