“What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger, it only makes you more cynical.” A short story wherein a former bride-to-be attempts to navigate the treacherous waters of heartbreak….
by: Azzurra Nox
Flames are devouring my Vera Wang wedding dress when B video calls me.
“I hope you aren’t busy,” he says, like I have anything better to do right now besides burning my dreams.
“Naw,” I say. “Was just purging.”
B looks so different from the last time I saw him. His black hair is long, his small teeth are hidden by Hollywood veneers. I miss his shitty teeth. At one point I was so in love with him I didn’t realize how ruinous they were until my dad pointed it out. I found his crooked smile disarming, even the way he said my name felt new and exciting.
“I’m worried about you,” he begins. And I hate his concern.
“You shouldn’t be.” I quickly say.
“It’s just…I know how you handle things.” By things he means heartbreak, and I want to tell him that it’s okay because I no longer have a heart to break and that it’s perfectly normal to burn your own wedding dress that you never got to wear. I’m too lazy to sell it anyways and I can’t envision anyone else fitting into my size two tulle and silk masterpiece that hugged my curves like the hands of an expert lover. I want him to know that it’s not crazy to destroy something beautiful, because it’s perfectly normal to be salty over not getting my Daisy Buchanan moment, descending a rose-petaled aisle. But I’m fine and he shouldn’t worry because I’m not twenty years old with suicidal ideations like when he knew me. The truth is, what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger, it only makes you more cynical. I’m not a kintsugi — a previously broken piece turned into a beautiful piece of art — gold tracing my flaws. No, I let my chaos thrive because there’s beauty in madness. Besides, fuck toxic positivity.
“I noticed my book on your shelf when I visited you,” I say.
What ex would ever consider purchasing a home in your hometown and then rescue a dog to make you believe he’s really changed, I wonder. B’s concern is as helpful as the blind person escorting another blind person across the street.
“Yeah I do,” he says, a little embarrassed.
“It’s funny cause didn’t you say you hated it when they interviewed you on MTV?”
I understand I am being petty to bring up something that’s almost two decades in the past, but he’s the one who interrupted my purging and now he gets the brunt of my ire.
“That was such a long time ago.”
I dump more rubbing alcohol into the flames, watch the dress become a tarnished mess. Death by fire is my worst fear and yet it has never stopped me from being an arsonist.
“It’s okay, nobody liked it anyway.”
I laugh, steady my phone and I hate that he has the cutest pup sitting next to him because my own have passed away and I’m ashamed I am being so petty.
“It’s not what you said on national TV.”
“I lied.” A silence grows between us which he breaks. “What are you doing?” He can only see that I’m in my backyard, but it’s evening here and the dead of night/early morning on his side of the globe so he can’t see the flames.
“Tending a bonfire.”
“Are you having a party?”
“Something like that.”
I really want to get out of this conversation, but B’s looking at me with that look in his eyes that he knows that I’m only bullshitting him and increasing concern. Where was that concern when I actually needed it, before I swallowed a bottle of Nembutal with vodka?
“If you need to talk about—”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I say too quickly as I flash him a smile with my Ruby Woo lips, because who has the time to be unhinged when they look so glamorous.
“I know you can’t sleep,” I tell him, hoping to remind him that he’s the fucked up one, because I’m not an insomniac, I’m not the one calling at 4 a.m. checking in on someone I broke up years ago. “But I really gotta go.”
He looks defeated, like all his crystals and Buddhism haven’t made him a better person in my eyes and I can’t even begin to tell him that maybe I liked him better when he was fucked up because it meant that I could be the one to worry about him. This role reversal is uncanny and one that doesn’t suit me, so I press again, remind him that I do indeed need to go, I’ve got a life and he’s not in it and sometimes you just need to stop traveling the road of nostalgia because it’s not paved by good intentions, but by regrets.
I end the video call and hose down the fire because I do need to hit the road before I decide to torch the whole house down. In my car I blast Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” because listening to it on repeat is the only thing that makes sense. Any other normal person would allow themselves the luxury of grieving, but I’m physically and emotionally drained of my constant misfortune that I can only laugh at my bad omens like Joan Crawford losing her shit over wire hangers in the middle of the night. Sometimes I wish food brought me comfort, so I could drown my sorrows in a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but it does the complete opposite. I’ve never been skinnier in my life than when I’m navigating the treacherous waters of heartbreak. I’m that bitch who looks amazing whilst bleeding on the inside. It’s almost like pain is my sustenance, my skin glows, my hair is fuller, and I walk like I’m meant to dominate the world. If I were a character in a novel, I know that I’d be one no reader could resonate with, because who the fuck has the willpower to adorn themselves in gilded frocks and hit the dance floor when their life is falling apart? I dance to my own demise.
I’m stuck at a red light and there’s someone selling flowers. They’re those dreadful colorful gerbera daisies, forlorn and wilted. The woman makes eye contact with me and I curse under my breath because now I can’t ignore her. This is why I need tinted windows. She’s now knocking on my windshield and I’m saying no, I don’t want dead flowers because even if Miley is singing about the empowerment of buying them yourself, the old school in me still prefers them to be gifted. I wonder who is buying flowers at 8 p.m. off the side of the road because I’m a snob who only wishes to receive bouquets from Empty Vase. This is probably why I’ve told men I hate flowers because the thought of being gifted sad cheap bouquets is far too disheartening, little suits me more than subjecting myself to fake enthusiasm over sub par blossoms? I know that it’s the thought that counts but sometimes the thought is shitty and I should be able to acknowledge that. I’m not ungrateful. I only love the best. Somehow, I should be ashamed of the latter, and I blame my aristocratic ancestors. Maybe if they had lost their heads instead of fleeing the Reign of Terror, by hauling ass to southern Italy I wouldn’t now have to deal with the ridiculousness that is my life. Fuck you, Marquis de Franza.
I don’t know how long I’ve been driving for until my phone pings with a WhatsApp notification. It’s B who has sent me a photo of the sunrise over the Ionian Sea. He never writes a message with the photographs, he only sends me the date and time, like it’s a crime scene and somehow those details are important. 06.21 – 06/04/2023. And people think I’m the weird one. I never know how to reply to these photographs: Glad you’re alive? Thanks but no thanks? So I never reply because I refuse to send him a random photograph with the time and date as well.
By the time I get back home, my hair is a bird’s nest because I made a pit stop at a club. Nothing makes you feel more alive than to grind against a stranger in semi darkness to the beat of a terrible EDM song. My phone pings again. Another WhatsApp message and it’s him. Good morning. I ignore it. Do you know how difficult it is to genuinely like someone? It’s why I ignore red flags, praying they’re only a darker shade of pink – to the point that I become colorblind to the toxicity. It’s how one falls in love with an addict because they’re charming and well read. Or the time I fell for the guy who could make me laugh when all I wanted to do is die. We spend so much of our time with people that we dislike, that we love to forgive and overlook the wrongs of those we do like. I know there’s a lesson to be learned in my burnt dress and unanswered texts. That I should be wiser next time, if there will be a next time. But as I sift through the ashes, allowing my fingers to dig into them like I’m clawing through a heart, I already know the answer. I will blindly upend my world for someone I like, even if it means, that I’ll perpetually be nobody’s wife.
Azzurra Nox has been published in Girl That You Fear (Black Bed Sheets Publishing), Hush, Don’t Wake the Monster: Women in Horror Anthology, and “Fragile Fruit” a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2020.