I was equally stubborn: I'd been in Park Slope first, and I was determined to be in Park Slope last.
My ex-boyfriend and I live five blocks away from each other in Park Slope. Three years ago, when I moved out of the apartment we shared, he helped me look for a new place—and suggested I consider an apartment we'd seen advertised on Craigslist in the building next door. “I don't think it's a good idea for me to live right next door to you,” I said, although at the time I was perversely pleased that he would want me to. “In fact, it's probably not a good idea for us to stay in the same neighborhood.” But my efforts to persuade him to consider other parts of Brooklyn—and the world at large—failed, and I was equally stubborn: I'd been in Park Slope first, and I was determined to be in Park Slope last.
We ended up looking at the apartment next door, even though I knew I wouldn't take it. The next day, the 25-year-old real estate agent who'd shown it to us asked me out via email. Initially, he'd assumed we were a couple, but when I thanked him for showing it to me and emphasized that the guy I was with was my ex-boyfriend, Steven the real estate agent decided I was fair game. I wasn't. My ex had ripped out my heart and run over it with an industrial-strength lawnmower. Steven's unexpected and inappropriate come-on was a much-needed sop to my battered ego, but it would be months before I dated again.
I often catch myself telling people that my ex and I parted on good terms. Then I wonder why I am saying something so patently untrue. Deep down, I know why I say it: because telling the truth would make me sound bitter, and bitterness is unattractive; because I imagine it's what my ex says, when asked; because I wish it were true; because, once in a while, it even feels true.
The truth is, we did part on reasonably good terms, at least in the universe of breakups with which I'm familiar (no suicide threats, no destruction of personal property, no forcing mutual friends to choose sides, no calling of lawyers or withholding of money). The truth is, during the last year of our relationship, we fought a lot and sometimes I yelled and sometimes he yelled back, but mostly I cried and mostly he shook his head and looked sad. The truth is, I was far more sad than I was angry. The truth is, I was angry. I blamed myself. I blamed him. We were best friends, and I miss him, and sometimes I hope I'll never see him again. Since our final breakup, we've never been anything but cordial when we've run into each other at the parties of mutual friends or around the neighborhood we were both too stubborn to leave.
We broke up and got back together three separate times, but we broke up for good over three years ago. We kept (too closely) in touch for a long time after that, but about a year and a half ago I finally decided to take the advice of every therapist, friend, and relative I'd spoken to about him in the last five years and cut off all contact. It worked; for the first time since meeting him, I was suddenly able to go long stretches at a time without thinking about my ex. Even though we live only five blocks apart, our daily routines are different enough that we can go months without running into each other. He's a vegan and a member of the Park Slope Food Coop; I'm a carnivore and a Coop skeptic. We have a tacit agreement to avoid each other's territory: no Coop or 'sNice for me; no Bonnie's Grill or Sackett for him. We both work from home, so we never run into each other on the subway platform at rush hour.
Nevertheless, he haunts me; even when I don't see him, speak to him, or consciously think about him, I'm constantly aware of his presence. I ran into him last summer, for the first time in months, in the company of his new girlfriend, a 12-year-old aspiring actress (she's not literally 12, but the actress part is all too true). I would have smiled and kept on walking, but our eyes locked for two seconds too long. My ex and the 12-year-old stopped in the middle of the street and waited for me to stop, too.
“This is Lauren,” he said. We shook hands and then chatted awkwardly in the street for ten minutes. He asked me about my brother; I asked him about his. He asked about a friend of mine he's always adored. I repeated an obnoxious remark comparing his alma mater, unfavorably, to mine. I bragged, shamelessly, in a way I would never brag to anyone else, about having been contacted by a literary agent (I left out the part of the story in which she abruptly lost interest in my work), and I searched Lauren's youthful face for signs of jealousy, professional or otherwise. I was eager to rub my limited success as a writer in my ex's face, because he never believed in me when we were together, and because I am petty enough to want my replacement to feel inadequate and small.
At the same time, I was determined to be warm and charming—to save face and claim the moral high ground, of course, but also out of feminist conviction. “Other women are not my enemy, other women are not my enemy,” I silently chanted, trying not to move my lips along with the words. When, out of politeness, I addressed a question to them both, and the 12-year-old answered, I had to restrain myself from snarling, “Do you really think I care what you think?”
“We must have been to all the same shows this year,” said my ex at one point. “We saw you at Louis CK, and I heard you were at Norah Jones, and weren't you also at that thing at the Bell House?” I felt a sudden surge of fury: how dare he imagine me laughing along with him and Lauren at Louis CK, or swaying along to Norah Jones? It was as if he were still participating, against my will, in the everyday life I had finally been strong enough to cut him out of.
Two summers ago, while leaving a local bar after an excruciatingly awkward first date, I received the following text message from my ex: “I think you can do better.” He'd been there the whole time, watching my awful date from a table in the corner. I hadn't seen him while I was on the date, but it rattled me afterwards to imagine him pointing me out to his friends and laughing at my companion (my date was a sweet person but boring and shy, and my ex smells social anxiety like a shark smells blood).
Even though my ex and I run into each other remarkably rarely for two people who live so near each other, I still occasionally consider leaving my beloved Park Slope for precisely this reason: it's one thing to know he lives in the same neighborhood as me, but it's an extremely unpleasant and even eerie other to feel as if I'm being shadowed—at concerts and shows, on dates with my new boyfriend, on solitary strolls around a neighborhood that once felt safe, on my long, slow journey to recovering emotionally from a relationship with someone my therapist advised me to wait until I was “ten years into a happy marriage” before trying to befriend.
Our story is no more unusual or difficult than anyone else's: people come together, come apart, and recombine with new partners all the time. But it's harder to maintain the illusion that I've happily moved on when a reminder that I haven't—not completely, and maybe not ever—lurks around every corner.