Reasons Why We Fell Apart
By Sharon Heiny
In the beginning, I sat at a table in Thoreau’s. They had shitty coffee, but I loved the atmosphere. Big plush couches, rustic wood tables, soft acoustic music, and brick red walls. An eclectic group of people circulated, from business folk with their triple non-fat mochas to the pretentious indie snobs with their Buddy Holly glasses and tight dark wash jeans, drinking chai with soy milk. I loved to people watch, so it was my idea we have our first date here. I figured if he sucked, at least I could avert my attention to those around us. It also gave me something to do while I waited, he was twenty minutes late.
Finally, Kirk walked through the glass door and scanned the room. When he looked in my direction, I gave him a slight nod and he walked over.
“Hey. Sorry I’m late. I got stuck in traffic.” It was around 2:30 on a Saturday. What traffic? Maybe a funeral procession. Maybe those country roads he drove on in high school warped his perception.
I took a sip from the giant purple mug that housed my white chocolate mocha. It was already cool. “No sweat.” Since it was our first date, I figured I would take it easy on the guy. He seemed sweet enough and I had just gotten out of a relationship where I dated a huge asshole. We’re talking he accused me of giving him herpes when it was a yeast infection from him fucking his ex-girlfriend. So, even though Kirk wasn’t necessarily my type, I figured I’d give him a chance. The assholes always seemed to be gorgeous, and the nice guys were the slightly less attractive ones. Not that Kirk was hideous, he was just plain, a non-descript kind of guy.
I saw him as harmless.
Maybe that’s why I wanted him to like me, why I didn’t care when he said, “Fuck. I was in a rush and forgot my wallet.” Usually that would have prompted the end of a relationship before it had even begun. “Can I borrow a couple bucks?”
I pulled a five from my purse and handed it to him. I never thought much about money, though I never gave spare change to bums or to the telemarketers who called for donations, just the girl scouts, but that was in exchange for their delicious cookies.
Kirk returned with coffee, black.
“Have I mentioned you’re beautiful?”
Quickly I realized, Kirk’s way out of any argument or issue was to compliment me, and it usually worked.
“Hey. Have you seen the left over cheesecake I had in the fridge?” I asked, still wrapped in a towel, hair soaking wet, with the fridge door opened.
In the living room Kirk lay on the couch, watching Monday night football. We’d been dating a little over a month. “I ate it while you were in the shower. I hope you don’t mind.”
Of course I minded, I had been craving it all day at work and finally thought I’d get a chance to enjoy it after my shower. However, Kirk couldn’t read my mind. I walked into the living room and sat on the couch with him. I wrung out my hair over him.
“Hey!” he yelled, sitting up. “What’s the big deal?” He lifted his hands into the air in protest.
“That’s what you get for eating my cheesecake,” I huffed.
“Well, it’s your fault for saying, ‘help yourself to whatever’s in the kitchen while I get ready.’” He gave me a slight shove. Jerk. He should have known better. Maybe this was where Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus comes from.
“Aw. I’m sorry baby.” I hate ‘baby’. No one puts baby in the corner. Don’t be such a cry baby. Let’s make babies. Did you hear the one about the dead baby and the blender? “Next time I go to the store, I’ll get you a whole cheesecake. Just for you. Cause you’re just so beautiful and I’m the luckiest guy to be with you.” He teased, giving me a slue of kisses down my wet cheek. And that was all it took. I forgave and forgot.
For our six-month anniversary, we hit the road. I had always wanted to go on one of those road trips; you know the kind that look more like carnival side shows than scenic bypasses, the kind of road trip that revolved around the passion of a Chinese fire drill to the overwhelming knot in your stomach from the sheer mass of a ball of yarn. But, I can’t take the credit – it was his idea. We even took his car, his 1991 Ford Escort and packed it with two coolers, five maps, and several duffle bags with an assortment of clothes and camping supplies. We departed Portland, the birthplace of U-Haul and the former home of the 24-hour Church of Elvis, and headed south.
Though, I had my reservations. In the history of road trips, there lay this area of agitation, a way of grating on each other’s nerves like picking at a scab, like the combative nature of a sibling rivalry. Surprisingly enough, we made it most of the trip. It was the two of us against the road, against the sun and the moon and the towering redwoods. The lush Pacific Northwest always entertained me, always had a way of making me feel calm and at home, in a natural state of things. As we took turns driving, I found what I would come to love about Kirk, I found his patience, his ability to laugh at the same odd anomalies I did. But I also found more than I bargained for.
Along Highway 97 was Bend, Oregon, home of the Funny Farm. We had turned after seeing the sign “Goats for Sale” along the main drag, the only indication we were near at all. As we came upon the attraction a small lighthouse beckoned and a barn stood prominent, mounted with a large coat hanger. Peacocks wandered the property, singing a dead dialect, a dying moan to those mystified by the site. The sky was an open blue parasol, hovering above us as we got out of the car. I stretched out, back arched, fingers fanned—I gave a long yawn. From my periphery Kirk gave me a sideward glance, baseball cap pulled tight over his eyes.
