[Writer’s Note: The name Katie Newberry is a name we selected at random. We selected this name to protect the identity of the subject of this essay. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, named Katie Newberry is entirely coincidental.]
[Writer’s Note II: This is a sequel to the essay The “You Don’t Have a Shot in Hell” Ray.]
Willie Albano broke up with the best-looking woman in the office. (We’ll call her Katie, because that’s her name.) This revelation stunned those of us who regularly sat with Willie at lunch. “You’ll never do better than Katie Newberry for God’s sakes!” we told him. As described in the previous article, Katie’s beauty was almost indescribable, and when we said, “You’ll never do better than her” the comment was exclusive to her looks.
Willie was one of the fellas, one of us, and when he convinced Katie Newberry to go out with him for a couple months, it floored us. We all flirted with the idea of dating Katie, every male in the company that I knew did, but no one I knew was bold enough to make that a reality. When Willie Albano did, it changed us, and we sought female counsel for our confusion.
“Some of the times, all a girl wants you to do is ask,” Tiffany said. “What’s the worst she can say? No?”
To put this theory to the test, I asked Tiffany out. I wasn’t testing her theory, I sincerely wanted to date Tiffany. She was pretty, and some might even call her cute. When she said that, I thought she was sending a signal to me. I thought all she wanted me to do was ask. I was wrong. She said the worst thing a woman can say to a man asking her out, “No.”
That aside, Tiffany had a point about men asking women out on a date. Some of the times it’s as simple as asking the question. In the scenario Tiffany was laying out, however, she was talking about Katie Newberry, the most beautiful woman in the office. No one I knew just walked up to a woman who looked like Katie Newberry and said, “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?”
Willie didn’t talk about it either. He didn’t tell us what he was planning, and as far as I know, he didn’t talk about Katie Newberry prior to asking her out. He was just walking from his car to his office at the same time Katie happened to be. They chatted, and they hit it off. Willie decided the next logical step for him was to ask her out, and she said, “Okay.”
She said okay to a guy who had no special features or stand out qualities. I didn’t trust my own instincts in this regard. I asked my female friends, and they said, “He’s not ugly, if that’s what you’re asking. He’s a nice guy, and he’s kind of funny.” That could’ve described any of us as far as I was concerned. Willie Albano was us, and we were Willie. He was just as nerdy, and just as uncomfortable in his own skin as the rest of us. He just had the courage, or the ‘who gives a crud’ mentality that handicapped the rest of us. Maybe Tiffany was right. Maybe, as hard as it was for us to understand, Katie just wanted someone to ask.
When he did it, when he went out on his first date with her, we had such a difficult time with it that we couldn’t talk about anything else. We wanted the secret sauce, or whatever it took to end up in Katie Newberry land. Then, he ended it with her.
Willie ending his relationship with Katie Newberry blew our minds. We were just coming around to accept the fact that he was dating her, when he dumped her. To top things off, he didn’t just dump her. He broke up with Katie one week after her ex-boyfriend committed suicide in her bedroom. The confusing element of this was our friend was a genuinely nice guy, and the timing of the breakup was so heartless that we considered it so out of character that it was hilarious in a heartless, sick, and somewhat cool way. The timing of it was so uncharacteristic of him that we needed him to answer all of our five w’s and how.
Everyone at the lunch table knew about the difficulties I had with Katie Newberry. They knew I saw her at the gym, a couple months prior, and how she shot me a ‘you don’t have a shot in hell’ ray when I waved at her. They knew we were friends before that happened, and they knew I vowed never to speak to her again as a result of that unprovoked attack. I made it quite clear to them, and to her, that I had every intention of carrying that grudge out until the day one of us assumed room temperature.
What they didn’t know was that my silly, self-serving spite ended the next weekend, when I ran into her in the parking lot of a bar. She had such a look of resignation on her face, as she walked toward me. She appeared to think I would that pass her without the smallest acknowledgement.
It might’ve been that look that changed it for me. I don’t know. I do know I was loaded for bear for a couple weeks, and I was over it the next. I also figured no one would care one way or another how I handled this matter moving forward, and it all felt a little silly under the glare of hindsight. She didn’t wave at me in a manner I deemed acceptable one afternoon at a gym, I thought. Who cares? No one, I thought. I was wrong about the latter. She cared. She cared a lot more than I ever thought she would.
When I saw her, and I saw that look of resignation, I just decided, on the spot, to end whatever silly grievances I had with her. I smiled at her, and I said, “Hey” in a polite manner, and then I put a hand up. Normally, when the average-to-ugly man decides to hold a grudge against a beautiful woman, no one knows about it, least of all the beautiful woman. She might know about it, but it often ends up shaping her day with all the drama of finding a stray caper on a sandwich, you flick it off and you take another bite.
The fact that she cared more than I ever thought she would was evident in the smile she returned. She saw my smile, heard my “hey”, and saw my polite hand sticking up in the air, and she met it with a smile that topped mine. Her eyes went in on that smile, her cheeks flexed, and it was obvious that this was something more than a polite smile.
Then she started running toward me. The timing of her smile made it almost impossible to conclude that it was a coincidence, but I didn’t think I could make Katie Newberry smile like that. When she started running with that smile on her face, however, I began to replicate her emotions. I was just as happy as she was that we could end this episode between us. In the midst of that joy, and before she reached me, I thought of that clichéd 80’s joke of a man going through such emotions, only to have the woman run passed him to the true object of her affection.
