Five Men Who Broke My Heart
By Susan Shapiro
Two days later, I received an e-mail from brad under the heading "Stormy Weather." I opened it to find six words: "hard to see you, raining since." I was taken aback. I was the wounded party here and I had almost recovered. I had sublimated my confusion and longing into writing an article about Brad, completing a thousand-word rough draft. Turning Brad's life into a pithy profile would finish something off. I could control this version.
Two years earlier, I'd interviewed another guy I'd dated, one who collected meteorites. First The New Yorker paid me twelve hundred dollars to run it as a "Talk of the Town" story. When they killed it, The New York Times picked it up for two hundred dollars and ran it in their Sunday City section. It made a good clip, though Meteorite Man wound up hating the piece and has never spoken to me again. Aaron suggested I do the same with all my exes.
It was 2 a.m. Aaron was gone for the week. I liked it when he went away. I stayed up later, threw things out, walked around with fewer clothes on. I was wearing the little black silk nightgown he'd bought me for our last anniversary, which, he'd complained, I never wore for him anymore. Sitting at his desk I scanned his tall, overstuffed shelves. He was a junk collector who saved everything: newspaper articles he never read, stacks of take-out menus, all the little Post-it notes I'd written to him, even "Thanks for doing the laundry. Love you." We'd had a fight when I'd thrown out ninety-nine of the hundred white yarmulkes from our wedding he'd stashed in his closet. "It's romantic!" he'd yelled. "One is romantic!" I screamed back. "A hundred is psychotic!"
When we married, we agreed to file our books together, by subject. Aaron segregated "Baseball," "Basketball," and "Football," finding "Sports" not specific enough. He needed individual headings for "Civil War," "WWL" and, "WWII," aghast at my suggestion that we dump them all in "History." When he deemed "Comics" its own category and demanded separate space for "Humor" and "Comedy," we decided his boy books would live in his den, aka The Bat Cave. Problem was, he hoarded fiction and memoirs too, leaving stacks everywhere-the window ledge, table, floor, bathroom. "You can't read eight books at the same time," I complained. That was the problem with marriage: nothing stayed neat or where you expected it. When he wasn't around, I stuck the books back in their rightful place in the living room.
I wasn't just rescuing authors Aaron had absconded with. I had justification for infiltrating the reclusive Batman's lair. It housed our only computer. I preferred using a typewriter, my black IBM Selectric Correcting III, which sat in the middle of my desk. I hated computers, didn't have one, didn't want one. Then NYU, where I taught evening journalism classes, insisted I be available to my students by e-mail. Aaron offered to share his laptop. In screaming matches three nights in a row, he taught me to use it. I had never imagined having a joint AOL account could pose a problem.
Yet I felt guilty seeing Brad's message on my husband's PowerBook, let alone reading it over and over, a spy about to crack a dangerous code: "hard to see you, raining since." It was hot in Aaron's office. I didn't open the window or turn on the air-conditioning. The back of my thighs stuck to his desk chair as I leaned over his laptop, continuing my long overdue tryst with his once biggest threat.
"Why stormy?" I e-mailed Brad. "Guilt? Regret?" The one benefit of middle age was being too tired for bullshit. "You seem so on top of the world." Cliché, erase. "You seem great. Rich, Ivy League professor with a new book and new twenty-four-year-old." So what if I sounded petty? I was. I sent the message and went to the kitchen for a diet soda, returning Portnoy's Complaint to fiction, in case I needed it. When I came back the upbeat male AOL voice said, "You've got mail." [email protected] was awake. It freaked me out a little, like he was in the next room.
"You said when I left for Harvard I'd get one more gold star on my forehead, but still be empty inside. You were right," Brad answered.
Wow! When had I said that? Good line. All these years later he remembered my insult. I was flattered. But after the hardest, saddest, baby less months of my life, humbled. "I probably said that because I wanted you to stay in New York," I told him. "You had just incinerated my heart."
In the living room was the hand-painted box Aaron had bought me on our honeymoon in Jamaica. I kept my weed in it. I'd been off the stuff (along with cigarettes and alcohol) for almost a year, while we were trying to get pregnant. But if I was going to be barren and unpublished, I figured I might as well be stoned. There was one last thick joint left for just such a revelation. Putting on Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, enhancing my whole nostalgia trip, I took out my thick red photo album. I found my favorite Polaroid of me and Brad, taken the first week of college. I was thin, cute, and sixteen, the youngest in my class, two years early and proud of it. I was wearing Levi's and a tight burgundy leotard that showed off my figure, which Brad was staring at. I was looking into the camera. When we met, I was involved with another man, which, in retrospect, clarified everything.
I took deep puffs, replaying the first party freshman year. It was crowded, smoky, and smelled like beer. Brad took my hand and we danced to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." For a nerd, he could dance. He was fast, limber, and playful, pointing his finger and singing, "Go! Walk out that door!" As a slow tune came on, the lights dimmed. He wrapped his oversized arms around me like he owned me, his hands rubbing my neck. When the long sweaty song was over, we retreated to the Angela Davis lounge. After refusing to have sex and warning him about David, my rugged Canadian swain whom I was sure I'd wind up marrying, we made out on the couch till 4 a.m. Flustered by my leotard. Brad's hands couldn't find the way to my skin.