Getting my copy of Shot In The Heart back was not easy.
I've gotten into the unfortunate habit of lending out books to men I'm involved with. Now, under normal circumstances — with say, close friends, family members, or homeless people — I wouldn't mind the inevitable result, which is, of course, not having said book returned. Listen, I'm going to be honest here: half the books in my apartment (Wallflower at the Orgy; I Feel Bad About My Neck; anything Sloane Crosley has written; The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; the Old Testament) have names written in them that aren't mine. So I'm going to cite karma, and understand that any book I lend out might not be seen again. And so it goes.
Still, book lending, like having sex, is not an act to be taken lightly. You can't give it out to just anybody. But as the following scenarios prove, I don't always take my own advice.
I met Dean at a Russian bathhouse. As per usual, there were a lot of red flags I chose to ignore. (A few: "I was in a band." "I fancy myself a writer." "I had sex with a lot of groupies." "I love women, so I cover my body in tattoos of pin-up girls." "I am still getting over having my heart ripped out of my chest and stomped on by the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with." "I'm from Staten Island.")
We spent six hours talking and sweating and beating each other with birch branches. I thought, We're doing things I'd usually save for the third date. He said witty things like: "With most women I'm concerned with them seeing me naked. But I'm worried about you seeing me clothed." And most significantly, he cared about books. He asked me for a few of my favorites and I gave him a list. He wrote it on his receipt for Baltika and pierogi.
Before we left, he asked me out to dinner, and then added — red-flag alert — "I really feel like something serious can happen here." Three days later, we had dinner at a fabulous restaurant, followed three days after that by a movie night at his place. And this is where I made my fatal error. "I brought you a book to borrow," I told him, and handed over my underlined copy of Shot in the Heart (about an ex-Mormon serial killer, and not my relationship history, thank you very much). He lent me a book in return, we watched Rocky, snuggled on the couch, yada yada yada, I went to visit a friend in Seattle, I didn't hear from him for a week, and when I got back he told me he was seeing someone else and asked if we could be friends. No thank you, I told him. I already had plenty of friends. But could I have my book back, please?
Here's where a mutual friend comes in handy. I've got to hand it to my friend Roman. The poor man didn't blink an eye when I started shouting curses about Dean in the middle of the Buddhist Art exhibit at the Rubin Museum. And then Roman agreed to go down to Sunset Park and engage in a book exchange.
So, moral of the story: don't lend a book out after an awesome first date. Also, be friends with Roman.
I met Jim in my MFA program. (Pooping where you eat, though potentially very dangerous to one's health, is also very convenient.) It doesn't matter how many times I tell myself to stop dating writers; I still do it. They're like crack. Jim and I actually got along well, but there were some fairly large differences in our value systems. He was from a traditional Catholic Mexican family from Texas, and I was and am a stereotypical Jewish girl from Queens, but that wasn't where the real issues were. The main issue was that Jim believed women shouldn't ever discuss their past relationships, and I… well, I write stories like this one.
Jim and I lasted eight months, give or take, and then we had one of those breakups that seem too good to be true, and then was too good to be true. After a late-night call where Jim said "I love you," followed by "I hate you," followed by a sea of expletives that made my rant about Dean sound like orphan children caroling at a charity event, Jim and I realized we couldn't be friends.
A few weeks later I received an email from Jim. He told me that I should be receiving a package in the mail containing a book I lent him: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. (Note to self: addicts, serial killers, I'm seeing a trend here.) Later that afternoon, I discovered the small brown envelope. I don't know what I was expecting — a note, a body part — but I wasn't expecting, tucked into page sixty-two, the card I gave Jim for his thirty-second birthday. Ah, the last fuck you. (Why throw away a card when you can just mail it back, I guess?) Unlike your virginity, you can get a book back. But you might get some unwanted baggage along with it.
I met Aaron at a bat mitzvah; we were the only people over the age of fourteen who were willing to get down and do the Electric Slide. We had immediate chemistry, but then it came out that Aaron had a girlfriend.
Two months later, he didn't. We dated for four months, and it was fun until it wasn't. I wanted a serious relationship, and Aaron wanted me to be the world's longest rebound. What began as an exhausting amount of contact trickled down to hearing from him every two or three weeks. And then Aaron stopped calling.
Three years later, Aaron contacted me on a dating site. This was right after the whole thing with Dean, and I was seeking a distraction. Against the advice of my friends, I agreed to meet him for brunch. Chemistry was still there. Incessant texting began. The following week, we took a bike ride in NYC. The week after that, we took a bike ride in Brooklyn. And then — here is the kicker — he lent me a book. "One of my favorites," he said.
"He's a changed man," I told all my friends. "A book — especially a big book — clearly means he sees a future with me."
This is where I'm proved a fool. Aaron proudly attended a reading I hosted, where he met my friends and family. This + book lending = an appropriate time to buy an unlimited MetroCard for my unlimited trips to visit him in distant Red Hook, right? Aaron came home with me after the event, and then he stopped calling.
"History repeated itself," I told him in a message. "Don't contact me again." A week later, he called and left a message. I didn't call him back.
And the book? A World War Two narrative I had very little intention of reading in the first place? Well, first I asked my father if he wanted it. No, he said, but he did volunteer to break Aaron's knees. (I declined.) Then I remembered that the bookstore near my apartment bought used books. I traded it in for seventy-five cents and put the money towards an ice-cream cone. I figured I deserved it.
As for final lessons, Shot in the Heart and Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, their pages worn and bent, sit on shelves across from my bed. I see them every night. They remind me of those men I lost or never had, but I don't regret that the books are still mine. I cared about them before I cared about the men I lent them to — and the books will stick around much longer.