How to Win at Losing

How to Win at Losing

Issue 21 by Marrie Stone

How to Win at Losing

Take a selfie. Consider the pros and cons of removing your shirt. Remind yourself that it’s a rare man who, at forty-eight and no stranger to Big Gulps and barbeque ribs, should ever remove his shirt. Instead, stand in front of your canary yellow Corvette and raise your cell phone camera high on its stick. Higher. Lean on the hood. Button your shirt. Higher. Make a mental note to buy a bigger shirt.

Edit your photo with filters and upload it to Plenty Of Fish, Match.com, and eHarmony. Wait a day before contemplating the benefits of casting a wider net. Snoop around OKCupid, MillionaireMatch, SugarDaddie, and Elite Singles. Sure, you’re no millionaire, but who needs to know? Toss in Zoosk, Bumble, Groupr, and Tinder. Add in Ashley Madison, because you never know—it worked for your wife. Throw in Grindr because you’re open-minded, and what’s wrong with that?

Sit alone at your kitchen table with a beer and a frozen burrito, wondering if Monica will ever come back. Resist looking at her photos on Facebook again, knowing she will have added yet another nauseating picture of Brad, who never wears a shirt. Practice saying his name without sarcasm—Bad, Bud, Broad. Keep practicing. Open another beer before succumbing to the giant blue “f” icon on your phone. Even though Facebook invites you to “write a comment” . . . don’t. Remind yourself, as Monica once reminded you, this is how exes get blocked.

When spring arrives, stare out the window at your wife’s withered garden. Remember the sight of her there, bent over the flowerbeds, her perfect ass in those perfect jeans, the sun warming her honey-colored hair she’d pulled into a thick ponytail that bounced against her back. Remember the homegrown roses and dahlias that filled your dining room every summer. Remember Monica’s forehead slick with sweat and smudged with fertilizer. Remember her coming into the kitchen after a long afternoon outside, fingernails crusted with dirt, as she playfully slid herself across your lips. Remember taking her fingers, dirt and all, into your mouth, her skin warm on your tongue as you guided her down onto the kitchen floor, making love right there on the linoleum. Remember pulling yourselves up to the refrigerator afterwards, sharing a beer with your heads nestled together against the dishwasher. Remember to forget.

Join a gym. The second time you go, tell yourself that seven minutes on the treadmill is enough. It’s two minutes more than you planned, and goals are meant to be worked toward, not achieved all at once. It’s about pacing yourself. Resist scanning the machines, looking for Monica, before scolding yourself for joining her gym. Hate yourself for loving her.

When women contact you on Match and eHarmony, click on their profiles with disinterest. Don’t compare their hobbies and interests to Monica’s. Don’t search their faces for hints of similarities. Don’t . . . just don’t.

Commit yourself to bringing back Monica’s garden. Wander, like a lost toddler, through Home Depot’s nursery aisles, staring at packets of seeds and bulging bags of dirt. Wonder which ones she would choose if she were here, standing beside you, like she should be doing for the rest of your lives. Buy a spade and a trowel. Buy a shovel, even though you already own two. Buy a pair of gardening gloves too small for your fat hands. Haul all these things home and watch a long series of YouTube videos, trying to understand your wife. Take an interest in her interests, now that she’s gone.

Flirt! It’s fun! Remember?! Open a beer as you swipe, swipe, swipe on your phone. Send a desperate looking divorcee that photo of you and your midlife crisis car. She will not respond. Don’t take this personally.

Make a list of your ex-wife’s faults:
1. Fucking someone she met online.
2.

There must be more. Close your eyes and concentrate. When you fall asleep from all that concentration, be grateful you finally got a few hours of decent rest.

Make a list of your own faults. Wait . . . don’t do that. It’s destructive and depressing.

Repress all those memories of being an asshole. Remind yourself there were good reasons for most of it. You had to work late—you were getting ahead. Four or five times a week wasn’t every night. The not-so-occasional weekends were necessary. And no, Monica, it wasn’t that much weight. Whatever happened to “Til death do us part?” Did you miss a clause saying, “Except if one of you likes fried foods?” Not everyone has time to do daily pilates and spin classes when they have a fulltime job.

The garden is coming along. Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Spend all your spare time kneeling in the loamy dirt, tending to tomato plants and string beans, feeling a sense of accomplishment when the tiny shoots you tied with dental floss start spreading up the wooden stakes. Surround the plants with chicken wire to protect them from invaders. Realize what your wife found so satisfying while wishing you could share your vegetable bounty with her, and maybe a bottle of wine.

When you log onto Facebook after a successful month away and see the news, don’t smash your laptop with the shovel still sitting in your cluttered kitchen. Don’t dwell on your wife’s ultrasound photo of a fetus who looks nothing like you. Who will never look anything like you. Who will probably, like his fucking father, never have to wear a fucking shirt. Let your eyes gloss over all those emoticons and capital letters. Resist typing some capital letters of your own. Go ahead. Get the shovel.

Tell yourself, again, alcohol is never the answer.

Buy a new laptop.

Funnel your renewed anger into the garden. Garden the shit out of your backyard. Concentrate on moisture levels and mineral deficiencies as if your future depended on it. Remember: overwatering can kill as quickly as neglect. Work the aphids off each leaf and extract the slugs from the soil. Whatever is invading . . . stop it. Don’t let it do any lasting damage. Spray the insects. Poison the rats.

