Never as Hard as You Thought by John Grochalski

I was walking toward my car, carrying a garbage bag full of my shit.  It was hung over my back and I probably looked lack a sad-sack Santa Claus.  I was coming from the home of Mary Bermiano.  We’d broken up the week before.  We’d had another one of our vicious arguments over the phone, only this time it got a little bit out of hand.  I was at her home to collect my various personal effects at her request.  Mary had broken up with me because I had not been around much since the summer ended.  I had become more content meandering around the city alone, free of her company.  I had become happier spending nights in bars, listening to jukebox music, and not saying a word to anybody.  I’d begun to feel trapped by Mary and a bunch of other things.  I’d grown increasingly bitter and verbally abusive toward her.  I knew that I had to get out.  Plus the honest cold hard reality of it all was that I didn’t love Mary, only I was too chickenshit to tell her.

When I’d arrived to get my things, the house was dark except for the flickering wicks on various vanilla-scented candles burning in each of the rooms.  My stomach turned at the first whiff of them.  I hated those fucking candles.  The television set was on.  The television was always on in Mary’s home.  She considered it a comfort while I considered it more unnecessary human chatter.  Mary had the stereo on from up in her bedroom.  She was blasting Madonna’s old song “Take a Bow.”  The song was so loud that it reverberated throughout the house.  I wondered if the neighbors could hear it, like that one claimed he could hear us screwing that one time.  On the dining room table she’d laid small groups of my personal items next to an empty garbage bag.  I was to fill the bag until everything was gone.  Slowly I picked up old t-shirts and books that I hadn’t seen in almost two years.  Two of my books of poetry were there.  They were open to the dedications I’d inscribed to Mary, the word love underlined in red pen.

“Why are you playing this old song?” I said when she came into the dining room.  Mary had gotten a haircut and a dye job in the week since we’d broken up.  She looked almost new. She just didn’t look new enough.

“Why not play it?” she said.

“Could I have more light?”

Mary angrily flipped the switch on the dining room light.  Then she blew out all of the vanilla candles, before marching upstairs to play the Madonna song again.  I continued to pack.

Gifts that I had given to Mary sat on the table with my shit.  Among them sat bottles of perfume, clothing, and small piles of stuffed animals, including a massive stuffed bee that I’d won for her at an amusement park.  The bee was staying.  Mary collected stuffed animals.  At age thirty-five, she still collected stuffed animals and that should’ve been a warning to me from the start. She’d laid out all of the cheap jewelry I’d given her in a single row.  It was mostly junk jewelry because, at age thirty-eight, I still had no clue about buying rings and necklaces for women.  On the far corner of the table was a single Christmas ornament that I’d only recently bought.  It was of Winnie-the-Pooh because Mary liked that Disney shit as well.  Dating her was actually kind of like dating a child, but not in that innocent way.  We were kind of creepy together.  Anyway, I’d given the ornament to her as an early present for the upcoming holiday season.

“This was a gift,” I said, holding the ornament.

Mary shrugged and sat in a chair.  There were flecks of gray in her hair where the dye job never took.  I put the ornament in the garbage bag and then started collecting everything else.  I scooped it all into one heap.  I didn’t care whether or not any of the useless shit broke.  Then I tossed the stuff into the garbage bag.  I grabbed my beat up brown leather jacket and put it on, as well as my torn black snowcap.  Then I sat down across from Mary.  I had no clue why.  There was nothing left to do or say.  When she went back upstairs to play that Madonna song, I decided I’d finally had enough.  I hoisted the garbage bag over my shoulder and made for the front door.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Mary said from atop the stairs. “Why us?”

I stood for a moment and looked down at the dirt brown carpet in her hallway.  Early in our relationship we’d fucked on almost the exact spot where I was standing.  When we were done I dropped the condom and it spilled.  My trapped come melded with the rustic fabric of the carpet.  No matter what Mary and I did to treat the thing, the rug dried with a crusted spot.  It was a stained mark of love now left to infect her home forever.  I wondered if perhaps Mary was thinking of that moment as she stood on the landing.  Or was she just waiting for Madonna to end again.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I could speculate if you’d like me too.”

“My mother thinks you’re cheating on me.”

“Jesus.  You discuss me with your mother?”

“My sister thinks so too.”

“I can’t even handle you, let alone another goddamned woman.  Why in the hell would I do this to myself twice?”

“It makes sense though, doesn’t it? You were here all of the time, eating dinner, sleeping over.  I mean we talked about you moving in next year.  And then…and then you just weren’t around.”

