20(20) Ways to Leave Your Lover

She had been ruminating on it for months now. Weighing all the pros and cons of remaining with Ray versus casting him out to the few wolves in her age bracket still looking to get married. Still looking to carry on a twentieth century tradition that ought to have been left in said epoch. But no, apparently you can’t rattle eons of indoctrination out of people. Out of women. Like Gloria, Marie’s friend of eight years who had been obsessing over her last breakup for at least half as long–insistent that her ex would come crawling back to her, and that she wouldn’t settle for anyone else when it came to marriage. Marie didn’t have the strength to endure the fallout of telling her that her ex was engaged, something Gloria couldn’t be privy to because he had kept the old account she stalked active and started a new one that he blocked her on. No, Gloria would never be getting married if she continued to hold out for Will. 

What Marie had to know was, did she want to get married at all? And was she not doomed to go down that path if she stayed with Ray. Settled for Ray. Number one: complain constantly about how fat and unattractive you are. Marie stood before the mirror in their bedroom as Ray lounged languidly on their stain-marked duvet. He watched her blankly, and listened just as absently when she proceeded to prattle on to him about how she looked like a stuffed sausage and that she couldn’t possibly be expected to go out for New Year’s Eve in the silver sequined dress she had bought just for the occasion. “We can’t cancel,” he returned, not acknowledging her self-hating comments. “I prepaid.” 

Number two: waste his money. She sulked and sighed as she sat across from him at the restaurant, not eating, not drinking. She was purposeful in her decision to make him feel her lack of enjoyment. As though he was a failure as a boyfriend for making these arrangements. Try as he might to ignore her sullenness, her aura of calculated disappointment was infecting him to the point where he could be on the verge of snapping at any moment. 

Number three: pick a fight for no reason. “I’m not sure you ever really loved me. And I don’t know if I ever loved you.” He glared at her. “Really? You’re gonna pull this shit now? On New Year’s Eve?” “That’s the best time, wouldn’t you say? This is the point in the year where you have to decide if you want to bring the old in with the new.” “So I’m ‘old’ to you then, that’s what this is really about? And the ‘new’ you want is a different penis?”

She couldn’t remember how they managed to leave the restaurant without killing one another. But somehow, they did, arriving back at the apartment around ten-thirty. Number four: leave a bloody tampon on the bathroom floor. She couldn’t have planned it better if she tried–and maybe she did. Will her period to come a week early, that is, just in time to have the perfect excuse not to offer up the implied and requisite “New Year’s Eve” sex. She shoved a tampon in her vag, bloodied it and then tossed it to the floor for him to find so that he would know for certain there would be no “make up” sex tonight. And maybe no sex at all, ever again. 

Number five: say you don’t mind having sex on your period and then retract the statement. Of course, she wasn’t opposed necessarily to “performing,” especially if it meant tampering with his mind a little bit more before officially telling him, as he’s about to stick it in, “It’s over. I don’t want to spend any of 2020 with you. I couldn’t stand the thought of commencing a new decade with you on top of me, inside of me or anywhere near me!”

It’s important to neutralize gossip when this type of thing happens. Having dated Ray for four years, she had ensconced herself well enough in the family to be able to curry favor even in situations when Ray ought to be sided with–not just because he was their youngest son, but because Marie had blatantly overreacted to the situation. Number six: call his mother to gossip about him. The following morning as Ray was leaving with a suitcase in tow and announcing, “I’ll come back for the rest of my things later this week,” Marie decided to make a little call to Charlotte, his portly, manipulable mother. “Charlotte, hi. I just want to say Happy New Year’s and that, well, this was probably our last holiday seeing each other. You see, Ray and I broke up. We are not persisting into the next decade together.” As Charlotte lent a sympathetic ear, Marie spun the yarn to make Ray seem like the Rumpelstiltskin-esque huckster in the scenario. She also angled to have a “goodbye” lunch with Ray’s father, Eric, whom Marie had taken a particular shine to because of his love of literature. They could spend hours discussing books like Consuelo or Villette while Ray and his dowdy mother faded into the background. Number seven: have lunch with his father and then flirt shamelessly. “Well, I just had to bid you a proper adieu, Eric. Honestly, it’s been so hard being with your son this past year. No offense. I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was time to say enough was enough. Of course,” she remarked as she stroked his arm gingerly, “I could never get enough of you.” 

With both parents buttered up and pitted against Ray, it was important to remind his friends that whoever came after her would predictably pale in comparison. Number eight: start hanging out with his friends more now that you’ve broken up. Shawn was a hopeless geek who would fall over himself to talk to anyone who could keep up a conversation about video games or comics. Edward was a jock type who could often be found at any number of the public basketball courts Manhattan had to offer. And Luke, well, Luke was easy prey for being a known himbo (there is no official male word for nymphomaniac). She began to see them all quite often. Far more often than when she had been with Ray. Claiming she needed all the moral support she could get and then using their vulnerabilities to her advantage, it only took her a few weeks to sleep with all of them. 

Still, the lingering reminder of Ray couldn’t be shaken. Maybe because he had yet to come back to get the rest of his shit. Number nine: leave all of his remaining personal effects on the sidewalk and forget to tell him to come pick them up. Ray was about two hours too late. Had he arrived when Marie first put his valuables out onto the street, maybe they wouldn’t have been stolen. It was when he banged on her door to yell at her for this affront that she knew she wasn’t through punishing him. It still felt so satisfying that she needed more. And she needed to think even bigger. 

