Things aren’t going well. I know this because I come home from work, eat six bowls of cereal and climb in bed still wearing my clothes and shoes. The end is near, and I can feel it.
I know cereal isn’t love and companionship, but it won’t turn on you, and it hurts a lot less (except Cap’n Crunch — that stuff can wreak havoc on the roof of your mouth). My relationship has hit that four-month snag, and I sense it may be ending. In my mind, this doom becomes inflamed and sore, like a blemish lovingly treated with Crisco.
I’ll have to start over. I’ll have to socialize again. I’ll be calling everyone I know to see if I can latch on to their Friday night plans. I’ll get old and older. I think what any reasonable person thinks after the demise of a four-month relationship: I’m going to die alone and leave my collection of crocheted toilet-paper cozies to the nice young lady who changes my diapers.
I run out of milk in my cereal bowl. I add milk because there’s still cereal. Run low on cereal. Add cereal. Rinse. Repeat. The phone rings.
It’s him, and sure enough, he says he needs "a break" for a couple weeks. There isn’t enough cereal in the world to hold my hand for days on end while I wait for him to dump me, so I add an "up" to his break, and it’s a breakup.
Let’s face it, what is a break if not, "Let’s take time out to get our heads together and see who can hook up with someone else first"? It’s a race. And being that I usually lose races, I forfeit. It’s over. I gather his things in a garbage bag and get back in bed.
To comfort myself, I list his infractions in my head. Little things: his cold phone voice, the hairline threatening to recede, the way he once bit his fingernail and spit it, another girl’s underwear in his clean laundry pile.
"Those are yours," he said, as I clutched the offending g-string, flowered and a size smaller than I am.
"That’s chutzpah, telling you that you don’t know your own underwear," said my dad, when I phoned him for my semiannual your-daughter’s-a-loser call.
"You’re not a failure," said my dad. "You’re a success in relationships. You sure have a lot of them."
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have brought up the whole moving-in thing so soon and then tried to pass it off as a joke when I saw his mortified reaction. He said, "All this pressure is making me anxious. How can I know how I’m going to feel later on? Why can’t we just have fun?"
Maybe I shouldn’t have incessantly quoted that line from "Terms of Endearment" (please hear Jack Nicholson’s voice): "There aren’t that many shopping days left until Christmas."
"It’s happening," said my friend Richard. "You’re turning into a Wendy Wasserstein character."
I curl up with my space heater blasting nearby, a good book and another bowl of cereal. The next morning I wake up. No boyfriend. What have I done? I call him on my cell phone on my way to work, crying. I don’t want to break up. He gives me back the "break" option and I accept it, laid off like a seasonal employee at Macy’s.
It’s like my head is in the guillotine and the executioner decided it was suddenly time to go have a cigarette. This is turning into a long week.
And don’t think it escapes me that this break coincides with a certain holiday. Yes, it’ll be me, all alone once again on Tu B’Shevat, not to mention that stupid Valentine’s Day. I go to a party and tell some strange guy my boyfriend put me on a break.
"What?" he said. "Would you put the Mona Lisa out on your front porch for a week? He’s crazy." I love this man. I love him, but I need to go home and be alone with a bowl of cereal.
I start having the kind of philosophical thoughts you have when camping, or when pubescent, or after a weird dream — the kind that seem overwrought just moments after they feel epiphanal. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that life has ups and downs, and when you’re down, you can’t even imagine what it feels like to be up. When a job ends, you think you’ll never have another one. When a boyfriend leaves, you think you’ll never have another one. When a box of Cinnamon Life runs out, you can’t imagine dragging yourself out to Ralphs for a replacement. But you do.
I don’t know what song the executioner is going to sing me when he’s had time to "think things over." I just know I’ll be okay. I’m the kind that stays crunchy in milk.