I think we need to talk. The worst sentence in the English language. You don’t even need to talk after you say it, because the listener immediately knows that whatever you want to talk to them about is the last thing they want to hear.
We have to talk, Imani practiced to herself on the subway. She’d walk into the apartment and say it. And then what? Assuming she could even get out that sentence, what could she follow it up with? I’m not happy. But then he’d just offer to change, and that wasn’t what she wanted either. She didn’t want Benji to change, or she did, but she didn’t want him to do it now, when it was too late. She wanted him to change the past, she wanted him to change what had happened with Dan, and yet she didn’t – no matter what happened from here, she would always be glad she’d kissed Dan. You only get a few kisses like that in your life.
No, she didn’t want Benji to change, she wanted him to leave. And she wanted him to want to leave. What a relief it would be if he were having an affair, she thought, then recognized at the incongruity – last month, if she’d found out he was cheating, it would have destroyed her instantly like a ‘50s space laser, left her as a handful of black sand. Now it would be her first wish on the genie lamp, before even the trillion dollars and the world peace.
But Benji wasn’t cheating. He loved her. Not enough to get a real job, or work out, or stop pissing on the toilet seat, or do any of the other things she’d wanted him to do for years. But he loved her, and he didn’t understand why she was being so bitchy and mean lately, and that made her feel even bitchier.
We have to talk, she said.
Why? Because people need to communicate information to each other across distances, and talking is the most effective way.
I just…I feel like, you know, like I need to change some things. We need to change things.
Change them how?
I think you should move out for a while. Temporarily. Just so that we can get some space and some perspective.
Because nothing has changed! We’ve been together for six years, and I don’t think either of us is growing.
Can’t we grow together?
I think we have, and that’s stunted us.
So you want to break up? We can’t even discuss this?
We are discussing this.
Yeah, but we’re not, because you’ve already decided.
I haven’t decided anything, I just need some space, I need some room.
You’re seeing someone else. Of course. Obviously. It’s Dan, isn’t it.
I am not seeing anyone. This isn’t about someone else, this is about me and you.
Where is this coming from? Two weeks ago we were talking about going to Puerto Rico, now you’re telling me you want me to move out? I’m not moving out. You move out. You want space? Take as much space as you need! Go out there into the world, there’s a whole bunch of space! So wait, we won’t live together, but we’ll still be together? And then when things change we’ll move back in together? How’s that going to work? Imani, why are you doing this to me? I love you so much, you’re my wifey. What the hell am I supposed to do without you? This can’t be happening.
Nothing’s happening, forget I said anything.
Forget that my girlfriend came home after six years and told me she wanted me to move out because she needs some space so we can change, and by the way she’s not seeing other people, it’s just because she can’t stand to be around me anymore? Is that supposed to be a comfort?
Ninety minutes the discussion goes on, until they’re both so weak and devastated that they’re begging each other. She is hungry. He is infuriated anew by this. How can she think of eating at a time like this? She must be heartless, because she’s starving. She’s already said over and over that she wishes she hadn’t said anything, that she was wrong about the space and forget she said it and she was sorry and she would make it up to him. She tried to kiss him, but it was so awful and dead and miserable, there was a shiny slick of snot on his upper lip, and his breath wasn’t bad but it was overly warm and moist and worst of all familiar, and she couldn’t breathe. She felt like she was being strangled, and he backed up and looked at the look on her face, and his own face crumbled. I can’t stand this, he said. I can’t believe this is happening.
The only way for the discussion to end was for one of them to take a walk. I need to take a walk, he said.
Let me come with you.
It’s not going to help if you come with me.
Now all of a sudden she can’t let him go. She has to know that he’s okay, that she’s forgiven. He bristles: You think I’m going to throw myself into traffic? I’m not. You’re not worth throwing myself into traffic over. I’ll live.
Just let me come with you. I want to, please. We can get something to eat.
Jesus, you’re a piece of work.
She will be losing not only him but his mom and dad, who love her, who she loves. She can’t imagine how this will work.
So they go out and it feels strange to be walking around outside when they’re both so puffy-eyed and hollowed out. They wander around the streets for a while, trying to figure out where to go. They don’t want to go to their usual places, they don’t want to be seen with red eyes and runny noses, they are like refugees, castouts. They find a new diner, one they’ve never been to before, with yellow walls that portend the congealed grease that covers their food, and the food is awful, because no food will ever taste good again in this new version of the world. Every once in a while he will remember what’s happening, and he will stop, and she will feel a pang. But she can’t take it back. She said it, and it’s out there.
It’s not somebody else. It’s me, she says, like she read it in a women’s magazine. I feel like we’ve been us so long I don’t know who I am. And she’s realizing she’s right, she doesn’t know anymore. This is the healthiest thing she’s done in years, to try and get some perspective. Things don’t change unless there’s a crisis.
A weird truce between them as they go home. He is torn between exhibiting his anger and exhibiting his sadness. When he exhibits his anger, she almost loves him again, but only for a second.
So where do we leave things, he says.
Let’s just go to bed. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.
I want to talk about it right now. Are we living together, or not?
Yes, we’re living together.
For how long.
For…I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry I said anything, all right?
And then she throws a hysterical fit, crying until she can’t breathe, not because she’s sad but because she’s so angry. Why doesn’t he just fucking disappear? She hates him so much right now. And then he winds up comforting her.
You know this scene in and out. You have been at least one person in this play at some point in your life, if not both. You have either been the dumper or the dumpee. It always goes the same. You feel for both of them, though you should really only feel for Benji; he’s the one who’s going to suffer the most. Or is he?