Number ten: secure a job in a superior position at his workplace and start phasing him out of the company. The thing about Ray was, he embodied so much genericness that it was easy to outshine him in his corporate workplace within six months of being hired there. From there, it was even easier to taint the others against him, despite his protests that his ex-girlfriend was a “psychotic bitch,” a phrase she was able to record him saying and take immediately to HR. 

In the meantime, she had to admit that her regular lunches with Ray’s father were getting decidedly more tawdry. Number eleven: fuck his father. It was when he invited her to have lunch at the Palm Court in the Plaza that she knew he was ready to take their cautious canoodling to the next level. After all, they were dining in a hotel. She knew that wasn’t a coincidence on his part. As it turned out, Eric was much more well-endowed. Just further proof that all subsequent generations of men only worsen. 

Having felt a bit icky about what she’d done (though only slightly), Marie decided to take her boss up on an offer to attend to some business in their L.A. office. L.A.–where it just so happened she knew Craig, his older brother lived. Number twelve: “happen” upon his brother who you’ve never met in person while on a business trip in Los Angeles. Proceed to fuck him. It didn’t take half as much finesse to seduce Craig as it did Eric. For Craig didn’t even put two and two together that she was his brother’s ex until after waking up hungover with her in his Los Feliz abode. He seemed to be doing a lot better for himself than Ray, by the way. 

Three months after her Mickey Rourke-tinged business trip, she couldn’t ignore the fact that the crimson wave had not said “surf’s up” of late. And she had to admit, the timing could put the child as the spawn of any one of Ray’s immediate male relatives. Number thirteen: find out you’re pregnant and that the child could be either his father’s or his brother’s

She was horrified at first. Never in a million years would she have thought that her plan to make a clean break from Ray in the new decade could turn so elaborate (and play out well past 2020). Then she had the epiphany: “Well shit, I could really use this to my advantage.” Number fourteen: decide to leave all parties involved questioning whose child it might actually be as you use your dangling to make everyone perform at your beck and call. Ray took it the hardest, naturally. Him and Charlotte, who has since been transferred to a sanitarium. But Eric and Craig were actually sort of over the moon about the prospect. For Eric, it would be the chance to finally “raise a child right” and for Craig, it would serve as a sign for him to clean up his act and start really focusing on making the kind of money he had always dreamed of when he first set out for Los Angeles. With both men so overly excited, it was easy to make them do things like scour every inch of the West Side in search of something esoteric like pimento ice cream in the middle of the night. Oh how she loved making them dance like marionettes. 

It was difficult to make them go on like this for much longer–they wanted to–had to–know who the baby’s father really was. Even if Marie were to only give them an inkling of her intuition (the truth was, it might have been this guy’s she had met while partying too late in Hudson Yards). Number fifteen: express an uncertainty about whether or not you’re going to have the child as at first promised so to avoid any future drama with his family. To deflect from the fact that she didn’t really have an answer–or at least not one that they would want to hear–she tossed out a new threat to toy with them: abortion. 

Number sixteen: get the abortion but continue pretending to be pregnant so as to get as much mileage out of emotionally torturing the male members of his family. The threat was only just another masterful part of the overall strategy. She would go through with it, to be sure, but Eric and Craig didn’t need to know that lest they suddenly deem her of no value to them. And she needed to stay valuable if she wanted to keep getting at Ray. She suspected any day now that she might unearth the most satisfactory way yet to go for his jugular. 

It’s truly surprising the kind of life-like mannequins you can find in the Garment District. They even have ones for babies. Number seventeen: procure a fake baby and be seen walking around with it in a stroller so as to corroborate you went through with birthing the wretched thing. After having kept a low profile for the rest of her “pregnancy,” Marie was sure to be spotted walking the fake fucker in both men’s neighborhoods (Craig had acquired a residence in New York as well so he could be closer to his potential son when the time came). 

Having dangled the bounty at them, it didn’t take long for her to get calls from each. And to both men she assured, “Yes, you’re the real father.” It was important to make them think that so she could get them to do one final act in her bidding. Number eighteen: make grand declarations that neither his father or brother will ever be allowed to see their new son so long as Ray isn’t renounced by the family. Granted, now that Ray’s mother was out of the picture it wouldn’t be as dramatic, but at least he would be cut out of the Will and all would be bequeathed to Craig. That would really fuck with Ray’s head. Millennial men practically count the days to their parents’ death nowadays so they can inherit something, anything. 

Number nineteen: when they do renounce Ray from the family, mention that the baby was smothered in his sleep a few days ago and it’s too late for that to mean anything. Essentially saying “oops” about being an unfit mother, it didn’t take long for Marie to become the public enemy number one of all three Briden men (that was their last name, Briden… a bit femme if you asked Marie, and probably part of the subconscious reason why she never wanted to take it as her own). 

To make amends in some way for their faux loss, she needed to do something symbolic. Offer a “touching” gesture to commemorate the experience they could now never have: fathering Marie’s child. Number twenty: hold a funeral for the never really born child and, in some ceremonious way, realize what you’re actually burying at last is the relationship with the ex whose baggage you weren’t supposed to bring into the new decade.

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