When she began saying my name a couple times, her hands went out, as if she wanted a hug. I thought it was so over-the-top that it had to be a sarcastic response to my silly spite. I was on the verge of laughter, and I almost added, “All right, all right, I got it. I may have overreacted.” When she reached me, however, Katie Newberry gave me a full-breasted hug. Her hug was so full and thorough that she knocked me back a step. It caught me so off guard that I didn’t know how to react to tell you the truth. Women who look like Katie make it a habit to keep their breasts out of a hug so guys like me don’t get the wrong idea. Katie didn’t appear to care about any of that in this one hug. I had her adjective-defying breasts all over me. This one allowance to have the contours and tensity of her breasts pressed against my chest was her nonverbal act of contrition. How could I stay mad? The hug was so genuine, and she was so good looking. She also made me look good in front of my friend who had no idea what was going on.
“Those things are luxurious,” this friend said after we walked away from Katie.
“I know” I said. I could’ve informed him that I agreed so much that I wrote a love letter to her breasts, but I didn’t say that. I decided to play it cool.
I flirted with trying to advance this moment with Katie, when her breasts were all over me, to see how apologetic she was. I know it was bold, and even a little distasteful to think of such a move in that situation, but she was so out of my league that I figured I probably wouldn’t have any more chances in life at dating her. I didn’t do it, but if you’re male, and you’ve ever experienced a moment like that, you know that if someone who loves you learns of the thoughts that pass through your mind in such a situation, they might feel compelled to say a decat of the rosary to save your soul.
This idea that Katie Newberry cared formed a basis of our new friendship. Friendships develop in the office space, but most of them are meaningless relationships that most people characterize as associations. Katie and I had a work-related association based on the fact that we worked in the same department, we knew all the same people, and all that, but we never knew the other party wanted to be friends until that hug. I would never characterize our friendship as a good one, as in we were good friends, but whatever it was we had, had some meaning to it after that night.
As superficial as it sounds, I considered it a privilege to have her speak to me. I also enjoyed the prestige I gained when others saw us talking to one another. She sat next to me at lunch a couple of times, she left the lunchroom to smoke with me once, and when she left the office for the day, one day, she stopped to chat with me. Those acts of contrition didn’t last long, however, and they all occurred while my good friend, Willie Albano, was dating her. So, I couldn’t date her during that timeframe.
The reason I include this story is that I found it contradicted everything Willie would say about her. I found that Katie Newberry did care about some matters. Now, if Willie and I battled in a court of law, he might call it anecdotal information, and just because your one experience dictates otherwise, does not discount my findings. He’d be right of course, but this one experience I had with Katie Newberry informed me that she did care about the people around her. She cared a great deal.
In the aftermath of Willie’s decision to dump Katie Newberry, he was the source of much speculation and consternation. People from the outer layers of friendship and work association would approach our lunch table, before Willie could arrive, drop to a knee next to our ear and ask, “What happened?” When we would tell them we were as in the dark as they were, because he wouldn’t talk about it, they would add, “When you find out, drop me a line.” We even had a big boss in the company stop by our table to chat with us, and he hinted at this question, we deemed it wildly inappropriate but hilarious at the same time. Willie Albano, our buddy, was the talk of the office.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” was what he said on various occasions. “I don’t care who’s interested,” he added when we told him who was. “This is a private matter between two parties, and this isn’t a hair salon.”
Willie probably thought that good-natured little jab would put an end to our speculation, but all he ended up doing was put the matter in the comedic arena. His little joke was equivalent to putting a slab of meat in the middle of a pack of hyenas, and we tore at it with every joke we had in our arsenal.
“I don’t want to talk about it, if you want to know the truth?” Willie finally said with some exasperation. “I’m not ready, it’s too soon, and all that junk. I don’t want to talk about it. Is that good enough for you, sheesh.”
It was good enough for most of those who dined with Willie daily. There was some finality in Willie’s refusal.
“Guy doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t want to talk about it,” Randy Dee said when I asked him why he didn’t join me in badgering Willie for more details. “There’s a point when curiosity turns into nosiness.”
Randy, and everyone else admitted that they wanted to know what happened, but they didn’t want to appear rude. I didn’t want to appear rude either, so I let it go that day. I wasn’t just any old friend, however, I knew Willie pretty well, or I thought I did. I was so obsessed with it, I was probably rude, but I couldn’t have any more conversations about Netflix movies, football, or anything else, until I knew what prompted him to break up with her. After about a week of almost constant badgering, Willie finally broke down.
“I was there okay?” he said. “I saw everything, and it haunted me. I’m not rattled by much, but this whole episode got to me. I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t eating, and I called in sick a couple of times, until I realized that was the worst thing to do. Keep active, I decided, keep the mind active, so it doesn’t dwell.”
“Saw what?” I asked. I hadn’t made the connection to that point.
“The suicide,” Willie said. “I saw the whole thing. I-”
“You saw the guy commit suicide?”
“No,” Willie said. “The aftermath. I saw the immediate aftermath. I saw whole aftermath and Katie Newberry’s callous reaction to everything that transpired on that morning, and it didn’t sit well with me. I knew I couldn’t continue dating her as if nothing happened, and I knew she would eventually breakup with me so I-”
“Hold on a second,” Craig Prentice said, after his name was called by the lunchroom attendant to inform him that his grilled sandwich was done. “Wait, don’t say another word, until I get back,” he added racing to the counter to collect his sandwich. Willie appeared to collect himself in the intervening minute. I didn’t know why at the time, but I later thought he was trying to be delicate
“-Okay, where was I,” Willie said to restart his story when Craig returned. He inhaled deeply here. “I was the boyfriend, as you all know, and Katie called me over to her apartment. She sounded so despondent. When I asked her what was going on, she said she didn’t want to go into it over the phone.
