¿Alex doesn’t love you? Just flip off the love switch and presto: you don’t love him either. ¿Charlie needs his space? Pull a small lever and he’ll be on a reverse-less rocket ship en route to the stratosphere where he can have all the space he wants.
Imagine what your life would be like if you had a switch, an interrupter of sorts, located somewhere in an unobtrusive part of your body, let’s say on your calf, like a tattoo. See yourself pressing this lever, pin or button and being able to control the most uncontrollable part of your body: your heart.
You wouldn’t suffer over what isn’t good for you. You wouldn’t cry for what cannot be. You’d just live. You’d be happy.
And while we’re imagining, just think of the effect this “love switch” would have on the rest of humanity. Hundreds of suicides and even more homicides would be avoided. Salacious, newspaper accounts of the latest crime of passion would become urban legend. And should our relationships ever become abusive, inconvenient or, worse, devoid of magic, we’d all be capable of just letting go. We’d have time to pursue happiness and the energy to enjoy life.
And when the person who meant everything to you told you he didn’t love you anymore and sent you to Hell without a quiver, you’d be able to smile, wish him luck and say, “all’s well that ends well” or even, “everything happens for a reason.”
“A million dollars,” I said, staring back at them steadily in spite of my nerves.
Martin’s mouth dropped open like a tire-changing jack while the Lilliputian gnome at his side almost choked on his own tongue. But, let’s leave them in shock for a moment while I get you up to date. Freeze frame, as they say in the movies.
My name is Erika Luna, I live in Miami and the man I’ve just frozen was my husband, Martin. I’m talking about the tall guy in his late –but interesting- thirties, straight, black-hair, wide back and “owner of the world” attitude. The mustached pigmy at his side was Attorney Chavez, the lawyer he’d hired to divorce me.
And there we all were in February, the month of love-induced chocolate and flower purchases, sitting in that white, flavorless office full of leather seats and framed diplomas, about to “negotiate” the end of seven years of marriage, against my will.
When he’d recuperated, Attorney Chavez, whose basic function in life is to be my husband’s human speech articulation system, looked at me condescendingly.
“I’m sorry... So sorry... I apologize... you’re asking for a million dollars becaaaaause... Okay, never mind. I’m going to have to apologize... again... for my lack of understanding but... I don’t get it, and I have to tell you that even if you were able to prove it, infidelity is not a punishable offense in the state of Florida. You can make things difficult, play baseball, as they say here, and that’s your choice, as long as you know it’s my job to make sure that when all is said and done, you’re the one paying a million dollars... in legal fees.”
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I was about to ask Martin if he paid Chavez to speak in clichés, and if so, to demand that his lawyer threaten me with the correct ones, as I’ve never played baseball in my life and was still pretty sure he meant hardball.
But before I could open my mouth, my own lawyer, who’d spent hours convincing me that the best way to make a man desist from divorce is to scare him with the possibility of loosing a substantial amount of money, halted her flirting for an instant, stepped away from the oval-shaped conference table and, with the resolute air of one who charges two hundred and fifty dollars an hour, walked over to the door and opened it before answering for me:
“You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t allow you to intimidate my client in my own office. It’s been a pleasure, gentlemen,” she said with a seductive smile.
“Please, forgive me, if I’ve offended you,” said Chavez getting up from his chair and slithering over to where Attorney Lopez stood. “I hope you know... it certainly wasn’t my intention to offend such a beautiful woman,” he continued, arching his neck a hundred and twenty degrees to fulminate her with all of his five feet, two inches of sensuality.
“Apology accepted, but when I finish digging in every last corner of your client’s life, what a judge will award this woman will come quite close to that amount. You can choose not to believe me, leave through those doors right now and find I’m right... in court,” she countered, charmingly, of course.
It was Martin who jumped like the corner spring on a new mattress as soon as the word “court” was mentioned.
“There’s a name for what you’re doing, Erika. Extortion. Ex-tor-tion!” he underlined as if I were retarded.
“And what you’ve done? What’s that called? Let me see... Oh, I know! In-fi-de-li-ty! Chea-ting, Pe-gar-los-cuer-nos, po-ner los-ta-rros—”
“Of course... here comes the victim. Look, if I had a million dollars, I’d seriously consider using them to hire a hit man,” he spit out, exasperated. “What do you want? The house? There. It’s yours,” he added, throwing a heavy handful of keys on the table. “What else? My car? Here’s the damn car,” he said, taking another set of keys from his suit jacket and throwing them on the table with the others, creating a shrill metallic clang that sounded like a bunch of screaming baby birds being forced to fly before knowing how.
