It has been two days since we declared war on the relationship between Joe and his girlfriend, and the battle is going well. The war began as a collective decision.
A need to do something had been growing within Hal, Charlie, and me since the first fumbling public make out session, they on the couch and the three of us trying to concentrate on “Donnie Darko”. All the elements came together after dinner one night, when Joe and Mindy stepped out to catch a romantic comedy at the corner theater. Hal turned to Charlie and me as soon as they were out the door and, in a tone that signified a matter of national security, said that something must be done. We knew exactly what he was talking about, and agreed. How could we not? Joe’s girlfriend is Mindy. She earns four hundred dollars a day working for herself out of a tiny office on Sixth Street. People —men, women, all ages, all creeds— hire her to talk to them about their problems and then cook them a hot meal. There is no name in the yellow pages. Just a number in bold, with a box around it. As a rule, advertising is superfluous. The people who need her find her. It’s the kind of niche job that exists only in the most desperate of cities, and that would sap anyone of all cloying sentimentality for fellow human beings. At this point in her life, Mindy was pretty much bone dry. While she cared a great deal about the concept of “humanity” as a whole, individuals did not matter too much. Joe, however, got her attention. She met him in a bar, a place where the four of us had met so many women, and took him home. Hal, Charlie, and I hadn’t expected it to last. We know all of our track records, lists of broken hearts and one night stands. We did not and do not know exactly what they said to each other while sipping on beer and chewing stale peanuts, but we know what Joe’s standard angle of attack is. And given that she was providing for Joe essentially the same service she gave anybody with ready cash… we told each other it would be a long time before a cold day in hell, and waited. This was our greatest mistake, trusting in the evidence of old relationships. For work, Mindy wears fishnets and a short skirt, as well as a t-shirt that is slightly too loose. She says that it does the trick for her clients. It certainly did for Joe, who started walking her to work three days of the week. At home, she favors baggy sweatshirts and panties. Joe wears his standard jeans and t-shirt, and they sit on the couch watching reruns of Warner Brothers cartoons and The Simpsons. One night when I got home late, I found them seated on the couch with the TV blaring. They were both asleep —not in each others’ arms, but with one pair of palms layered and one pair gripped between them. I turned the TV off and left them. It is the one picture of their relationship that has any value.
Hal, Charlie, Joe and I share an apartment. It’s the only way to live in the city and we have plenty of space. We moved in together after college, in that period when everyone was trying to figure out whether they would follow their dreams or get jobs that would actually make money. Since the first day, we held ourselves to certain duties. Every wednesday was frisbee night, every thursday movie night, and every friday was whatever we felt like doing that was outside of the apartment. It was a good routine.
Mindy had no free time routine in her life when she met Joe, and soon we found her borrowing ours, making our nights hers. The process began two days after their third date, when she did not move in to our place but began spending the night on a regular basis. We found that for someone who had previously done little, her plans were epic in scope. She organized board games in the park, trips to monuments and museums, picnics in centralized public locations and other things. Most notable among them were faux-impromptu literary discussions on museum steps. I always felt shady when involved in this last game, as if I was degrading all the people who actually did spontaneously burst out into analysis of Moby Dick and Paradise Lost. Spectacle and presentation are Mindy’s arts, and she likes to make us props and characters in the virtual image of life that she creates for the city’s benefit. She explained to me that her goal was to make people believe the real world functioned like a movie or book, with characters who were actually interesting and extraordinary events occurring on a regular basis. It seems a generous idea, but I know that no one besides small children with too much time on their hands pay us any mind.
There was no way to tell Mindy or Joe that we wanted out of this new routine, that this was too much of a change from our old tricks, so our old life disappeared extremely quickly. That was one of our complaints, being swept up in things. Our world’s natural speed was slow; we took every day easy. This was an instinctive understanding we had always possessed, as had Joe. Mindy’s ideas, and Joe’s willingness to go along with them, seemed a fundamental contract violation.
Our other grievances range across a thousand things, from the way she brushes her hair to her devotion to cats and small children that have no connection to her. The most important reason for our war, however, was best verbalized by Charlie. “The coupling sullies us,” he said, “with its wholesomeness.” And it’s true. They are a textbook couple. To see Joe is to know that Mindy is near. When they walk down the street, they send a subtle message of unintentional contempt to every single person out there, at the same time demonstrating how easy it is to find a perfect relationship, and demanding an explanation for how you yourself haven’t been as lucky. There is no room outside of their circle for anyone else. “And what sort of circle has only two points, anyway?” That piece of wit was my small corollary to Charlie’s comment, a flippant note that we could snicker at. I made it secretly as a personal shield against Joe and Mindy, and anyone who fell asleep holding someone’s hand while watching television. Like so many famous people before me, I know that cynicism is my only defense. I didn’t explain my comment to Hal and Charlie. They would have most likely taken exception at my attempts to lump their innermost motivations for ending the relationship with my own.
To destroy a knot, make one part of the rope feel guilty for being bound. Hal explained the theory, and Charlie and I agreed that it was good. This is possibly because we are romantics and cowards, and hate to take the easy path when a more winding road is available. Joe, Charlie, Hal, and I each have a thousand tasks to do around the apartment, and we share and split them anew each week. And so, to kill Joe and Mindy’s ties, we allow their romance to flourish at our own expense. None of us remind Joe that he has to do this or that job—we just take care of it ourselves and make sure that he sees the evidence. There is no need to wonder where he was instead of at the task —of course he was with her. I paraded past him yesterday carrying the three rolls of wallpaper for the bathroom that he had forgotten to pick up. Charlie cooked up a lavish feast for breakfast this morning, when Joe had been slated to heat up some pop tarts and put on the coffee. In this way, the three of us are digging our claws into him and reminding him of the value that we put on him. Joe has not fully come to grips with what is happening, and I do not think that he will ever manage to do so. He is only certain that everyone is being nice to him, “making time for him”. This seems to be working, but if he is as thick as we suspect, it may take him some time. We have councils whenever possible, a trio of anti-Yentas planning how next to make our discomfort felt.
Mindy, we think, has realized what we are up to and sees the writing on the wall. She knows what is coming and how the three of us are working against her. Whenever she catches us without Joe present she snaps, while we act shocked and promise her time alone with her boyfriend so that she can mellow out. Hal confided that, “It is telling that she is more afraid for the relationship than Joe. She was always smarter than him, and won’t stay where unwanted.” I concur. It may be just two days so far, but we have no fear. Our cause is noble and our purpose just, so we shall not be defeated.