“So I raced over there,” Willie added. “Like a good boyfriend will. I wanted to be there for her, and for those of you who don’t know, Katie Newberry lives in a perpetual state of chaos, so there’s a lot of being there for her for any man who wants to be her boyfriend. I spent months jumping at shadows, fearing that if I didn’t do everything she said, when she said it, she would dump me like a rancid sack of cranberries. If her mom yelled at her that morning, and her mother was always yelling at her, I was to drive over to her apartment and soothe her before work. It got so bad, at one point, I was waking up an hour and a half before work, to allot for soothing time in my morning routine. It was the price I was willing to pay to have her on my arm when we walked into Murphy’s Tavern together, so everyone would know that we were dating. Whatever it was in her voice, on this morning, was something beyond her normal level of chaos however. There was something different in her voice, on the phone, something I couldn’t place.
“The key to everything that would transpire on that morning happened right after she opened her apartment door. She greeted me all made up,” he said. “She opened the door, or should I say she tossed that door open and flung herself into my arms.
“She was crying and all that, but she was also all made up. I didn’t notice that she was all made up at first, because the episode was so dramatic, but the other reason I didn’t notice she was all made up was because she was always all made up. I also didn’t know what was going on, what happened that day, to this point, so I had no idea that she should look disheveled. In hindsight, she should’ve looked disheveled, but she never did.” Those of us at the table knew that, but he felt a need to say it anyway. “She never went to work with so much as a hair out of place,” he said, even though we already knew that. “Even on a no-event Saturday when we had nothing planned, the woman was all made up before eight a.m. Katie never left her house without makeup, or until her hair was perfect. Even after the nasty, ‘say nothing about this to your friends’ sex we had, she had a way of always appearing all made up.” We didn’t know that.
“She stayed weighing down my shoulder, as I attempted to move us out of the apartment hallway and into her apartment, so no one would see her cry,” Willie said. “That part was real. I’m sure of it. She was as distraught as I’ve ever seen her. It took me about two to three minutes to calm her down enough to a point where I could ask her what happened.
“‘He’s in the bedroom,’ she said.
“And there he was,” Willie said, adding the man’s name. “Her ex-boyfriend, hanging there. I don’t know how to describe the affect it had on me, except to say there were no effects. You know how a hanging body is depicted in a movie with a setting to suit the situation. Directors and lighting consultants devise the most horrific way to frame a hanging body. It’s a choreographed scene, in other words, and we grow so accustomed to seeing this scene, portrayed in such a consistent manner, that we don’t realize how manufactured they are, until we see one in real life. This scene didn’t have any choreography, of course. It was her bed, her vanity with table and bench set, her window, and a body hanging from her ceiling fan. Her ex-boyfriend’s body hung like it was an accoutrement to her room. He hanged there as if Katie made a decision to hang a human to Feng Shui her bedroom instead of a painting, or a Wisteria flower bush. He was wearing a brown shirt and khakis. The guy went with the room. There was nothing horrific about it, in other words, and that made it all the more horrific.
“He wasn’t swinging in the manner you would expect either. I think I expected him to tick or something, but he was still. There was no music either. Maybe I watch too much TV, but I started mentally critiquing the scene, in a way I would such a scene in a show. I know that sounds weird, heartless, or something I shouldn’t have done, but it was my initial instinct. In a strange way, I would think about a lot in the following days, I didn’t think this moment quite captured the intensity it should’ve. I may have gone to a comfort zone of some sort to avoid the shock of seeing a dead man hanging from a ceiling fan, but I expected some kind of C.S.I. style music accompaniment to start when I entered her bedroom. I had some trouble coming to grips with my reaction, so you might not understand my explanation of it, but I had to find a way through my desensitized reactions to TV depictions of such scenes. I look at it like this, when a viewer sees such a scene on a TV show, they expect to be horrified. After witnessing such spectacles on TV for most of our lives, these scenes lose their juice. When we see them for real, it takes a minute to shed those expected reactions with the realization that what we’re seeing is real, and no one is trying to manipulate us into being horrified.
“This next part is speculation on my part, but,” Willie said looking around at us with a look he invited us to mirror. “I think this guy, Katie’s ex, changed his mind. I don’t know if it hurt more than he expected, or if he simply changed his mind too late, but there were marks on him that suggested he wanted to undo what he did.
He had these deep claw marks on the sides of his neck. They went so deep, I couldn’t help but think how grotesque and sad they were. If he didn’t change his mind, as I suspect, I can only assume it was a lot more painful than he ever thought it would be.
“Have you ever experienced the pain of being choked?” he asked us. “I’m not sure if my Adam’s apple is more sensitive than others, but the only time I ever experienced anything even close to what this guy must’ve felt happened when one of my old girlfriends and I were wrestling around on the carpet in her living room, and she got me in mean headlock. Her point was to fun and be playful and all that, but when she got me in that headlock, she locked in on my Adam’s apple. I tossed her off me in a manner that no man should ever toss a woman. I ruined the moment, the foreplay, or whatever it was. I couldn’t help it, it was so painful. I think we all have this image or delusion that death by hanging is more immediate, or less painful than it really is. Those deep claw marks informed me how painful this must have been for the guy.
“His tongue was sticking out too, and it was almost cut off by his clenched jaws, and his eyes were protruding and reddened. Some part of me knew that TV producers sanitized their scenes, but I had no idea how messy and ugly suicide by hanging could be until I saw this man hanging there. I was so moved by this that I knew I would never be able to wipe that image from my mind, and I probably never will. I didn’t know how fixated I was on this, until Katie spoke.
