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May 18, 2004

Pearls of Wisdom

Dear Lila Pearl,

I have just discovered that my boyfriend is a loser. He cheated on me. He's mean. He owes me over $200. He hit on my best friend at a party. He sucks. Only trouble is, I have no idea how to break up with someone. Any suggestions?

—Anxious to Exit

Dear Anxious,

Consider this:

The fog thickened, and the last hint of shoreline disappeared. "Harry," I hissed, trying to stare over the bow, "did you hear that?"

"I can't hear a thing in this muck. I can't see anything," Harry mumbled, his voice muffled by the wind and the sweater he pulled up over his face.

"I'm sure I heard thunder." Harry said nothing, just pulled a damp towel up around his shoulders and shrugged. He leaned back and sipped from a silver flask, melting into the boat's rail. It began to rain lightly. "Well, this is your fucking lake, Harry. Which direction is the dock?"

Harry took another sip and without looking up pointed his finger vaguely behind us. The rain fell harder and the boat began to shake and pick up speed. "For God's sake, Harry, take the jib." I pushed the rudder heavily and tried to brush the rain off my face. Hair was flying everywhere, but when I pulled it out of my eyes, I realized it hardly mattered: I couldn't even see the tip of the boat, 12 feet away-.

Harry looked up into the rain and let the droplets fall on his open eyes, in his mouth, into his ears. He sighed, "Lila, I don't know how to sail." He hiccupped woozily.

The boom swung across the boat and caught my elbow, nearly knocking me overboard into the gray lake water. "But I just taught you," I shouted over the rain, "only 20 minutes ago." The wind died and the boat abruptly leveled. The silence thickened and pulsed while the fog crept closer, so I could hardly see Harry's damp blond curls, his beautiful cheekbones, or his hollow eyes. I tried to make eye contact with him, but he wouldn't look at me. I knew we were falling out of love—fast.

Harry reached into his pocket and took out a damp packet of cigarettes. He struggled for a bit with the matches but finally got two lit. He handed one to me and we sat there, staring at the burning ends, blowing gray smoke slowly out to sea. "Well, this is Canada," I muttered, and Harry nodded slowly. The wind whipped back up. "Duck," I whispered and ducked without looking back to see if Harry had followed. The sail swung heavily across the bow and the boat started to tip.

Struggling to balance, I leaned forward. I was aching to hiss over the wind into Harry's ear, "What the fuck is your problem?" But instead I grabbed the collar of his blue linen shirt and said nothing. The sail swirled back again and Harry went limp in my arms. I tried to move him, but he's much taller than I am, and his long legs were stretched out at angles that made movement close to impossible. The boat tipped further.

The wind seemed to slow, and we were hanging vertically. I wondered if Harry and I would ever make love again. And then I somersaulted over the edge, and Harry fell on top of me, and then we were in the water, underwater, and the boat was tipping over nearly on top of us—the keel well into the air and still moving, and the water really didn't feel very good but I was mostly numb anyway. Harry sort of floundered over me, pushing my head underwater, and everything became very still, like an empty tomb, and I thought, "If I only stayed under for a little longer." My life jacket bobbed me back up, and Harry and I stared at each other as the mast snapped and the mainsail slowly drifted underwater.

Harry bobbed up and down, looking bemused. "How have you never learned to sail?" I asked, gritting my teeth together and looking down as the last bit of our sail disappeared into the murky underworld. "Your father must be so fucking disappointed in you." Harry slouched down into his life vest, then saw his flask floating beside him. He picked it up and took a huge swallow. He frowned. "Harry. You are such a fucking loser."

And Harry finally looked me in the eye, clenched his jaw and whispered, almost as an afterthought, a nothing, a bit of forgotten punctuation, "I didn't sign up for this, Lila." Except I could barely hear him because there was a wave coming toward us, and the empty hull of our dying sailboat was slowly sinking down beneath us, creating a whirlpool. I was getting sucked down, too. I gasped and opened my mouth to shout to Harry to get away, and help! but I was under the surface by then. My mouth was full of icy water and I could see nothing but a vision of my own bloated body, floating face down, saving nothing from oblivion.

Lila Pearl suggests: Get yourself some fog and push off. Not that breaking up with someone needs to be so hard, per se. But you can certainly make it hard! As hard as you want it! On the flip side of that equation, you could call him up and say, "Sorry, we just ain't in love any longer, baby." And leave it at that.

Softly,

Lila Pearl