How to Start Again in Twelve Easy Steps

How to Start Again in Twelve Easy Steps


Ted McLoof is one talented guy.  Below is a piece he wrote for the Associative Press,  which is a literary publication(not to be confused with the associated press).  You can find the whole collection at their website.  Some really talented people on there. Definitely support your writers (  Well here’s another Rooker-made item, enjoy.

How to Start Again in Twelve Easy Steps

By, Ted McLoof

Download in PDF: TedMcLoof-How to Start Again in Twelve Easy Steps

(1) First and foremost: remember that you are a small man, a petty, petty man. Recall and appreciate the times—seldom though they may be—that you’ve been big. Cherish these, but keep in mind that, on the whole, you are a small and petty person. Don’t attempt to decipher why you’re like this. Make no attempt at locating the source of your small, petty nature. Accept it.

(2) When she calls, be happy. Relish the sound of the ringtone. Relish the sight of the blinking red light. Feel the relief, like the release of a sneeze, of these calls after months of silence. Keep this relief to yourself. Act casual as you answer. Choose your words carefully. Say “hey,” and elongate the word to two syllables. Do not follow it with “baby” or “babe” or “gorgeous” or any of the other names you’ve used with the women you’ve dated since the breakup.

(3) Listen as she speaks. Nod, even if she can’t see you doing it over the phone, as she tells you about her day; listen as she tells you about her friends who are engaged or married, or getting green cards or nose jobs; hear the words “nose jobs” and recall to yourself how, right after your breakup, you made the singular vow No More Rich Girls. Get sidetracked as you try to remember why No More Rich Girls seemed so important, why it seemed like the very nugget and core of everything that went wrong with you two last time, why it didn’t just get chalked up to a difference between her Burberry scarves and the holes in your sleeve cuffs or between your use of “killer” as an adjective and her use of “summer” as a verb; stumble upon the half-forgotten realization that it was less material and more a question of sensibility, she having led a life of safety and therapy and you having not ever had the time to dwell on every. single. thought. you had. because you were too busy at your after-school job helping your mother make rent. Most importantly, push these feelings down because after all, she’s apparently come to her senses and is now not only with you but presently, this second, as in right now as you’re thinking this, on the phone with you during her lunch break, which sounds like no big deal but is actually a huge deal because she only has a few precious minutes during the day, and she values her free time and frankly would rather spend it alone, collecting her thoughts and re-charging her batteries—as a matter of fact (please keep in mind) she’s still kinda on the fence about being alone in general, not just during her lunch break but during the remainder of her life, she’s trying on this relationship again like a sweater that feels comfortable but has gone out of fashion, she’s testing it out because she can’t tell if she wants to end up with anyone (let alone you) or if she’d rather live a life of solitude, and if the latter then she’s confused about whether that’s okay, which confusion  had a lot to do with your break up six months ago and everything to do with the earlier instruction not to call her “baby” or “babe” or “gorgeous” etc, and anyway, Important Tidbit: do not lose track of the conversation. Her story—about her linguistics class this morning, in which she learned about the human brain’s ability to compartmentalize several languages in its first two years — is coming to an end soon, and it will be your turn to speak.

Side Note: You’ll run into this problem often, so do not try to avoid it. Learn that it comes with the territory. Learn that this is what happens when you date someone you know well, someone with whom you have a long and complicated history. Do not expect that any conversation you’ll ever have again will be unencumbered by second-guessing and bifurcated thought processes. Think, but do not say, that you’d rather live this complicated life with her than a life of ease with anyone else. Realize that this is why you love her.

Here’s where it gets tricky: Love love love love—the steps are simple for that part. Refer here to step (1); remember that you are a small and petty man.

(4) Hear her say, “…which is weird because Gene speaks three languages, but when I told him, he didn’t get it.” Feel every inch of your skin tighten elastically around your bones at the single syllable, Gene. Look down and conceptualize this skin-tightening, your muscles ropy and tense and pulsing. Feel your teeth—this sounds difficult, and is difficult to describe, but rest assured, it will come to you. Feel your teeth. They’ll sting. But level your voice when you say, “Gene?”

(5) Realize too late that you interrupted her thought to say Gene? but don’t apologize now. It will upset the trajectory of the conversation. Note the pregnant pause that follows, and word it to yourself mentally (this is a pregnant pause). Listen to her break the silence, “Yeah, Gene.”

(6) Ask, “When did you talk to Gene?” and make no attempt to sound neutral; there is no way for that sentence to sound anything but small and petty.

(7) Hear—you will be able to, impossible though it may sound—her eyes roll as she says, “Why do you have such a problem with Gene?” Note that she didn’t answer your question.

(8) Say—mumble—growl—half under your breath—that in fact you don’t have a fucking problem with fucking Gene, and expect her follow-up remark, learned no doubt in rich-person therapy: “Then why do you swear every single time you bring him up? He’s just a guy. I liked plenty of other guys after you. Why is this one person such an issue?”

(9) Tread lightly, here. DO NOT lose your temper. Know that this is not an unwinnable fight—in fact, this potentially could not be a fight at all, just a conversation, even a progressive, pragmatic conversation that mends wounds that have been festering for six months, if you choose your words carefully. She will hear you out if you offer good common sense.

