L’éthique de Travail de Mon Père

“For someone like you it’s almost better to never fall in love at all,” Kara’s father lamented as he gauchely served pasta from the strainer with tongs, flinging it onto her plate like a monkey wielding its shit. Though he had started cooking long ago, right after the time Kara’s mother, Eve, divorced him, it was still somehow always a novelty for Kara to see him in this domestic capacity, the tableau of the kitchen making him seem all the more incongruous in his Pavement t-shirt and deliberately ripped denim jeans. Trent “Trenton” Anway had once been a big deal as a producer in the music industry, before the zeitgeist of alt rock switched to that of the more “clandestine Christian” variety (i.e. Creed). This was the version of him that had always remained in Kara’s mind, no matter how increasingly “Mr. Mom” he had become over the years since Eve had moved on to someone younger and more “amenable” to her demands. Quentin was his name, and if you mentioned Tarantino to him, he would have no idea who you were talking about because he was twenty-three and from Tennessee. Eve would in fact release a romance novel of the same name soon after her tryst with him began, marking her fourth bestseller in just as many years.

Kara spoke to and saw more of her father now, what with Eve’s attention so clearly monopolized. So it was Trent that she confessed her recent breakup to. Though “recent,” in her mind, meant a year ago. She was presently twenty-seven years old, still out of a viable job opportunity (she didn’t count “assistant to the assistant” at a Bushwick art gallery as anything to boast about) and, worst of all, still heartbroken about a rejection that happened ages ago in zygote time. For she was, by bouncing back from failed relationship standards, relatively zygote. Zander–that was his name–was also a zygote, just one year older than her, which, in boy versus girl maturity levels was tantamount to making him something like five years younger. Emotional manipulation was his game–though Kara didn’t come to discover she was an unwitting player in it until she had gotten in too deep. Before the term “softboy” was there to fully usurp “fuckboy,” Kara had no warning of the false emotionalism Zander was capable of delivering, and with the bathetic authenticity of Romeo. The intensity of this passion was, as to be expected, all present at the outset of his pursuit and their subsequent rapport. But Kara glommed onto that status quo of ardor and latched irrevocably to its remnants even after Zander had blatantly, to all around her, lost interest.

When he would wait for hours to respond to her or make up transparently flimsy reasons about why he couldn’t meet up with her that evening, Kara took them as legitimate justifications, when, in truth, they were all, very objectively, excuses to avoid her. Yet, as far as Kara’s logic was capable of, she couldn’t process why Zander would have any inclination whatsoever to pull away: her pussy was still tight, her manner was still obsequious (which was really saying a lot for a woman living in New York post-2016). It didn’t occur to Kara that maybe these were the very qualities that made Zander recoil in the end–seek greener a.k.a. more challenging pastures. But Kara’s forte had never been picking up on very obvious cues mainly because she had never needed to, handed practically everything while growing up in suburban Westchester. In this way, Trent felt almost responsible for Kara’s inability to accept the natural and inevitable fate of breaking up–especially as someone so young as she–by not “equipping” her, as it were, with the armor she would need to cope with everyday, garden variety disappointment.

But to Kara, this thing with Zander was more than just mere disappointment. It was like disconnecting an old woman from her respirator. So much of her day-to-day, month-to-month decision-making was based upon Zander. Black-haired, blue-eyed, taut-stomached Zander. Maybe those were the characteristics that were most heartbreaking of all. But no, Zander was more than his physical perfection; it was his manner, his intellect that had finally reeled Kara in–and kept her suckling at that very painful hook.

She did anything and everything he asked/wanted/suggested, including never mentioning Zander’s existence to her parents while they were together–though she told them almost everything. Her willingness to sacrifice the sanctity of her child-progenitor relationship was indicative of just how far down the rabbit hole of so-called l’amour she had fallen. And yes, there’s no denying she would have done anything to make him happy, though she couldn’t explain why in retrospect.

Well, yes, she could. She loved–and loves–him. That’s all there is to it. It used to be that love as an explanation was enough to justify irrational behavior. In the age of every woman for herself, however, it’s a source of nothing but shame to be in love, to admit vulnerability. So she chose not to admit it. To anyone. Until now, to dear old Dad. She could no longer withstand the agony of this secrecy. She wanted to at least offer a viable reason for why she had gone from relatively happy-go-lucky to constantly miserable. It was an omnipresent agony not solely because of the athame still wedged at the center of her heart, but the pain of carrying it inside herself alone, without telling even those closest to her.

So it was that she laid bare her soul to Trent before he had finished his pasta preparations, deliberately punctuated by cliche music selections like Rosemary Clooney and Dean Martin. She ignored his stereotypical style in all regards to hear his take on what had befallen her.

“What do you mean ‘someone like me’? Why shouldn’t I fall in love?”

Without missing a beat, Trent replied, “Because it really means something to you. Most guys, when they fall in love, it’s real, but only for a time. The expiration date on that love is just as real.”

Kara sighed. “Why couldn’t you have warned me about this while there was still time? Wasn’t it your job as a father to help protect me from harm both physical and emotional?”

Trent, sitting directly across from her now, rolled his eyes. “I tried, Kara. Really I did. And if I had it to do over again, I would have spent less time producing masterpiece albums like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to lay out more detailed step by step instructions about how to avoid a softboy.”

Practically choking on her pasta bite, she demanded, “You know what a softboy is?”

He took a swig of red wine. “I probably am one.”

She grimaced. “That’s really disgusting, Dad.”

He smiled. “You can handle it… what I’m afraid you can’t handle is your own emotions. You’ve let them spiral out of control to a point where you’re not even functional.”

“I’m fucking functional,” she defied, biting into the penne with even more vehemence.

“Are you? Really seems like it,” he countered, staring directly at the smeared mascara underneath her eyes.

“I won’t have you mock my homage to Gossip Girl season three Jenny Humphrey, okay?”

“I wouldn’t deign to mock something I know nothing about.”

“Well then definitely don’t speak to me about love.” She stared daggers at him as he let penne spew out of his mouth.

She looked away. “You know what? I’ve lost my appetite. Why don’t you just wake me up when it’s time to go to the airport?” Kara was going to Paris tomorrow to partake in a summer exchange grad school program for European literature.

As she began to rise from her chair, Trent swiftly and forcefully threw the tongs at her. The tip of the left side clipped the corner of her eye, leaving an instantaneous red mark that would turn into a bruise by morning. If there had been a morning for Kara.

She scoffed at him, “I don’t know why I bothered to tell you. You’ve just made me feel even worse.” She gently touched the side of her temple. Trent, with a rueful expression, got up to try and comfort her. “Let me get you an ice pack.”

She brushed him away. “Please don’t. I’ll see you in the morning,” she lied.

In her final journal entry, which Trent found several days later while he and Eve went through her personal effects together, she had written the following: “My father told me after it was too late that maybe it’s best if a woman doesn’t fall in love. It can ruin her entire life. The scarring, that is. The inability to fully move on from being duped. I wish he had told me sooner. Before what happened haunted my every day for the rest of my life. Now, feeling as an old woman like I do, I see what my father was talking about. That to give in to love even for a few years isn’t worth the lifelong sentence of enduring the emotional fallout. The constant wondering about what I did wrong, how I could have changed it for the better. I don’t have l’éthique de travail de mon père–he’s willing to get up again and again to attempt finding someone new to distract himself. But for me, I’m too lazy perhaps. Can never believe that a little hard work is all it takes to get through this pain. And the more Zander shows how much he doesn’t care, like nothing ever happened between us at all, the more aware I become of how it will be like this with them all. And I don’t have the wherewithal to endure it again, nor endure being alone.”

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