“Just like that? Overnight?” I asked as I searched for balance while standing on that rope connecting “I still love you” to “I wish I’d never set eyes on you.”
“Erika, we’ve been at this for a month now. It’s not ‘overnight’.”
Of course, to him, a month wasn’t overnight compared to seven years of marriage and another one dating. The fact that we made love three times the night before I found out there were three people in my marriage didn’t qualify for ironic in his eyes. That when this happened we were in the middle of extending our living room to eliminate our family room so we could use the extra space to remodel the terrace didn’t seem to him reason enough that I should be surprised to be in this mass-divorce-factory of an office only a month later.
I looked into his face, at his black eyes now surrounded by tiny blue veins brought on, I suspected, by the impulse to choke me pulsing through the skin of his temples. I looked at the ends of his salt and pepper hair standing up gladiator style. I looked and, for a second, remembered the simplest things about our life together: nights watching TV while eating ice cream in bed, laughing like idiots at some joke on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
I remembered how he’d always kiss my nose and say, “It doesn’t matter. We’ll just go out to eat,” whenever I burned, smoked or undercooked whatever grand culinary production I had insisted on making.
That was the Martin I knew, and I continued to search for I don’t know what in his stare, in his stance. I walked into the magnetic field of his anger, stubbornly looking for a gesture or a signal, something from the happy life I thought I’d had with him, anything that would allow me to understand and forgive him. Nothing.
I took the keys and extended them to him without taking my eyes away from his.
“Who are you?” I asked finally.
But he just evaded me. Taking the keys, he glanced athis Rolex Submariner, with that simple gesture assuming the pose of a man busy with a thousand things more important than I.
“Look, Erika, I’m not a psychologist. If you want to make a career out of this, go right ahead. Frankly, I won’t continue to blah, blah, blah....”
I couldn’t tell you what he said after that. I don’t know. During the weeks before that moment, I’d spent a lot of time and effort fighting back my rage, telling myself you don’t throw a marriage you’ve been happy in for over seven years into the garbage at the first problem. I’d spent entire nights overpowering my own desire to run him and his lover over with my Jetta, several times, like that Colombian dentist did in Texas. And each night, I’d end up praying, talking myself calm and telling myself that if I could get myself to forgive, everything would be alright.
But the days passed and Martin never showed up at the house in the middle of a rainstorm, repentant. Nor did he call at dawn just because he missed me. He never asked for my forgiveness, and it was clear he had no intention of doing so. How did I feel? Like Mano de Piedra Durán must have when Sugar Ray Leonard landed the punch that would make him say “No más.” My head repeated, what did he say? What? A career out of this gigantic piece of mierda he was dumping on my lap?
I comprehended then what people mean when they say their head “fogged up.” How could I not when I had enough fog in mine to prevent a whole airline from landing in the widest and clearest of land strips?
“Mira, desgraaaaaaaaciado,” I said taking off one of the Marc Jacobs platform wedge shoes I’d scored on EBay and throwing it at him. “You listen to me, you senile cockroach vomit: (shoe reaching opposite wall with a thud) damn the time of day you were born, (cat-sized paperweight picked up and thrown) damn the time of day I met you, (cat-sized paperweight landing on Martin’s foot) and damn—”
“¡Erika, you stop this show right now!” screamed Martin, using his briefcase as a shield and jumping on one foot while trying to rescue the papers he’d laid on the table. “The consummate scientist... quite the professional for some things, but in the end, like the Puerto Rican country girl you are... you mess up... you either mess up when you get there, or you mess up as you’re leaving, but you mess up.”
“Country girl your mother, you fermented piece of cow dung,” I screamed. “You just wait, because when I’m finished with you, you’ll have to be a full time pimp to that piece of wartime drum pleather you’re sleeping with, in fact-”
“Erika, I won’t stand for...”
But he stood for it. And he continued to stand for it until much after lawyer Chavez threatened to call the police. I kept spitting my lungs wrapped in insults and curse words even when my own lawyer threatened to fire me as a client if I didn’t sit down and stop screaming.
I didn’t care. A Ph.D. in chemistry and Martin just had to look at me as if I were a plate of leftover food to turn me into a screaming maniac.
And scream I did, right up until both men ran out, a cloud of disordered divorce papers on their arms. I screamed and screamed until I lost my voice and my lawyer had the brilliant idea of threatening to call my father.
