The Natalie-Broke-My-Heart Club

We didn’t plan on getting together. Hell, we didn’t even plan on meeting each other, let alone forming a club that meets the first Thursday of every month (unless Jason is having one of his “travels,” then we move it to the following Tuesday). We are, at our core, a bunch of dudes. We aren’t a group of chicks who like to do each other’s nails, drink wine and gossip about the bad dates we had the previous weekend. Granted, we are a bunch of weirddudes. Take Jason, for example. Jackass thinks he can travel to other dimensions. No shit. Don’t ask him about these other dimensions, trust me. I made that mistake once and my entire Thursday evening was dominated by his cockamamie stories. I even had to call in sick to work the next day because I’d been taking shots of whiskey just to get through that shit and I had the hangover from hell.

Weird or not, we are mostly manly dudes and not some fucking knitting club, so the group formed completely by accident. At first, it was just me and Beau and the way we found each other was beyond random. I was at The Barrel, this kind of hipster bullshit bar that offers whiskey and scotch tastings out of these card-operated machines, doing my best to drink her away. I know, I sound like some fucked-up country song, but that’s the truth. I was on my fifth tasting of Jameson (you’d think by the fifth I’d know what the shit tasted like and would’ve moved on) and I was—don’t judge—tearing up over a picture of her on my phone. Then, from out of nowhere, this giant of a dude sits down beside me, points at my phone, and says, “Natalie.”

Natalie is her name. Shit, even saying it now gets me right in the gut. Anyway, he’d seen her picture on my phone as he was walking behind me and turns out, this fucker had dated her, too. That was the beginning. Beau and I sat at the table doing shots of Jameson and blubbering over her like a couple of stupid-ass teenagers for two hours. After that embarrassing bullshit, you’d think we’d be so humiliated we’d have avoided eye contact if we’d seen each other on the street from then on, but no. Not two weeks later the dude reaches out to me and asks if I want to go get a scotch. I don’t think either of us planned on talking about Natalie again, but sure as shit, that’s what we did. That’s when he tells me he knows this crazy fuck who also dated Natalie. The dude spoke in an upper-crust British accent but was really from Boston. He’d come up to Beau and Nat when the two of them had been on a date and afterward, Nat had told him how the guy sounded like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting until he’d gotten into a car accident. After that, he was pure 007. I wouldn’t believe him because who would believe that shit? So he’d taken me to some shitty little bar where the dude bartended. Instead of laughing at him like we’d intended to, we’d ended up talking to the fake British fucker for an hour about—guess what?—Natalie. And that’s how Sean joined our group.

All in all, there are six of us. Me, Beau, Sean, Arthur, Jason and Kevin. I like to think I’m the most normal of the squad, even though I certainly have my moments. I really thought I was a headcase until I got to know those five fuckers, so I guess that’s a blessing in and of itself. I mean, hell, I just keep going back to my batshit insane ex-wife. That’s pretty vanilla when you compare it to Kevin, who says he can smell colors and has developed a habit of taking in stray cats since he ended things with Natalie. You notice I say heended things. That’s not a mistake. You’re probably thinking this Natalie chick must be something really special if she can cause all of her exes to hang out together just to talk about her. And she is that special. So why did some sad sack who has to buy five bags of kitty litter every time he hits the grocery store dump her? The fact is, we all did. All six of us ended things with Natalie. No, we aren’t a bunch of dumbasses. Well, we are, in our own ways, but that’s not why we left her. Nat has this way of bringing out the worst in people. Not because she is manipulative or a bitch. It’s because she’s so goddamn good. Every new thing revealed about this girl just makes you feel worse and worse about yourself in comparison. I used to hope and pray that Nat would reveal a habit of torturing puppies or a penchant for sleeping with hobos or a strong sympathy for the Nazi party or something just so I could say, “HA! At least I don’t do that.” But she never did. She was consistently, maddeningly, overwhelmingly awesome. Drunk, she was awesome. Sober, she was awesome. Even when she was in a bad fucking mood, she was awesome. In every situation, if you were to have a chance to stop and think, “Now the perfect woman would say thisor do this right now”, that’s what Nat would say or do. Every. Fucking. Time. Who does that?

