There Are Two Kinds of People: People Like My Boyfriend and People Like Me

"Boyfriend," a story by Laurie Stone

three cacti in Joshua Tree at sunset

There Are Two Kinds of People: People Like My Boyfriend and People Like Me

Boyfriend

My boyfriend explained the plot of a TV show I had fallen asleep while watching. He said, “When people have emotional needs, that signals they’re weak and will lose in business.” People could either be successful and heartless or emotionally complex and doomed to failure, he explained. There were depths in him I had not previously noticed. When we met, he had been living with another woman and was more surprised than anyone when he suddenly left her. After this I lost interest in conventional plots.  

A podiatrist injected my ankle with novocaine and dug around with a scalpel. I said, “What’s the most unusual thing you have seen lately?” He said, “This,” pointing to the cactus spikes imbedded in my skin. The needles of a barrel cactus are barbed like the quills of a porcupine and move in only one direction, just like me when I met my boyfriend. The podiatrist found four bits of cactus encased in chunks of flesh and placed them in a jar. I said, “Why?” He said, “In case the insurance company needs proof.” I said, “Do you want to see other things wrong with my feet?” He said, “Not today.” 

My boyfriend still has feelings for the woman he left. The abruptness of his departure has left them turning in a revolving door. I try not to take this personally, but I think I should take it personally. After they broke up, my boyfriend and the woman did not become friends exactly. I don’t know what they became because I’ve never seen them together. I don’t know what to make of this relationship. I had a friend who was a go-go dancer. She told me about the costumes she wore: white for old men; red lace for Latinos; leather garters for bikers. She was saying everyone has a secret life. My boyfriend is careful to tell me when he has received a text message or an email from the woman he left and when they have arranged a meeting. It used to be dinners. Now, they mostly have lunch. There is always food involved and always he pays. He says he feels bad about causing her pain, but I think the loss of her causes him the same amount of pain. What’s in it for her? I think it is easier to love a person who isn’t there. I think he is lonely for her. I don’t blame him. I don’t blame anyone for being lonely for someone else. Loneliness is consoling, in that it reminds you you want something. Their relationship allows me a sort of freedom, too, but I think my secret thoughts are mostly about my boyfriend’s secret life.  

Today he said, “Getting together with you has certainly been the smoothest of my transitions.” A helicopter hovered overhead, and I couldn’t tell if he was joking. There has always been a third person in our relationship, and I wonder who is keeping this in play, and I am pretty sure it is my boyfriend, and I have to say it rekindles my delight in him to see how devious he can be. When I walk around our apartment and sink my hands into the soil of our plants, I’m happy no matter what comes next. I like leftovers. Things too good to finish. Things waiting on a road for a ride and a bed. The snort at the end of your laugh. A new restaurant has opened nearby with a French menu and a long bar.  

On the way to yoga the other day, I passed a man I had fallen out with. We were near where he lived. He smiled as if we were meeting on purpose and said, “Hello, Valerie.” I pulled out my ear pods and said, “Hello. I heard your mother died.” He waved his hand and said, “Yeah, it went on way too long,” as if to say she had exceeded her shelf life and not to spend my show of good manners on this turn in his life. I had mentioned his mother to annoy him. He looked fit. When people let go of me or I have let go of them but still have feelings for them, I hope they will shrivel in my absence, but they never do. We were standing under scaffolding. The city was not the city we had walked in for many miles over many years. I had never known where I stood with him, and I did not know if I missed him. I said, “Should we say hello on purpose another time?” He said, “Yes.” I didn’t think this would happen. I thought the petunias I had bought that morning might not make it through our next trip away, but that wasn’t a reason not to buy them. 

One day I went to the memorial for a woman I did not know and left with a packet of her ashes in a small silver envelope. People admired the dead woman more than they had loved her, it seemed. If you die and were awful, people lie at your memorial. If you die and you were wonderful, people can’t evoke you vividly because abrasiveness goes into us more deeply than light falling on a chair. I wondered if she would be missed. In truth we can walk out of the lives of people we have been attached to for years, and, conversely, we can return in memory again and again to a stranger we sat beside silently on a train. I carried the woman’s ashes in my pocket, not knowing where to scatter them. When I felt them in my pocket, I remembered my own death and dropped them. When Picabia was dying, Man Ray made a little painting and wrote on it that the show was not cancelled, but was merely an entreacte. Duchamp sent Picabia a telegram saying he would soon see him again. When you quiet your mind, what do you hear? What if I were to tell you you could have both? 

At the gym, the man who would become my boyfriend said, “What would you like to do?” I said, “I’d like to take you upstairs and throw you against a wall.” He said, “Do you want to stretch?” We sat on mats with our legs spread wide. I gripped his arms, and he held my waist. It was blustery out, and fat flakes whipped the gray air. I wondered if one day I would look back at this moment and find it thin. So far this has not happened.

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