“‘He knew that that window didn’t lock,’ she said pointing to a still opened window. She had to say this a couple of times to pull me out of my spell. She pulled at my arm a couple of times while repeating it to break the fixation I had on her ex’s body. When I finally broke out of it, she said it again, and added, ‘I told the apartment manager about the window numerous times, and he knew that,’ she said looking up at her ex. ‘He told me he would fix it. He never did, and I’m sure he remembered all that when he planned this.’ She said the word this, to describe a man taking his own life, in an accusatory manner. It was such a heartless description of what happened that day, as if to suggest that this now deceased man was a real son of a ‘B’ for messing up her day off with all this. ‘I found him like this when I came out the shower,’ she added.
“I pictured him picturing the window that wouldn’t lock,” Willie continued after sipping on some of his juice. “I pictured him timing out her shower. I pictured him thinking about her morning routine, the night before. He probably went over and over his plan. Based on everything she told me, he timed his suicide in perfect harmony with the shower time of her morning routine. He had to have been thinking about this for some time. He had to have been thinking about this after they broke up, and in all the attempts he made to win her back.
“In my internet searches on suicide, I found that her ex’s methodical suicide was quite an aberration. The experts I found say that most people do not plan a suicide. It’s often fueled by a passionate, impulsive rush. I looked up at him, while she spoke, and I wondered if he calculated the best moment to enter her place, based upon what he knew of her morning routine.
“She broke up with him a couple months before she met me, and he would call her constantly, pleading with her to take him back. It may not have been every hour, but it sure seemed like it. It got so bad at one point, interrupting our movies and meals, that I told her I would have a word with the man the next day at work. She said no. She said she would take care of it.
“So she changed her number, she avoided him at work, and when neither of those things worked she wrote him a letter. Holy crap, that letter. It was a Dear John letter that detailed how she now felt about him. That letter was brutal,” Willie said enunciating both syllables of the word, “and when I say brutal, I mean holy crap, what were you thinking brutal. It was all handwritten on this beautiful stationary. Katie said she thought email was unfeeling and cold, which if you read what she wrote in that letter, was quite an ironic statement.
“That letter was so brutal that I found it hysterical. I’m ashamed to admit, now, how Katie and I would sit and giggle over this letter for hours. In my defense, you just don’t see a girl lay a fella out like that very often, not like that. I’ve seen women who soft soap what they say, or write, to guys who treated them like absolute garbage. “Lay it out,” I said to them. “Put it all out there.” They can’t. I don’t know what stops them, but most women have that maternal, compassionate, and softhearted side that prohibits them from being mean to even the biggest jerks out there. Either that or they don’t want to look like the bad guy in the breakup. Not Katie Newberry, she didn’t care about any of that. I told her that the letter sounded like something a guy would write, and I didn’t mean that as an insult. Had I been in that mode, I would’ve said, ‘and not just any guy, I’m talking about a real asshole bent on crushing another person for the benefit of his own ego.’ I can’t think of too many people who could’ve read Katie’s letter, male or female, who could’ve lived with their ego intact, after reading it. We laughed for hours over it. You guys would’ve loved it, but it was probably the primary driver in [his] decision to end his life,” Willie said mentioning the man’s name.
“I cautiously asked people in his department about him, and they told me that he called in sick a number of times in the week preceding the incident, and that the guy was a total wreck when he did show up. I talked with them for a bit, to satisfy my own curiosity, and I found that the week he began falling apart coincided with the letter.
“I feel horrible, now, for laughing at that letter the way I did. I feel inhuman in that I didn’t consider the ramifications of it to the fullest sense extent. I just thought it was hilarious that a woman would tell a guy to go to hell in so many creative ways.
“In the aftermath of it I wondered, I still wonder, if she hadn’t been so creative would he have just gone his separate way? He would’ve sulked, sure, but I have to think she could’ve put her point across in a different, better way. I think the otherwise admirable creativity she displayed in that letter pierced his soul. I wondered what would’ve happened if I hadn’t laughed, or if I had said something along the lines of, ‘This is great and all, but you can’t give it to him. It will destroy the guy.’
“The truth is some part of me wanted him destroyed … on an emotional basis anyway,” Willie said. “I thought he was impeding my attempts to have a normal relationship with Katie, with the constant calls, IMs, and emails he would send her at work, and the roses he left on her doorstop. I wanted him to leave us alone. I also have to admit that I wanted to see his face when he read it. I wanted to see him cry. I know, I know, that pretty much makes me a horrible person, but I thought his devastation would taste delicious, until I did see it hanging above her bedroom.
“Speaking of that, I couldn’t believe that the ceiling fan would hold him,” Willie added, “and I studied it when I was in her apartment. I thought it might’ve had something to do with the reinforced crossbeams that the apartment complex owner put in to prevent people from pulling it down. I almost investigated the threshold of the construction, and I went so far as to reach for him, but I pulled my hand away. I realized how cold-hearted I was being to think of the physics and engineering involved.”
“I want you to tell me everything that happened, I said turning to Katie, after I pulled the hand away. I want you to tell me every detail in explicit and uncomfortable minute detail,” Willie said. “Leave nothing out, I said. She did, and I peppered her with ‘and what did you do then?’ questions. Like a lawyer, peppering her with questions, I asked her to repeat her detailed examination over and over. I think we ended up walking through it four times before we were done. I searched for inconsistencies, and when she slipped into some, I quickly pointed them out. When there were gaps in her testimony, I helped her fill them. I was probably harder on her than I needed to be, but I thought she needed it. She didn’t. Up until the third walkthrough, she was appreciative, but after the fourth one, she exploded on me.