“You can’t even dislike her for being a Pollyanna because she’s got the mouth of a sailor,” Beau likes to say. But even a potty mouth was awesome on Nat. Beau can curse a blue streak, but he’ll tell stories of Nat out-cussing him (and in ever more inventive and witty ways) every time.

Now, if there was one of us who honestly had a chance of being a good man for Nat, it was Beau. Six foot six and as good-looking as a movie star, Beau had played for our state university’s football team back in the day and was now a successful bond trader. Too bad he had a habit of sleeping with every woman he found attractive—a habit he couldn’t break, even for Nat.

*********

It’s been six months since the last time I saw Natalie. And no, we don’t stand up and say that at the beginning of each meeting like we’re in fucking AA. Though I do know it’s been a year for Beau, three for Arthur, 14 months for Sean and thirty days for Kevin, but that’s only because he goes to the same grocery store as she does. Not on purpose, surprisingly. None of us want to see Nat. It’s too fucking heartbreaking. Jason’s the only one whose last sighting of Nat I’m unsure of, and that’s just because I know he’ll throw some inter-dimension horseshit at me so I’ve avoided bringing it up around him.

The way I left her was beyond cowardly and every time I think about it, I hit the bottle just to forget what a goddamn bastard I was. I couldn’t even be a real man and sit her down and tell her the truth, which is that I was too fucked up to be with someone so awesome and my only choice was to go back to my ex, who was even more fucked up than me, and therefore made me feel like I kind of had it together. I know, I know, that sounds ridiculous and it is ridiculous. Unlike most dudes, I think a lot about myself, my situation, how I ended up where I did and why. It’s really more of a curse than anything and I understand why a huge portion of our gender doesn’t do that shit. I suppose deep down you could say I’m not very fond of the person I am. Or more accurately, the person I’ve let myself become. Nat fell in love with the best part of me, the man I wanted to be. I kept trying and trying to consistently be that man, but do you know how exhausting that shit is? I guess it’s no wonder I finally gave up and just decided to be a miserable asshole.

Nat really fell in love with the best of all of us, as far as I can tell. Take Jason, for example. Yeah, he’s crazy with all that quantum travel crap, but the only reason he can actually believe that is because the dude has shitloads of imagination. He’s also probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met. He doesn’t just say, “Hey bro, I traveled to Universe X today and it was fuckin’ cool.” Oh no, he actually tries to explain his theories to me, using terms like “chaotic inflation”, “spontaneous symmetry breaking” and “oscillatory universe.” Yeah, crazy as all get-out but you gotta be smart to come up with stuff like that. He’s almost had me convinced a few times that half of the people I meet are from a parallel world. I’m sure that’s what Natalie loved about him and I’m also pretty sure he wasn’t this looney when they were together. We all went a little further off the rails after Nat left our lives.

So back to me leaving Nat. I’d been pretty shitty to her for a few months and, looking back, it really was one of the most chaotic times in my life. I knew how much I loved Nat, yet that feeling was always at war with how much I didn’t like myself. I knew I wasn’t good enough for her and I knew I would eventually let her down. Sitting around just waiting to disappoint the most amazing person you’ve ever met in your life is a pretty shitty feeling indeed. So I sped the process up by first ignoring her for a month, then by sending her an email telling her I was going to try things again with my ex. Yes, an email. You hear people bitch about being broken up with by text, but I stooped to a level even more impersonal than that. I sent an email,for God’s sake. With the subject line of “Hi.” I will burn in hell.

I still try to picture where she had been and what she’d been doing when she’d gotten that piece of shit email. If she’d been alone in her office. Had been out somewhere and read it on her phone. I had even been tempted to reach out to one of her friends to check on her and make sure she was okay afterward, but I’m sure they all hated me by that point. Anyway, I knew Nat would be okay. She was always okay. She loved a series of men who dropped the ball and let her down in ever-increasingly new and inventive ways and yet she always got back up and tried again. With that radiant smile on her face. Radiant was a great word to describe Natalie. She was light. She was joy. Sometimes I felt sacrilegious just standing next to her, like I was poisoning something otherworldly and pure.

