Stay busy. Good thoughts. Good
karma. Go running, go shopping, go
out with friends, splurge on a pair
of shoes you’ll only wear once. Feed
your dog, your cat, your pet fish. You
are okay, you are okay, you are okay.
Go to bars and let a boy buy you a
drink. Let him whisper dirty things in
your ear as he wraps
his hand around a disappearing wrist.
But remember: you do not owe anyone.
So many things to do and it is okay,
you are keeping busy. Take showers
that are too hot, showers that burn the
sadness right out of you. Sleep with
the lights on. Tell your friends that
love can be expensive as you decline
their attempts to fix you up. The bar
has been your best friend all these
years. Ignore how your sheets smell
like too much wasted love. You have
things to do. The little sadnesses will
pile up: seeing him, not seeing him,
how you weren’t enough to change
the tide, the wrong boy texting you the
sweetest things. It is okay. Someday,
you will be beautiful again.
Stay busy. Good thoughts. Good
The sleeping, the eating, the grocery
shopping, the cleaning, the awake,
the bathing, the sex, the running, the
deep sharp tug in the belly of it, the
hellos, the goodbyes, the edge of the
blade, the kisses, the bitter end, the
better beginning, the constant phone
calls, the endless voice mails, the
letters you wrote when you pretended
to be a writer, the underside of your
arms when you told me to stay, the
way that even the backs of your knees
blushed when we whispered secrets
behind cupped palms. The innocence,
the fresh sting of it, the unknowing
and then the brutal knowing of it all,
the way we fell apart and then found
our way back. The promise, the sin,
the breaking. The leaving. The going.
The always. The never. The yes. The
sweetest thing you ever said. The
craving. The digging. The finding.
You were eight the first time. Didn’t
realize what filthy was until you had a
boy navigate your body raw with his
fingers. It was hot that summer,
humid and sticky and there was
sweat in new, secret places that he
liked to lick off. For him, your body
was the Last Supper. He engorged
himself on your thighs, your barely-
there chest, your shiny new mouth.
He liked to hide in the pale quiet of
where the world begins. When he
let you down from the fence you ran
all the way back to your house and
didn’t realize until later how he’d hung
your body naked like a crucifixion.
Years later, over coffee, you tell me
how you don’t think you could ever
forgive God, that yes has become
your catchphrase, that boys pile up
in your head and you tend to forget
their names to make letting them go
easier. You tell me that you use them
to fill up those abandoned places
inside of you, that you drink to make
it easier, that you’ve licked your fingers
of love over and over again. Mothers
now use your name as a cautionary
tale and anyway, you prefer to be on
your own. You tell me that somewhere
on a shelf in the apartment where you
live, there’s a jar with his heart in it
collecting dust, wasting away: your
prize for being a good girl.
Really should delete your number
but I keep it as a reminder, as some
small consolation prize that our
paths ever crossed. I miss you like
I always do and all I want to do is
call you and tell you how I spent the
day masturbating to the sound of
your voicemail but oops I shouldn’t
because you have a new girlfriend
now and you’ll probably let her listen
to this message. She probably
smells really pretty, like roses. Do
you fuck her on a bed covered in
rose petals? I wonder what your sex
is like, if you ever think my name
when you’re still inside of her. Tell
her I say hello. Tell her that she’s not
going to be able to stop everything
from falling apart. I miss your mouth
and your hands and your body but
don’t tell your girlfriend that, don’t
tell her that I miss your body moving
like a sheet against my body or that
I miss your voice oh god your voice
tell me a story tell me how I’ll regret
this in the morning, mascara ringing
my eyes and red lipstick smeared
on the mouth of the wine bottle from
telling it all of my secrets. Tell me that
I tried to be unaffected and sexy but
that I ended up calling you instead.