“‘Enough!’ she said, and she was all fired up. ‘Why do you keep asking me about such stupid shit about what happened here? Why do you think this and that are so important, because they’re not.’ She went on to detail what she considered important and what wasn’t, and she stressed that most of the questions I asked were irrelevant.
“The subtext of her question was that she thought I was trying to find her guilt in this matter,” he told us. “She was right in that sense. She didn’t do anything wrong, but it was all about the stupid shit for me. I didn’t think her role in this matter involved criminality in any way, but I was concerned about the details of her morning routine, details she considered the stupid shit. For me, it was all about the stupid shit. The stupid shit, for me, was when did she get out of the shower, when did she first see the body, and what did she do? Because, I told her, these details are going to be vital when the police arrive. They’re going to ask you for a second by second walk through.
“And that was not 100% true,” he said. “Intermingled in that search for the truth was a soft lie. I did want her prepared for the questioning that the police would put her through, but more than that, I wanted her to tell me what she did after discovering the body. I didn’t even know why the finite minutiae of the stupid shit was so important to me at the time, but I pressed her until I could figure it out for myself, or she said something to help me figure out why I considered the stupid shit so relevant.
“I figured that the police wouldn’t grill her the way I did, because it was obvious that she didn’t do anything wrong, but I told her that she needed to be over-prepared, so that she was prepared for anything they might ask her,” Willie said. “She was right though, she didn’t do anything criminal in nature, and I didn’t think the attending officer would’ve suspected that she could put a 200lb. man up like that. Even if they thought we conspired to do it together, I have to suspect they see that in maybe 1% of such cases. If she did things different, on a personal level, she may have been able to prevent it, but that wasn’t what drove me to question her. It wasn’t why I focused on what she called the “stupid shit”.
“In the midst of my interrogation, I asked her to remember the worst fights they got into,” Willie said. “I asked her to try to remember the worst thing she said to him. She thought about this for a moment. Did you tell him to end it, or did you ever say anything along those lines that could, in retrospect, be considered damning in anyway?
“No, not that I can think of,” she said, and she said, “God, no,” to my specific question about ending it all.
“In the end, after her Q&A with the cop, I figured out why I was grilling her so intently,” Willie continued. “She didn’t say anything to spark my interest in my Q&A, but I think I was too close to the situation to ask the right questions. By the time, the cop was done with her, my search for what I wanted to know about this situation ended.
“I know she did it,” he continued. Willie provided a dramatic pause right here, as if to allow us to soak in that comment for a moment. We did, but something told me that pause betrayed Willie’s characterization of himself. I might be psychoanalyzing my friend, but I think as much as this whole event traumatized Willie, I think it excited him too. I think he liked being the center of attention, and as horrific as this incident was, I think he liked being a part of it. As evidence of this, Willie whispered the next part.
“She wouldn’t tell the cops she did it, and she will probably go to her grave without telling anyone what she did, but I know she did it, and it’s why I broke up with her.” The whisper took the form of one talking to himself, in perfect mimicry of the pitch and tone of a witness to a horrific crime on a TV show. Willie paused again after whispering that. He watched too much TV, we all did, and this was why we were on the edge of our seat when he provided the dramatic pause in his detailed walk through. We knew the formula, and he appeared to mimic the propensity these shows have for dramatic outros to lead the viewers to a commercial break, to break up statements, and keep an audience tuning in while the network makes its money back for the show. As I said though, we were all as addicted to TV as he was, and TV formulas, and our instinct was to fast forward through these dramatic pauses to get to the conclusion of his statement.
“Did what?” I finally asked from the edge of my seat. I was sure he was going to say she had something more to do with the man’s death than he cared to admit. I was chomping at the bit, and I could tell that the rest of the table was too. You can’t say ‘I know she did it’ like that, and then pause in the midst of it. It just isn’t healthy for a creative imagination.
“Put her makeup on after seeing the body,” he said. This would’ve been a better place for a commercial break I decided, and I laughed a little. Willie looked at me, and I backed up and held my hands up in apology. I couldn’t stop it. His pauses allowed too much imagination to creep in, and his drama was so far over-the-top that I think I needed some comic relief. Therefore, although I felt bad for laughing during a description of a man’s suicide, a man I knew –or I knew who he was– I held my friend’s storytelling decisions to blame, in part.
The laughter wasn’t a guffaw though. I just tittered in a way I couldn’t control. It was like a little fart escaping in front of a girl. A guy wants to pretend that it didn’t happen, but when the girl acknowledges it and laughs about it, a fella feels a little better about it. I didn’t feel better about the laugh, but my friend acknowledging it made me feel better than I would have if forced to sit in silence with it.
“There’s no other explanation for her being all made up when she met me at the door that day, and that’s why I broke up with her,” he said. “So you guys can quit asking me about it, and calling me heartless and all that. I had my reasons for breaking up with her a week after her ex-boyfriend committed suicide in her bedroom, and I just didn’t feel like talking about it, until now. It was that whole too soon thing that I couldn’t come to peace with until the last few days,” and he put air quotes around the words too soon.
“I knew I was on the weak end of our relationship in that I liked her far more than she would ever like me, but I knew that from day one. I knew that sooner or later, I would receive my own Dear John letter from her, and up until that day it didn’t matter that much to me. I considered it a fait accompli. Just do what you do, Willie, I said to myself. Have fun, enjoy the moment for what it is, and when the end comes you’ll know you lived life to the fullest with her.
