Editor’s Note: “Living in Spin” is a new recurring Albumism column, in which Grace Curtis taps into firsthand narratives and vivid recollections to examine the moments in life when the aural, carnal, and emotional impulses converge.
The following essay is the 2nd installment of the 3-part “Living in Spin” series inspired by the discography of blues & soul legend O.V. Wright. Read the 1st installment here and stay tuned for the third and final installment coming soon.
You leave the house you used to share with the husband you have left. You are shaking from the effort it takes to exist in the world after. After the life you believed yourself to be in forever is over. The pain of it is physical—in the stomach, on the skin, even the very blood in you hurts. You walk the block to the subway slowly, the rowhouses you fell in love with on your left, Prospect Park on your right across the street, mocking you with its profound greenness. You have been ripe for so long and now are rotting on the vine of your forties.
You are numb in your extremities and don’t remember getting onto the platform, but you take out your phone and read the text from the lover you’ve never met, but who you sext with daily. He hasn’t left for work yet, so he’s home and feeling like getting off with you. He launches right into a fantasy about getting you pregnant. You would normally engage with him enthusiastically, no matter where you were, or what time it was, but you can’t now. You feel done with this because it’s not real, and the house you just left is reality in laser fine detail.
He can’t know how bad his timing is, how wrong the topic is for this moment. But you can’t help hating his messages anyway, hating him just a tiny bit more than the way you have already hated him slightly since he confessed he had a girlfriend, and called what he’s been doing with you merely a dalliance, and not so bad as full-on cheating. Since the entanglement with him has been your whole waking life for months, the word dalliance makes you shiver with resentment.
You text him that you are overwhelmed by the feelings this situation causes, and you can’t do it anymore—no more lurid fantasies, no more dirty pictures, no more late night wake ups. It’s too painful to touch on the pregnancy you will never experience, even in fantasy. You can’t believe you sent the text once it’s gone. He is your around-the-clock second or third thought. How could you type that away in one message?
The train comes, and in the next couple of stations you have no signal on your phone, but once you’re above ground, you get his text asking for a phone call. You get off the train at 4th and 9th, and stand on the very end of the platform, at the back where the sun beats down on the concrete. Far from the exit where the people around you funnel themselves. You call him. He assures you that he never wanted to hurt you in any way, that he would have ended things immediately if anything made you feel small or less-than, that if you had ever actually met, he would have been much more normal in bed—not so perverse or kinky.
You don’t know how long you are talking to him, but at least four trains enter and leave the station while hot wind blows your hair out behind you, as you pace the same small stretch of platform. He is kind and maybe more honest than he’s ever been. You come the closest you ever have to telling him he’s the most important thing, but you stop at the edge. Your phone in your hand, your face a frown of concentration, listening to him talk, your red Converse sneakers go over the yellow line and you stand at the final lip of concrete before the open air over the tracks. You stop at the edge. The train is coming into the station and you back up at the last possible moment, to feel the choice, to feel the closest you can get, and to feel the wind of it burn your face.
You tell him you have an hour or more left to your ride home and he seems hurt and quick to end the call after that. You ride home, red-faced and your blood beating in your temples. You put your headphones in and there is O.V. Wright’s voice aching in your ears, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child / Sometimes I wish I could fly like a bird up in the sky.” You are motherless and you are not a mother. You don’t have a husband anymore. You don’t have a lover.
Three days pass and he is in your thoughts constantly. You want to reach out to him, but you don’t know why. When you send just the word “hi,” he takes a very long time to write back that he doesn’t know if he should answer when you write because he doesn’t want to hurt you more. You tell him you know that, but you miss him. And he says he misses you, too. And then you are back to texting every day, just as if you didn’t want out. It makes you feel weak to do this, but it’s better than feeling the empty.
