Saturday was one of those mornings in which you have absolutely anything else to wear because your clothes are dirty so you decide, after having procrastinated it for weeks, to do the laundry. Half labour, I discovered that the detergent I had left wasn’t enough for the tons and tons of dirty laundry, so I decided to go to the corner and buy some. Since everything was dirty I put on the first thing at hand: an old and rugged little T-shirt, stripes shorts who go with absolutely noting and a cap to cover the morning hair. It was a mixture between Jean-Paul Sartre and political refugee. In other words: terrible. But it’s ok; it’s my neighbourhood and people love me and don’t take those minor details into account. There was no detergent in the corner so I walked for two more blocks, enjoying that industriousness neighbourhoods have on Saturday mornings. And just when I was enjoying a comfort close to happiness, turning around a corner, there it was, in front of me and walking right in my direction: the unmistakable figure of my ex.
It’s not strange that these things happen to me. It is estimated that there’s an emotional accident in my life every 1.5 days so it’s not so surprising after all. If we add that I looked like a Libyan emigrant it’s even more logical. But it still managed to surprise me. Facing the impossibility of turning back (because in case he’d seen me, what would he think? That I run away from him? No way!) I decided that the best thing to do was to confront him and pretend I didn’t notice that I looked like taking out of a container. What I was thinking about? That was not an option! Not with that cap! Raúl: tsunami victim.
Desperate, I got into the portal of the house next to me. It wasn’t a bad idea, after all. I’d wait backwards for him to pass while pretending that I was knocking at the door. But, of course, this would have been too easy. Just when I pretended I was knocking, the door opened by itself, to put the house owner, a black lady in her forties, and me, face to face. I guess I could have said some lie, like I was looking for an address or something, but the fastness of the situation dizzied me so I was clear and honest: “My ex is walking in this direction and I don’t feel capable of facing him looking like that”. She, after a quick, but powerful glimpse to my clothes, opened the door and without saying a word, let me go in, looking in both directions once I did it.
It might surprise you how little took Catalina (that’s the name of my new saver/friend) to let me get in into her house, but the situation of the ex all over is a lot more expanded than you may think at first. It’s not only Jennifer, Brad and Angelina, it’s also the reason a black woman in her forties and I copycatted a scene of a 007 movie. Catalina also has an ex, who left her for his secretary. Now they only see each other at the PTA meetings.
And the problem is that the ex is everywhere: at the movies, at the Malecon, in the line to buy the morning newspaper... He waits for you to relax, and...¡pum!: he’s right there, looking good and with his new boyfriend next to him. Grrrrj! (interjection expressing hatred).
There’s a golden rule once a relationship has ended: lock into your house and unplug the phone. If you can travel, even better. But Cubans, poor as hell and with severe immigration laws, can’t afford to do that. So we have to play hide and seek with the ex all over the city (who never was so little). Some people have no problems with that: they remain friends, introduce their new partners to their ex and they all become friends, they even go to introduce new people to the ex so they can date. I admire them. Me, on the other hand, I declare myself Neanderthal: if it ended, go back to your cave and stay there. If you move out, leave the country or even die, it would be considered as in very good taste.
At the beginning you have your friends to talk bad about your ex. If a friend of yours, in this critical phase, tells you something good about your ex, he’s a bad friend; you can dump him as well right there and then. But your friends are not there all the time: they have a life of their own and they can’t be backing you up all the time. So sometimes you’re all by yourself walking in the streets with the fear and the incertitude. The city becomes hostile; you wait for him to appear in every corner, in every cafeteria. You don’t go to concerts, movies, theatres, because you know you can run into him. You don’t go out at certain hours because you know it’s the time for him to go or come from his job. You don’t answer the phone without checking the caller ID first. You don’t do anything without the goddam ex in your head. But he knows how to hide.
Until the moment you lower your defences. You start to breathe again without artificial apparatuses, you begin to feel better, you see that life is not that hard and the sun shines again. So you put on your best outfit, go to some disco with your friends, drink a couple of beers...and he shows up. Just when you were about to laugh for the very first time in a long time, just in the place you never expected to find him (he never went there before!), just when you were about to forget him for a while, he appears. Your shitty face is only outdone by the shitty faces of your friends. But they recover in no time: they tell you how bad he looks, that his hair is a big no-no. And you laugh and tell them not to worry, that everything is fine. Who are we fooling? Two minutes later, you’ll excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. To cry of course.
If your ex was a good boyfriend he’d know you’re in the bathroom crying for him. And if he is a good person, he’d go and lift you up the floor. He’d even kiss you, remembering both how good you used to do it. We should avoid this kind of weaknesses, they can be very harmful. Your friends will rescue you and take you out of the disco, arguing that the music was terrible and the beer very expensive.
And that’s the beginning of something it won’t stop in a long time: the situation of the ex all over. Coppelia, the train station, the grocery store, the way to buying detergent... We try hard to look different for the next time he’ll see us: we let grow a beard, we shave, we lose weight, we exercise...what would it be of the hair saloons if everybody were happy? Since I’m a Neanderthal, I pretend I don’t see anybody. I stare at a fixed point in the universe and let them pass me by. I hear that someone says: “Isn’t he going to say hi?” Because the ex also has friends. Friends you hate, of course.
Contrary to what we may think, the bad taste of an ex doesn’t go away with a new boyfriend. It goes away with another ex. We can’t afford to keep this tragedy with two or more people. Your ex will continue to be your terrible ex until your present boyfriend and you separate, and then he move to occupy that position. Then, if the boyfriend becomes the ex, the ex would become the ex-ex (if someone repeats that expression out there, at least give me the credit). And you don’t hate the ex-ex. He’s like an old friend, one you once hated, but not anymore. It’s not that you love him either, but he certainly isn’t anymore the person you used to cry over at every corner.
I have only talked here about the ex all over. There are a lot of other aspects about the ex we’ll be talking about (what do we feel for an ex? the ex’s new boyfriend...Grrrrj). It’s a passionate subject that obsesses me, corrodes me. My friends are already bothered, you’ll be my next victims.
Catalina opens the door, looks at both sides and says: “All clear”. I, like a very badly dressed James Bond, go out quiet and serious, but before leaving I slightly touch Catalina’s shoulder with my hand. Thanks, Catalina, for giving me asylum. The victims of the ex should remain together. I hope than in the next PTA meeting you look more ravishing than ever. As for me, I’ll go to buy detergent to wash my clothes, shave and wash my hair in order to look good for the next time I run face to face with my ex.
PS: Dedicated to F., whom I never saw again since that night we both decided to stop being boyfriends.