normal wear and tear.

I found myself thinking about this story as I feel asleep last night.  So I had to work on it today. 

I once had a boyfriend who seemed to break EVERYTHING.  I found myself googling  things like “how to reattach a shower head” and “stereo is mysteriously silent.”  

Here it is (originally written last fall…spruced up/revised today):

When P. was feeling particularly dramatic–a regular occurrence–he would exclaim things like, “I destroy everything I touch!” Of course his concept of “everything” was merely figurative.  Relationships,  situations, and ideas.  

The thing was…P. did destroy most actual, literal objects.  

A tiny towheaded P. cut a swath of destruction through his parents’ home.  Teddy bears mysteriously shed their stuffing.  Plastic robots and trains turned to rubble almost immediately after being liberated from their packaging.  Picture windows were shattered.  A new bed collapsed just minutes after  P. was tucked in for the night.  His mother’s collection of antique salt and pepper shakers was decimated long before her son’s third birthday.

Even the most foolish child feigned contagious illness when offered the opportunity for a play date with P.    His reputation for melting action figures and short-circuiting race tracks was well known on the playground.

This continued into his adulthood. Doors fell from their hinges. Faucets lost their knobs. The stove leaked gas and the new Ikea kitchen table bowed. Numerous cars were totaled in accidents lacking any logical explanation.

“Normal wear and tear,” he would explain to friends.
“Poor quality construction,” he announced to landlords.
“Probably made in China,” he said to no one in particular.

P. couldn’t keep a job. It wasn’t his poor work ethic that caused him trouble. It was his unfortunate knack for breaking computers, copy machines, and office furniture. Within hours of beginning employment at a clothing store–this being a last resort after losing three jobs in six months–all of the mannequins were missing at least one limb. The manager was not amused. Soon the cash register was spitting tape all over the counter and the safe would no longer close. When the stereo stopped playing music, forcing the employees to fold t-shirts in grim silence, P. found himself being escorted out the front door by the security guard.

Fortunately his grandmother sent him regular generous checks.

His friends stopped inviting him to their homes. Instead they met him at bars and restaurants. No one wanted to imperil their belongings. One long time friend was overheard declaring, “I can get past his frequent lying, bad musical taste, and tendency toward embarrassing drunkenness, but I just can’t let him damage another one of my portable electronic devices.”

Women adored him.  He was attractive and charming.  Nonetheless, all of his romantic relationships were brief.   He assumed that he was cursed with a tendency toward picking the “wrong” girl.  But even the kindest women grew tired of shattered family heirlooms and mysteriously bent silverware.  

P. became accustomed to taking the bus. He could no longer obtain car insurance for even the highest premiums. And frequently replacing cars was taking a toll on his pocketbook. The buses were already bedraggled and crumbling, so his presence had little effect on their overall health.

One night while waiting at a bus stop at City Hall, a girl approached him. She was wearing a blue dress and a beguiling smirk.
She gestured at the equestrian necklace he was wearing. “Do you like horses or something?” She laughed.

He was startled. “Um, yes, I guess. Actually, this belongs to this ex-girlfriend of mine.”  No need to mention that unfortunate incident involving her dishwasher and an entire box of streak-free Cascade.  He paid the repair bill without quibbling.

She smiled. “Ha…I’m totally terrified of horses. A bad summer camp experience.”

A conversation about summer camp began: one year his bunk bed collapsed, resulting in his parents retrieving him the next day.

She introduced herself as M., from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Soon they were having coffee and next they were sitting in the park. And hours later, she invited him back to her apartment.

Women did not ordinarily approach him. This was exciting to him. Maybe his luck was turning around.  

Her apartment was at the top of three flights of stairs.   He held his breath as they climbed higher and higher, afraid that his huffing and puffing would betray his unfortunate tobacco habit.  He was determined to make a good impression. 

When she opened the door and turned on the light, he let out a gasp.

One large wall was covered with tools: wrenches, hammers, screw drivers and implements he could recognize. And that was just the beginning! A sewing machine and a variety of glues and needles and staplers. Wire and thread and yarn and elastic. Stain removers and soaps. Files and tweezers. Bandages and antiseptics.

He turned to her, his face filled with a surprising combination of confusion and delight.

“I am a repair person,” she said.
“Well, not for a living. I actually work in an office doing computer stuff.” 

Her boss was cheap and had a tendency toward buying used, low quality office equipment. As a result, every day she found herself fixing copy machines and coffee makers.   Telephones and faxes and computers. This was the best part of her job.
“But I really just love fixing stuff. It began when I was a small child, when I found myself repairing all of my little brother’s toys. It’s a calling, I think.” She closed her eyes, reminiscing about improvised casts for fractured hamster limbs, complex repairs on the Barbie Dream House elevator (following an invasion from her brother’s GI Joes), and elaborate yarn hair weaves on balding Cabbage Patch Kids.