Then I walked out onto the street and into the first café I saw, heading straight for the bathroom, not thinking, feeling or seeing anything. Not the wash basin’s porcelain border as I bent over it to throw up. Not the cold water I splashed on my face. Not even the hum of the wall-mounted hand dryer someone had left on. I sensed nothing other than the “he’s gone... it’s over... he’s gone... it’s over,” inside my head.
In the mirror, my coffee-colored hair, long and always too curly, looked as if I’d been coiffed by Diana Ross’ hairstylist in her heyday. My lips, normally quite plump, were so swollen they resembled a puddle of reddish-purple blood with a stab wound in the middle. And my eyes, usually almond-shaped, had acquired a watery, shapeless form and were speckled with several very obvious red cracks, clearly visible through my tortoise-shell eyeglasses.
“I’m sorry,” I told the woman in the mirror. She was crying an airless, difficult cry, like a premature baby who has to hope his chest together, sensing the slightest sniffle could kill him.
When I managed to calm down, I realized Martin was right. I was a woman of science; a researcher. A woman of arguments, facts, and reason. How could I allow heartbreak -so common it would be a cliché if it weren’t happening to me- turn me into a furiously raving lunatic without cure?
I walked out, sat at the counter and ordered coffee from a waitress so immersed in conversation with the colleague who mass-made sandwiches at her side, she barely noticed me.
“And then I told him, “Look here, mijito... What are you thinking? That I’m a 24-hour fast food sex window available at your convenience? No, baby. You’re wrong. Te equivocaste.”
“Very mistaken,” nodded the other waitress. “Better lonely que mal acompañada,” she added as she simultaneously spread butter on six Cuban toasts with a resigned expression on her face.
Had my best friend Lola been there, she’d have said I was attracting the very thing I was suffering from. You know, the radiations of negative thought and all that hooey. But there must have been some truth to her theory because in the forty-five minutes it took me to drink four Cuban coffees and two bottled waters, I saw...
FROM THE DESK OF ERIKA LUNA:
*****A young guy begging his girlfriend for another chance using a cell phone that lost his call five times during the 10 minutes he was waiting for a breaded steak dinner.
*****A depressed-looking pregnant woman pretending not to notice her husband turning around one hundred and eighty degrees to observe the ample behind of a woman ordering a pan con lechón sandwich and a malted milkshake.
*****At least five people walking past the cafeteria’s entrance with the automated sprint of the being fed up with life, and the same empty stare that had made me cry when I’d seen it staring back at me in the cafeteria bathroom mirror just minutes before.
Too many samples of the bad substance, as they say in my line of work. Or maybe it wasn’t that I was attracting that which I was going through. Perhaps this was just the way things were: a world full of malfunctioning, broken hearts ambling around that had gone unnoticed by me because I’d been too occupied living in my hip yuppie love bubble, located right in the center of a house that was always being painted, extended, decorated or improved.
Hours later, I was still driving aimlessly through Miami, thinking about how desperately the world needed an interrupter for bad love as I alternated between good and bad neighborhoods, busy and empty areas, a spiteful rage and my imbecile sadness.
It’s a revolting piece of truth: the fact that someone breaks your heart doesn’t mean you automatically stop loving them. No. You keep loving and carrying around the clunker of a heart your son of a bitch ex husband broke in two without a qualm and not so much as a quart of anesthesia.
It must have been close to midnight by the time I drove home and parked, staying in the car to fantasize the creation of the mythically-Machiavellic, exquisitely- detailed vengeance my half-asleep brain wanted, but didn’t have the energy, to create.
I promised myself that upon waking, I’d come up with a plan so ingenious, so James-Bond-movie-plot that it would no doubt turn me into the absolute leader of humiliated wives and broken hearts the world over. ¡Ha! I’d show Martin. Years would pass before the liars, cheaters and players of the universe stopped whispering my name in pool halls, remembering with fear the only other occasion in which an obscure member of their club by the name of John Bobbitt had dragged them all towards disaster.
Comforted by the thought, I went up to my bedroom, threw myself on the bed with my shoes still on and was asleep before my thought-heavy head plummeted onto the pillow.
Despair is the most effective of sleeping aids and that night I dreamt that dozens of little men, their small brains hanging between their legs, tried in vain to erase my name from the gigantic international directory of forgotten wives.
Thank you for reading! Hope you enjoyed it. (There is a Spanish-language version of this book, also by Atria. or you can take a look at the Mexican edition on my home page. :)