“I don’t if it had something to do with the fact that I was a third party witnessing the cop question her, so I could see it from a different perspective, but the extent of her apathy was a true revelation that occurred to me during the cop’s brief rudimentary questioning. I found that I couldn’t deal with the way she reacted to it all.
“‘He was a guy I dated,’ was how Katie opened her characterization of her relationship when the attending officer on the scene asked her how she knew the deceased. I was so busy sorting through the details of her apathy that I almost missed her most apathetic statement. I was also distracted by my attempts to humanize this guy hanging from her ceiling fan, and this idea that this guy could very easily be me. If we were that similar, and I wasn’t any more special than him, I thought while she was answering the attending officer’s preliminary question, would she summarize my whole life with such a simple sentence?
“To be fair to her,” Willie said, “they didn’t date that long. They were only together for a couple months, but they were together long enough, in my opinion, for her to care about this guy. I didn’t know the guy well, but I saw him in the lunchroom a bunch of times, laughing with his people. I actively remembered him to, in my own little way, pay homage to a life that just ended. I pictured him waiting in line at a Walgreen’s to purchase cold medicine. I knew he was a member of the office softball team, and I thought about all the hours he spent practicing for game day. I just wanted to humanize him and try to think of him as something other than a corpse.
“I was also busy rearranging pertinent details she told me about their relationship to see if they could apply to ours. In her portrayals, he was a sappy lovelorn, goony, weak individual who wrote “the most idiotic love letters” to her. Now, when you’re on the inside looking out, such characterizations are hilarious, especially when I thought of him as a competitor for her affection, which he was until the day he died. When you’re trying to view him as a non-entity, you do everything to encourage her to view him that way too, until he becomes one.
“I spent most of our relationship thinking this guy was soft and susceptible to the smallest heartbreak, but when she said, ‘He was a guy I dated’ without any emotion, I began to wonder how similar this guy and I were. I am a romantic when I’m involved with a girl. I’m goony. I’ve written love letters in the past, and I’ve decorated rooms with flowers. The whole thing. I’ve done it.” Willie looked around sheepishly after he said that, as if he expected some abuse to come his way following that revelation. He took a moment, I presume, to correct his presentation, and he continued, “I’m a romantic, okay. I mean I’m goal oriented, aren’t we all? We all want a girl to fall in love with us, and vice versa right? Well, I began to wonder how close I was to falling in love with her, how close was I to becoming this goony-eyed guy who started writing her love letters? When I heard her say, ‘He was the guy I dated’ to the officer, I snapped out of it. I tried to read her face. Was she comporting her answers in a manner suited to an official inquiry, or was she as heartless as she appeared? I wanted to see it in the official vein. I mean, I wanted to view her answers as a non-law enforcement official trying to answer in an official manner that suited the tone of the officer’s official questions. It dawned on me that she failed to mention her ex’s name that whole day. She might have said it when the officer first happened upon the scene, I honestly can’t remember, but other than that she didn’t mention it to me that day or in the rest of the officer’s line of questioning. If she cared about him in anyway, other than a lover or a boyfriend, but in that way we care about any human who happens upon our lives, don’t you think she would’ve mentioned his name more than once? Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question I’m asking here. I want to know if I’m reading too much into it. Am I over reacting? Does it mean something to you that she didn’t mention his name, or is it possible that if your mom died, or something, that you might forget to mention her name in a police report to keep it official and whatnot.”
We said nothing. We were all uncomfortable, as he scanned our reactions. Some of us shook our heads side to side and basically said maybe, but we got your point.
“Anyway. For whatever reason, I associated her seemingly callous answers with the time I stepped on a mushroom. That mushroom was one of those big old, mushy mushrooms that seem to be everywhere. I cleaned that mushroom off my foot, but I smelled it on me for the rest of the day. I didn’t even know mushrooms had an odor. This one did, and it chased me around all day. I went to the bathroom and literally washed the bottom of the shoe, but I still smelled it, and I thought everyone else could too. I was right. Someone politely asked me if I noticed the stink. “I stepped on a mushroom.” I said that with as much emotion as Katie said, ‘He was a guy I dated’, and she said that to describe what I assume this guy considered a very loving relationship.
“While she’s answering the officer’s line of questions, I’m standing aside her thinking if she can be this callous about him, why would I think she cares about me in anyway. I’m thinking she doesn’t care about him, me, or anything or anyone else, and she never would,” Willie said. He paused again here. I initially thought this was another dramatic pause, but the longer if lasted the more genuine it felt. “She didn’t care that a guy took some time out of his day to end his life before her and try to send a message to her that she hurt him. I may be overdoing my characterization of her reaction, based on those six words, but it struck me that I was probably nothing more than a guy she was dating, and there was little I could do to make it over that hurdle.
“I knew from day one that I would forever be on the weak end of our relationship, as I said, and it didn’t bother me in the least. We didn’t date long enough for me to invest serious emotion into our relationship. We were seeing each other, and we were having fun spending time around each other. I wouldn’t even characterize what we were, at that time, as a relationship. I knew she could be callous, but her deep seeded antipathy for the human race was what really turned me on. We all say we hate people, and we laugh knowingly when someone else says it, because we can relate. We really don’t hate people though. It’s just something we say to be funny. I’ve always been attracted to people who say such things like they mean it, be they friends like all of you, or women. Some women even go so far as to reject the elements of femininity, the maternal nature, or the idea that they’re more compassionate than men. They say they hate people too, and it’s more interesting and funnier when women do it, because it’s more provocative.
