When Andrew broke up with his girlfriend, she pulled her knees to her chin and let out a deep, animalistic moan, a noise more genuine than anything he had heard in their three years of regular and then semiregular intercourse. There was potential humor in this, Andrew thought, and he might have made a joke about it had there not been such an indistinguishable line between the drool and the tears coming out of his ex's face and had they been situated somewhere less confined and lower to the ground, rather than a 60-person airplane that was charging like a bull across the Rocky Mountains.
"How long have you felt this way?" she demanded in between raspy gulps of air.
Andrew shook his head. He could not give her the answer she wanted. He could not provide an exact length of time, although he could give her a vivid description of how sour her breath was in the morning, or the alarmingly high pitch of her cackle when in the company of strangers, or her consistent misuse of the word "literally."
"I don't know. I'm sorry," he said finally. He handed her his cocktail napkin and, upon catching the eye of the stewardess, gestured to the pile of soggy napkins overflowing onto both trays. The stewardess understood immediately and came over to replace the soggy napkins with fresh ones, displaying a smile that was so appropriately empathetic it made Andrew uncomfortable.
"This isn't happening. I don't believe it. I thought you loved me." She said “love” like it was a kitten she was dangling a knife over. They were both very sunburnt: her more on her upper arms and chest, him on the backs of his legs and face.
“I did love you. I still do.” He meant it too, because love was a tricky concept, something that usually sounds much more promising than it really was. If Andrew’s ex meant the inevitable affection that builds from waking up to the same person’s face for hundreds of consecutive mornings, from having passionate conversations with that person’s mother about the price of bagels, and from memorizing every groove and contour and sprouting pubic hair of that person’s vagina, then of course Andrew loved her. However, if she was referring to willpower, the want to move forward hand in hand into the daunting universe, a universe where other vaginas with different patterns of folds and flaps floated nearby freely yet unattainably, then Andrew did not love her.
“It’s someone else isn’t it? That new office assistant. You’ve told me like 10 times about how you guys have the same taste in movies.”
“There isn’t anyone else.” This was true, although Andrew had been secretly and truly thrilled about his identical movie taste with the new office assistant, that and her nose freckles and unruly dark brown hair. At office karaoke nights, they often sang Fleetwood Mac duets, and Andrew felt that sometimes they were singing beyond their respective roles.
“So then what? What is it?”
They were on their way back from a week of camping in Grand Teton National Park, a collaborative gift from his ex’s group of friends for her 26th birthday. When his ex had begged them to let her bring Andrew, they had rolled their eyes collectively and said fine, under the condition that he didn’t act weird and that they brought their boyfriends too. Andrew did act weird, at least according to Briana and Chelsea’s standards, and after six cans of chipotle chilli and an unsettling, irritating rash on his inner thigh, he had made his decision.
“I don’t know what it is. I wish I did. I’m so sorry.”
“Trust me, Andrew, no one is sorrier than me.” As she moaned and blew her nose into an already damp napkin, Andrew silently agreed.
The plane descended gracefully and when it hit the runway, everyone applauded with the exception of two passengers. Andrew carried both duffel bags, as if that could make it better, and on the way out, the same stewardess said “have a pleasant stay in New York” in such a way that made his stomach turn.
Andrew took the subway home from JFK airport, closing his eyes as families, breakdancers, and homeless people alike loudly cursed the presence of his large purple duffel bag. His ex had insisted and then begged for them to share a cab — they lived only eight blocks apart — but by then his mind had shut down completely and he didn’t want her, or the cab driver, to see that. He had opened the cab door for her, lifted her bag into the space beside her, and placed 20 dollars into her reluctant palm. The disappointment in the driver’s eyes shone like street lamps.