“What?” I asked, before continuing my stretching routine. Side to side, side to side.
“Oh, nothing. I was just wondering if you could lick your elbow,” he said. He lifted his cap to expose a raised eyebrow and smiled coyly.
I returned the sentiment by giving him the finger as I scratched the side of my nose.
“Cute, Arden. Real cute.”
“That’s why you’re with me, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. I was actually convinced it was the sex.”
“Wow.” I walked ahead of him and into the establishment. It was how I would imagine hallucinogens, a completely mind altering state, the colors primary and overwhelming, swirling into Wonderland and Oz combined. A tall statue of Siamese twins bowling greeted us at the entry of the dollhouse.
Kirk snuck up behind me and grabbed my hand.
“So, now you wanna be all lovey dovey with me?” I held his hand loosely, without care and crinkled my nose.
“It seemed unexpected—like the atmosphere.” Kirk gestured to the yellow brick road behind the doll house and we set off into what began to feel like a modern art instillation. To our right was an outdoor chess set and around the bend the love pond, heart-shaped pierced with an arrow. Further down the path was an open field with grazing goats, fainting goats.
Kirk ran ahead of me and into the cluster of four-legged kids. They scampered about, Kirk smiling ear to ear. I wondered if this was his disposition as a child, to interrupt the serene with his own mischief, I wondered how his mother had put up with him. I wondered when I would meet his mother—if I would meet his mother. And then, one of the goats fainted.
We tickled the California border, arriving on the coastal province of Brookings, Oregon. A woman at the gas station would tell us the only exciting thing ever to happen to Brookings was the Japanese bombing. The city still carried this older, out dated feel glittered with newer vehicles, driving too slow or too aggressively, never fast enough for Kirk. So, we headed to the harbor. I was exhausted from the moment we set foot into that town, but Kirk wanted to go to the beach, Kirk wanted to take pictures, Kirk wanted to do cartwheels and jumping jacks and the Macarena on the sandy beaches while bundled in a sweatshirt. We didn’t have southerner disillusions of the ocean and warmth. We expected rain, even in the middle of summer, we expected the Alaskan currents, the bone chilling water and in that we found comfort.
“Isn’t this amazing?” Kirk asked, sprinting down the shoreline, jeans rolled above the knee, shoes in hand.
I yawned heavily. “Can’t we just find a camp site or something? I’m tired.” I fussed. I was cranky and tired and I wanted to cuddle.
We were divided in this moment.
“But, baby,” he said.
“Don’t call me baby,” I snapped.
He pouted returning to me from the surf, reaching for my hip, running his fingers down the side of my face, laying the puppy dog eyes on thick. I pulled my hood over my head, obscuring my view.
“You’re so sexy when you’re mad.” He nuzzled me, pressed his lips to my neck. This, I couldn’t resist. I loosely draped my arms around him. It was the last time I’d let him win.
The roads corkscrewed and twisted as we listened to Sinatra, the sky only glimpses from the moon roof, a dark patch above the dense forest smothering Highway 199. I tilted my head back and gazed upward into the packaged night sky. It was a new moon and the stars mingled. I wondered if they danced unconsciously, in small circular moments like our sun, if they missed dancing to Sinatra with stocking feet against the tiled kitchen floor, if they missed road trips with someone they love.
Kirk cleared his throat.
“Hmm,” I hummed.
“Do you want to stay at my folks place in Medford?” Kirk asked, one hand out the window, the other relaxed on the steering wheel as we went into a hairpin turn.
“Is that just up the road?” I looked at him momentarily, before returning to the stars.
“Yeah, about another forty minutes.” He reached over and grabbed my thigh.
“Don’t start that. I refuse to do anything naughty at your parents.” I pushed his hand away.
“Fine.” He didn’t sound fine. He sounded irritated. I wondered if he’d retract the stop, if he’d bar me from meeting his parents. It was a big step, in a direction, I don’t know if either of us was ready for.
We pulled up to a manageable home, one story, frosted blue with white shutters and a slate gray roof. It was almost midnight. The porch light was off, but a street light stood adjacent to the property.
“Are your parents even awake?” I asked mid yawn.
“Well, they do have a tendency to go to bed early.”
“Do they even know about me or will this be a real surprise?” I sat up and opened the car door.
“Actually—” He didn’t continue.
“Why don’t you go in and I’ll just sleep in the back seat.” I glared at him, one foot on the pavement the other still in the car.
“Don’t be like that. We just don’t talk much.”
“So, not at all in the last six months?” I pulled my foot back in and closed the car door.
“Baby,” he pleaded
“I told you not to call me baby.” I crossed my arms and pouted.
“Arden.” He was framed by the window behind him, by the small red house behind him, the lawn overgrown.
