“Loveless” – Fiction by AJ Ogundimu

The Lovers – Rene Magritte, 1928

This modern romance may start with a “classic meet-cute,” but things soon get all too real in “Loveless,” AJ Ogundimu‘s subversive anti-romcom from our Summer 2018 issue.

{ X }

WHEN HE TELLS HIS BIG EX THAT HE MET SOMEONE, SHE LAUGHS.

It doesn’t matter where in New York they meet, but they don’t meet on Tinder. This is a classic meet-cute.

She is 22, he is almost 30. He is skinny-fat and probably white but doesn’t have to be. He is a poet or photographer who studied English or Music. She is a metalworker or essayist who studied Comparative Lit or Gender Studies. They have mutual friends, but never go to the same bars.

He has an appeal, not ugly but not Hollywood or even Sundance. He doesn’t go to the gym, but if he does he’s not a protein powder, stock-option, Alpha Male. He wears graphic tees and his hair is messy, unlike everyone else’s.

She is not conventionally attractive, but (this is important!) she is not conventionally unattractive either. She has an undercut, bangs or a half-shaved head and she wears a lot of dark colors. She is not a gym-goer. She is white, and if not she’s Korean, and if not then Lebanese, but he makes an effort not to ask or comment about her ethnicity even though he wants to know. He wanted to talk to Blonde Friend or Leggy and European. He will tell himself that it’s because he likes quirky, not because he is settling. She talked to him because of his funny and nonspecific sexual charisma.

She wears Forever 21. He shops at thrift stores. She drinks chai lattes, he drinks black coffee, she drinks cider, he drinks whiskey. He asks if she likes Edith Wharton, she says yeah. He says he’s a feminist. He won’t say he wants to fuck her. She kind of wishes he’d get it over with.

They will hang out, at parks or museums, but they won’t go on dates. They will hash out the usual questions of family and occupation, while laughing at how typical these questions are. They are unconventional people doing conventional things.

When he tells his Big Ex that he is seeing someone, she says, That’s not a good idea.

During his worn and shiny monologue, he says marriage is a capitalist institution designed to keep women in bondage by treating them as property, wherein domesticity and child-rearing are handled while the man is left free to pursue career and conquest, relegating women to second-class citizens. He says all of this in a copious breath while she tries to eat a Japanese-fusion quiche with nori and raw salmon he insisted they try.

She wants to get married, but ignores his conversation and refuses a green tea mochi ice cream taco.

He shows her his vinyl collection so she fucks him to make him stop talking. He’s goofy but earnest and book smart, and if she never fucked anyone goofy she’d never fuck anyone. His breathing is too heavy and his head game is sloppy but he’s good enough. He doesn’t kick her out even though she leaves. He makes sure to say he wants to see her again. He texts to make sure she got home alright.

When he tells his Big Ex that he fucked someone she says, Well, that’s too bad.

When he talks about her she’s beautiful, never hot. He will not give sexual specifics. I really like her, he says. I think this might be something.

She talks to friends about Shakira and Roxane Gay. She demands her life pass the Bechdel test. She throws herself into work, eats croissants or berries, and drinks kombucha.

When they ask about him, she says he doesn’t seem like a creep. She describes his dick when they ask, in detail. Critiques his sexual performance. She defends his awful text messages. He’s kind of an underachiever, she says. I still like him though…

She shows up at his job and brings him a donut. They kiss in public now. They stay over. She is emotionally unavailable and has trust issues. He is unsure of his future and willing to take it slow.

They have a soundtrack. They have a favorite restaurant (It’s not the fusion place.) They compromise on the cider/beer question by always keeping wine around. They go clubbing, or eat brunch and walk around Central Park on Sundays. They take road trips. They smoke American Spirits even though they don’t smoke.

When he tells his Big Ex that he has a new girlfriend, she asks, Does she know what you’re like?

They show each other their art. She likes his and says so. He finds hers childish and derivative yet says he loves it.

He gets sad. He goes on long self-loathing rants after he’s been drinking, or they haven’t had sex in a couple days. She tells him he might benefit from therapy. She tries to be there for him but it’s exhausting.

She cries at random, won’t talk to him for days at a time. He is tearing holes in her mental defenses. Sometimes she stares at a wall or TV. Her center of gravity has always been shifting. She doesn’t even want to think about it and doesn’t, except in her bed, or the bath, and maybe the library.

She goes to therapy, or went to therapy, and maybe she’s medicated but probably not.

She tells him, about the boy when she was 14, 16, 18. Who was an old friend she trusted or an acquaintance, and how it was at his place or another’s place. How that boy smoked her out, got her drunk, or waited till she fell asleep, and maybe just got right on top of her. When she said no that boy went along and took what he desired, as she wondered dimly if she was going to die, trapped under someone who said I just can’t help myself baby. She finally made it home and took a shower, didn’t tell anyone for two days and never pressed charges so of course lots of people don’t believe her. She lost a bunch of friends over it.

