The Unlovable Virus
By Megan Boyle.
The girl was infected with a virus. She read that there is some debate over whether viruses can be classified as living organisms. They are, she had read, almost alive, but not quite. A virus is more alive than a desk but less alive than a blade of grass. It was a virus because it’s harder to rid the body of a virus than it is of a infection. The only real cure to a virus is to become immune to it, and even then, some part of it still survives. There are vaccines for some viruses, but not for the one the girl had.
The girl’s virus grew between her brain and her soul. It lived in the misty, globular, indiscriminate area that could be categorized as her mind. She did not know what her mind looked like, but she thought it was something about the size of a frisbee that overlapped onto her brain. She pictured her brain as a radar map which monitored mind frequencies, and the virus as four stationary blinking red dots. It was comforting for her to create this mental picture, until she thought too much about the process of thinking, what it meant to think, to be aware of thought — these thoughts would make her feel panicked for no concrete reason, as if she was coming too close to something “off limits.” When she thought too much about this, usually on the toilet, she would try to think about Tiger Woods eating breakfast instead.
It was 45 degrees outside on the day she discovered her virus. On another day, it would’ve been snowing. It was a Sunday. She was dropping her ex-boyfriend off at work. The first year of their relationship, there were few arguments. Their individual ratios of negative attributes never exceeded a certain “breaking point,” where something negative would become impossible to ignore. The last six months of their relationship, their admirable qualities became secondary as they discovered more things to dislike about each other. When the ratio of good to bad qualities of their relationship would exceed 3:5, from one of their perspectives, they would break up. They broke up and got back together over one billion times. It reminded her of what doctors said about her grandmother’s brain — she had endured many miniature-sized strokes over the years and each one had left a little mark on her brain. The doctors wondered how she was even functioning at all. But she was. This was how the girl and her ex-boyfriend were. On this day, they were considering themselves to be friends, but they were not quite friends. They had had sex the night before. That is why she was dropping him off for work. As they were having sex, the girl thought, “this is the last time we will ever have sex.” The ex-boyfriend also had that thought as they were having sex. They talked about having that thought afterwards. They talked about a lot. The girl talked too much, she thought. She fell asleep holding him.
As they were silently approaching his work place, a record store, the ex-boyfriend was thinking about the smell of his hands. The girl was thinking about a new girl he was interested in taking her place. The new girl looked better with her ex-boyfriend, she knew. She was smaller and fit him better. He was a small person, and so was the new girl. When she saw them talking at a party the week before, she thought “oh, cute,” and didn’t immediately look away, but as the time and frequency she spent looking at them increased, the more acidic her stomach felt. Something about the acid in her stomach made the anxious thoughts in her brain increase, or vice versa. She made a conscious effort to replace the time she was looking at them with looking at inanimate objects. The most relaxing object was a green pillow that had fallen two feet away from the couch.
She was picturing the new girl dropping off her ex-boyfriend at work. Every day he would notice more and more things to love about the new girl. At first she would make him nervous, and as time wore on, she would grow to make him calm. She would maybe think of a nickname for him. They will grow to know each other’s smells. The new girl will discover that the ex-boyfriend does not snore. She will see the mask that sleep leaves on his face. He will feel awkward with his ex-girlfriend’s photo, drawings, records, and deodorant in his room. He will take them down and maybe thrown them away. The new girl will someday sleep in her ex-boyfriend’s t-shirts. The not new girl, the virus-infected girl, loved sleeping in her ex-boyfriend’s t-shirts. It made her feel warm and mischievous, and often pictured it to be a perfect idea for a fashion magazine photo shoot. She would sometimes pretend fashion photographers were catching her most effortlessly sexy moments as she was wearing his t-shirt.
Her ex-boyfriend was standing still outside her car. She didn’t know why. She took a photograph with her eyes. Her hand was waving and she was weaving into traffic. She thought about him standing there as she drove away. She looked in her rear view mirror and saw his back turned to her. A giant invisible hand holding a vacuum reached down from the sky, through her windshield, into her mouth, down her windpipe, into her lungs, plugged itself in, and sucked out all of her air. This was the moment she realized she was infected with a virus. The virus made her unlovable. There was no cure for it. She began to cry. She cried long, broken sobs. Her face felt hot. Her nose ran. She howled like a sea lion. She reminded herself of a very lonely sea lion, in an aquarium, making terrible noises, being watched by people who were sort of bored and probably thinking about dinner.
She cried for over an hour as she was leaving the city. She remembered walks she went on with her ex-boyfriend, through this city. She remembered conversations they had. It made her cry harder. Her thoughts while crying were mostly directed towards her ex-boyfriend, but a small percentage was also directed towards her existence in general, in the space between thoughts about her ex-boyfriend she would think, “what is this for, what is this for, what is this for,” in a melodramatic tone. She stopped crying audibly at stop lights, but it was obvious that she was still crying. She was too afraid to look out the window at the cars next to her, because she could not imagine what the faces looking back at her would look like. She thought that realistically, the faces would either look annoyed, angry, sympathetic, or bored and unaware. In an ideal world, she imagined that every person on the street would see her crying in traffic, and these people would all stop and remember times in their lives when they cried similarly. She wanted to hear a voice on the radio saying in a neutral, non-judgmental voice, “it’s okay.”
She imagined the missed connections section of Craigslist tomorrow being dominated by request after request for, “Crying girl on Connecticut ave, Sunday, 45 degrees. Why were you crying? I am so sorry to see you feel this way. Don’t worry, everybody cries. I could still tell that you are attractive.” People would see her as an example and they would be inspired to cry whenever they felt like it. She would become a martyr for the cause of unrestrained emotion. There would be stories about her.
She would be asked to do interviews with local news channels and it would become known that she was crying because of her virus. There would be marathons and benefits for finding the cure to the unlovable virus, which she would become a spokeswoman for, and many other people would speak out about being UNL-positive. There would be ribbons on cars. There would be t-shirts. There would be pins. There would be a lot of people, everywhere,
saying to their friends, “I’m sorry you’re unlovable and that I can’t love you in the way you want, the way that would cure you.”
But eventually, the girl stopped crying. The imaginary world that was in love with her crying faded away. She felt embarrassed for inventing that world, but mostly she felt relieved that it was gone. Her thoughts seemed to be moving at about the speed of a praying mantis.
She pulled into her driveway and looked out her windshield. There was a very long crack in it. She felt almost normal again. She remembered the day before. She was with her friends and ex-boyfriend. They shot guns and ate junk food.
She noticed that her backseat was scattered with garbage from the day before. There was a Dorito’s bag, four 16 ounce coffee cups, an empty Vitamin Water, a lemonade bottle, and a hotdog container from 7-11. She peeked inside the hotdog container and saw a 83% eaten hotdog with ketchup and relish on it. It was her ex-boyfriend’s. “All this time, I never knew what he liked on his hotdogs,” she thought. She felt like a voyeur, looking in the hotdog container like that. She thought about eating the hotdog, but then thought about old men looking into peepholes and violently whacking off, muttering fuck words. Then she thought about homeless people dumpster diving. She decided not to eat it after all. It felt like the last intimate detail of her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. It felt like the very last thing. It felt like the last fossil ever found of the dinosaurs. She threw it away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Boyle is 23 years old, lives in Baltimore with two cats, sells used books part time, and goes to school most of the time. She maintains the blog “Google Web History”.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, March 28th, 2009.