How To Lose

When fighting with your wife, make sure you say the most hurtful thing first. Threaten to leave, stone-faced. Look down at the puppy in your lap, never directly at her. Avoid — at all costs! — revealing that it feels like she’s already left you. Don’t mention the lonely nights, three just this week, of tossing and turning awake in bed until the last train home has left Manhattan, wondering if she’s on it, wondering if she’s a corpse in an alleyway or sloppily drunk with friends or in someone else’s bed or in someone else’s heart, which is worse.

Hit hard and fast. Call her irresponsible, a teenager — no, a child. Imply she’s disgusting for her curiosity about pot. Call her friends disgusting, too. When she defends them, listen carefully for the ones she describes with the most tenderness. Notice the soft vowels and the little curve of her smile around their names, but not yours. Save this moment to punish yourself with later.

Dismantle her arguments with wit and disdain. (Disregard the ones you can’t defend against.) Keep going. Slice straight across her weaknesses, hoping you still know them, that she’s still knowable to you. Pick at your sparkly nail polish and your cuticles. Press down hard on the little bit of blood that bubbles up when you break skin. Keep pressing till your whole fingertip turns pink and stings. Look up when you realize you didn’t fully hear her last accusation. Accidentally meet her eyes. Avert your gaze immediately. Don’t cry yet.

After she’s left the house, consider how long it’ll take before she’s ready to come home. Hope that she comes home soon. Hope that she doesn’t. Take a long, deep swallow of self-hatred for that last thought. Cry now. Weep softly, at first, into the light blue pillowcase the color of her eyes. Then cry harder, loud enough to startle the dogs. Wrap your arms around them as they climb onto the bed, blubbering into each soft furry chest in turn. Wipe your tears from their fur.

Get up, out of bed. Feed the dogs. Open a book and close it again. Type out a text message furiously. Delete it. Write another one. This time, accidentally reveal how much she’s hurt you, how lonely and tired and unloveable you feel. Keep writing until you’re crying again. Send it. Notice she’s read it immediately. Feel the time stretching in your small silent house — half an hour without a response.

Get up again. Doll yourself up: smoky makeup, sweet pink dress. Leave the house and go shopping. Buy nothing. Leave a dozen outfits in the dressing room, all in disarray. Stumble out of the store wondering how you got so fat. Pinch your stomach in the mall bathroom, hard enough to bruise. Smudge your makeup with tears and scramble to fix it in the mirror with some scratchy toilet paper. When a stranger walks in, draw inward, making yourself as small as possible. Stagger out, still wiping your face.

Buy a movie ticket for two hours from now, determined not to be the first one home. Sit in a coffee shop reading the first page of a book over and over; give up and stare at it blankly. Wonder if she’s home yet. Notice your hand twitching to check for new text notifications. Pull it back sharply. Check your phone anyway ten seconds later.

Lay your head down on the table. Ask yourself what’s left of you to salvage when she’s gone. Pull out your notebook. Start writing.