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Lauren Yates


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In his mind, you are more than what you are.
Your husband tells everyone your name: Betty.
“Short for Elizabeth,” he says,
unaware that “Betty” is your full name.

He tells everyone your “nickname.”
How could your husband of fifty-five years
not know Betty is your full name?
Perhaps, the separate bedrooms

explain how your husband of fifty-five years
could miss the simplest of details.
Perhaps, the separate bedrooms
you've kept for the past thirty years

have held you back from the simplest of details.
You mock him with friends
you've kept for the past thirty years.
You pull out your red, plaid address book.

You mock him on the phone with friends.
There’s a crash from behind the bathroom door.
Pull out your red, plaid address book.
Ask for donations in lieu of flowers.

After the crash from behind the bathroom door,
you realize how much you need him.
You have no use for flowers.
People give them to you anyway.

You realize how much you need him
for crumb-whiffs of attention.
People give them to you anyway.
You used to spread bad news

for crumb-whiffs of attention.
Now, your friends say, “Betty, sorry for your loss.”
You used to spread bad news
with the corners of your mouth turned up.

Now, your friends say, “Betty, sorry for your loss.”
“Betty’s short for Elizabeth,” he’d say
with the corners of his mouth turned up.
In his mind, you are more than what you are.

The Gas Lights in IKEA

At the gas station, he spills premium fuel on my leopard print
Keds. He calls himself following directions, says he removed
the nozzle and pressed the lever like the yellow sign said. There
is no need for that step once the nozzle is inside of the car.

I don’t know why I even asked for his help: insecurity over an
infrequent task, an attempt to make him feel like more of a man,
an attempt to make me feel like he is more of a man. I could forgive
him if he were from Jersey, where it is illegal to pump your own gas.

In the car, the gas smells strong like contempt, that silent killer.
He tells me his dreadlocks are hurting his chances of finding a
job, that he is tired of how long the auburn snakes take to dry
atop his heavy head when wet. His friend from the Main Line

has offered him $500 to cut them off. He refuses, saying he has
promised a girl in a basement in Pittsburgh that she could do the
honors. Why not take the money and get rid of a hairstyle you hate?

In IKEA, I go over the ways “us” just isn’t working. How he
rebuffs me every time I kiss his neck, his twin-sized bed in his
mother’s apartment, how he hears me saying “racist” when I
point out his privilege. When I cannot find the plastic carpet

protectors that go beneath swivel chairs, we drive to Target.
They do not have them either. He says, “I saw them in IKEA.”
I ask why he didn’t say anything. “He says he knew I would
get angry.” I ask why he thinks I would get angry for stopping

for what we came to the store to buy. We go back to IKEA.
It is Labor Day, and the amount of people here for rugs and
Swedish Meatballs has already doubled. My contempt bubbles
over, like a twelve-egg quiche in a store-bought, deep dish crust.

Yet still, I try to be graceful. “It hurt my feelings that you
thought I would get angry at you for telling me we passed
the plastic mats.” He responds, “I never said that.” Just like
he swears he apologized for spilling gas on my shoes.

Family History

I ask my aunt to retake the picture because it is unflattering.
She says, “I don’t know what you think you look like,”
instead of adjusting the lighting or trying again from
another angle. I call her Aunt Babby (pronounced “baby”).

When I was little, I could not say “Charlene,” so I said “Baby.”
It is spelled with two “b’s” because she is full of extra love.
This is the origin story my mother keeps telling me. She repeats
it over and over, how my grandma kept saying, “He’s the
Spirit of Christmas,” every time I asked if Santa Claus is real.

I ask my mother why Aunt Babby doesn’t have any children.
She says Aunt Babby and her friend Maxine are a little too close,
like Oprah and Gayle. I ask why her last name isn’t the same
as ours. My mother says I used to have an Uncle Dick. He got
a vasectomy without telling my aunt, so she never had kids.

My mother orders me a beer after I say don’t want one. We are
in a Mexican restaurant. She gets me a Blue Moon. I say,
“I normally do Corona if I’m eating Mexican.” My aunt says,
“So you only eat Belgian food with Belgian beer?” Each word
of sarcasm sounds more and more like, I am a failure as a woman

for not having children. My mother teaches me to answer the
phone in Spanish, unplugs the jack from the wall to stop the debt
collectors. My Aunt Babby fears I will end up like my mother.
She gets my credit card statements sent to her house. I do not

bring up the fate of her surrogate child. A cockatiel named
Cheeky put on Prozac because he kept pulling out his feathers.
He got out the day she left the sliding glass door open. She sees
this as proof she would have been an unfit mother. My mother

laughs at Aunt Babby for taking “happy pills,” says she
found a bottle of Wellbutrin in the bathroom cabinet.
“Wellbutrin,” I say. “Those are the same pills that I take.”


When I post that I am looking for an older man,
I hear from Chuck. He says he knows I am looking
for someone older, but probably not that old.

We agree on a coffee shop downtown. I am running late,
so he places my order, my drink waiting for me when
I get there. Chuck is reading The New Yorker. I insist on
calling him "Chuck." Charles is my grandfather's name.

We drink chai lattes. He says this is good coffee. A Scotch
man, all too quick to order an apple martini, a desperate
attempt to seem hip. He asks my alcoholic drink of choice.
Rum and pineapple juice. He calls this a "Rum Slicker."

He rushes me by staring at his watch, the parking meter
about to expire. I wait in the car while he trades CDs with
a man from Craigslist. Burying a date between errands is

so genius, I am angry I never thought of it. Someone who
knows how to erase the the stakes, the work of a man who has
been an ex-husband several times before. He drops me off.

He is late for a birthday party for one of his nine sisters.
He asks for a kiss. I say no. He asks to take me out on
Thursday. I say yes. I want to see The Grand Budapest Hotel.
He wants to go to the Red Baraat concert. Thursday morning

he cancels. Says he is playing Elvis-themed card games
with friends all weekend, so he should get his rest. He says
he wishes he didn't have to cancel because he really loves
the band. He never even mentions wanting to see me.

The Anatomy of Heartbreak

I am a woman full of assumptions. Like dollar bills,
they crumple. Like glitter, they make a mess when
spilled. They live beneath my fingernails. The token
machine spits them out in time to miss the train.

Your heart is anatomically correct. It tells me
cartoons are only for children. I tie my heart to
my hair with yarn like a Frida Kahlo painting. I am
Beyoncé’s Halloween costume. You were supposed
to be my Basquiat. Or at the very least Diego Rivera.

I am the origin of nuisance. I never learned to skip stones.

You say I’m on some FBI shit. Most days, I am. But
this time wasn’t so hard. You said you only wait three
or four dates. After four dates, we never even kissed.

I kept bumping your arm during American Psycho.
I don’t care much for yuppies or murder, so I snuck
shots of cinnamon whiskey. I want you in a bathtub
of blue cellophane. I think of your nipples and how
mine compare to those of your favorite porn star.

Too polite to dominate me. Heinous enough to keep
me a secret. You hire a dating coach. I talk to my friends
for free. I saw Blue Is the Warmest Color for the heartbreak.
You were in it for the sex scenes. I like to learn by doing.

She says in two years I’ll get letter saying I was
the best thing that ever happened to you. It may not be
a crate of swans, but it would be something.

I live by the courage of a dying dog. Beneath the
dusty tarp with creases filled with rain water. This is
where the maggots grow. This is where I go to suffer.
To prepare you for what it will be when I am gone.

➥ Bio