by Evelyn Everlady
Two years ago this month came Negroni Season, a terrifying installment in the incredible true tales of The Worst Boyfriend in the World. It has been three years since the first installment, Crazy Like a Foxwoods. (We’ll be wrapping this up in the year 2024.) Now it’s Negroni season once again — so let’s dive back in to learn what came next!
What kept me going during the first year of living together was the belief that if the Boyfriend could just quit drinking for good, as he occasionally attempted to do, we’d be home free.
And, even though my “Sober Sundays” initiative never took off, somehow that’s what actually happened. The Boyfriend got help and got sober. We moved out of our 300-square-foot West Village studio to a roomy Brooklyn apartment that had a shady backyard and fig trees. I quit smoking. He got really into the slow food movement and talked a lot about growing kale. We went to movies and to the farmer’s market and to museums. We cooked elaborate meals. We split the holidays between our respective families and went away for long weekends with friends. We were gripped with indecision over what kind of dining room table we should buy to best host dinner parties. We watched HBO on Sunday nights.
In short, we became exactly like every other annoying couple that live in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods. (You know.) And I couldn’t have been happier about it. So this is what normal feels like!
A few years went by. When my friends freaked out about their significant others, I felt decidedly unruffled: after all, I’d already passed my Big Relationship Hurdle. Once, during a snowstorm, we passed an elderly man and woman holding hands while making their way down the street. The Boyfriend whispered, “Don’t you think that’s going to be us one day?” I did.
But before we took the next step — into the inevitable baby making and mortgages and retirement plans and death — we both agreed that what we really wanted was to get a dog.
The Boyfriend and I both love dogs. (Oh my god I know, right? So much in common!) But we parted ways when it came to the kind we should get: I wanted some sort of shaggy, floppy-eared rescue mutt. He was dead set on a chocolate Lab — bred from the same bloodline of his previous dog (he was very concerned about proper breeding and in this respect was very much like his mother, but that’s another tale for another time) — and we had long debates on what we’d name it. I gave in on the Labrador argument, but I held tough on the name: Hank, after a character from one of my favorite novels, one that I had given the Boyfriend early on in our courtship.
Hypothetical Hank became a member of our household: “This is the dog park we should take Hank to,” one of us would say while passing a particularly nice leafy stretch. Or, “Let’s call him Henry when he’s bad.” “But Hank would never be bad!” And so on.
But then, what seemed to be out of the blue (but which never really is, I suppose), the Boyfriend got real down. He stopped going to therapy and support meetings. He started watching an inordinate amount of Adult Swim. He grew quieter, grouchier and stopped sleeping at night. I’d wake up and most often I’d find him sitting at the living room window, blowing cigarette smoke down towards the yard where he never did plant any kale. And then came the day that he told me he thought we needed a break.
He’d been offered a job for the summer in a northern seaside town, and he thought he should go. “I need some time to be on my own,” he said. “I need to clear my head.” He didn’t want to lose me, he stressed, but he thought if we were to continue on forever, it was an important step for him to see what living truly independently — free of alcohol and me — was like.
It was a weird summer. We saw each other only a couple of times and spoke infrequently — and when we did we agreed not to “ruin it” by talking about anything of consequence. When he invited me for a visit at the end of August, the Boyfriend surprised me by announcing he had made a reservation at a fancy hotel right on the ocean. I remember these as a very nice couple of days — we laughed a lot, ate well and slept easily.
And so, as fall came on, I did not expect to find a letter in my mailbox from the Boyfriend explaining he wouldn’t be returning to New York and that he thought it best we went our separate ways permanently. It was two pages long and written on heavy cream-colored paper that looked expensive, and the envelope had an X-Men stamp on it. I couldn’t get over that stupid stamp. Did he make a special trip to the post office to buy it or did he order a pack online? And who the fuck puts a comic book character stamp on a motherfucking break-up letter, anyway? Who sends a break up letter after so many years together? And, within the Marvel universe, doesn’t he prefer Spider-Man? Why was this information that I knew? And so on.
Anyway. I did all the things that one does when they get dumped and unexpectedly heartbroken: a dramatic (and ill-advised) haircut, excessive drinking, a joyous reunion with cigarettes and a lot of ‘but what do you think he meant by an X-Men stamp?’ deconstruction talk with patient friends.
A friend had seen him while on vacation with her husband. Of course, I grilled her: were there signs I didn’t see? Was there another woman? Women? Men? She told me that when she and the Boyfriend had met up for coffee she had come away convinced he was absolutely going to come back to New York, to me. Two glasses of wine later she admitted she thought he was planning to propose.
“He said he was getting a dog but he told me specifically not to tell you. I assumed he was going to surprise you with it when he came back,” she said. “Didn’t you guys always talk about getting a dog?”
I quit talking about the stamp.
By December, when the Boyfriend called to wish me happy holidays, I had regained some semblance of equilibrium. I concentrated on being as chillingly polite and unaffected as possible.
“So,” I said, “Did you get a dog yet?”
“I did,” The Boyfriend said. “He’s lying at my feet right now.”
“Sounds nice,” I said. “So what did you end up getting?”
There was a pause. “A chocolate Lab,” he said.
“Oh sure,” I said brightly. “No surprise there! Ha ha ha!”
The Boyfriend laughed too, a little uncomfortably.
“He’s a good boy,” he said.
“What’s his name?”
A longer pause. “Hank,” he said.
“Really,” I said. “Hank.”
The Boyfriend cleared his throat nervously. “Well, yes. Hank.”
“YOU TOOK MY DOG NAME?”
“Consider it an homage,” he said.
(It’s possible I might be missing key parts of this, by the way. My brain, bless it, tends to quickly wipe a lot of uncomfortable things clean almost immediately — bleep bloop — in a way I always appreciate even at the cost of good storytelling.)
“So… how old is Hank,” I asked.
“He’s about 8 months,” he said.
I’m terrible at math — just terrible! — but I do know how some numbers work. Like how you get the puppy from the breeder when it’s about 12 weeks old, and also how we had broken up just a few months ago.
“So hang on, when did you get him?”
“Hmmm,” he said. “Late July, I think.”
I considered this. “Oh,” I said. “He was there in August when I was visiting?”
There was a much longer silence. “He was,” he said.
“IS THAT WHY WE WENT TO THAT HOTEL? BECAUSE YOU HAD A PUPPY AT YOUR HOUSE AND YOU DIDN’T WANT ME TO KNOW?”
“Well,” he said. “I sort of felt like I wanted to have this nice weekend with you, and if you knew about the dog you’d probably get the wrong impression. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“An impression like… that you had no plans of moving back to New York?”
“Uhhh…,” he said. And sighed. “Yes,” he said.
I don’t remember how that conversation ended. (Thank you, brain!)
I suppose I should admit now that this wasn’t even the end of our relationship. Because a couple of months later, we got back together.
In better news, Hank was indeed a very good boy and never ever needed to be called Henry.
Evelyn Everlady is the pen name of a young professional woman in New York City who has moved waayyyy on and can laugh about all of this now. Photo by Pete Markham.