Sarah Bregel | Longreads | November 2017 | 11 minutes (2,671 words)
I am peering out the screen door at the front entrance of my house. Anxious, I glance up and down the tree-lined street and then move to the back door to do the same. The dog follows my every move. I stop and stare at him, circle the dining room table twice, and start over. I’m practically panting, the same as he does when he chases his tail then flops on the carpet from exhaustion.
I’m listening for footsteps, to hear the gate click. I’m waiting desperately to catch a glimpse of my husband jogging up the road, dripping with sweat. For a brief moment I wonder if he has thrown himself into oncoming traffic.
I cannot stop pacing, cannot stop bobbing my head. It is heavy, a block of cement, weighing me down. I cannot eat, but I can drink wine. I have had the better part of a bottle already. I finish my glass, then fill it with water and chug it down three times, preparing for the worst come morning.
Our two small kids are downstairs watching TV. They’ve been planted there like eyes growing on the skins of potatoes for hours, and I have no plans to call to them and demand they shut it off. I can’t look at their faces for fear they might see through me. Later, I will dry my swollen eyes long enough to read bedtime stories and lay with them a while. I will say “Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” I’ll close the door almost all the way then whisper through the crack, “There’s no bugs,” and slip out.
Alana Massey | Longreads | October 2017 | 10 minutes (2,448 words)
It is fitting that I was on my way to a museum filled with ghastly medical objects and oddities when I realized most of us are more haunted by the living than the dead. The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia is a medical history museum that houses such prized specimens as Einstein’s brain, conjoined fetuses in a jar, President Grover Cleveland”s jaw tumor, and an expansive wall case displaying Dr. Joseph Hyrtl’s human skull collection. I was on my way to the wedding of my friends Helena and Thomas, the kind of tender, brilliant oddballs so in love that I’d believe them both if they told me the other had hung the North Star or can understand the language of animals. The kind of people who get married in the Mütter Museum not because they necessarily want to, but because there are simply no other places so tastefully macabre yet oddly tender, befitting their nuptials. I don’t believe this about love but I do believe it about wedding venues: It isn’t a decision, it is destiny.
So it was not a happy or selfless thought for me to have, this one about hauntings, on the drive there. My thoughts were not in envy of the couple or of selfish indignation aimed at the attached generally; they were entirely about a love I’d recently lost. Fourteen days prior officially, but 31 days before if going by what really counts. My boyfriend of nearly two years and I had last seen each other on Monday, Aug. 21 in the morning when I dropped him off at the bus station to go back to New York from my house in the Catskills. On Aug. 22, without a fight or explanation or a breakup, he simply stopped responding to text messages.
There was ample proof of life: His name appeared on Google Hangouts and he’d make Instagram stories from time to time, and his friends reported no death on social media. I waited 17 days for a response until I couldn’t grit my teeth any longer and asked him why. Though no answer would likely satisfy me, he wouldn’t even do me the courtesy of offering an explanation for this particularly cruel tactic. He would not answer my phone call, forcing me to speak my piece and say my goodbyes over text. If you had asked me before this happened if you can get over a difficult text exchange in 14 days, I would have told you, “Absolutely.” I wouldn’t tell you that now.
It begins at an outdoor café while you’re working for a month in central Mexico. From one table away, you zero in on his brown forearm, the two black cuffs tattooed around it. You want to touch those cuffs, encircle his arm with your hands. Soon you’ll learn the word esposas, which means both “handcuffs” and “wives,” but today you know only polite Spanish, please-and-thank-you Spanish. You smile at him until he approaches. When he asks if you have a boyfriend, you start to cry and can’t stop. You want to explain something to him — that you loved someone the way a dog loves her owner — but the only available language is snot. He holds a cocktail napkin to your nose. “Blow,” he says. For a second, you think he’s serious. Then you laugh so hard you feel something shift, the way the sky shifts from blue to pink.
His socks never match. His clothes and his dog are splattered with paint. His mother embroiders designs on his guayaberas and does his laundry. At night, he crashes wherever he is — on a porch, on a couch, by the lake in his pueblo. He takes you hiking to see the bursting white moon. He takes you to meet the shaman who can erase your pain with feathers. He takes you to see pyramids and an eagle carved into a mountain. He knows how to build a fire. He knows how to prepare a sweat lodge. He knows how to get people to buy him drinks. He knows how to wrap your hair around one hand and undress you with the other. During sex, he says all kinds of things you wish you understood. By the lake, you get so stoned together he stares at your face and asks if you’re Buddha.
“If I were Buddha, I couldn’t tell you,” you say.
“You have the face of Buddha.” He takes a drag, exhales a cloud, leans back on one elbow. “But don’t tell me. You are right. It is better not to tell me.”
Jen Doll | Longreads | July 2017 | 24 minutes (6,048 words)
The day after my boyfriend of nearly a year broke up with me because I wasn’t an evangelical Christian also happened to be the day before a trip we’d planned together: five days and four nights in beautiful, sunny, USA-tropical Miami. It was supposed to be a romantic escape from January New York, gray in the best of instances but ever drearier on account of the swirling political anxiety and despair that followed Donald Trump’s election and inauguration. It was like the weather was in on everything that had turned us all upside down, too; it rained like the skies were weeping. (They had good reason, what with climate change.) Since November, politics was all anyone was talking about, all anyone could talk about. We’d been looking at each other with dazed, pained expressions while attempting to gird ourselves for what was next, and the nexts kept coming, faster and more furious. Talking about politics was increasingly exhausting, even when you did it with people you agreed with. But with my boyfriend, talking about politics had become something else.
It turned out that he had been living something of a double life, unknown to me upon perusal of his Tinder profile and most of the numerous dates we’d been on since. From May to fall he appeared as your typical liberal “coastal elite,” or at least my conception of one, which is to say, he wore plaid shirts and hipster sneakers, he enjoyed drinking and good food and Brooklyn bars and indie bands; he was sophisticated and smart and funny and sweet and quirky. He worked in the arts. He was, like me, writing a book. I never once saw him read a Bible.
Except. As we grew closer, this valuable information began to flow out, in fits and starts. He’d grown up evangelical, and even though I believed he’d moved on from what I considered a repressive childhood — after all, he was dating me, a person whose secularity very nearly dripped from her Twitter page; he was enough of a progressive to wrestle with the views of his Trump-voting parents and even criticize them (though not to their faces) — what appeared to be vestiges of those beliefs would pop up now and again in our conversations, emotional bombs that led to explosions.
After I participated in the Women’s March in New York City, he confessed he’d once been in a march, too. But, um, a pro-life one. “Ages ago, though, and it was pretty lame,” he said.
A central agony in these books is alienation—not only the pain of abuse, or heartbreak, or evaporation, but the pain of having your pain appropriated. The books themselves reclaim the hurt for their authors, and whatever their literary merit, they offer at least some catharsis for the reader, who can always relate. Rock songs make heartbreak seem valorous, but it’s more often a state of debasement in which you’d gnaw through the floor to get back what you had.
The books also serve as a caution, maybe a useless one, against letting passion erase us—against falling into the abyss. This resonates particularly with women, whose worth has forever been determined by the men they’re attached to, and whose place in rock and roll, never as liberated as it pretended to be, has been diminished and maligned. But love gets the better of all of us; it’s just that men have more often been the ones to sing about it.