When he tells his Big Ex that his new girl was raped, she says, You shouldn’t be telling me this, you fucking weirdo.

She doesn’t tell him the details, how much it hurt, if she bled, if that boy came and if so where, three days of late-period induced terror, how she threw up watching Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, right there in the theater.

He holds her when she starts crying and says how sorry he is. He thinks of course, all these art girls have been raped. After all, one in three women have been raped. He’s hoping this hasn’t adversely colored her view of men, that when he chokes or slaps her in bed it doesn’t bring back bad memories, that what his friends have said about sexual promiscuity among damaged women isn’t true.

He holds her and repeats practiced words, so she thinks he gives a shit and falls a little extra in love with him.

When he tells his Big Ex that his new girl is moving in with him, she says, Oh my god, the poor thing.

She washes socks and cooks dinner more than he does but she tells herself he’ll get there. He comes home and plants himself before the TV. He doesn’t read as much as he claimed to. He wakes up late then runs around, cursing loudly before slamming the door.

She doesn’t put her bras/jeans in the laundry hamper. She leaves dishes in the sink. Makeup rests upon the tiny bathroom sink. Her books are all over the floor and mixed with his. Sometimes he comes home and she’s crying to Tori Amos.

She gives him the silent treatment by accident, finds out he’s talking to his Big Ex. He’s angry because she checked his phone. He watches more porn than she does. It’s less rough than hers. She stares at the women’s bodies, all conventionally attractive, bolt-on tits, but all with piercings or tattoos. She wonders if she’s just a type to him.

He tells her she’s paranoid, he’s not really talking to anyone else, that hated coworkers aren’t really out to get her, the creepy guy next door isn’t really leering at her. He thinks she’s crazy but would never say that.

When he drinks he gets angry, about dishes, books, money, and her fucking underwear. He hates her friends, always down for Chelsea but not Bushwick, how old they make him feel. He breaks glass and cuts his hand when he cleans it up, so the blood mixes with it in garbage bags. People pass their sidewalk fights, eyes averted. They call each other assholes.

He claims to have no male role models. His father never liked him, he was bad at sports. The other kids called him a faggot, which would be okay if he was, but he isn’t. He sat alone in his room, stoned, playing Zelda or Halo. His first girlfriend cheated on him, and his dad told him that’s what women do. Maybe his dad used to beat his mom, or yell with brown-liquor breath.

He’s not the one saying those things, it’s his father, maybe also his basketball coach, but he still doesn’t know how to treat women.

Baby, you just need to be patient.

He promises he’ll get therapy but never does.

One day he punches a hole in the wall and that’s it. 9, 12, 18 months gone and done with. He begs her to stay but she threatens to call the police. She stays with a friend. She double checks with their mutuals so she won’t see him in public.

She cries to friends and gets drunk. He cries alone and gets drunk. She starts accepting Xanax from friends. He starts accepting cocaine from strangers. She fucks an ex she’d started up with a month before the break up. He fucks a coworker he’d been texting the whole time.

When he tells his Big Ex that they broke up, she asks, Did you cheat on her? Did you hit her too?

Then come his many texts. She won’t answer at first. They meet for coffee and he apologizes. She says she forgives him. She doesn’t. They meet a few other times but she doesn’t want to be around him, doesn’t feel safe. He hopes they’ll get back together, realizes the impossibility weeks later.

She swears it will never happen again. Maybe even swears off guys entirely.

He swears it will never happen again. He self-loathes and remakes the narrative.

They both write about the relationship. His thinkpiece is called, What Not to Do When You Meet The Love of Your Life, or What My Father Taught Me About Women.

Hers is called, Gaslighting: It Can Happen to You, or I Let You Get to Me, or Loveless.

He never calls her crazy. He’s a feminist. Instead he calls her troubled and difficult, and too good for him.

She doesn’t call him abusive. She’s too kind. She tells her friends he was fucked up and really sad and just not mature enough for a relationship.

Maybe she goes to rehab, probably not. He doesn’t. They learn language to put to their experience. They re-enter the dating pool.

They spiral away from each other into new arrangements. The same type, but different words. She says upfront that she craves stability, wants to be married.

He doesn’t take anyone to the Japanese fusion place.

They can see the patterns, move in spaces already cut out by those who came before. They contort themselves into new yet familiar shapes, searching for the places ordained by fate. It’s not easy to be young and lustful, but they make do.

They are no longer just victim and abuser. There will need to be fresh words. These old ones have dried out.

{ X }

AJ OGUNDIMU is a writer from southern Indiana. He recently received an MFA in fiction from NYU. He currently lives in Seattle.

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