“That’s not entirely true.  I always wanted to go home when I was here.”

Mary did that thing that women do when they hear something that they don’t want to hear.  She took a step back from the landing and made like she was going to cry.  But they were crocodile tears.  Then she made her way down the stairs.  She tried to get close to me but I backed off.  Her body had a new warmness to it, and I feared it would suck me in.  I’d been sucked in by woman more than once.  “Why can’t you to come to your senses and see that what’s been going on between us is really nothing that we can’t work on.  I waited all week for you to call me back to make-up, or at least apologize.  But you never did.”

“I didn’t call you back because in case you forgot, I go to this little place called work every day.”

“And to the bar, and to wherever else is it that you go,” Mary said.  “Is this one of those writer things?  Is this because you can’t write?  Because I swear you’ve been unreasonable since the spring.”

“I’ve been unreasonable since birth,” I said.

“Well, aren’t you so funny?  You should get up there on the stage.”

I was tired of Mary’s shit.  I hoisted the garbage bag off the floor and over my back a second time.  It was finally time to go.  It was finally time to set myself toward serenity and the quest for happiness.  It was time to be far away from this bullshit. Yet without fail came more of Mary’s tears.  They were heavy and visible this time, even within the dark concave of her hallway.  I felt like a bastard.  But what could I do?  I needed to feel the cold misery of the new day alone.  So I opened the front door.  If only I’d just gone through it.

“Mary, I’m not trying to be hurtful, or whatever else you think I’m trying to be towards you.” I turned and looked beyond her.  “I’m just sick of all this.  And I’m sick of us.”

Mary sobbed loudly.  Her mouth filled with snot and saliva.  I felt disgusted at the both of us for keeping this thing going on longer than it needed to.  But we were no different than most people.  Humans preferred to wallow in hurt rather than joy.  All of life’s ugliness started with the heart.

“I’m going to leave, now,” I said.  Then I opened the screen door.  The cold air of November rushed over us.

“When did I become such a monster to you?” Mary asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said.

“Fine. Just fucking go!”

Stupidly I loitered.

In a fit Mary raced down the hallway.  She brushed by me, almost knocking me into the wall.  Her chest was heaving, she was so pissed.  It would be all right, I thought.  I’d get through these final seconds and then I’d be out the door.  I’d be out the door and in the car with my favorite music playing.  Then I’d go to the bar and have a few drinks.  I’d go back to the apartment and sleep peacefully for the first time in months.  Breaking up, I’d done it so many times, man, with so many women.  It was always quick and painful, and full of drama.  But it always ended.  It was never as hard as you thought it would be.  But staying with Mary would’ve been tough.  It would’ve been a thousand hard lifetimes.  It would’ve been a thousand prisons sentences.  Moving into her home would’ve meant death; smelling those candles; going to bed to the sound of that television.  I wanted life, pimpled and blistered and bruised life.

Mary grabbed a hold of the screen door so hard that the handle broke.

“Christ, you broke the door,” I said.

“Leave!” she screamed, holding the piece of fractured metal.  I hate to admit it, but in her anger I’d discovered a new found respect for the woman. “Don’t say another word. Just get out.”

So I did.  But once I got to the car and put all of my shit in the trunk, and had a moment to have a smoke and really think about things, I got a little bit nostalgic and sad; especially when Mary turned off the lights in her house. Maybe feeling sad was par for the course.  Other women had made me feel this way.  Still, Mary really showed me something in those final moments.  I thought that maybe I’d give her a call in a week or so.  You know, like after she had time to calm down a little bit.  I’d give her a call and just say hi.  I’d see what’s up.  Maybe by then she’d like hearing the sound of my voice.


I am a published writer whose poetry has appeared in numerous online and print publications.  My fiction has appeared in your journal as well as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Retort, Bartley Snopes, New Wave Vomit, The Legendary, The Big Stupid Review, The Moose & Pussy, The Battered Suitcase, Fictionville, Pequin, Girls with Insurance, and the anthology Living Room Handjob.  My column The Lost Yinzer appears quarterly in The New Yinzer ( My poetry can be read at, and my fiction can be read at  My book of poems The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out is out via Six Gallery Press, and my second book Glass City is out via Low Ghost Press

One thought on “Never as Hard as You Thought by John Grochalski”

  1. I don’t think that’s what Disney had in mind when they wrote that “Circle of Life” thing in The Lion King. More like Ouroboros, the world maggot, eating its own tail forever. Or like a couple of people I know, Sid and Nancy, maybe? great Everyday Noir.

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