This is how I learned that “no”
cannot always save you. That
your hands are a prison. That
shame is something the body
becomes. It has been years since
I’ve met my own eyes in the
mirror, years since I’ve undressed
myself with the lights on. I do
not know where to put my body
when a boy looks at me like I’m
able to save him. I cross the street
and look both ways. I do not
always wear a seatbelt. I do not
like the finality of a pen. When I
dream of you and your basement
and your mouth and the shadow
of your body and the way you
said my name, like it choked you
on the way down but that you
loved the violence of it, I wake
and fumble for the light switch.
If I saw you now I probably
would not recognize you. Do you
know how terrifying that is?
Learning to love my body is still
not an easy thing. I stand in front
of the mirror and trace what is
reflected back at me: long limbs,
rounded shoulders, the wheeling
nipples that hang from my breasts,
rose-brown. I curl a lock of dark
hair around my finger and tug hard
on it. I wrap it around my neck like
a scarf. Like hanging wire. Is this
how I’d want them to find me?
Naked, suffocated from too much
hair, too much me? He tells me that
I am beautiful, that I am his favorite
address, that if he could he’d crawl
right up inside me and die there.
I don’t think I could handle it, being
a grave for two. There is already so
much. The magazines say: reduce,
erase, minimize, blur. We are not
beautiful until we disappear.
I remember buying groceries with you;
remember how we’d pick out dinner
together for each night of the week.
Usually we made pasta, or you’d want
things to make sandwiches, soup. If
we had extra money we’d buy things
for fondue. When I go to the store
now, I try not to think of you as I walk
the aisles, try not to think about how
you’d pick up an apple or a head of
lettuce with the kind of reverence you
usually reserved for my body. I try not
to think about you framed in the fresh
produce section or among the cheeses
or the refrigerated pizza dough. When
I stand in line at the deli, a ticket in my
hand, I can’t help but to think of all
those women before me who stood in
line, waiting to be called, wanting to
save you and thinking that they could.
After Carrie Wittmer
1. Google could probably spell
that for you.
2. I hate that you only text me
when you’re drunk and that I get
drunk just to text you back.
3. Be honest: does this make me
4. I loved you for all of a split
5. I Googled our astrology
compatibility and realized
we’d be a complete disaster.
6. If I wanted to talk to you I
would have replied an hour
7. Stop wink-facing me. What
does that even mean?
8. Have you ever thought about
me while masturbating?
9. I called you and your girlfriend
answered and now I’m pretty
sure she thinks we’re fucking.
10. Just to be clear, I’d never
sleep with you.
11. Do you even know what
a library is?
12. Why are we even friends.
13. That time you butt-dialed
me as as you were breaking up
with your girlfriend.
14. Please delete my number.
15. You make me so sad.
16. I wish I cared more, but
Happy Hour at Starbucks is
more important than you.
Write his name onto
a piece of paper until
both sides are full and
the letters could be a
part of anyone’s name.
Write his name until
they are just letters
with no meaning. It will
be difficult to see why
you loved that
combination of vowels
and syllables so much.
When you begin to
remember, burn it.
Accept the unacceptable: he is not
coming back. You did all that you could
and he is not coming
back. Delete his number from your
contact list, scrub his fingerprints from
your face, your hair; wipe
clean the imprint of his body against
yours. Find a new hobby. Learn how to
care for a garden or join your
neighbor’s book club. Accept the
unacceptable: he is not thinking about
you. You are the last thought
in his mind, you are a billion light-
years away, you are the newest planet
they found: KOI-172.02.
Accept the unacceptable: his girlfriend
is prettier than you. It is not something
he realized until
after, but it’s done now and the first
time you see them together after, you
compare yourself to her,
and then call your mother for
reassurance. Try to forget the way he
made you feel all burned out
and exhausted, like you couldn’t keep
up. Forget how he kissed you, how
sometimes he would
look at you and you’d give up anything
anything anything for that look, even
your own sanity.
Accept the unacceptable: you are
better off without him. There were
nights where he refused
to touch you on claims that he was too
tired, too not in the mood. Remember
finding that phone
number inked onto the back of a
stained napkin, buried deep into his
pocket that Saturday morning
you decided to do laundry. Remember,
remember, remember: You are not
meant to be together.
