Following is sneak look at a story from Kim Addonizio’s forthcoming collection The Palace of Illusions, due out from Counterpoint/Soft Skull in September 2014.
by Kim Addonizio
They broke up with Fuck you. They broke up with her standing in front of the door trying to block it to keep him from leaving— he was big, nearly twice her size—and repeatedly patting her head. Patting was the “timeout” gesture they had agreed on after reading a chapter of a self-help book about anger. She had bought the book after a particularly nasty argument, and when she had asked him to read it with her they’d gottten into another argument; he did not believe a book could solve anything, whereas a book was the first thing she thought of, and she was angry because, as she finally told him, he did not really want to solve their problems if he would not even read a book, which was all that she was asking him to do, and then they spent an evening in bed reading a chapter aloud and outlining on a worksheet exactly what had happened during their last nasty argument. They agreed that their arguments had escalated, usually did escalate, in a bad way, and that they needed a signal for the next time things began to spiral.
Filling out the worksheet had made her feel like they were getting somewhere. Step by step, they went over what had happened, and agreed on exactly the moment things had started to go south. All they needed was to stop the process before that point. When they finished, he put the book on the table on his side of the bed, and they talked seriously, while he held her. Then, with considerable laughter, they suggested to each other what signal might be the one that either of them could use to alert the other that they had gone too far and were starting to lose control. Making a “T” with their hands, for “Timeout,” seemed too predictable. She tugged on her ear; he went cross-eyed and stuck out his tongue; she did her bat imitation, baring her teeth and smashing her nose with her index finger so the nostrils flared. He made his sad sack face and adopted his funny Italian accent, and she answered with baby talk. The head pat seemed to strike the right note— during an argument, it would be somewhat comic, but not disrespectful. It would lighten things up just enough to avert catastrophe.
But the catastrophe had already started, and there was no way to stop it. It would have been like trying to stop a tsunami after the tectonic plates ground against each other and the earth shifted on its axis. They broke up with her drunkenly, wildly, patting her head like some intoxicated chimp that had been taught to sign. Later, when she could try to find it funny, she imagined a group of animal scientists, plying the chimp with gin to see whether it would still remember to communicate as the humans had taught it.
But really, it wasn’t at all funny at the time. He left, with her saying, Stay, just stay and argue and fight with me or whatever, but please don’t leave me. He practically ran out, having gathered up his leather jacket and the blue backpack he usually brought when he spent the night.
A few minutes after he left, she noticed his belt on an armchair. She went outside and saw his car, still parked across the street. He was sitting in it, either getting ready to go or trying to cool down. Possibly he was even thinking about coming back to her apartment, which is what he’d done the last time, after the nasty argument that had led to reading the book about anger. But when he saw her, he started his car and pulled away from the curb. She ran into the street and threw his belt at the tail- lights and then he was gone and the belt lay there in the street like a dead snake.
Back inside she felt terrible about everything as usual, and as usual, she started calling him. She forgot whatever she said on the phone, to his voicemail. The only message she remembers is the one that said, You’re wrong for me anyway, in a slightly bitter voice, the kind of voice she got when she was drunk and unhappy, the voice she knew he hated, that was sure to drive him even further away.
Then she started texting him. They were sarcastic texts, because she felt hurt and wanted to hurt him, too, though really she loved him and never wanted to hurt him, ever, and felt ashamed that she couldn’t stop herself. The final text said, If this is how you’re going to treat me then we’re done I really mean it, and after a couple of hours, when he didn’t answer any of the texts or phone calls and she felt sober enough to drive, she went outside and picked up his belt from the middle of the street and drove to his house.
One of his roommates opened the door. She went upstairs to his bedroom. It was dark in there, and he was in bed, under the covers. She walked over to the bed. The room smelled like him. His banjo was hung on one wall, its strings glinting a little in the light coming in from the hallway. She could hear his roommates downstairs, laughing while they played a video game, their video assault rifles going off.
She said, Here’s your belt, and he didn’t move. He lay there, curled up like a giant sad baby. She couldn’t even hear him breathe. She turned and laid the belt, coiled into a neat zero, on his desk under the window, and then she left, and she never saw him again. All this was a couple of years ago. He was her first real love after college. She was reckless, and drank too much, and nothing ever worked out. But maybe if she’d moved closer to the bed then and said, Baby, I’m so sorry, please forgive me, I love you, or whatever else she felt in that moment, in just the right tone of voice, it would have been different, but she didn’t, and couldn’t, and now she has this.
Kim Addonizio has been called “one of our nation’s most provocative and edgy poets.” Her latest books are Lucifer at the Starlite, a finalist for the Poets Prize and the Northern CA Book Award; and Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, both from W.W. Norton. Addonizio’s many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA Fellowships, and Pushcart Prizes for both poetry and the essay. Her collection Tell Me was a National Book Award Finalist. Other books include two novels from Simon & Schuster, Little Beauties and My Dreams Out in the Street. Addonizio offers private poetry workshops in Oakland, NYC, and online, and often incorporates her love of blues harmonica into her readings.