So yeah, I ended things in a completely shit way. But, believe it or not, it hadn’t been as shitty as Beau, who slept with one of her co-workers. Or Jason, who showed up on her doorstep screaming that she was really an inter-planetary demon before punching out her window and running down the street to hide in the park. I guess if I compare myself to that level of crazy, what I did wasn’t so bad. But even Saddam Hussein looked like a decent dude compared to Hitler and that didn’t mean he wasn’t still an evil bastard.

*************

You’re probably wondering what the six of us do every month. Do we pretend to watch a sporting event? Throw darts? Try to play it off like we’re a normal bunch of dudes? For a while, we really tried. But we’re all so damn different. You’ve got Beau, the ex-jock in a suit. Jason, who I always expect to show up wearing a tinfoil hat. Kevin, who smells like cat piss and hasn’t gotten a haircut in months. Sean with his fucking Prince Harry act, Arthur and his fondness for Christmas sweaters, and me, who I like to think is the most normal of the bunch, but that’s just because I can pretend to be just about any type of guy you please. I can cheer for the football game with the dudes, or appreciate wine with the hoity-toities, or talk business with the executives. I used to think this was one of my greatest strengths, but now I’m starting to realize I just have no fucking idea who I am. Arthur may show up to a meeting with a big-ass reindeer on his vest, but at least he owns that shit.

So yeah, we’ve kind of abandoned the act and we just sit around and tell stories and like, be therefor each other. I know it sounds super gay. But none of us has anyone else in our lives we can really rely on. For those of us in relationships (present company definitely included), those relationships are so fucked up that they’re more of a drain than a support system. Arthur has a brother he seems to get along with, and a few of the guys have semi-decent parents or other friends, but we all connect on such a different level. The Natalie level. Even though that’s not all we talk about. In fact, there are times when we’ll go a whole evening without even saying her name. But she’s always there. You can almost feel her at the table, drinking that IPA she liked and gracing us with her stunner of a smile when one of us says something funny. Natalie is just as much a part of our group as any of the guys.

We tried moving the group around to different places so that the bartenders wouldn’t figure out what a bunch of pussies we were, but we even gave up on that because Arthur doesn’t drive and he lives only a block away from The Barrel. I should say, Arthur doesn’t drive since leaving Natalie. Before that, he’d had a nice Jeep and commuted to work and everything else a normal individual would do. After Nat? Game over. He started to get anxiety attacks every time he got behind the wheel and no amount of Santa sweater-wearing would fix it. None of us are really sure what the connection is. It’s not like he broke up with Natalie in a car. Or met her in a car. There was really nothing auto-related in any of their relationship, but I guess we all process things in different ways. Arthur doesn’t drive. Sean drinks himself stupid every night after the bar he works at closes. Beau sleeps with his babysitters. I subject myself to sharing a home with Crazy Barbie. That’s what I’ve taken to calling her, sometimes even to her face. She could pass for a Barbie Doll… from about 50 feet away. She’s tall, blonde and has big old fake tits that I bought her after the second time we separated. However, once you get closer, you notice the sun damage from years in a tanning booth, the hair that resembles straw from being bleached so much and, of course, her fucking insane eyes. I don’t mean “insane” like they are so beautiful they are insane. I mean the bitch has crazy eyes. Have you ever noticed that the really nutso ones have the same eyes? They’re usually light blue, for some reason, and one of them is just a touch squiffy or off kilter. Natalie had beautiful eyes. They looked like melting chocolate.

I realize that I just referred to the person I am supposedly sharing my life with as a “crazy bitch” and I know what you’re thinking: “You went back to her, asshole. You left an amazing person for her. What the hell?” If you think I don’t ask myself that every single fucking day, you’re wrong. I wake up and look over at her sleeping form and think, “What the hell?” I have an argument with her, realize for the eight millionth time that she is the least logical person on the planet and think, “Jesus, dude, really?” I am aware, every single second of every day, that each moment of my life would be ten times better if I were experiencing it with Natalie. What kind of horrible shit is that? Not only to realize that you’re walking around with an extremely poor replacement for your soulmate, but also to know that no one is responsible for fucking it up except you. If I didn’t hate myself before all this, I sure as shit do now.