(10) Take a moment to answer the question, because as presumptuous and psychobabbly and invalidating of your totally justifiable feelings as it may be, you likely have not ever articulated its answer to yourself.

Why do you have such a problem with Gene?

Possible answer #1: Absorb yourself in the memory of the previous June, when this Gene asshole visited town. Recall the morning that you were walking your dog—the dog you’d bought together, but was then your responsibility and now both of yours again—in your shitty sweatpants and I just woke up hair and torn t-shirt; recall how hung-over you were from another in a series of whiskey-stained nights getting over her; recall the two of them driving past the dog park and slowing down just for a second; recall this prick’s face peering out from the passenger side window of her car, this prick in expensive-looking Oakleys and a muscle t-shirt (a fucking jock! what are we, in seventh grade? remember thinking); remember the honking of the horn and recall wondering about whatever stupid face you must have been making as the dog took a shit at that exact moment and this fucking asshole laughed and the car zoomed away, trailing echoes of asshole-laughter behind it where you stood. Conclude that this isn’t the right answer—just a moment, a memory, a horrible embarrassment. Think again.

Possible answer #2: Visualize the pictures that popped up everywhere, all over the internet, from that weekend he visited. Try to get the title of her photo album right—something stupid, some inside joke between the two of them, a joke so inside that you wondered why she was posting it publicly in the first place, unless it was just to piss you off; then wonder if that’s it, wonder if you’re mad because they tried to piss you off together. But dismiss this answer because, frankly, she was so over you at that point (you know for a fact) that there’s just no way you had that much to do with her motives. So,

Possible answer #3: Hear the ghosts of conversations from the first time you were together, posit that your reason for having such a problem with Gene is that you’ve been told not to have a problem with Gene before, you were told like a million times, in fact, were made to feel like a jealous irrational baby last time around for suspecting something might have been up with those two, were incensed at the fact that he booked his ticket to visit her like a week after you broke up, the body wasn’t even cold yet!, and then he shows up and they go to the fucking Grand fucking Canyon together for one fucking weekend and suddenly she’s in fucking love, note the frequency of your cursing here and suggest to yourself that maybe you’ve found the root this time, maybe answer #3 is just the ticket, the justification you could offer gladly and even calmly (so rational is this logic) but then conclude that this is a dead-end too because you know what she’ll say (she’s said it before, last June, when you totally overstepped your boundaries and forced her to talk to you about it), which is that love is a mystery and that feelings can develop where there were no feelings before, and feelings can die where once they were strong, and that we never know why we feel this way or when our feelings can crop up or stop dead, and so practical (if sad) is this truth that it will be impossible to refute—so don’t try—and further it will point towards and unearth some other pretty touchy subjects, namely what it was that made you two break up in the first place, and what it is that’s keeping you on such thin ice now: her total belief (see: fear) that if either of the two of you commit today then the other of the two of you will flake out tomorrow, her total belief (see: fear) that feelings are unsustainable and unpredictable and that there are limits to love.

And while you’re at it, (11) ask yourself: who the fuck do you think you are? Whoever she saw when you weren’t together is none of your business, really, so why don’t you get over yourself and recognize that people deal with these things in their own ways and just because those ways are different from your own doesn’t make them wrong, okay she isn’t perfect but you sure as shit aren’t either, and anyway it’s not like you’re some paragon of fidelity here, you haven’t exactly been living the last six months like a monk, staring at her picture every day, okay that doesn’t make her right but that doesn’t make you right either because the point is that no one is “right” in these things, what you really are is just two scared, fragile, confused people who happen to be in love. Open your mouth to articulate all this to her but get cut off when she says, “This is really hard, isn’t it?” Say, “Yeah, it is,” and feel your stomach, by pure muscle memory, brace itself for the break up, until she says, gently, “We’ll stay afloat.” Feel weirdly unsurprised by this, because hey, it’s true, and it’s said with love, and hell, it can’t be easy for her to be this big in reaction to you being so, so small, it can’t be easy for her to actually not make you feel small at all, to throw herself under the bus just to make you feel okay, it can’t be easy for her to do this every. single. time. you talk.

(12) So just temper yourself. Swallow it all down—it’s small, and therefore easy to swallow. Say, “Thank you,” but not “I’m sorry” even though you are sorry. Tell her that you’d better let her go, isn’t it almost time for class? Visualize her glancing at the clock as she says, “Oh shoot, good point.” Hear her say, “I’d better go, message me later.” Say, “Okay.” Hear her say, “See you later, T-e-d.” Hear the love in her voice. Admire her ability to maintain that love. Feel awed by the warmth of her weird and wild heart. You’ll stay afloat. You’ll stay afloat.

Ted McLoof

About Ted McLoof

Ted McLoof is a writer at Rookerville and teaches fiction at the University of Arizona. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Minnesota Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Gertrude, Monkeybicycle, Sonora Review, Hobart, DIAGRAM, The Associative Press, and elsewhere.He's recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award. He is very cool and very handsome and he'd like to buy you a drink.


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