:: Article

Broken, Borrowed Time, and Some Women Like to Travel

By Elizabeth Ellen.


“…that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.”
-George Orwell

I had already broken and defeated two men. It wasn’t as hard as I’d thought. It was easier than it looked. It was harder breaking the first man than the second, though at the time I thought it was harder breaking the second than the first. Sometimes you have to step away from the trees to see the forest. Or is it the other way around? It doesn’t matter. The point is I needed someone to break me. I felt whole. I wanted to feel split in two. I wanted to be brought to my knees with an unstoppable force. I wanted to be struck in awe and then just as forcefully awestruck. I had been once. I knew I could be again. I just needed to step away from the trees. I needed to get a glimpse of the forest.

The first time I saw you, you were dressed in a suit and tie and wearing a porkpie hat. So this is what the forest looks like, I thought and immediately I began to prepare for defeat. You spoke and I burrowed my head. You moved toward me and I crisscrossed my arms in front of my chest, dug my nails into my arms: four little half moons on either shoulder. I went home and dreamed of cutting myself, tracing the lines of those half moons with a razor blade or wire hanger. But you reach a certain age where cutting yourself is no longer a romantic gesture. I was well past that age. And then there were the defeated men to think about. They were still around. Broken or not, they wouldn’t leave. So I settled myself down in my chair with a book in one hand and a knife choked in the other and when the men weren’t looking I stabbed at the sides of the chair as though they were my thighs, tore open the soft leather as easily as if it were my own flesh. Every night I did this, until the next time I saw you. By then you had taken off the porkpie hat. I still had the half moons on my arms. My nails slipped easily into the grooves.

“You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war,” you said and I thought about how I’d already read that on the bumper of your car.

“I’m not preparing for war,” I said, “I’m preparing for defeat.”

“Either way,” you shrugged.

I uncrossed my arms; let them fall limply at my sides. I wanted you to put back on the porkpie hat. Without it you looked too much like every other man I knew. I was no longer sure you were capable of overseeing the atrocities I wished you to inflict upon me.

“There are multitudes,” you said and my hand reached for the nonexistent knife in my side pocket. I wanted for a pen or pencil; any object that could be sharpened, used for self-inflicted warfare. Whatever doubts I’d entertained with regard to your character were permanently set aside. I went back home; sat in my chair. The defeated men came; stared. For once we had something in common: a feeling of fragmentation. I waited until they weren’t looking, picked up the knife.


Borrowed Time

She could tell by the manner with which he posed the question – expectantly, defiantly – that she was supposed to know, inherently, without thinking, how to answer; that there was only one correct answer and she had better know it or everything they had worked for up until this point would be erased, simultaneously and without prejudice.

She twisted an ankle. Stared at it. Twisted it back.

She twirled a piece of spaghetti into an S on her plate.

Borrowed time.

She considered the answers:

a) I am incapable of falling

b) I am falling now

She wondered about:

c) I am both incapable and already sitting on my tailbone on the sidewalk.


Some Women Like to Travel

Yesterday Gayle compared my communication with you to Omi’s with Sara.

“I can always tell when you’re talking to him,” she said. “Your entire demeanor changes.”

I heard her say the same thing to Omi once. It wasn’t fair then either.

“I haven’t talked to him in a long time,” I said.

I hadn’t realized I was smirking until she pointed it out.

I’m still not entirely convinced. Gayle often misinterprets my facial expressions.

Sometimes I just have to sneeze.

“The last time Omi got into a car with Sara, they ended up on the opposite coast.”

“That’s hardly the same thing.”

“An ambush is an ambush is an ambush.”

“Some women like to travel.”

I watched La Dolce Vita in bed again last night. I wanted to remember how I felt the night before I promised myself to stop talking to you. The morning after I sent you a line from the movie: “I’m afraid of peace more than anything else.” You said it was the best email I’d ever written you.

“I’m going to use that quote for the beginning of my next novel,” you said.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’m starting to get emotional.”

Emotions were not a part of our vernacular.

The irony is, you’ve never taken me anywhere farther than Ruby Tuesday’s.

I’m sorry if this is boring you. I’ll stop writing about it when it stops being relevant.

About the author
Elizabeth Ellen is the author of Before You She Was a Pit Bull (Future Tense) and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix (Rose Metal Press). She is deputy editor of Hobart and lives in Ann Arbor.


First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, April 16th, 2008.