“Standing aside Katie, I thought about how much I loved that show some women put on, but I loved it even more when I got to know them better, and they learned that they could drop that façade with me. I found it endearing when a woman would drop her defenses and show me their soft, chewy center. Katie was different in this regard. I don’t know if she had a sweet disposition at one time in her life, and brothers or boyfriends beat her up emotionally, until she became callous, but the depth of her apathy was a revelation that didn’t truly occur to me until she said, ‘He was a guy I dated.’
“She also told the officer, ‘He couldn’t deal with our breakup.’ Those two sentences were back to back, and they shocked the attending officer a little. I don’t know if the officer was as shocked as I was, but the ‘just the facts ma’am’ tone in Katie’s voice was so noteworthy that he looked away from the report he was writing and shot her a glance.
“A beat cop gave her a glance, and that glance basically said, I can’t believe you. A beat cop did this. This beat cop looked like he was in his late-twenties, so I have to imagine that he’s probably put in ten years of civil service, hearing testimonies from the most heartless people on a day-to-day basis, and he acts like her heartless summary of the events preceding his arrival was noteworthy. Then he looks at me with a ‘do you know what you’re in for here buddy?’ glance that led me to believe that my characterizations of her responses weren’t just the products of an overactive imagination. She was cold-blooded. She didn’t give a crap about this guy, and that fact was obvious to a beat cop, who never met her before.
“The cop smiled at her when she completed her testimony, but it wasn’t a warm smile. It was an ‘I can’t believe you’ smile. Katie probably didn’t see the beat cop’s first reaction, but she saw the latter one, and that’s when she cried. She appeared to recognize the beat cop’s reaction for what it was, and she cried. She hid her face in my shoulder and cried. Her face came out of that and she said something along the lines of, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ and ‘I can’t believe that he thought this was the way to deal with our breakup.’ She then started crying again, and she hid her face in my shoulder again.
“I thought her tears were so phony. I tried to acknowledge that some level of shock might have delayed this reaction,” Willie said. “It’s entirely possible that this event was so shocking to Katie that she didn’t deal with it in a way we all think she should have, but how many of us have seen a dead body, much less someone we knew intimately who presumably took his life because of our actions? We have to consider that her emotional response to coming out of the shower to discover her ex-boyfriend hanging from her ceiling fan caused her such shock that she shut down for a time.
“I’ve tried to believe she wanted to keep her answers official and direct, so the officer could have all the information he needed to dismiss this as a no fault suicide. I’ve tried to dismiss her initial reactions as those of shock. And, before I broke up with her, I wanted to believe one or all of those excuses, because I liked her and I wanted to keep dating her, but I just didn’t think that was the case. I also considered the idea that I may have been so traumatized by this event that I may be reading too much into it.
“When she was crying on my shoulder, though, I couldn’t help but think of a phony Hollywood star crying in a movie. I don’t know how anyone else watches tear-jerkers, but anytime I see a crying scene, I know I’m watching a crying scene. It’s what an actor does when the director informs them that the scene in the movie requires them to cry. They think about something awful that has happened to them, so they can manipulate my emotions while I’m watching the movie they’re acting in.
“Patting Katie’s shoulder and rubbing her back, I realized that when she broke up with me, not if, that if I was lucky enough to get such a crying scene, it would be just as phony as the one that I was watching. When someone breaks up with us, one of the very few things that gives us some peace is the knowledge that they might feel bad about the way they hurt us. If we don’t receive that satisfaction, some of us go to extremes to show them. I’ve done this, and I think we all have in varying ways, whether we care to admit it or not. Yet, how does one top a guy hanging himself from a ceiling fan, if we want to inform a loved one that they’ve hurt us? The depth of her ambivalence to this scene, led me to believe that there would be nothing I could do to get her to care about me. I also considered the idea that she might laugh with her next boyfriend, in the same manner she did with me, at how devastated I was by our breakup.”
“As the cop got back in his car, calling the people the state hired to collect dead bodies, and Katie continued to cry on my shoulder, I thought about her vanity mirror. Prior to focusing on the mirror, I planned another round of questions for her. I wanted to know her reactions, emotional and otherwise, to seeing him hanging there. Even as I began compiling questions, I figured she wouldn’t be able to answer them to my satisfaction. I figured that she might lie, or she might even change her answers in such a way to make her look better, and she might convince herself that they’re true, even if they weren’t. I tried to come up with questions that I thought might trigger unguarded, more honest responses, but that mirror kept popping up in my head. For reasons I couldn’t grasp immediately, I thought the position of that mirror, and more importantly the chair behind it, would tell me more than any answers she could give me. I figured I would be analyzing her tones and body language, and I wouldn’t come up with any answers more damning than a careful examination of the evidence available to me in her bedroom.
“I was spacing off,” Willie continued, “trying to imagine how I could frame up the evidence to answer all my questions. I think Katie was talking to me now, and I was kind of half listening to attending officer, when I heard him say the word stationary. I don’t know why he said it, or how that word applied to whatever he was saying into his radio, but it kicked off a line of thought that brought me to where I am today.
“‘Stationary,’ I whispered to myself. In my internal debate regarding whether Katie Newberry had no soul and a dark heart, or whether I was being totally unfair, I realized that the chair, her chair before her vanity remained station stationary throughout her morning routine. Stationary, as in, unmoved or remained unchanged throughout. I know she did it, because that vanity mirror, and the chair before it, were still in a position that would’ve placed her directly beneath the man’s carcass, if she decided to put her makeup on, and she did have all of her makeup on. Her apartment is tiny, and her bedroom is even smaller of course, so if she decided to do her makeup and her hair, she couldn’t do it without touching his foot, unless she moved that chair a little? As I said, the key to why I broke up with her was the manner in which she greeted me at the door. She was all made up, and her hair was perfect.
