Jerry Williams has published two collections of poetry, Casino of the Sun and Admission. He is also the editor of the anthology, It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Break Up. He lives in New York City and teaches Creative Writing at Marymount Manhattan College.
Belated Valentine’s Day Torture Chamber
by Jerry Williams
The publication of my anthology, It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Breakup, constructed a whole new roller coaster in my life. When asked to participate in events to promote the book I always said yes and, as a result, I have learned that it is impossible to be in two places at once. For Valentine’s Day, I agreed to write blogs for Best American Poetry and Drunken Boat; I agreed to go on the Joe Milford Poetry Show with the peerless Amy Gerstler; and I agreed to sit in with the Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble, an improvisational theater, dance, and jazz troupe. Mobile Libris was unable to obtain copies of the anthology to vend at the Strike Anywhere event because the first print run is virtually sold out. They did manage to find copies of my own new collection of poems, Admission, my second, but no one purchased a single copy from the wonderful intern sent over to sell books. Do I smell?
I know these represent what people call “good problems,” but I am a physical and emotional wreck most of the time. I had no idea Valentine’s Day was such a gargantuan holiday and that I would turn into a human lightning rod. Mainly, I don’t want to let people down, and I feel like I let you down, dear reader, by not giving you both barrels right in the guts on February 14th. So here it is, not long after the fact, and I’m finally doing my job, even though my anthology is moaning about how I’m not spending enough time with her and how I must not be attracted to her anymore. We need to go to couples counseling — It’s Not You, It’s Me and I. But I love her more than she will ever know and, in her honor, I’m loading the shotgun. The anthology started with the cartoonish agony I sustain at the end of any romantic relationship that lasts longer than a few months, and I’m offering it all up right now. Both barrels. Nothing to promote here but an invitation to a torture chamber at Lack of Imagination Central: “Can I help you?”
I have endured four major breakups in my life. Each one nearly killed me. Without a two-month grief-regimen of unintentional dieting, weightlifting, sofa catatonia, and benzodiazepines, I might never have survived. What’s more, a number of lesser disintegrations have compromised my brittle nervous system.
I have been the dumper as well as the dumpee, and neither role obtains. I have cheated and been cheated on. (Once, I pulled a reverse cuckold.) I have relocated, disappeared, or simply faded away, and I have found myself on the receiving end of these same sad protocol.
I have split up in person, over the telephone, via e-mail and the United States Postal Service — even on cassette tape. The means did not always justify the ends; the reasoning was not always sound.
I have retracted pronouncements, negotiated for more time, and confessed all my sins in a convulsion of jealousy. I have wept uncontrollably and inspired uncontrollable weeping. I have begged for mercy and demanded apology and been denied both. I have pleaded and fallen silent. I have ignored or been ignored. I have wrapped myself in a red flag for comfort.
I have heard the words I can’t do this anymore and I don’t want you to go, and I have spoken them myself. I have packed up all my belongings or helped someone else pack. I have driven away in trucks and vans, checked into motels, and slept on friends’ couches.
I have assessed blame and remembered fondly and felt unable to let go. Telephone calls for years. I have borne grudges and, no doubt, provoked worse. I have destroyed all trace evidence or hoarded every shred of proof. I have taken a picture of a photograph after lighting it on fire in the desert.
I have let meaningless flaws and differences of opinion ruin an otherwise sublime relation. I have assumed that I was doing the right thing or I have known for a fact that I was making a huge mistake. I have tried to believe that everything happens for a reason, though I deem this philosophy to be craven and malevolent. I have pined and I have languished, and I am convinced that I have been in love.
I cannot speak for anyone else, and I cannot even imagine how much an airline would charge these days to check all that baggage.
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