Realize, surrounded by all these fresh carrots and leafy kale, you’re starting to lose some weight. Stand naked in front of the bathroom mirror and notice the definition beginning to form around your abs. Recall that your shirts no longer strain against your belly. Consider the merits of growing a beard. Stroke your jawline as you examine flecks of reflective grey hair salting your temples, making you look mature and distinguished. Contemplate the fact that, in your late forties, you look better than ever before. Thump your bare chest. Go on—thump it. It’ll feel good.

Stop drinking. Pride yourself in knowing that, for the first time, you’ll stick to this decision.

When you see Monica’s Mercedes in your driveway after returning from work, don’t allow excitement to rise up from the center of your internal organs and flush every inch of your skin. Don’t let nervous anticipation cloud your judgment. Stop checking yourself out in the rear-view mirror. Though that beard is coming along. Remind yourself this doesn't matter. Your marriage is over. Your wife is pregnant with another man’s child. A man she met online, on purpose, intending to leave you. What is wrong with you?

When you see Monica sitting on the porch swing you splurged to buy her your first Christmas together—when you were both still broke and young—don’t consider sitting down, wrapping yourself around her, and never letting go. Instead, stare at her tiny belly, at the small lump starting to form beneath her favorite flannel shirt. Resist feeling protective. She is no longer yours. Focus all your energy on hating her lump.

She will stare through glassy eyes at all your careful work in her yard—your yard—commenting on how hearty the hydrangeas, how full the roses, and how productive the zucchini. She will marvel at your success with the tomatoes. All the while, she will look on the verge of tears. Don’t ask. Do. Not. Ask.

After you ask, resist every impulse you have. Here is a list of impulses, in no particular order:

  1. Take Monica into your arms and confess you’ve never stopped loving her.
  2. Sympathize with her that: (a) Brad is, indeed, a two-timing cocksucker; and (b) who could have seen this coming even though, after all, he did have a long history of exactly this thing.
  3. Scream at her for being so fucking stupid to fall for Brad’s obvious bullshit.
  4. Wonder aloud how Monica will make it as a forty-two-year-old single mother with no visible means of support beyond a little alimony from you and not a goddamn dime from Brad.
  5. Open that bottle of Chianti you still keep hidden in the now-empty liquor cabinet for emergencies just like this. Monica would refuse because, well, you know. You would summon the strength to also refuse.
  6. Gloat. Gloat to yourself and to Monica that you, as everyone always knew (even Monica and probably Brad), were the better man.

Admit that this pretty accurately reflects the actual order of your impulses. Congratulate yourself on having indulged none of them.

Instead, let your ex-wife sleep in her ex-guest room. Sit with her on the edge of the bed like uncomfortable teenagers. Comment on the plaid duvet you purchased together when you both thought plaid made your home look all sophisticated and shit. Allow yourselves to laugh at the memory of Monica’s mother coming to stay for the first time, sleepwalking as she apparently always did (unbeknownst to you). Remember her mother landing at the foot of your master bed at 2:00 a.m., scaring the crap out of all three of you. Restrain yourself from falling in love with your wife’s laugh all over again.

The next day, sprawled in separate lawn chairs in the backyard, heavy with the scent of honeysuckle and jasmine, tell your wife you never knew she wanted children. Listen as she tells you about all the things she’s always wanted—a sewing room and a dog, smaller breasts and stronger legs, maybe a master’s degree in something. Realize you knew none of this.

When your ex-wife wakes you in the middle of the night—her fourth night back under your roof—the plaid duvet and white sheets will be soaked with blood. Gather every towel you own and help her to your car. Hold her hand as an overworked intern spreads your wife’s legs open and removes a piece of her soul. When she says, “How is it possible to feel this sad?” do not answer. Listen to her cry without comment.

In the weeks that follow, work with your wife in the garden, picking cucumbers and summer squash, debating the ripeness of a peach, and taste-testing every herb—basil, mint and thyme. Notice a leaf that’s fallen into her honeyed hair and reach for it, feeling the silky strand between your fingertips, just like the old days.

Pull your wife in close, then closer, her T-shirt soft against your bare chest. She’ll say she likes your new look as her hands touch your beard and her minty lips move toward yours. Kiss like you did when you were young and newly in love, with hunger and anticipation, curiosity that borders on frenzy. For a few hours, leave behind the heavy weight of shared history that holds you both down.

Make love in the garden—planted by your wife and resurrected by you. This is your garden—the one you now tend together.

When you’re done, sweaty and sated, laugh as you reach for your iPhone, attaching it to its stick, raising it high in the air above you. Take a selfie. Know that it’s only for you.

About the Author

Marrie Stone

Website

Marrie Stone's work has appeared in the River Oak Review, the Writers' Journal, Reed Magazine, Into the Void, and Coffin Bell Journal. Various articles and other essays have been widely published elsewhere. For the past eleven years, she has co-hosted the weekly radio show Writers on Writing and interviewed hundreds of authors, including George Saunders, Tobias Wolff, Geraldine Brooks and others. Read more about Marrie at her website, marriestone.com.