“I didn’t give that mirror a second thought when I originally stood in Katie’s bedroom, but I was too traumatized to think about it at the time. Now that I had achieved some physical and emotional distance from it, I thought about how the various items were positioned in that room.
“I poured through this information over and over, as the police car sat idling at the curb and Katie and I looked on until he was done. She was talking now, as I said, and she was no longer crying, but she remained on my shoulder, holding me tightly.
“I thought about how low that body must’ve hung from the ceiling fan. I thought about how her chair sat in front of that makeup mirror. I thought about the timeline, she laid out for me and the officer who took her testimony. I thought about the second-by-second timeline Katie provided us regarding when she left the shower, when she discovered the body and everything in between and after. I came to the conclusion that it would be impossible for Katie to do her hair and put her makeup on, in front of that vanity mirror, without his feet coming into contact with her. The bedroom in her tiny, one room apartment was just too small to avoid it.
“I thought of all the mornings I woke in that apartment,” he continued, “and how she would move all of her makeup to the bathroom, so I wouldn’t see her without makeup in the morning. When she was done, Katie was perpetually slow about removing that makeup from the bathroom in the morning. I know, I had to move all her stuff out of the way to get a decent shave on those mornings. I also factored in the presumed trauma of that morning, and her timeline. She gets out of the shower, she discovers the body, and she calls me. Did she make time, at any points in between, to move all of her makeup to the bathroom, then move it back? If she did that, I thought, it would still suggest that his body swinging over her bedroom was a secondary concern to her typical makeup routine. I considered her actions damning, in that scope, either way, but I was more than certain that she put her makeup on in that chair, in front of that vanity, with her ex’s dangling body touching her shoulder.
“I made a mental note to look for grooves in the carpet below the chair to see if there was evidence of her moving it in anyway or if it remained stationary throughout,” he said. “When the cop told us the deceased’s family was contacted and on their way, and that the people hired to collect dead bodies were on their way too, Katie and I went back into her apartment. She wouldn’t go back to her bedroom, of course, but I did. I went straight to her room and looked for those grooves in the carpet. I picked that chair up, and beneath it was a groove in the deep, plush carpet that suggested to me it hadn’t been moved. Now she could’ve moved that chair to put her makeup on, and moved it back, but why would she do that? Was she concerned that she might appear heartless? I don’t think anyone thinks in those terms, no matter what is going on their mind. Unless they’re meticulously trying to cover up a crime, which she wasn’t.
“With that evidence in mind, I wondered if she leaned forward, away from the dangling body, or if she simply shouldered that foot out of her way, in the manner one might a pesky, silver, helium balloon tickling their shoulder in a department store. I tried to picture her distraught when she did this. I mean, at that point, there was nothing she could do. The body was there. Her ex-boyfriend completed the awful deed. Was it possible that she was so broken up over the incident that she put on her makeup, and mascara, for the sole purpose of occupying her time and mind, until I arrived? It was possible, of course, and I tried to explore that, and every other possibility I could think of as we stood in the apartment. She is so good looking, that I considered exploring all possibilities mandatory, but I knew deep down that she considered it so important to look good that she was willing to work around the hanging body of her dead ex-boyfriend to put on makeup. I knew her well enough to know what her priorities were.
“There was a compliment in there, somewhere, in that she wanted to look her best for me, but she wanted to look her best for everyone, so I didn’t think the general sentiment of that compliment was directed at me. I wondered if her effort included a concern about whatever police officer might answer the call. If the cop was good-looking, and she didn’t have her makeup on, the hot cop would be a witness to her unpreparedness. I knew I was lucky to be with her, don’t get me wrong, but she was always dropping lines such as “One should always look their best, no matter what the circumstance. Even when you are just running to the grocery store, you should always look your best,” she said. “You never know who you’re going to run into.” She said cliché gunk like that all the time, like “You never get another chance to make a first impression.” I remember I joked with her that I thought she’d never have a problem with that, and she never will. I think we can all agree to that,” Willie said looking around the table. We all did. “Yet, how many of us are so self-involved, and so callous, that we’re able to brush away a dead body that keeps bumping into our shoulder, as if it’s a pesky, silver, helium balloon tickling our shoulder in a department store, while we do everything we can to look our best? Even though I don’t have a level of proof that would stand up in a court of law, I know she did it. I know she did it, even though she’s one of the few people who could go a week without a shower and still make a great first impression. I know she did it for the sole purpose of making a great first impression, but what Katie Newberry seems incapable of understanding is that for most of us those secondary and tertiary impression are actually more important to us. Those impressions are what did her in for me, so I dumped her.
“And do you want to hear something that further damns her as one of the most apathetic, unfeeling human beings I’ve ever met?” Willie asked, as we all gathered our lunch bags and trash to hurry back to work before we were late. “Do you want to hear the question she failed to ask in our breakup call that further cements the fact that I was right to break up with her? Oh, she said, ‘What?’ and ‘Are you serious?’ when I told her I was breaking up with her. She had what we might agree are normal reactions to a break up call, and she added some accusations about me being a heartless person for breaking up with her so soon after such an episode, and she said I had to be a soulless person for leaving her in her time of need. She said everything you and I might consider perfectly normal for such a situation, but she never asked me the question every recipient of a breakup call asks. She never asked me why?”