It goes on, your bizarre relationship that is only just a portion unfulfilling, but such an important piece to be missing. You start going on dates with new guys because you can’t go on waiting for him, and you know it’s foolish to think maybe his situation will change. He urges you to go on them and to tell him about them, and for a while that plays into your thing with him, until it is blurred why you are doing anything anymore. Is it because you feel wild and want to explore the world? Or is it to show off for him? You can’t answer yourself honestly.
One night he coaxes you into the darkest sorts of fantasies, and you go along, because you always do, because you like to accommodate, because you want to go along. It is the most intense night of texting you’ve had in a while, and you wake up the next morning groggy and only sure that you know each other in ways no one else does and you trust him because of what you are sharing with him.
That day you get the text from him while you’re at work. He wants to focus on fixing his relationship with his real girlfriend, so he can’t engage in texting with you anymore—it’s not fair to anyone involved. Your intestines have been kicked clean out of your gut. You are flying through the air backwards like a cartoon getting knocked through the atmosphere into outer space, past planets and comets before plummeting back to the earth and leaving a giant you-sized hole in the ground.
One of your best friends works with you and he sees your face across the office and fingerspells in sign language, “Are you ok? What happened?” You are flushed and breathing hard from your recent trip past the pain moon and just shake your head at him. You can’t tell him any of this. How can you explain that you got dumped by a nonexistent boyfriend who you have never met in person, even though you’ve spent months texting with him?
You have to get out of the office. You can’t cry here. You know you are going to cry. You put your headphones in and walk down to Brooklyn Bridge Park with O.V. pleading, “You gonna make me cry / you gonna make me cry / oh baby don’t make me cry / I’m begging you baby / You gonna break my heart / oh yes you are, you gonna break my heart / oh baby, baby, baby / please baby, don’t break my heart.” It’s too late for that. Done and done.
It’s windy and hot, and watching the water slap up against the rocks is making you dizzy. There are so many people out today. They are pushing strollers, jogging, heading to the playground, to the carousel, to Luke’s for the first lobster roll of the season. The last few months pile up in your throat and spill out in raw, hoarse sobs. Snot flies out of your nose with no regard for decorum. You can hear yourself braying, the ugly sound of loss and heartbreak, over the way O.V. uses the breaks and crackles in his voice to express agony so precisely.
The passing people look at you with empathy or curiosity or a kind of smug gladness not to be in your shoes, open and undignified in public around strangers. You have to go back. You need to set up that filing system today, and you didn’t tell anyone you were stepping out. It will be so obvious you have been crying—the eyes that look like boiled onions, the red blotches across your cheeks and throat and chest. You dread seeing the faces of people who work with you.
You propel yourself back into the air conditioned building, chilled under your cardigan. Your friend is staring at you with worried eyes when you climb back into your chair, and you fingerspell to him across the office, “It’s ok. It’s a guy. It’s nothing.” He mouths, “Sorry,” as he fingerspells it. You nod and need to break eye contact with him because any second he’s going to know you are lying, and now you have the work of making it the truth ahead of you.
You re-read the breakup text to make it a more permanent part of your reality. You hover above the text box, wavering about telling him how much you are hurting, so he can share his part of this with you. A new text from him appears, “Are you ok?” You tell him the truth and he responds, “Fuck man, I knew I should have ended this a long time ago. I’m sorry, bud.” And just like that you are transformed into a pal, a buddy, as if the last few months did not exist. By saying it, by naming it this other thing, he makes it so. Poof. Transformation. No room for you to even plead your case.
You stare at the phone, unable to respond. You put your earbuds back in, just as O.V. is wailing, “It was eight men and four women (Guilty) / How could they be so blind? (Guilty) / How could they? / I know they sat there and called true love a crime / This is what killed me / But a tear rolled down my cheek / I felt so sorry for you, you know why? / Because in my heart I knew / oh yes, baby I knew / that they would find you guilty too.” You spend the rest of your day redirecting your thoughts of him, one after another until you almost have a system that will work.
BUY O.V. Wright’s 8 Men and 4 Women via Discogs