Editor’s Note: Excerpted from “This Is How You Lose Her” by Junot Díaz by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Junot Díaz. The following excerpt contains profanity; reader discretion is advised.
I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole. See, many months ago, when Magda was still my girl, when I didn’t have to be careful about almost anything, I cheated on her with this chick who had tons of eighties freestyle hair. Didn’t tell Magda about it, either. You know how it is. A smelly bone like that, better off buried in the backyard of your life. Magda only found out because homegirl wrote her a fucking letter. And the letter had details. Shit you wouldn’t even tell your boys drunk.
The thing is, that particular bit of stupidity had been over for months. Me and Magda were on an upswing. We weren’t as distant as we’d been the winter I was cheating. The freeze was over. She was coming over to my place and instead of us hanging with my knucklehead boys—me smoking, her bored out of her skull—we were seeing movies. Driving out to different places to eat. Even caught a play at the Crossroads and I took her picture with some bigwig black playwrights, pictures where she’s smiling so much you’d think her wide-ass mouth was going to unhinge. We were a couple again. Visiting each other’s family on the weekends. Eating breakfast at diners hours before anybody else was up, rummaging through the New Brunswick library together, the one Carnegie built with his guilt money. A nice rhythm we had going. But then the Letter hits like a Star Trek grenade and detonates everything, past, present, future. Suddenly her folks want to kill me. It don’t matter that I helped them with their taxes two years running or that I mow their lawn. Her father, who used to treat me like his hijo, calls me an asshole on the phone, sounds like he’s strangling himself with the cord. You no deserve I speak to you in Spanish, he says. I see one of Magda’s girlfriends at the Woodbridge mall—Claribel, the ecuatoriana with the biology degree and the chinita eyes—and she treats me like I ate somebody’s favorite kid.
You don’t even want to hear how it went down with Magda. Like a five-train collision. She threw Cassandra’s letter at me— it missed and landed under a Volvo—and then she sat down on the curb and started hyperventilating. Oh, God, she wailed. Oh, my God.
This is when my boys claim they would have pulled a Total Fucking Denial. Cassandra who? I was too sick to my stomach even to try. I sat down next to her, grabbed her flailing arms, and said some dumb shit like You have to listen to me, Magda. Or you won’t understand.
Let me tell you about Magda. She’s a Bergenline original: short with a big mouth and big hips and dark curly hair you could lose a hand in. Her father’s a baker, her mother sells kids’ clothes door to door. She might be nobody’s pendeja but she’s also a forgiving soul. A Catholic. Dragged me into church every Sunday for Spanish Mass, and when one of her relatives is sick, especially the ones in Cuba, she writes letters to some nuns in Pennsylvania, asks the sisters to pray for her family. She’s the nerd every librarian in town knows, a teacher whose students love her. Always cutting shit out for me from the newspapers, Dominican shit. I see her like, what, every week, and she still sends me corny little notes in the mail: So you won’t forget me. You couldn’t think of anybody worse to screw than Magda.
Anyway I won’t bore you with what happens after she finds out. The begging, the crawling over glass, the crying. Let’s just say that after two weeks of this, of my driving out to her house, sending her letters, and calling her at all hours of the night, we put it back together. Didn’t mean I ever ate with her family again or that her girlfriends were celebrating. Those cabronas, they were like, No, jamás, never. Even Magda wasn’t too hot on the rapprochement at first, but I had the momentum of the past on my side. When she asked me, Why don’t you leave me alone? I told her the truth: It’s because I love you, mami. I know this sounds like a load of doo- doo, but it’s true: Magda’s my heart. I didn’t want her to leave me; I wasn’t about to start looking for a girlfriend because I’d fucked up one lousy time.
Don’t think it was a cakewalk, because it wasn’t. Magda’s stubborn; back when we first started dating, she said she wouldn’t sleep with me until we’d been together at least a month, and homegirl stuck to it, no matter how hard I tried to get into her knickknacks. She’s sensitive, too. Takes to hurt the way water takes to paper. You can’t imagine how many times she asked (especially after we finished fucking), Were you ever going to tell me? This and Why? were her favorite questions. My favorite answers were Yes and It was a stupid mistake. I wasn’t thinking.
We even had some conversation about Cassandra—usually in the dark, when we couldn’t see each other. Magda asked me if I’d loved Cassandra and I told her, No, I didn’t. Do you still think about her? Nope. Did you like fucking her? To be honest, baby, it was lousy. That one is never very believable but you got to say it anyway no matter how stupid and unreal it sounds: say it.
And for a while after we got back together everything was as fine as it could be.
But only for a little while. Slowly, almost imperceptibly my Magda started turning into another Magda. Who didn’t want to sleep over as much or scratch my back when I asked her to.
Amazing what you notice. Like how she never used to ask me to call back when she was on the line with somebody else. I always had priority. Not anymore. So of course I blamed all that shit on her girls, who I knew for a fact were still feeding her a bad line about me.
She wasn’t the only one with counsel. My boys were like, Fuck her, don’t sweat that bitch, but every time I tried I couldn’t pull it off. I was into Magda for real. I started working overtime on her again, but nothing seemed to pan out. Every movie we went to, every night drive we took, every time she did sleep over seemed to confirm something negative about me. I felt like I was dying by degrees, but when I brought it up she told me that I was being paranoid.
About a month later, she started making the sort of changes that would have alarmed a paranoid nigger. Cuts her hair, buys better makeup, rocks new clothes, goes out dancing on Friday nights with her friends. When I ask her if we can chill, I’m no longer sure it’s a done deal. A lot of the time she Bartlebys me, says, No, I’d rather not. I ask her what the hell she thinks this is and she says, That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
I know what she was doing. Making me aware of my precarious position in her life. Like I was not aware.
Then it was June. Hot white clouds stranded in the sky, cars being washed down with hoses, music allowed outside. Everybody getting ready for summer, even us. We’d planned a trip to Santo Domingo early in the year, an anniversary present, and had to decide whether we were still going or not. It had been on the horizon awhile, but I figured it was something that would resolve itself. When it didn’t, I brought the tickets out and asked her, How do you feel about it?
Like it’s too much of a commitment.
Could be worse. It’s a vacation, for Christ’s sake.
I see it as pressure.
Doesn’t have to be pressure.
I don’t know why I get stuck on it the way I do. Bringing it up every day, trying to get her to commit. Maybe I was getting tired of the situation we were in. Wanted to flex, wanted something to change. Or maybe I’d gotten this idea in my head that if she said, Yes, we’re going, then shit would be fine between us. If she said, No, it’s not for me, then at least I’d know that it was over.
Her girls, the sorest losers on the planet, advised her to take the trip and then never speak to me again. She, of course, told me this shit, because she couldn’t stop herself from telling me everything she’s thinking. How do you feel about that suggestion? I asked her.
She shrugged. It’s an idea.
Even my boys were like, Nigger, sounds like you’re wasting a whole lot of loot on some bullshit, but I really thought it would be good for us. Deep down, where my boys don’t know me, I’m an optimist. I thought, Me and her on the Island. What couldn’t this cure?