“You really thought this was a good idea?” I balled my fists. I wanted to hit him. But I couldn’t decide what would be the best—the nose, the stomach, the arm.
“I like surprises.” He smiled. How could he smile? How could he mock me like this?
“Do your parents like surprises in the form of the 25-year-old girl their son is dating?”
“I know I would.” He nodded his head.
“Kirk. This isn’t funny.” I turned away and looked back at the house.
“This is hilarious.”
“You’re so gullible.” He shoved me.
“Oh. Fuck you.” What an asshole. I listened to him laugh. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t see this as funny.
“My parents have heard all about you.”
“I was about to hitchhike back to Portland, do you realize that?”
“Yes, and it’s why I love you.”
I rolled my eyes and got out of the car. After closing the door I leaned against it. I wondered what kind of house I’d live in someday, after marrying, after pumping out 2.3 kids, after finding a cute stray dog along the side of the road. Maybe it would be a log cabin in the middle of Minnesota or a two-story stucco house in the middle of a suburb outside of San Francisco.
“Come on.” Kirk came around the car and grabbed my hand. He led me up to the front door as I trailed behind him, shuffling my feet. He pulled out a house key and unlocked the door.
“Where are your parents?”
“So, we’re just going to let ourselves in?”
“Shh. You might wake them.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll meet them in the morning.” He led me down a long hallway, family portraits hung on the wall, but I couldn’t really make out their faces.
At the end of the hall, Kirk opened a door and led me inside. He closed the door before switching on the light.
“This is my room.” Suddenly walls covered with Bob Dylan posters, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. The walls were hardly visible, but pieces of blue paint escaped from lifted corners. A full sized bed was shoved into the corner, a small nightstand to the right. “Make yourself comfortable.”
Then, he walked out. I walked over to the bed and took off my shoes, before sprawling out. The next thing I remembered was waking up the next morning, alone. There was a note on the mirror next to the door. I brought your bag in, if you need me I’m in the kitchen. Who knew where the kitchen was, I sure as hell didn’t. I only figured it was on the opposite side of the house. I dressed and headed out. I finally looked at the photos on the wall more closely. Kirk missing teeth, Kirk with acne, Kir a fat kid who loves cake. In contrast his parents seemed immaculate, his mother looked airbrush, hair, teeth, skin—perfect.
When I found the kitchen, she looked just like her photos, not a day older. She smiled as I entered.
“Hello, sleepyhead,” she said. She sounded just as I imagined, high fluttering voice, almost cotton candy-like. “How’d you get so lucky sweetie?” She turned to Kirk.
Kirk sat at the table, drinking a cup of coffee. He patted the chair next to him. “Oh, I paid her to appear as my girlfriend.” He smiled.
“Too bad he hasn’t paid up yet,” I added.
Later, I came to find out his mother was a former Miss Oregon, a runner up in the Miss America pageant. But even though I’d met his mother, things changed when we got back to Portland. Kirk started spending more time with his friends and the sex became laborious and boring, like he wasn’t into it at all. The more I think about it, maybe it was the commitment, or maybe it was too soon. All I knew was things were slowly spiraling downward, hitting that “stale” point in a relationship where things are no longer progressing.
“Want to go to a movie tonight?” I asked one night while on the phone.
“No, I’m going to the bars with the boys.”
“Don’t again me.”
“Well, I guess have fun.” It wasn’t worth fighting. It wasn’t worth much anymore.
The last time Kirk and I slept together, I didn’t think it would be the last. I knew we’d eventually break up, but there was still something comforting about having him there, to rely on in some sort of masochistic sense.
Afterwards I’d gotten up and went to the bathroom. I came back and found Kirk putting on his pants, my vibrator exposed in the middle of the bed.
“So, I’m not good enough?” he asked, pulling on his shirt.
“What?” I pulled my bathrobe closed tight around me.
“You’d rather sleep with that thing, wouldn’t you?” He gestured again to the pink phallus.
“Why are you putting words in my mouth?”
“You’re just not willing to admit it.” His eyes narrowed.
“Kirk.” My voice wavered.
“I’m just inadequate to you. Did you even have an orgasm tonight?”
“No. I won’t hear it.” He put on his shoes, hastily, stomping the ground as the heel caught.
“You’re just trying to find an excuse to break up.” It was becoming all too apparent. I didn’t know why I didn’t let him leave. Why I tried to continue on, but we’d hit that funk. We fell apart.
“You would think that.”
“You’re acting crazy,” I pleaded
“Just leave it be.”
“Leave what be?”
He threw his hands in the air and walked out.
I didn’t follow.
Sharon Heiny is a graduate student in the MFA program at Florida State University, but her roots still reside in California. She received her BA in English from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and attended the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference where she worked with Deirdre McNamer and Sharon Oard Warner. She has been published several times in the Laurus, an undergraduate bulletin at the University of Nebraska.
Image: "Collage- Tourism 2," courtesy of Luiz Baltar, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
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