You tell me it’s not healthy to listen to “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” not ever and certainly not as often as I have been. You caught me listening to it multiple times when there was too much silence around us and you could hear it booming through my headphones on the car ride down. You sat in the back with me while your friend, Allister, who was, for some reason, a British person living in the Pacific Northwest, gave us a lift to Petaluma on his way to L.A. to meet with a producer about some pilot he made where the premise is focused on three twenty-somethings who have moved from New York to open a posh weed dispensary. Petaluma is where my parents are expecting us for their fortieth anniversary party. They think we’ve still been living together in Seattle, even though I moved out of your apartment about a month ago. You’re only here with me now because I haven’t told my parents you’ve broken up with me and you’re doing me the courtesy of accompanying me because you have enough of a history with them to feel bad about letting them down in this way, after all they’ve done for you—top of the list being pay for your trip to come to Europe with me for my birthday last year. But that was only because they knew how cheap you were in spite of your affluence. It’s true what they say, that money can’t buy class. Because elegance is sharing, especially when you have such an excess. I suppose I never saw just how inelegant you were until you dug your heels in the sand about paying for a ticket to land in Rome, to acknowledge in some way that I was yours and you were at least mildly happy that I was born to give you head and let you have sex with me.
So, in many respects, my parents sort of paid for me to have a boyfriend toward the end there—there can be no denying that their willingness to treat you tantalized you to stay just a bit longer—who doesn’t love freshly caught oysters from Monterey (yet another journey the four of us went on together)? Delayed you a bit in your next plot point, which, I guess serves to delay any conventional plot points like getting a job, getting married or perpetuating a legacy of any kind. Unless it’s a legacy that pertains to the pursuit of the self, coiffing it, proving it’s a self better than all the other selves in existence. You were an even less warm version of a rational egoist by the end, sending your manuscript to all our other friends except me because you never felt my criticism was useful or well-thought out. You always thought I was “less than” you, because, for one I am a woman, automatically putting me at a handicap in your eyes. You would do your best rendering of Henry Higgins in trying to assign me books to read and classical music to listen to. But I as myself was not enough. I had to be improved and expounded upon. At the time you did it, I thought it was nice, that you cared enough about me to want to share your interests. But that’s not what it was. It was you trying to make me over into someone less “ignoble.” The conditioning I have from our time together makes me feel guilty for indulging in even the most “plebeian” of activities. This includes watching any movie that isn’t a member of the Criterion Collection. So long I spent steeped in your pretension, making it my own. And yet, I still can’t fathom why I’m so sad about you letting me go. I’m already mourning you in my presence with this Celine song, and you can’t even let me do that without mocking my genuine melancholy. Allister cuts the tension by turning up his own music on the stereo, Blur’s “For Tomorrow,” a song you aren’t familiar with because everything you know you learned from Pitchfork. We’re getting closer to Petaluma now, and with that closeness I feel a knot in my chest forming, taut and large. I feel ashamed that I can’t just tell my parents that you’ve decided to chuck me and move to Melbourne where you can stay with a friend and presumably do nothing under the guise of “growing” and “experiencing.” I’m sure they would be more heartbroken even than I am at first, but eventually accept that “you two just weren’t right for each other.” And why is that always the token consolation? If that’s really what people think when the relationship is happening, then why don’t they warn you instead of encouraging you to get all involved and fall down the rabbit hole of emotional vulnerability?
No, something feels too cruel about informing my parents of our collapse on their anniversary. As though a slap in the face to their ardent belief in swan-like monogamy of a lifelong nature. It would be like giving them an anti-gift. And I’m somewhat amazed that you agree to keep up the pretense when I explain the situation to you, tell you that I need just one last favor from you in your stead as boyfriend. Then I remember that it’s Allister who will be paying for the gas and I who will be providing the lodging, so what does a free trip really matter to you? You’re always ready to travel when someone else is footing the bill.
As we enter the city limits of Petaluma, I stop listening to “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.” It’s too curated for this particular moment, with Allister remarking on what a “beautiful little town” it is, and me thinking how fake it looks, the perfect town to house a lie like the one I’m about to manifest to my parents. You hum to the tune of the song on the radio, something you must have just recently looked up on Pitchfork. I’ve never heard it, but it sounds dance-indie.
