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.
(CNN) -- 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
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
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?