I am sure that you, the beloved reader, are thinking to yourself, ‘”Ah…there really is someone for everyone out there. This is inspiring. I am now feeling that I might find ‘The One’ for me someday.” After all, surely these two young people have just realized that they belong together. P., the destroyer, and M., the fixer. 

Yes, the angels must be singing.

The thing is…P. never really knew that it was him actually breaking things. He assumed it was just a bit of bad lack. Or the result of poor manufacturing. It never occurred to him that this weird girl with the love of repair was the one for him. But he did find her smirk fetching. Her hair was thick and shiny. And the shape of her ass practically made him salivate. She smelled good and had a tendency toward liking things that P. liked. That was good enough for him.

As for M., she liked the slightly lost look he had while he was waiting for the bus. Furthermore, the timbre of his voice was pleasant and his clothes were stylish.

When she stood on her tiptoes to kiss him that first time, she was pleased to discover that his mouth tasted like orange juice.

With no discussion, they became boyfriend and girlfriend.

P.’s friends placed bets on how long the relationship could actually last.

M.’s friends were skeptical of her new boyfriend’s inexplicable joblessness and mysterious income.

Ah, but it was a great match. M. was happier than ever, spending her evenings sewing buttons on pants, repairing faucets, and removing condiment stains from P.’s clothes. She fixed his bike and even stitched up a cut on his hand (a bad run in with the serrated edge on a box of plastic wrap).
P. was delighted to have a girlfriend. He was relieved to be greeted by a smiling face after once again inexplicably clogging the toilet. It was wonderful to be covered with kisses after falling off his bike. He had waited his whole life to find someone who loved him this way…someone who thought he was perfect.

But what P. didn’t realize was that he was frustrating M. She loved fixing his problems, but she was bored with his excessive drinking. And his unconscious tendency toward dishonesty hurt her. Suddenly she found herself wishing that he would get a job and sober up.

She left the employment section of the newspaper on the bedside table…after reattaching the cord to the alarm clock for the third time that month.

She surreptitiously poured 25% of every liquor bottle down the kitchen drain…after installing a new motor in the garbage disposal.  Somehow some rocks from the street had migrated to the sink.

She found herself brainstorming ways to catch him lying–and hopefully shame him– while she changed the flat tire on his bike.

He was bored with her nagging. None of the other women in his life had expected him to be productive. They had always been happy with him just the way he was (until they randomly broke up with him).

M. began to cringe when he touched her. Suddenly she had a headache or cramps or was simply just exhausted.

P. couldn’t believe that someone like her, someone with slightly jiggly thighs and an oversized head, would turn down an opportunity to sleep with him.

He seduced a girl he met at the sandwich store. They brought their egg sandwiches back to the bed he shared with M.

As M. was scrubbing the mayonnaise stains out of the sheets, she realized something was awry. And she also knew that she did not want to know the truth.

When P. came home from an undisclosed location, smelling of gin and hard-boiled eggs (with a hint of musky perfume), she asked him to leave. She handed him a box of his belongings and led him to the door. The doorknob clattered to the ground as he reached out for it. She shook her head and pushed him out the door.

Now I am sure you, the treasured audience, a huge fan of true life movies and episodes of Law & Order, want more. You are asking, “But what happened after that? I have invested all of this time in the protagonists of this story and I must know how they fared afterwards.”

Your humble narrator cannot disappoint you.

P. moved in with the sandwich girl. Within a few weeks, he realized that she was not the brightest crayon in the box (but she was a real tiger in the sack). When he somehow caused her sofa to fall out the picture window in her living room, she asked him to leave. He decided to go to graduate school

M. decided that, more than ever, she wanted to stop repairing things and start finding things. And so she moved to the country and began building sculptures out of lost buttons and misplaced car keys. Crunched up cars and missing socks and absent homework assignments.  She was profiled in the August issue of Artforum. Then an arts foundation decided to give her a grant to travel around the world finding lost items. 

Filthy Parisian bus stations.   Dusty ruins in Mexico City.  Steamy college locker rooms.   Thought of P. creep up on her in the most surprising places.   She promises to disregard the dull ache in her chest.  After all, isn’t she better off without him?   She digs out all of those moments of frustration and  pity.  The drinking.  The lying.  The smell of eggs on her flannel sheets.

She thinks of him more often than she would care to admit.


3 thoughts on “normal wear and tear.

  1. Michael says:

    Damn girl, you hit me hard with this one. I’m feeling it.

  2. Miriam says:

    when are you publishing your book of short fiction, eh?

  3. […] kleptomaniac, an accomplished liar, and a general layabout. His misadventures inspired many of the short stories I’ve written in the last five years. But he was also wildly funny and surprisingly tender. He […]

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