You are not puzzle pieces designed to
fit perfectly. When he tries to call you,
do not pick up. Erase
his message before listening to it. You
cannot save him. You are not the first
that has tried. You
will not be the last.
I wish there could be an exit-
interview for the end of a
relationship, where I could
take you to a little room in
the apartment we bought
together on a whim, where I
could ask what it was exactly
that made you fall out of
love with me, where we could
discuss, in detail, the things
we both could have improved
upon. Maybe I would tell you
about the guy who touched
my thigh in a bar once or that
my friends never really liked
you. Maybe you would finally
be able to tell me the truth:
that you’re tired of unclogging
my hair from the shower drain,
that I sing too loudly, that I
don’t cook enough of your
favorite foods. That love, for
you, is just a convenience,
an apartment to share rent
on, a warm bed to come home
to. That it seems to usually end
up as either a falling apart or
a falling together and it’s been
years since you’ve needed
“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?” — Maya Angelou
Smile. Shave your legs. Do your hair.
Smell nice. Dress appropriately. Don’t
be a slut. Don’t be a whore. Don’t be
crude. Don’t call him first. Let him pay
on the first date. Smile and look pretty.
Stand in that corner. Sit. Heel. Stay. Like
a fucking dog. Look both ways before
crossing the street. Carry pepper spray
in your bag. Please him. Tease him.
Smile. Let him stay even when you are
tired. His pleasure is more important
than yours. Wait to have sex until you
are married you stupid fucking slut.
Smile. You are supposed to be soft.
Supposed to be an object. Supposed
to be immune to the world’s quiet decay.
Supposed to be pretty pretty pretty and
sit with your legs closed and chew with
your mouth closed and close close close
yourself up because no one wants to see
the color of your insides. No one wants to
be responsible for the flood. Don’t be
such a bitch. Smile. When he hits you
do not hit him back. Wear concealer.
Smile. Convince yourself you love him,
that everyone makes mistakes. Smile.
Forgive him. Be afraid to be alone. Be
afraid to be left behind. Be afraid of the
knowing look on his face as he kisses
your bruises with chapped lips. Be afraid
of the truth. Smile. Be afraid of yourself.
to your boyfriend of two years,
you never touch him without
putting moisturizer on first.
That summer—not the first, but
hopefully one of many, was the
summer you grew into your body,
realized what love was and how
to keep it a secret. The trees,
though green and leafy, still
reminded you of flames. The
whole world was on fire the
summer you fell in love. There
are so many sweet memories
already. Him, shirtless, the curve
of his wholeness pale and full
beneath the waning, envious
moon. How he touches you like
you are sacred, like you are
precious water in a drought. You
want to count the seconds, minutes,
hours spent together, want to
write his name in permanent vapor
on the bathroom mirror after a
shower. It is summer: sticky, hot,
where you sweat even on the
backs of your knees, where you
go to sleep with the windows
thrown open. You want to tell
your mother how the thought of
him makes you feel flammable,
how your body leans into him
on the long walk home, how you
crawl into bed almost drunk
after he kisses you. How you start
small fires all over town just by
looking at each other. How every
time you begin to say his name
you swallow it back down like lighter
fluid. You know your mother,
know she would hide the matches if
she knew you burned like this.
His hands on you like weights, leaving
imprints on your body like your skin is
wet cement. You want to call him a million
things, name what cannot be named,
crawl inside of him and fold yourself
into his spine. Instead you cannot bring
yourself to call him the night after you
fuck each other fiercely in his bedroom
like animals, gnawing and pulling and
scraping against one another like the
cure to loneliness lives in the nucleus
of your cells. Instead, you put on a dress
that shimmers and makes you feel
naughty as it brushes against your thighs.
You meet dozens of boys at bars, chant
I love you I love you I love you and hope
one of them would say it back. No one
does. Instead you eat the image of him
reflected in the mirror above the sink
after a shower taken hastily together,
reeking of some floral and pepper scent
that your mother bought. You touch
your hips and feel him there, all dead
weight lonely. Above your navel, his