I’m not sure if the other guys think of Nat as their soulmate. By pure definition of the word, she should only be a soulmate to one other person, so if all of us thought that, at least five of us would be wrong. Let’s be honest: all of us would be wrong. If any one of us jokers were Natalie’s soulmate, would we have treated her like we did? Would we have become these insane, slovenly, broken, fucked-up assholes in response to her loving us? I read somewhere that you really shouldn’t end up with your soulmate, that they come into your life to teach you something and make you a better person and they aren’t meant to be who you spend your life with. But even that doesn’t fit because none of us became better people because of Nat. I can’t imagine it’s written anywhere that a soulmate comes into your life to turn you into a worthless turd.

**************

    I know I’m not the first person to say this, but social media is a bitch when you’re getting over someone. I unfriended Natalie as soon as I realized I was going to screw her over, but I can still go on there and look at pictures of her. See who she’s become friends with and obsess over the guys she’s now connected to. At least I don’t post weepy things and make them visible to the public, like poor Arthur. He seems to think Facebook is his personal journal and posting his thoughts publicly will heal him, when all it really does is make him look like a giant douchebag. Kevin is our group Facebook bloodhound. He’s the one who always seems to be able to sniff out the new pictures of Nat that come up on someone else’s page, or find the things she’s been going to. Though we all say we don’t want to see the pictures or hear about where she’s been, each of us invariably ends up huddled around his iPad, mesmerized by those eyes, that smile. She isn’t one of those chicks who is always trying to look like a supermodel in her pictures, with her head tilted just so or her face stuck out to make the rest of her body look skinnier. No, Nat is usually the one with her tongue stuck out or her eyes crossed, not giving a shit if she’s looking her prettiest or not. She was always more concerned with having fun than looking good. I still have a ton of pictures on my phone from our one trip together. We’d been in Florida and had happened upon this store that sold nothing but hats. Fedoras, stocking caps, hats with animal ears, visors, you see where I’m going here. We’d tried on every damn hat in that store and I have pictures of most of them. I can’t remember ever laughing that hard. I guess I never believed you could have that much fun with the woman you loved, which explains why I returned to the woman who never got my jokes and thought smiling too much aged her prematurely.

But back to Facebook. Kevin is an absolute pro stalker. We all know more about Natalie’s current life than if we hung out in her driveway with binoculars (and before you ask, NO. None of us has ever stooped that low). Nat herself has never been much of a social media poster. She’s too private of a person to put her life on display. But that doesn’t stop everyone and their dog from tagging her, posting photos with her, adding her to invite lists. People just naturally want to be associated with someone like Natalie. Who wouldn’t want a little bit of that magic to rub off on them? The problems come when you get too close, when you realize that magic isn’t just smoke and mirrors, that shit is real.Most of us like to see magicians on stage, but if we found out that the tricks weren’t tricks at all? That the dude really could levitate and put sawed off people back together? Well, I think that would just be too much to process for most of us.

We’ve had three false alarms now where Kevin thinks he’s identified Nat’s new boyfriend. Sometimes it’s a picture that tips him off, or she’s gone to multiple events with the same person. Each time it turns out to be nothing, but we all still hate every dude who might be “the one.” Because let’s be honest here: someday, there will be a guy good enough for her. The universe and all its mysteries just wouldn’t make a damn bit of sense if someone like Natalie was destined to date a bunch of loser scumbags her whole life. And deep down, I think the reason we all really let her go was so she could find him. No matter how much we all wanted to keep her, no matter how much we still loved her, we all knew she deserved happiness. We knew we couldn’t give it to her, and we hoped someday, someone could. It might be the only decent thing we all have in common. Maybe that next alert from Kevin will be the real deal. Maybe we’ll soon see pictures of her popping up in a wedding dress, pictures of her with a baby who has melting chocolate eyes and a stunner of a smile. And even though it will kill every one of us, we’ll still raise a toast with her favorite IPA and wish her the happiest of lives.