Allister pulls up to my house on Spring Hill Road, immediately remarking, “Birdy, I didn’t know you rode horses.” I don’t. But it’s true, we have a stable full of them. “I’m likely to skip my trip to L.A. and stay here,” he adds.
“You’re welcome to. I need all the young blood I can get in this atmosphere.”
Allister turns to you and says, “You sure you want to break up with a vampire equestrian?”
You don’t respond, rolling your eyes and getting out of the car, as though the faster you get through this, the easier it will be.
My mother is setting out appetizers as we walk into the house, her eyes alighting when she sees the two of us. “You’re here!” she throws her arms up in excitement and sets the cheese knife she’s been spreading brie over crackers with to greet us.
“Your father’s still upstairs showering. I think he’s nervous about some of his clients coming.”
My father has dealt in the buying and selling of things for so long that I don’t even know exactly what it is he buys and sells anymore, suffice it to say that it’s a little of everything. He is the one who is more in love with my mother than she is with him. I have long known this, but I don’t think it became crystallized for me until I started dating you, coming to terms with just how much more I tried to get you to approve of me than vice versa. I recognize this behavior in how my father acts toward my mother now. Except, the difference is, my mother at least faintly reciprocates, even when her head is in the clouds about something else like spreading cheese over crackers.
She is especially attentive toward you as she takes us up to our room, the one that still has all the same posters I stuporously tacked to my walls in high school, mainly ones that would have made you fall in love with me back then, like La Strada and Blow-Up. But this form of puerile filmic vainglory appeals to you no more. You’ve “evolved” past such teenage-spurred pop culture interests. The Smiths included. I, on the other hand, have not. Never will. Could this be the source of what fundamentally drove us apart? Before I can dwell on it too long, my mother urges, “Please try to be ready in the next thirty minutes, okay? Our guests are notoriously punctual. And if you want to swim, please do. It’s supposed to be a pool party. But I don’t think any of our friends are going to be that adventurous.”
With that, she leaves us in my room to unpack and change. Presumably into our bathing suits. “Well, she doesn’t seem to suspect a thing,” you say, as though proud of your acting skills.
Irritated by your comment, I return, “Great. Thanks so much for the put-on. For stretching the limits of your ability to feign liking me.”
You bristle, clearly starting to regret agreeing to this when you know all about my tendency for passive aggressiveness. I don’t care, you deserve it. You also deserve to see me undress in front of you as I put my one-piece featuring an image of a bleeding heart on it. Because you can’t touch me now. I leave the room before you can form words, allowing you the luxury of privacy for your own quick change.
When I return downstairs to go to the backyard, a flurry of people have already flooded through. These are people I’ve generally known or have had orbiting around me since my childhood.
“Birdy! Where’s that boyfriend of yours?” I hear my dad call to me. When I turn around, I see him with his arm around my mother’s waist.
My mother and father radiate a serenity when they’re together. They’re rife for attracting the attention of a casting agent working on a Hallmark commercial about the endurance of love. I sort of despise them in this instant and for setting an example that perpetuated the lie that I might actually find a similar footing in my own romantic existence.
I walk over to him to let him kiss me on the cheek and as I’m explaining that you’re still upstairs, you descend in your navy blue swimming trunks. “Nick!” my father calls out gleefully to you, and it pains me all the more to know that this will be the last time the two of you ever see one another. That my father’s dreams of seeing me “find someone” and be “taken care of” are just that: dreams.
After you’ve made the rounds and exuded the pleasantries, we sit in the pool together and you lean toward me and whisper in my ear. “You’ll get over this.” It’s then I ascertain that you really don’t know me at all.
You treat people carelessly and call it growth, the ebb and flow of life. You justify the way you cut ties by saying that only when we have accepted that we can lose everything at a moment’s notice can we truly achieve happiness. But, are you happy? Up there alone in the fortress that is your mind, where no doubt there is a pool? Or is self-delusion a more strongly applied agent than sunscreen—so much so that you can’t even say for sure anymore?