erik lundegaard

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Breaking Up With Junior

It's not so much that he left us; it's what he left us for.

Because we always knew he'd leave. Everyone told us so. They'd see us together and think, “What's he doing with them? Can't he do better than that?” So we were always on the lookout for guys trying to muscle in on our territory. The slick-talking Californian with the tan and chains in his chest hair. He couldn't be Junior's type, could he? Or the brusque New York shipbuilder trying to entice him with promises of jewelry. Junior always claimed to be repulsed by the guy but you never know. Then there was the courtly southern gentleman with the Clark Gable moustache. We worried most about him. Secretly we felt that he and Junior were a perfect match but we kept this to ourselves.

Turns out none of those guys were even in the running. Junior dumped us for a paunchy, Midwestern used car salesman.

How? Why? We sift through the pieces of the failed relationship and try to sort it all out.

Did we pamper him too much? Was that it? Ever since he got here we told him he was our favorite and no one else could ever compare. Maybe we shouldn't have been so honest with our emotions. Maybe we should have kept a touch of mystery to the relationship. That way he might not have threatened to leave us every year. That way he might not have taken us for granted.

Or did we take him for granted? It's possible. Because there have been others in our lives. We've had flirtations with the quiet, dignified Puerto Rican, and the tall, goony Arizonan. But they were just that — flirtations — which we tried to tell Junior whenever he got into one of his snits. It got especially bad when the Florida boy arrived. He was younger and prettier and possibly more talented than Junior, and if we so much as cast a glance at him Junior would sulk for days on end and we'd have to whisper sweet nothings in his ear just to get him talking again.

Or was it the house? We bought a house together. We thought that was the direction our relationship was headed. Our old house was a bit dilapidated anyway: leaky roof, concrete architecture, '70s-style carpeting. Other couples' homes just looked so nice. We'd sit up nights talking about it. Wouldn't it be great to have a home like the O's or the I's? Well, it took a lot of work, and a lot of money, but we got it done. Which is when the complaints began. Junior didn't like the porch. “Yeah, but the house itself is beautiful!” we'd say. But to Junior the house didn't matter; it was all about the porch. “Well, maybe we can change the porch,” we'd say. “Maybe we can move it around a little. We're sorry we didn't think more about the porch beforehand but we've got a whole house now and isn't it beautiful?” Junior just shrugged and walked away. Maybe he was already leaving us then. Maybe in his mind he was already gone. Now we rattle around in our expensive new house (which was supposed to be a testament to our relationship together) and wonder how we're ever going to make the mortgage payments without him.

God, the things we did to try to get him to stay. The offers we made. We were pathetic!

At first he claimed he just wanted to see others. It wasn't the end of our relationship, he said. It might even make our relationship stronger, he said.

We heard rumors. Junior and the southern aristocrat. No, Junior and the obnoxious younger brother of the brusque New York shipbuilder. Then the news hit us like a sock in the jaw. It wasn't any of those guys; it was the used car salesman. Worse: they were getting married.

So soon? It seemed impossible.

We looked at pictures of the used car salesman with his plaid pants and white shoes and tried to fathom it all. What does he have that we don't? From what we hear, the guy's kind of a jerk anyway. A blowhard. Always mouthing off about art or literature when he knows nothing about these subjects. A conservative, backwater a-hole with a touch of the racist about him. We won't even mention his gambling problem.

Yet Junior chose him. Was he always mooning over this guy? Did he ever take our relationship seriously?

More important: Why, in all the photos of the two of them together, is Junior's father constantly nearby? Is that the key? Was this an arranged marriage? Junior’s always been a little too eager to listen to his father, never enough his own man. We used to fight about it sometimes. Junior's father actually works for the used car salesman and some say he's not talented enough to get ahead on his own — that he's using the control he has over his son as a means to power in that fiefdom. Could anything be more pathetic?

Oh, we'll muddle through somehow. As the saying goes, there's other fish in the sea. For one thing, we can now turn our full attention to the Florida boy. He's a bit flighty and footloose (you know how the young are), and we wouldn't be surprised if he's gone in another year, but it doesn't mean we can't make our own lasting memories together.

Besides, this could be a blessing in disguise. Two years from now, when their honeymoon period is over, we wouldn't be surprised if Junior starts voicing the same imperious complaints with the used car salesman that he once voiced with us. I don't like this house. You never take me anywhere in October. I want some jewelry! Wherever we are in our lives then, we'll probably shake our heads, smile, and think, “Man, I'm glad that relationship is over.”

—originally published in The Grand Salami