When he wrote a story about me that began “I met this fat cunt,” I broke up with him. But I was beginning to regret it.
I was 22 and still lived with my mother. I still told her everything; I told her about his short story. She was guilt-wracked for setting me up with him in the first place.
“I thought you were a mensch, but you turned out to be a schmuck,” she told him on his last visit to the store she owned. She reserved the right to refuse service to any customer.
He was 43, closer to her age than mine, and the two of them shared that Jewish baby-boomer child-of-immigrants Yiddish-English vernacular. “Did you tell your friends you have an alter-kacker boyfriend?” he had asked me, and laughed maniacally.
After I fled his apartment, I went out with boys who were not quite so alter-kacker, whose bland civility put them closer to mensch than schmuck, but who lacked the electric-shock quality of someone who employed words like “cunt” unexpectedly and frequently. There was one schmuck, but not interestingly so: blowjob, orgasm, lack of phone call. It was 1996, still two years until the mighty triumvirate of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Ally McBeal, and Sex and the City would take over, but I already recognized his behavior as tiresome.
I started to reconsider my alter-kacker ex, thinking maybe his transgression wasn’t bad enough to trump all the swirling dirty talk and expertly light touches that were borne of his 25 years of sex. “He lost his virginity before I was born!” I marveled to a friend. But anytime I mentioned his name to Mom, she glowered and asked me if I had any self-respect.
So I had to look for a reason to get back together with him, a spin to put on it that spelled strength, not weakness. And, trolling pop culture’s archives for artifacts that were “of” him, as a meager substitute for him himself, I found Crumb, the documentary about the ‘60s comics legend. My ex hated most movies, but he had gone to see Crumb three times. Now I could see why: when Crumb called the animated Fritz the Cat “an embarrassment to me for the rest of my life,” it was with my ex’s exact intonation, a luxuriating indulgence in antagonistic cynicism. Crumb’s cackle was also the same.
And his drawings presented chubby women in a positive light. I knew better than to think my ex’s story had done the same, but Crumb’s wife Aline appreciated how she looked in his drawings. I attributed her reaction to her being “tough.” I wanted to be tough too: accomplice—not victim—to misogyny.
The two of them lived in a wooded Northern California idyll. The phrase I used was “us against the world.” And although Santa Monica is in Southern, not Northern, California, Everclear, in their song “Santa Monica,” made it close enough:
We could live beside the ocean
Leave the fire behind
Swim out past the breakers
Watch the world die
The chorus of the song, which was at the top of the charts that spring, allowed me to imagine him and myself as an Aline-and-Crumb-like couple, in a house by the sea, trading deadpan indictments of the cowardly, idiotic, drooling masses from whom we had managed to take refuge in each other’s arms.
With my big black boots and my old suitcase
I do believe I’ll find myself a new place
I was tough. I could take it. I called him. The summer began. As a sort of grunge Lolita, I would tromp across town in the aforementioned big black boots (and babydoll dress) to meet him outside his acting class in Greenwich Village, and then we’d drive away to the Catskills or New Jersey, my old black L.L. Bean school day pack from high school in tow, to watch the world die and make fun of the “fuckin’ yuppies” who were staying at the bed-and-breakfasts we chose. The song would surface at the most opportune times. Waking up to the clock-radio alarm in a Holiday Inn bed, his gray-white flyaway hair splayed out across a pillow. Waiting in the car while he ran into the liquor store to buy kosher Slivovitz from the Czech Republic, which we’d drink before and after sex.
I am still dreaming of your face
Hungry and hollow for all the things you took away
Walk right out into a brand-new day
Insane and rising in my own weird way
I was insane, Mom. Right between the end of that second verse and the chorus is this guitar riff that oh, sounded so pained and at the same time so triumphant, just like me, the tragic heroine. That’s what I called myself, bearing the cross of a short story that began “I met this fat cunt,” pushing ahead through the abusive rants I’d always known were part of this engagement, the occasional hints that there was another woman (there was no other woman), the nights sitting beside him in his car and not talking, angry, pining for him as though he were far away in California and not right next to me. I kept pushing toward the other side, where I knew there’d be more of that Santa Monica feeling. When he told me he’d been fantasizing that we were a famous literary couple like Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, I knew all the pain was worth it.
The relationship began to atrophy as the summer did, as Everclear’s rallying hit lost steam in favor of that Sheryl Crow song that goes “If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?”