Where were you when ______?
It’s a question that has been asked through the ages. Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Where were you when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, its snake-like smoke plume shooting up over the dashed hopes of America?
Where were you on February 21, 2011?
I was at home, getting ready. I should’ve been ready by then, but I always wait until the last minute. Although I wasn’t ready, I had the supplies you need for this kind of situation: knee socks of the proper density to keep your feet and at least half of your legs warm while allowing you to wear short shorts and slide across hardwood floors, a highlighter that perfectly matches the short shorts, an almost untouched container of chocolate chip ice cream (a relatively simple, old-school flavor, which is comforting) and one sterling spoon that matches no other silverware in the house, a hairbrush to use as a microphone in the event of sassiness, and a fan-fucking-tastic playlist of you-suck-asshole music just waiting for you to hit “play.”
How does it happen? It happens like these things always happen. There’s a hushed phone call or a text and somebody somewhere says something like, “We have to talk.” You could just cancel the postgame show right then because you know what’s going to happen and you shouldn’t even have to bother with the rest of it, but you stupidly always think there’s a chance you’ll say something so witty, profound, and cuttingly accurate that you’ll change the path the earth travels around the sun and this won’t happen. It never works that way, ever, but I suppose thinking it’s possible is inherently part of the human struggle. While you get ready to meet him, your mental Rolodex spins out of control and randomly stops on different thoughts:
She won’t make you happy.
She’s not that smart. Eventually, sooner than you think, you’ll get bored. (You’re much more subtle than this, of course, but “you’ll get bored” is a good one to pull out because it implies that you are much more worldly, sophisticated, fascinating, and sexy than she is and if you couldn’t keep him, well, you know.)
Nobody understands you like I do.
Your heart pounds as you put on your jacket and meet him somewhere, probably a park, which is better than a bar or a restaurant in case things get ugly. He’s wearing jeans, Uggs, a ridiculous striped knit hat that’s too big and has a pompom, and mittens that are attached to a string you wear through your jacket so you don’t lose them. (Whatever, this is my story and I can have him dress however I want. Making him look stupid now is the only power I have left.)
I have parks.
We walk around Ferril Lake. It’s colder than I thought. I think he’d offer me a mitten, but doing so would require removing the whole mitten-string contraption from his jacket. I put my hands in my pockets and glare at the wind and flash-debate whether I want to hear him say it or whether I don’t want to hear it at all.
“So, I –” he starts.
“I know,” I blurt. I guess this means I don’t want to hear it at all. “When are you leaving?”
“I don’t know. Tuesday?”
It’s Monday. I almost ask where he’s going to stay, but I don’t want to know. I can’t care about these things any more.
“I’m taking Chauncey, AC, and Shelden.”
“Chauncey? Aaaaaa Ceeeee? Really?” I’m going to have nobody left.
“Renaldo? Fuck.” That’s low. Renaldo is my favorite.
“You’ll get guys,” he says.
“I know. But they’re strangers.”
“It’s not you. It’s –”
“Oh don’t even.” Of course it’s me, you jackass. What does that even mean, anyway? It’s me it’s you it’s going to New York because it’s the only city big enough for your ridiculous ego.
We walk and my eyes are watering from the biting wind.
“What about the dogs?” I say. “You’ll miss the dogs.” This wasn’t true.
“I know.” He doesn’t look at me.
There are dogs everywhere. I don’t know if they have them where he’s going. I’m sure they do, I mean, but it’s different. They don’t have dogs in Subarus, lolling their tongues out the window on the way to the mountains, muddy paws on the upholstery because, as a people, we don’t care that much about our cars but we still have them. We don’t have a subway.
He’ll be happy with her, of course. They always are. She’s energetic and dark and light and sparkly and honestly probably has a rough coke habit and a closet full of Jimmy Choos. I’m quieter, earthy, don’t always do my hair, and have been known to wear Birkenstocks (only occasionally, like on a Sunday afternoon when you go to the park to listen to live jazz and watch the neighborhood gangsters in their color-coordinated shirts and baseball hats perform their elaborate display behavior on a large scale). I like hiking and microbrews and medical marijuana and don’t think I’ve ever been to anything that qualifies as a bodega. I don’t have an accent (if you try to tell me I have a Chicago accent, like Jennifer Beals is trying too hard to have on The Chicago Code, her “a”s all flat like a hissing bike tire that just ran over one of those things Ben calls Baumgarts that get stuck in Coltrane’s paw and make him limp around like a pirate, I’ll fight you on it because it’s not true and, for the record, I also don’t make random things plural for no reason (the store is Jewel, not the Jewels, and nobody calls it the Jewels) and also nobody calls it the “el train,” while we’re at it). As far as I know, I don’t have a meatpacking district, although I do have unfortunate cowboys who stand on the street by their old pickup trucks and pretend the litter blowing by is tumbleweeds and that this is still the wild west.
The last time I was heartbroken after a relationship ended, I sat on the couch and watched hour after hour of ESPN. I don’t go out with the girls, get drunk, and talk shit about the latest man to break my heart. That was never my style. I watch an endless loop of late-night SportsCenter, over and over, until I can tell you exactly who will be the first team out of the NCAA tournament, which I’m looking forward to even in my diminished state. That doesn’t even help now because it’s all about him. I don’t even want to mention the shit ESPN wrote on my Facebook wall earlier this evening, “Hey, I threw together a little video montage of highlights from your relationship with Melo. I’ll be airing it 100 times a day for the next week. Hope you’re okay xoxo hugs.” I change my status to “single.” I drink too much and tweet inappropriate things to @JR_Swish. (Oh crap, JR Smith just deleted his Twitter again but his pictures are still up.) I’ve always had my eye on that guy, if you want to know the truth.
I turn off the tv and bust out the “I just got dumped” soundtrack. Helen Reddy has always been there for me.
Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman
Shit, she’s right. I am wise and if I have to I can do anything. Anything. Not that this is what Helen Reddy had in mind, but I can even find a new man. A better man. A new star.
I turn the music down, pick up my phone, and make a call. He answers after one ring.