If you had asked Graham five years ago what he wanted more than anything, he would have told you: to see Katie again one more time. To tell her all the things she did that made her uniquely and unequivocally: a cunt. The way she talked about her many past conquests and even occasionally admitted to a few new ones while with him. The way she prattled on about feminism but still always expected him to pay for everything. Yet still, he loved her. And assumed there would be nothing he could ever do–nothing she could ever do–to change that.
In the wake of their breakup, at her hand, naturally, Graham was a ruin. A pathetic, self-destructing unapologetic sop of a ruin. The type of ruin that put actual ruins to shame with the sheer unfixable state of him. His friends tried everything to cheer him up: they set him up on blind dates, took him to bars, paid for his lap dances at strip clubs. But nothing helped. In fact, everything they attempted only appeared to make his condition all the worse. They finally couldn’t bear his sad sack presence any longer and simply let him stay at home, content to revel in his misery, in the cesspool of longing for a girl who didn’t care either way if he pined for her or not. Despite knowing this, he made the same mistake some of us fools in love so often do: assuming the other person, somewhere deep down, gives a shit in an “arcane” way. When, of course, and in fact, you are the furthest thought from their mind. A mind that now only thinks in terms of: where can I get my next fix of love? Who can I feed off of to make me feel special and important when in truth I know I am nothing? That’s the nature of the succubus, Graham had come to learn gradually.
But he would not learn that lesson just yet. Oh no, not until rendering himself a full-fledged fool and embarrassment. Until he made doubly sure he in no way had the upper hand in a thing called “bowing out of a relationship gracefully.” He wanted her to know–truly understand–how much she meant to him. He ruminated day after day on how he could possibly make her know, feel inside her bones, that he needed her. For love so quickly borders on obsession when unreturned at the same level or at all.
The idea came to him one day while smoking weed and watching Peep Show, having called out of work for the umpteenth time that month. But it didn’t matter. He had been there so long that they couldn’t fire him. It would cost more to do that than to simply keep him on, for a good drone is hard to find. In any case, he got it into his mind that to bequeath her with a crown made entirely out of the locks of his hair would be the best way to show her how much he still cared. It was thus that he made his way into the bathroom, the one that Katie kept in such disarray when she had been living with him but that was now immaculate in its whiteness, and proceeded to use his electric razor to shave his entire head.
While an emotional transformation can take years, it took but all of five minutes for Graham’s physical metamorphosis. Staring at himself blankly in the mirror, he relished his lack of recognizability. Finally, his outer appearance matched the internal discombobulation that had made him lose all sense of himself. For who was he without Katie anyway? Identityless. A single office worker who lived in Shoreditch. No light in his life, no hope for change without his proverbial manic pixie dream girl to jostle him out of his element every now and again. To free him of this banal existence called “Being Graham.” Graham Gordley. The melba toast and ignored child on the schoolyard that no one thought to include unless he pitifully inserted himself into the situation. And even then, he was still invisible. It was only when Katie had cornered him one night at a bar called The Looking Glass that he, for the first time in his life, had a sense of what people had been talking about when they referred to “being alive.”
One look from her was all it took to defibrillate him back to this planet. And it wasn’t just that her eyes were a remarkable shade of penetrating pine green or that she spoke in an unabashed American accent. It was that, for once in his miserable, unacknowledged existence, someone was actually looking at him. And in that glorious gaze of hers, she seemed able to apprehend who he was even before he himself could ever know. Who he was, it turned out, was a man who shaved his head and spent hours turning it into the most elaborate, ribbon bedecked hair crown (he had a Jesus-length amount of hair, mind you).
He thought about whether or not to accompany it with some sort of note, a stately missive declaring his undying devotion and love. But then he decided that she would instantly be so enamored of the display that she would 1) tout de suite know whose hair it was and 2) come running back over to his apartment wearing the crown (and hopefully nothing else). Yes, this is precisely what would happen. Because he knew in his heart of hearts that he was the only one that possessed the key to hers. Grinch-like in its tininess though it may be.
So it was that he bought a special plastic encasement for the crown and placed it on a pillow that he thought made it look rather regal indeed. He had sprayed the crown with a hardening and noxious coat of hairspray. So much that it almost genuinely looked as though it could be made of wood–that’s just how solid it was. He was worried she might not comprehend that it was his hair in this incarnation, for admittedly, she had a tendency to ignore details. She was all about the big picture, a general snapshot, whereas he had a compulsive need to fixate on the minutiae. He had reckoned this was part of what made them such an ideal pair. He could see the things she couldn’t and she could rein him back in from spiraling too out of control on honing in so heavily on that which was not ultimately important. Even though he was secretly still a firm believer in the notion that the devil–and the truth–lie in the details.
Regardless of being slightly high, he would have delivered the crown in any state between sobriety and impairment. He was determined to get across his message. He was devoted, and forever would be. Again, this was five years ago.
Somewhere between being slapped with a restraining order and going viral on YouTube after she made a video that featured her wearing the crown about her psycho ex-boyfriend (under the title “Ten Ways to Know For Sure Your Ex Is A Psychopath”), he lost a bit of his vigor and enthusiasm for Katie. Katie, who he thought would never hurt him, would never so cruelly string him up for a lynching in the public square of the internet. It took months for him to feel comfortable going outside again. For even though she had at least spared him the parading of his visual identity online, she had used his name cavalierly. “Graham was always a bit of a weirdo, but I had no idea just how deeply his feelings of lunacy ran until I found this ‘flower’ crown–made out of his fucking hair–on my doorstep one afternoon.”
He was convinced everyone in the world could pinpoint him as that Graham, the freak and pervert who had fashioned a hair crown for his ex assuming it would win her over again. This fear was compounded by his freshly shaven head, a characteristic that he imagined made him stand out as a potential “suspect.” He could feel eyes on him as he trudged into the Tesco with his tail between his legs. They know. They must all know. The phobia at last reached the point where his few remaining friends had to be relied upon to bring him groceries. His employer was all too happy to accommodate his request to spend more time working from home as well.
Not that he was really doing much of that. It took him about half a year to venture out on his own with less paranoia. And he knew that the news cycle of virality was prone to making him an already forgettable “item” in their consciousness, far more concerned now at that point with the boy who could fart and sneeze at the same time on command. As usual, what a time to be alive, he thought.
It was, for the first instance in ages, that he wandered into the store without a sense of imminent doom hovering above him. So it was naturally at this moment–when his guard was completely down–that he should happen upon Katie with none other than a new gentleman caller. The second she turned her head in his direction, he ducked behind an aisle filled with, ironically, contraceptives. Would he ever even need one again at the rate he was going? Yet in that brief flash of panic, he had the chance to realize something. He didn’t care anymore about whether or not Katie had ever felt in any way similar to what he did when they were quote unquote together (though, looking back, he could see that they never really were, she consistently choosing to stand apart from him in every way possible, including the evasion of family meetings and events).
He was free of that feeling she once gave him. The one he imagined to be butterflies and, therefore, true love. He surmised that it was all a lie–this false notion that feeling nervous about something or someone all the time meant that you cared. The reality was, it meant you were never quite all right in that person’s midst. Aware that you would, in some way, never be enough. Even if you gave more of yourself than you should have. Including a crown of your newly shorn locks that could, alas, never unlock a heart of stone.