She lived in a dusty, cramped apartment. Back when she and Tod were still together, a few years ago, she lived in Chelsea. A large, airy loft. She would wake up early on the weekends (10 am, which was early for her, as she loved to sleep which her therapist had told her was correlated to her generally depressive tendencies) and walk on the Highline. She especially loved to walk during early fall mornings. Wearing nothing but an ashen sweatshirt that was shredded at the sleeves, she walked and walked until her old ballerina aches would begin to act up; this usually happened when she reached 34th Street. Despite her deceptively limber figure, she was a rather slow walker. She took long, graceful steps, prancing amongst the shrubs and the loud Eastern European tourists. Her red hair was not the fiery red usually seen on the token ginger models in high fashion advertisements. It was a distilled auburn, the bright hues faded from the incessant bleaching of her youth. She resented her hair. She blamed its existence on her parents, and naming a red-haired child “Ginger” was practically asking for years of teasing from an insecure bullying band of tween girls. Tod had always complimented her hair—he said it was the thing that made her stand out amongst the crowd in that bar on 1st Avenue.

On their third date, when they went home together for the first time, Ginger pretended to be asleep after the awkward sex. It wasn’t that she had intimacy issues; she could handle highly intimate moments. In fact, she sought them out.

(For instance, she was the one to say “I love you” to her lousy high school boyfriend. Afterward, he quietly snickered, as if picturing the moment he would laugh to his friends about over Xbox later. He didn’t breathe out any words, just his usual puffs that smelled like tropical gum and overwhelming Axe deodorant. For some reason, he thought the way to respond to her vulnerability was to stab his tongue into her mouth. His tongue felt forceful and purposeless; unguided slobber stroked her hard and soft palate. Her eyes were open the entire time, watching pigeons gather around stale breadcrumbs in the midst of Union Square Park frenzy. She smirked as she watched the birds aggressively peck at one another; their actions seemed more tender than Robbie’s relentless tongue. They broke up a week later. Oliver didn’t really create a dent in Ginger’s perception and feelings towards men as she always felt the same mixed way. Her feelings and need for validation was more a matter of the randomness of the day; one day she might feel overpowering love or desire or hatred. Another she might be apathetic, so satisfied by the way she looked herself, like when she would seductively ruffling her voluminous bangs in the mirror, that there was no need for fake, self-deprecating texts to her significant other silently yearning for compliments. )

But that third (or first) night with Ted, Ginger pretended to sleep not because she couldn’t handle the nervous eye contact or stagnant silences following sex but because, frankly, she was a lightweight and had had two more gin and tonics than usual. She was drowsy, and the physical expenditure mixed with the exhaustion of forceful, uneasy conversations during the candlelit dinner wore her down. She folded into the curves of his seemingly featherless duvet, squirming to find a comfortable position in his abnormally small double mattress. The mattress was worn out. If she tipped ever so slightly to the left, she felt the quick prick of an uncoiled metal spring sticking out of the felt. By the time she and Tod broke up, she estimated that she had been punctured by that diabolical spring forty-seven times (counting was a large element of her obsessiveness). That night, though, she made no fuss. She quietly shifted to the right, allowing his forearm to wrap around her waist so that his fingers touched her belly button. She noticed how clammy his hands were; it made her nervous. Belly buttons were a particularly sensitive area for her. She tried to avoid thinking about or touching them at all costs. She had once stupidly clicked on a Buzzfeed article that informed her of “11 Slightly Horrifying Things You Never Knew About Belly Buttons.” Like the fact that there were 1,435 unknown bacterial species found in various belly buttons. And that, hypothetically, you could make belly button cheese from this rainforest of bacteria. Immediately after reading, she had swabbed her belly button with her pointer finger––it was smelly and had subtle notes of brie. She then took a longer-than-usual shower, lathering her foaming cleanser so vigilantly that eventually no area of her body was not shielded with white bubbles. An hour and a half and a hundred splashes of alternating cold and hot water on her face later (her dermatologist told her that cold opens up your pores and hot closes them), the disgust of her belly button had left.

So, needless to say, when Tod’s fingers hung mere inches away from the concavity, she was uncomfortable. A lot of Tod’s actions and mannerisms stimulated her weaknesses. As she tried to translate another medieval French poem (and not succumb to her profound regrets of not taking Intro to Microeconomics and instead embarking upon this endless PhD so that she could eventually teach college students somewhere in Indiana the beautiful nuances and inflections and complexities of the French language so that hopefully one of them follows her vicious trajectory), he made fun of her detailed notes, every three lines in alternating color. She rolled her eyes and ignored him, shaking her restless leg more vigorously as she re-read the fifth stanza for the ninth time.

Illustration by Nora Wildberg

With the help of $200 therapy sessions and a higher dosage of Prozac, she realized Tod’s complete insensitivity and blindness to her problems was what tore their relationship apart. And he was the one to break up with her, which really pissed her off because she knew she was the less satisfied one in the relationship. Maybe he knew it was coming. Or maybe he was just as unhappy as her; communication was never their strong suit. When it was over, Ginger felt empty and sad—like there was a forever-churning anxious abyss in the middle of her stomach. And this was not because she was emotionally dependent on Tod and the things that he provided for her. She was sad because she realized all she had lost during the past three years; her career, college reunions, Thanksgiving with family members she actually knew, that coffee shop that Tod hated because he claimed smelled too mildewy to ever focus. If only she was a less passive person—if she had just listened to that annoying voice hanging over her left shoulder telling her that today was the day she would speak her mind. But it never was. So this was her life now. Stuck in a light-less, lifeless apartment, sitting on disinfected, used furniture from Craigslist, searching for a sell-out consulting job, cat hair consistently stuck on her blue jeans and an insatiable void clawing at her pelvis.

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